10 Rail-Trail Hikes for Leaf Peeping

The crisp air, the rustling leaves: Is there anything more invigorating than an autumn hike? Here, you’ll find some extraordinary rail-trails tucked away in quiet forests that offer colorful spectacles come fall.


Andes Rail Trail

New York

Photo by: Ann Roberti, Courtesy Catskill Mountain Club

The Andes Rail Trail is nestled in the Catskill Mountains region of New York. At the trailhead, you’ll find a lovely pergola and a 1907 train depot. From the depot, you can travel 0.9 miles along the trail’s natural surface, enjoying outstanding views of mountains, woodlands, fields, a babbling stream and the remnants of an old stone mill. At the end of the rail-trail portion, you can continue on the Bullet Hole Spur, which offers a more challenging hike. This 2.2-mile addition climbs the ridge above the rail bed through hardwood forest above Bullet Hole Creek and the Tremperskill valley.


Little Stony National Recreation Trail


Photo by: Dawn Sanders

Just a smidge under 3 miles, the Little Stony National Recreation Trail provides the perfect hike in Jefferson National Forest. Starting at Hanging Rock Picnic Area, follow the yellow blazes marking the trail, which snakes along Little Stony Creek. The natural-surface pathway includes a 600-foot ascent and footbridges over water crossings. Within a half-mile of the northern trailhead, you will find a viewing platform across from a 40-foot waterfall; continue uphill to find two more impressive waterfalls.


Wallace Falls Railway Trail


Photo by: remo.daut

Located in the Cascade foothills near the town of Gold Bar, the Wallace Falls Railway Trail traces the path of wood-fired logging trains owned by the Great Northern Railroad. Traversing 3.7 miles through Wallace Falls State Park, the natural-surface pathway offers broad switchbacks through the forest and views of waterfalls and the surrounding mountains.


Vernon Rails-to-Trails


Photo by: angelaj1582

Beginning 15 miles northeast of Hartford, the pretty Vernon Rails-to-Trails overlooks ravines and streams and passes between rock walls verdant with ferns and lichen. Crossing a wooded terrain of hills and wetlands, you may spot deer along the 4-mile, crushed-stone pathway. For a longer hike, you can also connect to the Hop River State Park Trail at Church Street.


Blackwater Canyon Trail

West Virginia

Photo by: Friends of Blackwater

Nestled within the Monongahela National Forest, the Blackwater Canyon Trail winds along an old railroad route once used for hauling coal and lumber through this stunning canyon. You can still see coke ovens dotting the mountainside. Curving along the roaring Blackwater River and its North Branch, and traversing Blackwater Falls State Park, the 10.5-mile unpaved pathway offers a rustic adventure.


Narrow Gauge Trail


Photo by: John Fowler | CC BY 2.0

The Narrow Gauge Trail is a 2-mile, crushed-stone pathway in Pine Valley Ranch Park, a beautiful open space near the mountain community of Pine, Colorado. It follows the north bank of the North Fork of the South Platte River, through a mix of forests and open meadows.


Beebe Spur Rail Trail


Photo by: Beth Barnes

The Beebe Spur is a scenic 4-mile rail-trail running from northern Vermont’s Newport towards the Canadian border. The packed gravel pathway follows Lake Memphremagog for most of the way, offering outstanding views of the water, as well as the Green Mountains, wetlands and picturesque fields.


Brownstone Trail


Photo by: bmusedwi

The Brownstone Trail runs for nearly 3 miles on an abandoned Chicago and North Western Railway corridor from the historic downtown area of Bayfield, Wisconsin, to the Port Superior Marina south of the city. The unpaved pathway follows the shoreline of Lake Superior, hugging the brownstone cliffs that give the trail its name. The entire area is a popular tourist destination advertised as the gateway to the nearby Apostle Islands National Lakeshore.


Cumberland River Bicentennial Trail


Photo by: tbickimer

The 6.5-mile Cumberland River Bicentennial Trail will enchant you as it meanders past lively streams and waterfalls, across misty wetlands and atop jagged bluffs along the Cumberland River. Only 20 minutes northwest of downtown Nashville, it offers a pleasant escape along secluded lakes and over a handful of former railroad bridges.


Pennypack Trail


Photo by: rosetwig

A Philadelphia favorite, the 14-mile Pennypack Trail begins in Huntingdon Valley and continues through wooded Lorimer Park and scenic Pennypack Park. The rail-trail extends all the way to the waterfront of the Delaware River, following Pennypack Creek through rolling hills and curves.

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