Although the world has more than 800,000 miles of rail lines, the golden age of rail — at least for now — is over, leaving mile after mile of dilapidated and abandoned tracks. But in many places, what were once weed-choked eyesores have been converted into people-friendly recreation and transportation trails, where locomotion is not by train, but by bicycle, skate, ski, horseback, wheelchair, or simply human feet.
According to the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, there are more than 40,000 miles of multi-use trails in the U.S. alone, located in all 50 states. The conservancy hopes to eventually complete the Great American Rail-Trail, a 3,700-mile cross-country trail connecting Washington, D.C., to the Olympic Peninsula in Washington. In the meantime, here are some of the coolest converted rail trails in the U.S. and abroad. (If you want to find more, check out the TrailLink app.)
Coulée verte René-Dumont (Paris, France)
There’s no shortage of beautiful walks in Paris, but this urban green space offers a different perspective on the City of Light. Formerly known as the Promenade plantée (“tree-lined walkway”), the Coulée verte René-Dumont (a “green course” named after French engineer and environmental politician René Dumont) is an exquisite and unusual park running almost three miles along the defunct 1859 railroad line that once linked the Place de la Bastille to Varenne-Saint-Maur in the 12th Arrondissement. Created in 1988, it is widely considered the first elevated railway-turned-park in the world. Wild plants are interspersed with rose bushes, hazelnut trees, and other plantings. The lush gardens of the coulée are composed of elevated and flat sections, including the unique Viaduc des Arts, a series of galleries and upscale shops located under an elevated section of former track on Avenue Daumesnil.
The Katy Trail (Missouri)
Meandering over bridges, through tunnels, below petroglyph-lined limestone cliffs, past a 400-year-old burr oak — the largest tree in the state — and along the banks of the Missouri River, the Katy Trail spans almost the entire length of the Show Me State. The trail runs 240 miles from Clinton, about an hour southeast of Kansas City, to Machens, near St. Louis. The country’s longest recreational rail trail, the Katy Trail was built on the former Missouri-Kansas-Texas rail line (M-K-T, or "Katy" for short) and has 26 trailheads and five restored depots, along with many businesses and wineries that serve the cyclists and hikers who come to follow in the footsteps of Lewis and Clark.
The High Line (New York, New York)
Taking its inspiration from Paris, the High Line runs nearly 1.5 miles between city buildings along an elevated former spur of the New York Central Railroad, on Manhattan’s West Side. The innovative public park starts at Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District and ends at West 30th Street in Chelsea. Opened in phases starting in 2009, the High Line now draws more than 9 million annual visitors — both tourists and locals — who come to enjoy gardens and green space, live music, public art, play areas, and restaurants and shops.
The 606 (Chicago, Illinois)
These elevated tracks on Chicago’s Northwest Side once served the Chicago and Pacific Railroad in the early 20th century. Now, the elevated part of the Bloomingdale line is the highlight of the 606 — named after the local area code — which connects the vibrant neighborhoods of Wicker Park, Bucktown, Humboldt Park, and Logan Square. Visitors can stroll and bike along 2.7 miles while enjoying art installations, parks, and green spaces, along with concerts and special events — all with easy access to the Exelon Observatory and some of the city’s hippest restaurants and shops.
Parc Linéaire Le P'tit Train du Nord (Quebec)
Running through Quebec’s Rivière du Nord valley, the Parc Linéaire covers 144 miles formerly operated as part of the Canadian Pacific Railway. Visitors can snowmobile or cross-country ski when the mostly gravel trail is covered in snow — the trail passes through the lovely Laurentian mountains and near the famed ski resort of Mont-Tremblant. In summer, cyclists and hikers flock to the region for lush countryside, charming villages, and lovingly restored train stations. Bed-and-breakfasts, restaurants, and shops are ready to welcome visitors in any season.
Bermuda Railway Trail (Bermuda)
Bring your bathing suit while traversing this 18-mile rail trail in the pink-sand paradise of Bermuda. The trail is the former home of the Bermuda Railroad, affectionately known as “Old Rattle and Shake” before it closed in 1948. You can cover the trail by foot, bicycle, or horseback, and the varied terrain of the different sections — some paved, some sand — provide stunning views of pastel cottages, lighthouses, old castles, and azure seas.