An Education in the Wheel World: The Top College Campus Trails

College campuses are the perfect place for trails as walking and biking make the most sense as quick, clean ways to cover the short distances between the residences, school buildings and businesses that are all close at hand to serve students and faculty. In addition to their value for commuting, many of these trails also whisk travelers out of the hustle and bustle of college life, offering a relaxing, recreational escape from the crunch of finals and school work. Here are some awesome rail-trails in and around college campuses across the U.S.


Longleaf Trace


Photo by: jake.lynch.1426

Stretching nearly 41 miles northwest from the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg to small-town Prentiss, the Longleaf Trace traverses landscapes that range from the bustling heart of one of the state’s largest cities to the rural farmland that predominates in this area. The trail’s gateway on the Southern Miss campus offers a welcome center, and the experience on this Hall of Fame rail-trail includes several tunnels and bridges.


Prairie Line Trail


Photo: Courtesy University of Washington Tacoma

Tacoma was once a terminus of the Northern Pacific Railroad that stretched all the way to the Great Lakes. Today, the Prairie Line Trail follows a short portion of that route down the center of the University of Washington’s Tacoma campus. Though the rail-trail is less than a mile long, it’s a beauty with a section of elegant gray-and-white brick, ornamental trees, rain gardens and several pieces of public art.


Schuylkill River Trail


Photo by: scarpm

Just across the Schuylkill River from the University of Pennsylvania, the Schuylkill River Trail follows the shoreline northward out of Philadelphia. The 27-mile rail-trail itself offers lessons in history and culture as passes right by the Philadelphia Museum of Art and ends at the Valley Forge National Historic Park.


San Francisco Bay Trail


Photo by: Cindy Barks

Not only do the students and faculty of the University of California at Berkeley have access to the glistening San Francisco Bay just a stone’s throw from campus, they also have an expansive trail system at their feet. The San Francisco Bay Trail connects more than 300 miles of trail that ring the bay, connecting San Francisco, San Jose and more than a dozen other communities along the waterfront.


East Ithaca Recreation Way and the South Hill Recreation Way

New York

Photo by: owegoman

Cornell University students and faculty have not just one rail-trail in their midst, but two: the East Ithaca Recreation Way and South Hill Recreation Way. This pair of short but sweet rail-trails offer relaxing natural escapes in New York’s Finger Lakes region.


Caperton Trail

West Virginia

Photo by: Daniel Boyd

Although the 6-mile Caperton Trail runs right through busy Morgantown, the ride is not short on scenery as it rolls through the arboretum on the campus of West Virginia University and traverses Hazel Ruby McQuain Riverfront Park, known for its showy cherry blossoms. At either end, the trail also ties into the Mon River trail system for longer get-aways.


Farmington Canal Heritage Trail


Photo by: nimmorp21

Students needing a break from exams and hardcore studying can hop on the Farmington Canal Heritage Trail right from the Yale University campus and head north into central Connecticut. The rail-trail spans 40 miles and, when completed, will provide even more miles of fun on a continuous north-south route across the state from New Haven to the Massachusetts border.


Waldo Road Greenway - Depot Avenue Rail-Trail - Kermit Sigmon Bike Trail


Photo by: britte.lowther

Skirting the University of Florida, this seamlessly connected trail network stretches just over 6 miles in Gainesville. The paved rail-trail is a commuter’s dream, linking neighborhoods, businesses and transit stops. A highlight is its U.S. Highway 441 pedestrian overpass; this stunning bridge is topped with a cherry-red simulated railroad track with a DNA-like twist.


MKT Nature and Fitness Trail


Photo by: RTC

Within minutes, travelers on the 9-mile MKT Nature and Fitness Trail are spirited away from downtown Columbia and taken into the forest. Columbia is home to the University of Missouri, the largest university in the state and, before the rail-trail’s dive into nature, it hugs the west end of the campus. At the trail’s southern end, a connection can be made to the famed Katy Trail, which nearly spans the state and is included in the Rail-Trail Hall of Fame.


Dinkytown Greenway


Photo by: RTC

Although only a mile long, the Dinkytown Greenway provides an important link in a biking network connecting Minneapolis and Saint Paul. The trail traverses the University of Minnesota campus on the east bank of the Mississippi River. Part of the route runs through a former railroad trench with the Dinkytown community (after which the trail is named) visible overhead. As the rail-trail heads west, it crosses Bridge No. 9, once used by the Northern Pacific Railway, which yields spectacular views.


Burke-Gilman Trail


Photo by: Bryce Hall

Seattle’s nearly 19-mile Burke-Gilman Trail connects University of Washington students and facility with several parks (Gas Works Park is a standout), commercial areas and residential neighborhoods. Built in the 1970s, this Hall of Fame rail-trail was among the first of its kind in the country and helped inspire other rail-trails around the nation.

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