10 Great Rail-To-Trail Cycling Journeys

Photo Courtesy of Route of the Hiawatha

In our on-the-go culture there’s nothing quite like the silence and serenity of cycling through the countryside along a one-lane trail that once carried noisy trains to…wherever. The U.S. has more than 30,000 miles of disused rail tracks repurposed into bicycle paths.

In the Northwest, rail-trails traverse plains, passes, canyons and tunnels. They trace rivers and skirt lakes. And they pass through historic downtowns and major urban centers. Here’s a run-down of 10 interesting rail-trails; one-way mileage is indicated in parentheses.

Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes (73): This epic trail is a joint project of Idaho Parks & Recreation and volunteer groups. The trail has been honored as a Rails-to-Trails Conservancy Hall-of-Fame trail. The trailhead and parking are at Plummer, an hour south of Spokane. Following cool woodlands, the trail crosses Coeur d’Alene lake, follows the Coeur d’Alene River along Route 4 and then heads east along the river’s south fork. Close by I-90, the trail passes through towns like Smelterville and Mullan. Use your low-low gear to climb the old Northern Pacific line to the 4,680-foot Lookout Pass before descending into Montana. parksandrecreation.idaho.gov/parks/trail-coeur-d-alenes

Route of the Hiawatha (15): A continuation of the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes, the Hiawatha is a seven-mile drive from Lookout Pass. This bike trail features seven trestles and 10 tunnels, including the 1.66-mile Saint Paul Pass tunnel. You will need head and tail lights and, probably, a rain slicker. The trail opens in May, and a pass is required. ridethehiawatha.com

Great Northern Historical Trail, Kila to Kalispell (11): This flat ride through the Flathead Valley northeast along U.S. Route 2 provides good views of waterfowl habitation at Smith Lake and great mountain views. The trail ends in Kalispell at the U.S. 93 bypass, or optionally continues another several miles to the town of Somers on Flathead Lake. traillink.com/trail/great-northern-historical-trail

Milwaukee Road Rail-Trail (4): Nine miles south of Butte is Thompson Park and a section of the historic Milwaukee Road rail line. You’ll pass through two tunnels, and one is 1,100 feet long, so be sure to be equipped with head and tail lights. traillink.com/trail/milwaukee-road-rail-trail-(thompson-park)

Row River National Recreation Trail (16): First, Row is pronounced like “Cow.” From Cottage Grove (Exit 174 on I-5), the trail heads east and loops around Dorena Reservoir with wildlife galore, covered bridges and Hollywood movie history. In 1926, “The General” with Buster Keaton was filmed along the tracks. In 1985, it was “Stand by Me” with Keifer Sutherland and the late River Phoenix. blm.gov/visit/row-river-trail

Banks-Vernonia State Trail (22): Some 50 miles northwest of downtown Portland (US-26 west to OR-47 north) this former lumber line travels downhill from Vernonia to Banks, a smallish town in the middle of a grass-farming area. Of course, if you begin at Banks (US-26 west to OR-6 south), you’ll be going uphill, including the 11-percent climb to Tophill. oregonstateparks.org

Astoria Riverwalk (6): Cyclists of a “certain” age may recall that Astoria was the filming location for the 1985 “Goonies” movie. There’s level cycling in this hilly city along the Riverwalk, along with lively waterfront dining and craft breweries. Check out the Columbia River Maritime Museum. astoriaparks.com/riverwalk.aspx

Burke-Gilman Trail (18): Who would have imagined that Judge Tom Burke and Dan Gilman, two 19th-century railroad lawyers in Seattle, would have a rail-trail named for them in 1978 that launched a nationwide movement to make disused rail lines into recreational trails? Saddle up at Golden Gardens Park (Seaview Place) in NW Seattle then wend around the old Gasworks and Lake Union. The B-G follows the Ship Canal, which connects the Puget Sound to Lake Washington, and then continues north along the lakeshore for much of its length. There’s great birding along Lake Washington. Brake for lunch in the “U District,” home of the University of Washington. B-G ends near Blyth Park in Bothell. But that’s not the end of the story. You can continue and link up with the nearby Sammamish River Trail. seattle.gov/parks/find/parks/burke-gilman-trail

Spokane River Centennial State Park Trail (38): The Friends of the Centennial Trail take good care of their pathway. Start at Nine Mile Falls in Spokane or from exit 299 along I-90. The trail follows the Spokane River to the Idaho border. A mile from the entry point is the Horse Slaughter Camp stone monument to remember the 1858 shooting of 850 Native American-owned horses by the U.S. Army. A side route leads to a cliff-top mansion, now the Arbor Crest Winery. The trail passes through downtown Spokane’s Riverfront Park with easy access to restaurants for a refreshment break. parks.state.wa.us/487/centennial-trail

British Columbia
Myra Canyon (12.5): How about a sky-high ride across 18 trestles and through two tunnels along the old Kettle Valley Rail line? The Myra Canyon trailhead is 30 minutes outside the Okanagan Valley city of Kelowna. The trail, at over 4,100 feet, is open year-round, but expect snows from October to May. Follow Myra Forest Service road (gravel) to the Myra gate. You’ll find Myra Canyon Bike Rentals at the entrance to the trail; go to myracanyonrental.com to reserve your bike rental. myratrestles.com