The Best Trail Towns in America

Exploring The Benefit of Trails in Communities

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.


1

Damascus, Virginia

Virginia Creeper National Recreation Trail


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.

Photo by TrailLink user crimefighter560

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.

Photo by Flickr user JR P

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.”

Photo by Flickr user Eli Christman

2

Cumberland, Maryland

C&O Canal Towpath/Great Allegheny Passage


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.

Photo by TrailLink user dpg47

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.

Photo by TrailLink user milo allerton bateman

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.

Photo by Flcikr user Lee Cannon

3

Marquette, Michigan

Iron Ore Heritage Trail


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.

Photo by TrailLink user RTC

There are many places for a trail traveler to get food in Marquette, as it hosts a farmers market every Saturday and is home to many breweries, lounges and restaurants. The town also has museums and numerous places to shop. In the first week of October, Marquette hosts the Harvest Fest, an annual event bustling with harvest-themed activities, live music and street dancing. The town has been celebrating Harvest Fest for several years, and this past year they were joined by a live animal petting zoo, miniature golf course and the 2018 Pasty Eating Competition.

Photo by Flickr user Jim Sorbie

The Iron Ore Heritage Trail ultimately connects with the Marquette Multi-Use Path, but heading west from Marquette, it passes through towns like Ishpeming, a ski town and home to the Cliffs Shaft Mine Museum, and Negaunee, the home of the first iron ore mine of the Lake Superior region, Jackson Mine. Marquette is the largest community on the trail and the place to go to get a mix of town life and breathtaking scenery. Surrounded by bluffs and diverse landscapes, this ideal setting presents everything from biking to fishing, snowshoeing to birding and off-roading to hunting.

Photo by Flickr user Darell Harden

There is not enough time to do everything, but the town offers a little something for everyone. Embrace the season and make the most of it in Marquette, where serious outdoor adventure awaits.


4

Dayton, Ohio

Great Miami River Trail


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.

Photo by TrailLink user benkretz

Downtown Dayton offers a plethora of dining options and has a performing arts center. Although it is a few miles away from the path, the National Museum of the USAF is a must see. Dayton is full of other theaters and historical parks, as well as arboretums and gardens.

Photo by Flickr user Joanna Poe

Although Dayton is the largest community the Great Miami River Trail passes through, there are plenty of other trail towns that recreationalists might look to for a quieter experience. Learn about the prehistoric Miamisburg Mound in Miamisburg, admire the architecture of the Fort Piqua Plaza in Piqua or relax on the riverfront at Treasure Island Park in Troy. The Great Miami River Trail is a great trail to explore a variety of trail towns, with something to do at every stop on the path.

Photo by Flickr user Paul Hindemith & Fred Olson

5

Durango, Colorado

Animas River Trail


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.

Photo by TrailLink user amberlovejohnson85

Durango has embraced their community as a trail town with voters even approving two sales tax increases, one for the open land and another for the Animas River Trail. The town attracts over 1 million tourists a year, and the tight-knit trail community welcomes all newcomers awaiting to explore all the high points the town and trails have to offer. The outdoor culture is a boon for local businesses, as the trail passes by seven bike stores, two running stores, a ski area and several places for refreshments. There are six local breweries, including the Animas Brewing Company, where customers can see trains roaring past during the summer while enjoying a cold brew. A recreation center, parks and ponds can also be found along the trail, all offering a relaxing break before or after tackling the outdoor activities within San Juan National Forest.

Photo by Flickr user Philms

There are not many trail towns in the United States like Durango, unique for its community, the San Juan Mountains and the deserts of the American Southwest. Also, fairly exclusive to Durango is the competitive atmosphere. The town produces more national, world and Olympic champions than any other U.S. town, and hosts several running competitions throughout the year but especially during the summer, including the Hardrock 100 Mile and the Kendall Mountain Run. Durango is a dream utopia for trail travelers, with a friendly community who welcome newcomers while embracing their town wholeheartedly.

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