A coast-to-coast bike trail is coming to the U.S.: 4,000 miles, 12 different states, and no cars

The Iowa Cedar Valley Nature Trail will become part of the Great American Rail-Trail network. 
Photo by Liz Zabel, courtesy of GO Cedar Rapids

There’s much to love about biking, whether it’s part of your daily commute or how you unwind on a mountain trail. Here at Curbed, we’ve catalogued everything from awesome bike rides to city bike share programs, all in an effort to get outside and experience the joy—and environmental benefits—of two wheels.

Soon, you’ll be able to bike even farther. The Rails-to-Trails Conversancy (RTC), the nation’s largest trails organization, recently announced their vision for the Great American Rail-Trail. This mega bike trail would connect nearly 4,000 miles of rail-trail and other multi-use trails to form a path across the country from Washington, D.C. to Washington State.

RTC has spent the past 18 months forming coalitions between local trail partners and state agencies to create the plan, including analyzing which of the more than 34,000 miles of nationwide trails would be best.

While on the planned route, bikers will be separated from vehicle traffic and experience the diversity of the American landscape across 12 states. The full map of the trail will be released in spring 2019, but 12 gateway trails make the route possible (you can see those, below). It’s also likely that building the full trail will take at least a decade or two, but some sections could come online fairly quickly.

“The Great American Rail-Trail is a bold vision—one that will take years to complete. The investment of time and resources necessary to complete this trail will be returned many times over as it takes its place among the country’s national treasures,” said Keith Laughlin, RTC president. “As we embark on the journey to complete the Great American Rail-Trail, we embark on the single greatest trail project in the history of the U.S.”

  • Capital Crescent Trail, Washington, D.C., and Maryland: This 11-mile trail—and the Great American Rail-Trail—begins in Georgetown, near the historic landmarks of the nation’s capital.
  • Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park, Washington, D.C., and Maryland: The nearly 185-mile trail connects Washington, D.C., to Cumberland, Maryland, featuring canal locks, lock houses, aqueducts and their canal structures.
  • Panhandle Trail, Pennsylvania and West Virginia: The 29-mile trail heads west from the Pittsburgh suburbs into northern West Virginia, serving as a literal gateway between the states.
  • Ohio to Erie Trail, Ohio: The 270-mile trail cuts diagonally across the state, connecting two major waterways, the Ohio River in Cincinnati and Lake Erie in Cleveland.
  • Cardinal Greenway, Indiana: RTC’s 2018 Rail-Trail Hall of Fame inductee stretches northwest for 61-miles through rural Indiana, making it the longest rail-trail in the state.
  • Hennepin Canal Parkway, Illinois: The 100-mile-plus trail parallels the early-20th-century canal and runs west from the Illinois River to the Rock River.
  • Cedar Valley Nature Trail, Iowa: This 52-mile pathway, one of the first rail-trail conversions in the state, follows the Cedar River and connects Waterloo, Cedar Falls and Cedar Rapids.
  • Cowboy Recreation and Nature Trail, Nebraska: One of the longest rail-trails in the country, this 219-mile trail traverses rural Nebraska, connecting small towns and offering views of the High Plains.
  • Casper Rail Trail, Wyoming: This 6-mile trail is an important connector in one of the largest cities in Wyoming.
  • Headwaters Trail System, Montana: The nearly 12-mile trail connects to Missouri Headwaters State Park, where three rivers meet to form the Missouri River: the Jefferson, Madison and Gallatin.
  • Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes, Idaho: This nearly 72-mile trail runs through Idaho’s panhandle, delivering breathtaking vistas through the state’s forests.
  • Palouse to Cascades State Park Trail, Washington: Another of the nation’s longest rail-trail conversions, this trail spans more than 200 miles across Washington and marks the terminus of the Great American Rail-Trail.