There was a day when the railroads were king in the Northwest, when the iron horses rumbled across the land, laden with timber and travelers and all the other goods of the region.
For better or worse, those days are gone. What was left in their wake, however, were some incredibly flat and scenic corridors that some earlier visionaries saw as terrain perfect for biking and hiking trails, otherwise known as “rails-to-trails.”
Fast-forward to the modern day Pacific Northwest, and hundreds of miles of these former railroad routes now beckon hikers and bikers for scenic escapes not far from their homes. Here are three of the best rails-to-trails near Seattle and another three gems near Portland.
For its proximity and accessibility alone, the Burke-Gilman is hard for Seattleites to beat. But this trail, which runs from Golden Gardens Park in Ballard to the Sammamish River Trail in Bothell, also dishes up some scenic views and natural areas that make it a favorite for all kinds of reasons.
Redmond, Sammamish and Issaquah
Wetlands, lovely lake views and quaint communities give this 11-mile trail plenty of appeal for cyclists, runners and amblers looking to stretch out their legs. The whole trail isn’t paved, but King County is working on various sections and the interim crushed gravel sections are still good for riding and hiking.
Renton and Landsburg
This popular trail starts out somewhat noisy near Renton, but it eventually makes its way to a much quieter section of the sleepy Cedar River, where it offers side trails to access the river and several scenic crossings and bridges.
Milwaukie to Gladstone, OR
A relatively new path for Portland-area residents to play on, this trail along a former streetcar line in the burgeoning suburb of Milwaukie wends its way through various parks and neighborhoods south to Gladstone. An easy way to get to it from Portland: hop on the new MAX Orange Line, a light rail train that runs from southeast Portland to its terminus at the Trolley Trail.
Portland to Boring
A major connector route throughout Southeast Portland, the Springwater Corridor Trail also has its moments of natural beauty and escape — a Willamette River stretch that rolls through a wildlife refuge, for example — even if you’re never that far from the urban reality nearby.
Banks to Vernonia
The first rails-to-trails state park in Oregon, this paved biking, hiking and equestrian trail unwinds through pretty forests, across burbling streams and past expansive Coast Range views just 26 miles west of Portland.