Winter Wonderlands: Top Rail-Trails for Cross-Country Skiing

Even when it’s time to tuck the bike away in the garage, the trail season isn’t over. Winter is a wonderful time to enjoy a favorite pathway in a whole new way, and rail-trails—with their long, straight and gently sloped corridors—present the perfect venue for cross-country skiing. Below is a list of best rail-trails for cross-country skiing to get your blood pumping in the cold weather, so bundle up and grab those skis!


Pine Creek Rail Trail


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Nestled within a postcard-worthy valley dubbed the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania, the 62-mile Pine Creek Rail Trail is a go-to spot for a snowy weekend escape. In its hushed wilderness, travelers may cross paths with deer or other animals. With numerous small towns along the route, you’re also never far from a place to warm up those cold fingers and toes, or grab something hot to eat or drink.


Bizz Johnson National Recreation Trail


Photo: Courtesy Lassen Land & Trails Trust

The Bizz Johnson Trail makes for a lovely winter excursion along the crystalline Susan River in northeast California. Winding through evergreen forests, rocky canyon walls and intriguing old railroad tunnels, this 25-mile rail-trail is breathtaking in any season.


Cannon Valley Trail


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About an hour’s drive southeast of the Twin Cities, the 20-mile Cannon Valley Trail offers a pristine natural escape through a wooded river valley. The corridor is rich in wildlife and you may be lucky enough to see a bald eagle or wild turkey even in the winter months.


Nashua River Rail Trail


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The Nashua River Rail Trail, situated about an hour’s drive northwest of Boston, looks like the kind of picturesque world you’d find inside a snow globe: frosted trees, sparkling rivers and bucolic landscapes. Over its 12 miles, the rail-trail connects a handful of charming New England towns and dips a toe over the border into New Hampshire.


Wood River Trails


Photo by: Nils Ribi Photography

In central Idaho’s Wood River Valley, you don’t have to choose between cross-country skiing and downhill skiing—you can do both! The seamless Wood River Trail system offers nearly 34 miles for Nordic skiing, while nearby Bald Mountain is sought after for its Alpine skiing thrills. The views along the rail-trail are everything you would come to Idaho for: jagged peaks, dense woodlands and friendly mountain towns.


Pere Marquette Rail-Trail


Photo by: Christian Collins

Not only is central Michigan’s Pere Marquette Rail-Trail itself a destination with its 30 miles of scenic woodlands and farmlands, but it’s also surrounded by attractions that are fun to explore (and warm up in): a history center and museum in Midland; a refurbished railroad depot in Sanford; and another historical depot in Coleman.


Island Line Rail-Trail


Photo: Courtesy Local Motion

Everything that makes the 14-mile Island Line Rail Trail beautiful in summer is even prettier in winter, dusted with a coat of snowy glitter. Skirting Lake Champlain, the trail’s views of the ice-covered water are spectacular; when the ice is thick enough, the lake is even a premier ice-fishing destination.


Mineral Belt Trail


Photo by: Scott Anderson

Colorado is one of the prettiest states in winter and its Mineral Belt Trail offers a delightful front row seat to snow-capped mountains, conifer forests and historical relics from a mining era gone by. Forming a nearly 12-mile ring around Leadville, the rail-trail promises adventure with amenities and other tourist attractions close at hand.

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