01 Nov 2018 Rail Trail Hall of Fame Trips
Did you know that Wilderness Voyageurs operates inn-to-inn bicycle tours on twenty rail trails, throughout the country? All of the trails are special in their own right, however 8 of them have been recognized as exceptional and have been named to the Rails to Trails Conservancy Rail-Trail Hall of Fame! These trails are distinguished for merits such as scenic value, high use, trail and trailside amenities, historical significance, excellence in management and maintenance of facility, community connections. Read on below to learn about our famous rail-trail tours, and start checking some of these destinations off your list!
The Great Allegheny Passage
The Great Allegheny Passage (GAP trail) is 150 miles of continuous rail-trail where half a million visitors hike, bike, fish or ski every year. It’s the country’s longest multi-purpose trail, and the first inductee in the Rail-Trail Hall of Fame. The GAP was completed piece by piece over a period of more than 20 years, the work of seven different trail-building organizations in two states. The completed trail starts at the terminus of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Towpath in Cumberland, Maryland and runs along rivers and streams all the way to Pittsburgh, making a 335-mile, car-free bikeway from Washington, D.C. to Pittsburgh.
Check out these great bike tours on the GAP trail!
South Dakota’s George S. Mickelson Trail
South Dakota’s Black Hills are named for their dark, thick pine forests. These piney hills make up a mountain range with some of the tallest peaks east of the Rocky Mountains. Here you’ll find ski slopes, gold-panned creeks, national monuments, and free-roaming wildlife.
Another South Dakota gem is the 109-mile George S. Mickelson Trail, which winds a crushed-stone route south from Deadwood to Edgemont. This trail, also known as “The Big Mick,” was dedicated in 1998 in memory of the late governor who acted in strong support of transforming the former rail line into a multi-use trail. The Mickelson Trail is a scenic cycling route through evergreen forests, rocky canyons, wide-open prairies and old mining towns.
At every twist along the way, keep your eyes open for bighorn sheep, elk, pronghorn antelope, mountain goats, jackrabbits, mule deer and countless other critters; even mountain lions have been sighted. When you reach Custer, you can sidle over on a short spur to the 71,000-acre Custer State Park. Bison, coyotes and prairie dogs reign in this sanctuary.
If the prairie meadows and ponderosas aren’t enough, there are plenty of other memorable side excursions within a few miles of the trail, including Mount Rushmore, the mountain-sized Crazy Horse Memorial and Wind Cave National Park.
We cycle the Mickelson Trail (and tour the Badlands!) on our Mickelson Trail and the Badlands bike tour.
Idaho’s Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes and Route of the Hiawatha
The paved Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes begins in Plummer, a few miles shy of the Washington border, and heads northeast along Coeur d’Alene Lake and the Coeur d’Alene River until Mullan, scratching at the Montana state line. The first 15 miles are managed by the Coeur d’Alene Tribe; the rest by the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation.
Mullan used to be the end of the road, so to speak. But the nonprofit Friends of the Coeur d’Alene Trails has helped extend the pathway from Mullan roughly 11 miles to Lookout Pass on the Idaho-Montana border. This extension, called the NorPac Trail, uses a Northern Pacific right-of-way that has become an open Forest Service road. It is marked and signed as a trail, with a packed-gravel surface.
The trail doesn’t end at the Montana line, but the signage does. Trail users can take a series of quiet, mixed-surface roads to reach the 15-mile Route of the Hiawatha to make an incredible, scenic loop.
The Hiawatha plunges first into the cool, dark 1.66-mile Taft Tunnel, then winds downhill along the crest of the Bitterroot Mountains near Lookout Pass Ski Area. The trail takes a series of high trestles and shorter tunnels as it weaves through the pine-carpeted Bitterroot Mountains.
Experience this incredible scenery on our Idaho Coeur D’Alene & The Hiawatha Bike Tour!
Missouri’s Katy Trail
The Katy Trail is an unbroken, 225-mile rail-trail running from St. Charles, right outside of St. Louis on Missouri’s eastern border, nearly all the way across the state to Clinton (and connected to Columbia by a trail spur). More than half of the crushed-limestone pathway—the longest continuous rail-trail in the country—re-traces Lewis and Clark’s original route of westward exploration. The trail hugs the Missouri River, passing by its knobby hills and forested valleys. When the trail splits from the river near Boonville, the corridor strolls through the state’s crop-striped countryside and prairie, with local pit-stops every few miles.
The Katy Trail has resurrected many of the rural communities along its route—it passes more than 40 small towns. Rocheport, which used to offer only a few antique stores, has now become a destination complete with bed-and-breakfasts, restaurants and even a winery. In fact, there are a number of vineyards bordering off the Katy Trail, some within a tenth of a mile!
Sample local Missouri wines and learn about our country’s westward expansion on our Katy Trail Bike Tour!
Virginia’s Washington & Old Dominion Railroad Regional Park
The 44.8-mile Washington & Old Dominion (W&OD) Railroad Regional Park starts in Arlington — right in the thick of the D.C. metro area’s never-ending rush-hour. But the paved W&OD trail is immune to it all, meandering through backyards and quiet neighborhoods westward into the rolling countryside of Virginia.
Built in 1859 on the eve of the Civil War, the Washington & Old Dominion Railroad was intended to shuttle coal and other goods to Alexandria. The tracks barely survived the war but later grew into a popular passenger line heading west through Falls Church, Leesburg and Purcellville. When service ended in 1968, the Virginia Electric and Power Company (VEPCO)—later Virginia Power, and now Dominion Power—purchased the right-of-way for its electric power transmission lines.
Over the following decade, the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority (NVRPA) began acquiring the right-of-way in stages, and the first segment of the trail opened in Falls Church in 1974. By 1982, the NVRPA owned the full length of the corridor, and they now operate the park with the active support of the Friends of the W&OD Trail. Today, a good portion of revenue for trail upkeep comes from agreements with utility companies, like AT&T, which share the corridor for their fiber-optic cables.
You’ll get to ride the W&OD trail on our Shenandoah & Skyline Drive tour, and occasionally on our Pittsburgh to D.C. Bike Tour (we ride the W&OD as a bad weather option when the mud on the C&O towpath gets too bad!)
Vermont’s Island Line Trail
Flanked to the east and west by Lake Champlain; the Green Mountains looming in the distance; a three-mile causeway arcing out across the bay; and you, basking in the open air on a rail-trail that defies expectations. The 14-mile Island Line Trail is a fabulous addition to the Rail-Trail Hall of Fame.
Vermont’s Island Line consists of the Burlington Bike Path and the Colchester Causeway, running from Burlington through Colchester and the edge of South Hero. The first seven miles are paved and managed by the city of Burlington. Colchester Parks & Recreation oversees the middle 5.5 miles, and the Vermont Department of Fish & Wildlife the final mile and a half.
Together, linking three towns and two counties, these united pathways are the rail-trail jewel in a robust outdoor recreation scene. Whether you’re after transportation of the body or the mind, the Island Line serves up powerful scenery, railroading history, passionate grassroots support, community connections and more. We ride the Island Line on the first day of our New York Adirondacks Bike Tour
What are you waiting for? Join us on a fully supported rail-trail adventure!
Call 1-800-272-4141 for more information on our bike tours or to speak with our bike tour specialist.