Finding the right rail trail for you

Posted on: July 10, 2019 | Bob Frye | Comments

A rail trail is a comfortable place to bike.

Riding rail trails is all about having fun, in whatever form you choose.
Bob Frye/Everybody Adventures

You might never convince her.

A cousin of mine loves to explore the outdoors. It’s a passion that’s grown in recent years especially, and taken her to some really beautiful places on foot and on a bike.

But she’s got one condition.

She does not want to see snakes. Of any kind. Ever.

So when I say something like the Pine Creek Rail Trail in what’s known as Pennsylvania’s Grand Canyon is “must see” – ranked by some sites as one of the 10 best in the nation – well, she believes me. But she’s still not sure she wants to pedal it.

That’s because bikers sometimes share the trail with timber rattlesnakes.

Problems are extremely rare. The snakes don’t want any trouble – they mostly just sun themselves on the trail’s warm limestone surface – and bikers are generally smart enough to give them a wide berth.

But the mere presence of the reptiles is too much for some.

That’s OK. There are plenty of rail trails to choose from around the country.

Putting yourself on the right one, though, requires some thought.

Crowds. There are some tremendous natural wonders to be found on and along rail trails. I can think of several that offer scenic views, waterfalls, wildlife, historical spots and more.

Just don’t expect to be the only one that knows it.

The most gorgeous and interesting places often attract the largest crowds. So when choosing which rail trail to ride, decide beforehand on whether solitude or scenery is more important.

Or, if you want as much of both as possible, try riding outside of peak times, like weekdays during the school year.

Amenities. Some rail trails, running through more urban areas, offer greater access to restrooms and places to stop and eat, be it a burger and shake or more upscale fare. They may offer more places to get on and off trail, too, in case the weather turns or energies wane.

In other locations you’re on your own, for grub and everything else.

Poll your group and see what they are looking for.

Other activities. Often, the biking is the thing. Pedaling, cruising along mile after mile, is the goal of a lot of trips.

Many rail trails, though, parallel rivers and creeks. And as more and more anglers are finding out, bikes are a great vehicle for getting from one hot spot to another. They allow you to cover more miles in a day, bypassing less productive water and fishing more spots you really like.

Others pedal to get to climbing areas, swimming holes, even canoe launches for a combo pedal and paddle and more.

Decide what all you want to do in a day and find a trail that fits.

Grade. Rail trails are generally, by their nature, wide and flat. That makes for easy riding.

Even trains had to go over mountains eventually in some parts of the country, though. And the trails that follow those routes feature steeper climbs and descents.

Is everyone in your group up for that? Nothing ruins a trip faster than crushed expectations.

Bucket lists. Our time is finite. Weekends are far too short. Opportunities are limited.

It’s easy to ride the same trails, even the same stretches of trail, over and over again because they’re close to home and easy to access.

And there’s nothing wrong with that familiarity. Indeed, living close enough to a trail to ride it a lot is wonderful.

But maybe there are trails you’ve always wanted to pedal. Identify them, then plan out a schedule so that you actually get to them rather than just always talk about them.

Be realistic and flexible, though. If you don’t get to as many as quickly as you’d like, that’s OK. Life happens.

But knock some off the list as you can.

Riding is supposed to be fun, after all. If you and your fellow bikers aren’t laughing and smiling, before, during or after a trip, you’re doing it wrong.


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Bob Frye is the editor. Reach him at 412-838-5148 or See other stories, blogs, videos and more at

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