The United States has many trails that stretch for well in excess of a thousand miles – and the list is growing. Furthermore, with the retirement of so many rail trails all around the country, the opportunities for more rail trails continue to go (and many are under development now). One of the great rail trails currently under construction is the aptly-named Great American Rail Trail.
It will be the longest bike trail in the world when complete – being even longer than the 3,000-mile-long Great Divide Mountain Bike Route (from Canada to Mexico). It will be some time before the Great American Rail Trail is 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 lost to the forests after the coal mines and railroad were abandoned.
Length & Route Of The Great American Rail Trail
When the Great American Rail Trail is complete, it will run some 3,700 miles or 6,000 kilometers from Washington DC to Washington state (a sort of Washington to Washington trail). The trail will run through 12 states plus the District of Columbia. It is a very ambitious and long term project.
- Length: Eventually, 3,700 miles or 6,000 kilometres
When the trail is completed, it is to preliminarily be over 80% off-road and separated from vehicle traffic. However, the ultimate plan is to have the whole trail away from the roads.
The states (and districts) 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 Complete & When The Rail Trail Will Be Finished
It was first launched in May 2019, and so far, already around 2,000 miles, or a little over half of the trail, have been completed. When it is completed, around 50 million Americans will be living within around 50 miles of the trail. It is made up of over 150 existing multi-use trails (although 90 gaps remain to be filled between the sections).
- Status: Half Complete / Under Construction
- Completion Dates: In The Next Few Decades
The work on the Great American Rail Trail is being facilitated by the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy.
It will be a long time before one will be able to cycle the full route. It is not expected to be completed any time soon – it is likely to take a few decades to finish. That being said, segments of the trail will be completed with regularity as the gaps are closed, and the Great American Rail-Trail takes form.
It is estimated that the Great American Rail Trail will cost around $1 billion to complete. While that is a lot for a trail, it is believed that the cost will be entirely offset within five years on account of visitor spending along the route.
It is the signature project of the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (which is the nation’s largest trails organization). The organization is a grassroots community with over a million strong. It is dedicated to developing a network of nationwide public trails (with many of these trails coming from abandoned rail lines).
Existing Trails To Be Part Of The Great American Rail-Trail
The route seeks to use existing trails as much as possible (around 2,026 miles of the trails are pre-existing). This pretty much means the route was borne around 50% complete, with the existing trails only needing some further development.
Some of the existing trails that are being incorporated into the trail are:
- Olympic Discovery Trail (Washington)
- Palouse to Cascades State Park Trail (Washington)
- Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes (Idaho)
- Olympian Trail (Montana)
- Headwaters Trail 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)
- Ohio to Erie Trail (Ohio)
- Panhandle Trail (West Virginia)
When the Great American Rail Trail is complete, it will offer the chance to cycle most of the way across the nation. Visitors will be able to explore some of the most stunning landscapes of the American outdoors away from the danger, noise, and hustle of the roads.
Learn more about the remarkable experience that the rail trail will offer (and already does offer) on the official Great American Rail Trail website.