Find Out Why These Eight Urban Trails Are Perfect for On-Foot Exploration

This blog was written by Suzanne Matyas and Amy Kapp of Rails-to-Trails Conservancy. Rails-to-Trails Conservancy is a lead organization for the April Monthly Theme of the Every Body Walk! Collaborative.  This blog was originally published in Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s Trailblog on April 22, 2019.

With more fair-weather days afoot, it’s a splendid time to go exploring—by foot!

Whether you’re venturing to a new city or finally getting around to playing the tourist in your own backyard, walking can connect you in a unique and unequalled way. As a pedestrian, you’re able to access areas motorized vehicles cannot, meet the people that make up a community, experience nature and really immerse yourself in your surroundings.

Plus, for those of us who like to get to know a place by sampling its signature dishes (*raises hand and fork*), walking can be a great way to work up an appetite and burn off unwanted pounds!

Happily, more and more communities in America are being connected by trails and trail networks—resulting in car-free, walking oases for residents and visitors to discover all types of destinations. Through our TrailNation™ initiative, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) is working with on-the-ground partners in diverse regions of the country to develop these vital assets—and create endless new connections to all the things that make our communities great: monuments, gardens and parks, iconic eateries, historic sites, museums, waterside attractions and other must-see stops.

To help get you off on the right foot, here’s a list of just a few trails in our TrailNation project footprint that are serving as amazing community connectors for millions of people!

1. Anacostia Riverwalk Trail (Washington, D.C.)

Anacostia Riverwalk Trail | Photo by TrailLink user caughtmyeyeimages

This planned 28-mile rail-trail, which currently spans 19 miles on both sides of the Anacostia River, will eventually connect to 16 neighborhoods, as well as numerous parks, civic sites and shopping areas in Washington, D.C. Part of the evolving Capital Trails Coalition Network, comprising more than 800 miles of trails in D.C., Virginia and Maryland, the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail already boasts links to major destinations such as Diamond Teague Park, historic Navy Yard and Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, and will eventually connect to the Tidal Basin and the National Mall.

The project is a keystone of the District Department of Transportation’s $10 billion Anacostia Waterfront Initiative to “transform the shores of the Anacostia River into a world-class waterfront.” Its connection to the Anacostia River Trail in Maryland—and to multiple Metro stations—makes it a viable multimodal option for people commuting in and around the D.C. metro area.

2. Schuylkill River Trail (Pennsylvania)

Schuylkill River Trail | Photo by Thom Carroll

The 27-mile Valley Forge to Philadelphia section of the Schuylkill River Trail is a kingpin in the area’s trail network—providing links to hundreds of neighborhoods, parks, business centers, transit stations and waterfront areas in Montgomery and Philadelphia counties. It is also a major corridor for the developing 800-mile Circuit Trails network, which travels through nine counties in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. This section of trail highlights the area’s rich history and culture as it journeys from downtown Philadelphia out to Montgomery County and Valley Forge National Historical Park. In Philadelphia, the trail passes such landmarks as the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Schuylkill Banks Boardwalk and historic Eastern State Penitentiary before heading through Fairmount Park and along the Manayunk Canal Towpath. Already a busy commuting corridor and recreation destination for residents living in the city and northwest suburbs, plans are in the works for the trail to eventually extend approximately 130 miles along the length of the five-county Schuylkill River Heritage Corridor.

3. Gwynns Falls Trail (Maryland)

Baltimore’s Gwynns Falls Trail | Photo by Avery Harmon

The western flank of the developing 35-mile Baltimore Greenway Trails Network, the Gwynns Falls Trail has something for everyone! Over its 19 miles, the trail connects dozens of neighborhoods to rich African-American historical sites, spectacular parks, the urban business center and the iconic Inner Harbor—home to the National Aquarium’s more than 20,000 creatures, the Maryland Science Center and several other popular attractions. Along the route, railroad history buffs will have the chance to travel near the B&O Museum and by the country’s first masonry bridge for railroad use, Carrollton Viaduct, whose namesake laid the cornerstone in 1828 and was the last living signer of the Declaration of Independence.

Putting the “green” in greenway, the trail provides access to more than 2,000 acres of public lands within the historic Gywnns Falls stream valley and connects to Gwynns Falls/Leakin Park—one of largest woodland parks on the East Coast. Further contributing to this nature-lover’s paradise is the fact that the trail is included in Maryland’s state-certified Baltimore National Heritage Area and the National Park Service’s Chesapeake Bay Gateways Network.

4. Historic Battlefield Trail (Texas)

Historic Battlefield Trail | Photo by Mark Lehmann

Transportation, tourism, health and history all come to mind with this 8.5-mile rail-trail in South Texas. The scenic Historic Battlefield Trail is a key part of the Lower Rio Grande Valley Active Plan, which will ultimately connect 428 miles of trails for walking, biking and paddling in and around the region. From its southern terminus in Brownsville, the trail first travels through the city’s downtown, linking neighborhoods, mass transit, shops, restaurants, recreation and event centers, the courthouse, green spaces and museums, as well as providing close access to the Gladys Porter Zoo and the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.

The trail currently ends at Palo Alto Battlefield National Historical Park—where the first battle of the two-year U.S.-Mexican War took place—and will eventually extend another 4.2 miles into Los Fresnos. In addition to providing ample opportunity to explore the region’s rich historical and cultural heritage, the trail also serves as a treasured recreational asset. Adorned with benches, lighting and water fountains, the paved route welcomes feet and wheels alike.

5. San Francisco Bay Trail (California)

Golden Gate Bridge | Photo by Cindy Barks

Launched in 1989, the developing San Francisco Bay Trail is part of the Bay Area Trails Collaborative’s ambitious vision of a 2,700-mile regional trail network. Currently consisting of more than 350 miles of trails on the ground, the project, when complete, will encircle the entire bay, linking the shorelines of nine counties and 47 cities.

Out-of-towners will appreciate the trail’s close proximity to both the San Francisco and Oakland international airports. But both visitors and locals will be able to enjoy the trail’s connections to multiple parks and green spaces, which add up to roughly 57,000 acres of open space and include the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Middle Harbor Shoreline Park and Golden Gate National Recreation Area, as well as other parks and trails. From its access to wine country to its links to schools, transit and other amenities—the trail, when complete, will offer an incredible 500 miles for walking, commuting, getting around and exploring!

6. Hank Aaron State Trail (Wisconsin)

Hank Aaron State Trail | Photo by TrailLink user lixunz

Beer, baseball, bay views: The Hank Aaron State Trail offers all these delights and many more over its smooth 15 miles. From its eastern terminus on the shores of Milwaukee Bay, walkers will be able to drink in stunning views Lake Michigan—the third largest of the Great Lakes and the only one that lives completely within the United States! This section of the trail is within the Historic Third Ward and grants its users access to the bright red Milwaukee Pierhead Lighthouse, Lakeshore State Park, art galleries, multiple entertainment and performance centers, restaurants, shops and its neighboring 120-mile Oak Leaf Trail. Together, these two trails are important pieces of the Route of the Badger, a developing 700-mile-plus trail system in Southeast Wisconsin.

As the trail heads west, it treats its users to a combination of built and natural destinations: the Kinnikinic and Menomonee rivers, breweries, Three Bridges Park, the Harley Davidson Museum, an ice rink, the zoo and Miller Park baseball stadium—the home of the Milwaukee Brewers.

7. Three Rivers Heritage Trail (Pennsylvania)

Three Rivers Heritage Trail near Point State Park | Photo by Amy Kapp

The Three Rivers Heritage Trail features the best that the city of Pittsburgh has to offer. Extended outward in three major paved, connected segments from Point State Park, the urban trail parallels its namesake three rivers—the Allegheny, Ohio, and Monongahela—that helped lift the city into prominence as America’s once industrial powerhouse.

A central hub of the Industrial Heartland Trails Coalition—a 1,500-miles-plus trail network connecting Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia and New York—the Three Rivers Heritage Trail is a major tourism destination for the city that connects a variety of destination neighborhoods (for history, recreation, nightlife and shopping)—including Pittsburgh’s downtown, the Cultural District, the Strip District, the North Side, the South Side and historic Station Square. The trail also highlights many of Pittsburgh’s main attractions, including Highmark Stadium, Point State Park, the famous inclines to Mt. Washington, and several of the city’s iconic bridges. The trail also shares some corridor and provides a seamless connection with the 150-mile Great Allegheny Passage.

8. Atlantic Greenway (Florida)

South Beach Trail | Photo by Lee Smith

Surrounded by palm trees and meandering through South Beach, the Atlantic Greenway (also known as the South Beach Trail) is nestled in Miami Beach, one of the country’s most popular destinations.

Part of two much larger, developing projects—the Miami LOOP, a developing 225-mile trail network throughout Miami-Dade County, and the East Coast Greenway, extending from Florida to Maine—the trail holds it own as a major connector, linking recreation areas, bars, hotels, parks, green space, restaurants, shops and more between its southernmost endpoint at South Pointe Beach and Pier north to the Miami Beach Boardwalk (a pedestrian-only section of trail) and on to Indian Beach Park (north of Mid-Beach).

Featuring beautiful views of the Atlantic Ocean—this true walking oasis also provides frequent water stations for washing off beach sand—and several public restrooms. Interesting sculptures, rocks, and places to stop and rest pepper the length of the trail. 

Want to explore a community closer to home or in another region? Find thousands of other trails that are great for walking and perusing as a pedestrian on!