There are many hiking trails in the United States that stretch well over a thousand miles – and the list goes on. Additionally, with the closure of so many rail routes across the country, the opportunities for more rail routes continue (and many are currently under development). One of the great rail routes currently under construction is the aptly named Great American Rail Trail.
When complete, it will be the longest bike path in the world – even longer than the 3,000-mile Great Divide Mountain Bike Route (from Canada to Mexico). The Great American Rail Trail will take time to complete, but there are many other smaller rail trails that have been completed. In Pennsylvania, visitors should explore the Ghost Town Trail and discover many abandoned coal towns that were lost in the woods after the coal mines and railroad were abandoned.
Length and route of the Great American Rail Trail
When completed, the Great American Rail Trail will travel approximately 3,700 miles or 6,000 kilometers from Washington DC to Washington State (a kind of Washington to Washington Trail). The trail will cross 12 states and the District of Columbia. It is a very ambitious and long-term project.
- Length: Eventually 3,700 miles or 6,000 kilometers
When the trail is complete, it is intended to be over 80% off-road and isolated from vehicular traffic for the time being. However, the ultimate plan is to keep the entire trail off the roads.
The states (and counties) it will run through are Washington DC, Maryland, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho and Washington State.
How much is finished and when will the Rail Trail be finished?
It was first launched in May 2019 and has already clocked up around 2,000 miles or just over half of the trail. When it’s finished, around 50 million Americans will live within about 50 miles of the trail. It consists of over 150 existing multipurpose trails (although 90 gaps remain to be filled between sections).
- Status: Semi-finished / under construction
- completion date: In the coming decades
Work on the Great American Rail Trail is supported by the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy.
It will be a long time before you can cycle the entire route. It’s not expected to be completed any time soon – it will likely take a few decades to complete. That being said, portions of the trail are regularly completed as the gaps are filled and the Great American Rail Trail takes shape.
It is estimated that the Great American Rail Trail will cost around $1 billion to complete. While that’s a lot for one trail, it’s believed that the cost will fully offset within five years due to visitor spending along the route.
It’s the flagship project of the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (the nation’s largest trail organization). The organization is a grassroots community of over a million people. It is dedicated to developing a network of public trails nationwide (many of these trails originate from disused railroad lines).
Existing trails become part of the Great American Rail Trail
The route attempts to use existing trails as much as possible (approximately 2,026 miles of trails already exist). This pretty much means that the route is about 50% complete, with the existing paths only needing some further development.
Some of the existing trails that will be integrated into the trail are:
- Olympic Discovery Trail (Washington)
- Hiking Trail from Palouse to Cascades State Park (Washington)
- Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes (Idaho)
- Olympic Trail (Montana)
- Source Path System (Montana)
- Casper Rail Trail (Wyoming)
- Cowboy Trail (Nebraska)
- Cedar Valley Trail (Iowa)
- Nickel Plate Trail (Indiana)
- Cardinal Greenway (Indiana)
- Little Miami Scenic Trail (Ohio)
- Route from Ohio to Erie (Ohio)
- Panhandle Trail (West Virginia)
When complete, the Great American Rail Trail will offer the opportunity to bike most of the way across the nation. Visitors can explore some of America’s most breathtaking natural landscapes away from the dangers, noise and bustle of the roads.
Learn more about the remarkable experience that the Rail Trail will provide (and is already providing) at the Great American Rail Trail official website.