Car-free bicycle routes in the Northeast can be found on rail trails and local town greenways. With 392 open trails encompassing 3,233 miles, the Northeast region can rival the rail trails of the Midwest, where the rail trail movement began. With heavily traveled and traffic-congested roads, cyclists and other transportation advocates embrace the development of bicycle routes in this area.
The Rails to Trails Conservancy is just one organization dedicated to building a network of bike trails across the northeast and the rest of the country. The states encompassing this region of course offer some of the most stunning scenery that can’t be seen from a car, especially during the autumn months. Following are just a few of the more notable car-free bicycle routes to explore in the Northeast.
Down East Sunrise Trail
The Down East Sunrise Trail travels through scenic coastal Maine for 87 miles from Ellsworth to Ayers Junction near the Canadian border. Utilizing the Calais Branch rail corridor, the Down East Sunrise Trail is part of the East Coast Greenway, a bicycle route stretching from Calais, Maine to Key West, Florida. While the trail offers breathtaking views of mountains and crosses through conservation areas, salmon rivers, and coastal waterways, the route is basically flat and bicycle friendly. Though ATVs are allowed, cyclists say that this helps keep the trail smooth and users boast that everyone is respectful of each other along the route. The trail virtually parallels US Route 1, a state designated scenic route, offering plenty of opportunity for excursions to restaurants, inns, and other recreational outings. For more visit the Sunrise Trail Coalition.
Cape Cod Rail Trail
Though the Cape Cod Rail Trail may be short on mileage (22 miles in length) it is big on reputation. Locals and tourists alike have made this a popular bicycle route with over 400,000 users a year. Those who live in the area use it as part of their commute, while tourists appreciate the Cape Cod scenery along the route. If you’ve ever had to fight Cape Cod traffic on a summer weekend, this can be a nice change of pace. The paved route follows the Old Colony Railroad line from South Dennis to South Wellfleet with visitor centers, bike rental and repair shops, restaurants, and picnic areas along the way. The route does make road crossings where cyclists need to take caution. At the end of the trail, cyclists can continue for another mile on road to Maguire’s Landing and be rewarded with a dip in the Atlantic. For more see here.
Rockingham Recreational Rail Trail
One of the most accessible rail trails in the Northeast is the Rockingham Recreational Rail Trail. Starting near the shore of Massabesic Lake just outside New Hampshire’s largest city of Manchester, the route rides along a branch of the old Boston & Maine Railroad. In Raymond, visitors can explore the restored train station complete with locomotive, caboose and boxcar. The trail ends at Newfields Train Depot just east of Great Bay in Portsmouth, NH. Much of this route is tree lined, which makes it one of the coolest trails in the summer and still offers breathtaking New England scenery, especially during fall foliage season. Made of crushed stone, some of the sections could be considered more challenging than others, though it is a popular mountain biking destination for families. The trail is popular in the winter for snowmobiles, cross country skiing, and dog sledding. For more visit the NH State Parks website.
Erie Canalway Trail
The Erie Canalway Trail located in upstate New York is on task to become one of the longest car-free bicycle routes in the U.S. Riding along the towpaths of New York’s historic canals, the route connects Buffalo to Albany linking the cities of Rochester, Syracuse, Rome, Utica, and Schenectady. With 75% of the trail complete, cyclists can enjoy the longest continuous car-free section from Buffalo to Newark for 114 miles. Another popular fragment is from Albany to Little Falls for 86 miles of car-free cycling. The Erie Canalway Trail is contributing to the revitalization of the canal towns along the route. Cyclists can make side trips to historic sites, restaurants, inns, and parks. Some of the route is paved, while the rest is crushed limestone and mostly flat. For more visit ErieCanalway.org.
Delaware & Raritan Canal State Park Trail
The Delaware & Raritan Canal State Park Trail travels along the canal’s towpath which was built in 1830 as a transportation route between Philadelphia and New York. The 70 mile trail journeys through the historic New Jersey towns of Frenchtown, Stockton, and Lambertville and ending in New Brunswick. Nineteenth century bridges, bridgetender houses, canal locks, and stone arch culverts can be seen along the route. Great for families, the trail is crushed stone, mostly flat and is well maintained. Side trips, including canoe and kayak rental, are popular. Be sure to check the D & R Canal State Park website for current updates as recent hurricanes have caused some damage.
Great Allegheny Passage Trail
The longest rail trail east of the Mississippi is the Great Allegheny Passage or GAP Trail, which is the crown jewel of Pennsylvania’s numerous rail trails and other car-free bike routes. Using abandoned rail beds from the Pittsburgh and Lake Erie and the Western Maryland Railroad, the trail stretches for 150 miles from Pittsburgh to Cumberland, Maryland. History buffs will love seeing evidence of how the railroads, together with the famous Pennsylvania mill towns, shaped this area of the country. Users of the trail rave about the crushed stone surface and the many amenities along the way. To plan your trip visit the Allegheny Trail Alliance and Trail Link.