These Midwest Rail-Trails Are Your Ticket to Adventure
There are plenty of ways to get from point A to point B, but few are as rewarding as rail-trails. These decommissioned railroad lines have been reincarnated as multi-use trails for the public and are known for their historic significance and proximity to charming communities. Here are eight of the Midwest's top rail-trails, where you can escape the stress of everyday life and enjoy beautiful scenery. An added bonus: since these railways were built on relatively flat pieces of land, you can expect a nice, gentle trek without many hills.
High Trestle Trail, Iowa
Pause on the trestle bridge to take in verdant views of the Des Moines River Valley on this 25-mile trail between Ankeny and Woodward. Punctuated by 41 geometric steel frames, the bridge's half-mile From Here to There art installation appears to spiral as you ride through it (and blue LED lights illuminate the bridge at night). The trail threads through four counties of farmland and forests, but the artistic touches don't stop at the bridge. Near the town of Madrid, you'll spot a tunnel adorned with railway-inspired paintings.
Related: 14 Great Midwest Bike Trails
Gateway State Trail, Minnesota
The Gateway State Trail, also known as the Willard Munger State Trail, immerses visitors in the state's natural beauty without requiring them to travel far. The paved trail starts in St. Paul and leads riders northeast 18 miles to Pine Point Regional Park near Stillwater, showcasing vast wetlands, sparkling lakes and open prairie just beyond the Twin Cities.
Indianapolis Cultural Trail, Indiana
Set against a vibrant urban backdrop, the Indianapolis Cultural Trail connects five downtown cultural districts over 9 miles. The trail skirts the Lucas Oil Stadium where the Indianapolis Colts play, but its real draw is the arts and culture experiences along the way. Public art is a friendly neighbor along the path, ranging from sculptures to a captivating installation of LED lights in a parking garage. Tourists appreciate that the trail links several of Indy's historical sites, including the Eugene and Marilyn Glick Indiana History Center, the Indiana State House and the Indiana Repertory Theatre. Between downtown and Carmel, the 10-mile Monon Rail Trail is also a favorite ride for active travelers in Indianapolis.
400 State Trail, Wisconsin
The Chicago-Northwestern passenger train, which traveled 400 miles between the Twin Cities and Chicago in 400 minutes, once rumbled along this corridor. Today, the 400 State Trail stretches 22 miles between the small towns of Elroy and Reedsburg—and connects to the Elroy-Sparta State Trail, the oldest rail-trail in the country. Sandstone bluffs, bucolic pastures and wildlife are all part of the scenery along this crushed-limestone path; you may also spy horseback riders on a parallel trail. And since the trail crosses the Baraboo River 11 times, you'll take in plenty of waterfront views, too.
Blue River Rail Trail, Kansas
Marvel at limestone outcroppings, grass-shrouded bluffs and covered bridges adorned with barn quilts as you pedal the Blue River Trail between Marysville, Kansas, and the Nebraska state line. The trail eponymously meanders alongside the Big Blue River for 12 miles. Once in Nebraska, the path connects to two trails, the Chief Standing Bear Trail and Homestead Trail, should you wish to extend the journey.
George S. Mickelson Trail, South Dakota
Ghosts of the Black Hills' gold mines (and characters like Wild Bill Hickok) populate the George S. Mickelson Trail. The 109-mile, crushed limestone path follows a former rail bed in the heart of South Dakota from Deadwood to Edgemont through more than 100 converted railroad bridges and four rock tunnels, plus the scenic spruce and ponderosa pine forests of the Black Hills. Fifteen trailheads allow riders to hop on and off for side trips and more adventuring. As you reach Custer, take a spur down to Custer State Park to hike, sightsee and spot bison and burros.
BayZil Rail Trail, Michigan
The 6-mile BayZil Rail Trail (Bay City to Zilwaukee) in eastern Michigan follows a gentle, parallel path along the Saginaw River. You'll find yourself surrounded by lush forests and expansive marshes on this tranquil route, which was built on the former railbed of the Detroit and Mackinac Railway in 2016. For now, the only public access to the trail is via the Hotchkiss Road Trailhead, though a southern connection to the Zilwaukee Pathway is underway.
Craving more? Don't miss Missouri's historic Katy Trail, and check out some of the most bike-friendly destinations across the Midwest to inspire your next adventure.