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Trails can help revitalize a region simply by providing opportunities for exploration and connection. Trail towns do just that: give trail users a destination along a trail where they can rest and enjoy everything the nearby community has to offer. The communities embrace their trails and find new ways to serve trail travelers, like providing lodging, camping, shopping, food and a variety of other recreational activities. The trail links different towns together, creating a regional destination for the residents and trail users alike. We’ve compiled a few trail towns that embody exactly what it means to connect the community, residents and multi-use trails.
Damascus is a small town tucked into the Blue Ridge Mountains of Southwest Virginia. Known as “Trail Town USA,” it is the quintessential trail-friendly community. It has rapidly become a destination for people looking to experience stunning natural beauty. Damascus is designated by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, who recognize the effort the town has made to welcome trail users.
The trail town has seven nationally known trails intersecting within its borders, including the Virginia Creeper National Recreation Trail which stretches for almost 33 miles of dense forest, open fields and lush waterways. The rail-trail once had more than 100 trestles and 47 remain today along the gravel path. It passes by terrific scenery, including Christmas tree farms, river views and fields of grazing llamas. Around Damascus, hikers can also find caves, waterfalls, and mountaintop views along with some other paths to choose from.
The trail continues into Damascus, the self-proclaimed “friendliest town on the trail.” Trail users will find bike stations, outfitters, bed and breakfasts and breweries. The trail town also has a few local events every year. Trail Days is the largest annual gathering of Appalachian Trail hikers, attracting about 20,000 people every year. The event offers hiker workshops, food, gear and plenty of entertainment. The Annual Fall… Down in Damascus Festival is held toward the end of September and celebrates the changing of the seasons. With food and live bands, this is a great event to be a part of.
The town’s website says, “The Damascus lifestyle is adventurous and creative, yet laid-back and well-paced. It’s a place where you can be super-active, or where you can reconnect with nature, rejuvenate, and find your inner peace. Most importantly, it’s a place where you can find your own path.”
Cumberland is a small city in Northwest Maryland that has gained a reputation as a regional cycling destination. With plenty to do within the city and surrounding area, Cumberland invites anyone looking for a bike friendly culture and long, uninterrupted pathways. The tail town is designated by both The Great Allegheny Passage Trail Town Program, and the C&O Canal Trust.
Cumberland can thank the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park trail and Great Allegheny Passage for its growing recognition. The former, also known as the C&O Canal Towpath, stretches for about 185 miles between Georgetown in Washington D.C. and Cumberland. Recreationalists will enjoy the trail during all times of the year, but it is exceptionally busy during the spring and fall months. Along the C&O Canal Towpath travelers will find campgrounds, picnic areas, lookout points and other amenities like cafes, motels and bike shops. Also, along the trail are museums and hundreds of original features, like lock houses and aqueducts that showcase the rich history of the area.
The Great Allegheny Passage spans 150 miles from Cumberland to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The GAP passes lush green hillsides, steel mills and former industrial towns, including designated trail towns like the historic boomtown of Connellsville. The rest areas, food, whitewater rafting, and surreal views of state parks, rivers and forests can be found along the way.
For those seeking amenities on their trail journey, Cumberland offers numerous hotels, bike rentals, nearby mountain biking trails and plenty of restaurants. In addition, the city hosts a plethora of events and activities throughout the year. During the summer, Cumberland holds the Heritage Day Festival, which celebrates the crafts and traditions of Appalachian and Cumberland Plateau culture. The two-day event has marked the traditional beginning of summer for 50 years and offers something for everyone. A quick look on the Cumberland Times website reveals dozens of upcoming events.
Cumberland is the perfect point to start or end your adventure on the C&O Canal Towpath and Great Allegheny Passage – you can rest up, stock up and ride out. Whichever direction you take, you will be sure to remember your experience in Cumberland.
Located in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Marquette is a bustling town packed with outdoor adventure and a hub for tourists and recreationalists alike. Whether you are looking for family-friendly activities within the town or are just trying to reconnect with nature along the 80+ miles of shoreline, Marquette has you covered.
Marquette would not be a trail town without the help of the North Country Trail Association, the nonprofit organization that designated it. Cutting through the heart of downtown Marquette is the Iron Ore Heritage Trail, which traverses 47 miles across the Marquette Iron Range and into Michigan’s picturesque UP. Relics from the bygone era may be spotted on the path, as the trail follows several former railroads dating back to the 1850s. Some parts of the trail are fully complete, which makes those sections popular for snowmobiling in the winter. Other parts of the trail are unimproved and best for hikers, mountain bikers and ATV users.
Dayton is the epitome of a trail town with everything it has to offer: a charming downtown with historical, culinary and cultural attractions, combined with plentiful opportunities for outdoor exploration. The trail town is designated by both the Buckeye Trail Association and the North Country Trail Association.
Passing through Dayton and various towns, including Troy and Piqua is the Great Miami River Trail. This multi-use trail is over 86 miles of asphalt and the backbone of one of the nation’s largest paved trail networks. Spanning four Ohio counties, the Great Miami River Trail parallels the river most of the way, allowing recreationalists to observe wildlife and scenic views. Entering Dayton from the north, trail users will pass through five parks, one island and cross over two trail bridges. The hiking opportunities are seemingly endless in Dayton given the abundance of trails, including Stillwater River Bikeway, Mad River Trail and Wolf Creek Trail. Trail users can also enjoy other outdoor activities in the area, including fly-fishing, kayaking, birdwatching, and the exploration of waterfalls.
Durango is a small southwestern Colorado town surrounded by mountains and deserts. With over 300 miles of trails and remarkable views beyond the Animas River, Durango is a trail traveler’s dream destination.
Passing right through downtown Durango and paralleling the Animas River is the Animas River Trail, running over 9 miles and connecting city parks, bridges and downtown businesses. The asphalt and concrete trail is popular during the summer, with kayakers and floaters on the river and eight Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad tourist trains per day on the adjacent tracks. The Animas River Trail ends just south of the 1.8-million acre San Juan National Forest, which is home to Colorado’s largest wilderness area, the Weminuche Wilderness. Eons ago, volcanic activity and ice ages altered the landscape to the rugged and difficult terrain trail travelers experience today. Hikers, hunters and recreationalists alike can enjoy the natural resources and wildlife of the wilderness, including moose, bear and elk.
Apple picking, crisp air and multicolored foliage. There’s something about autumn that warms our hearts as much as crackling fires warm our toes.
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