Traveling the rails remains one of the great ways to see the U.S. There are thousands of miles of tracks that split mountains, cross cities, and snake through stunning landscapes. But this doesn’t mean you need to experience them from the inside of a train car. Companies all over the U.S. have taken advantage of the many defunct stretches of train tracks to offer railbiking, an activity that lets you and the kids pedal sections together while taking in the scenery. It’s a great family adventure.
Railbiking is a growing activity in the U.S. and abroad where riders pedal open-air carts along unused train tracks. Evolved from a 19th-century German rail vehicle, the draisine, railbikes are recumbent surrey bikes with four wheels that slot onto tracks and are spaced for the railroad gauge beneath the carriage. Since rail bikes are powered by foot pedals, a family of up to four can accelerate to speeds up to 15+ mph and slow down with the easy use of a handbrake. Sometimes the bikes have electric assist to help augment power.
Many companies in the U.S. offer scenic railbiking tours that meander through tunnels, over bridges, and around beautiful, rarely glimpsed scenery. There is no national railbiking authority, so rules vary amongst companies out there. Generally speaking, there are weight restrictions per person, around 250 lbs. Times vary on the length of each tour, but the longer ones (i.e. 12 miles) are paced to last about 2–3 hours. Prices and seasonal schedules also vary by company, so research and book ahead. Expect to spend about $100 for a family of four.
All ages are welcome by most railbike companies, although children need to be accompanied by a parent. If the kids tire out, they can still come for the ride — you’ll just have to have to get more cycling reps in. But your leg muscles will be spared since the railbiking tours are designed to be leisurely, focused more on scoping out scenery and wildlife than sweating it out.
But railbiking presents a great opportunity to be immersed in the outdoors while getting a little exercise — with all the fun and novelty of riding a railroad track without a train. If you’re interested in giving it a go, here are some of the popular railbiking companies and the tours they offer across the U.S.
9 Railbiking Tours Around The U.S.
1. Revolution Rail (Maine, New York, New Jersey, Colorado)
WIth multiple rail lines in four states, Revolution Rail is one of the larger railbike companies, offering double and quad railbike experiences through the riverbanks and valleys of the New York’s Adirondacks (6–12mi. options), New Jersey’s Woodstown area as well as Cape May, down the shore (4–11mi. options), Colorado’s Rio Grande River region near South Fork (6mi. roundtrip, with an option to ride one way and raft back), and on occasion, Kennebunkport, ME (3.5mi), in partnership with the Seashore Trolley Museum.
2. Hobo Railroad Rail Bike Adventures (New Hampshire)
Ride through New Hampshire’s lake region with this scenic train tour company that’s ventured into the increasingly popular railbike space with a five-mile round trip that brings you from the old Laconia train station built in 1892, along the 19th-century Boston, Concord & Montreal Railroad line to Lake Winnisquam. Along the way, you’ll pedal across the Winnipesaukee River via trestle bridge.
3. Rail Explorers (Rhode Island, New York, Iowa, Nevada)
With locations across the country, Rail Explorers is another major railbike outfitter, with experiences through Rhode Island’s historic Aquidneck Island and Narragansett Bay (two 6mi. options), New York’s Catskill Mountains and Cooperstown region (8–12mi. options), Iowa’s scenic Des Moines River Valley (12.5mi.), and the Mojave Desert and the River Mountains near Las Vegas (4–8mi. options). Don’t be intimidated by the longer routes; their railbikes have electric assist.
4. Secret Valley Excursions (Pennsylvania)
This railbike company based out of Pottstown, PA brings willing railbikers on a 4mi. round trip along the old Colebrookdale Railroad line. If you’re keen at spotting wildlife, you may get a glimpse of a deer, fox, heron, or bald eagle, as you pedal through the forests of the historic Secret Valley.
5. Tracks and Yaks (Maryland)
Based out of Frostburg, MD, this railbike outfitter offers two excursions through the scenic Allegheny Mountains, including a long 15mi. route from Frostburg to Cumberland. Unlike other routes from other offerings, these routes go downhill—but don’t fret; there’s no need to pedal back up because there’s either a shuttle bus or train ride waiting for you at the end.
6. Carson Canyon Railbike Tours (Nevada)
Bike through the brush of the scenic Carson Canyon with this railbike operator out of the Carson City Eastgate Train Depot. It’s a 90-min tour that takes you over a highway and into the desert, to the historic Eureka Mill area. There’s a 2% climb with some curves, but electric assist is in the railbike to make the adventure more relaxed than challenging.
7. Skunk Train Railbikes (California)
The historic Skunk Train company in Mendocino County has ventured beyond their scenic train ride with two electric-assisted railbike adventures through the majestic redwoods of northern California—home of herons, osprey, otters, and deer, if you can spot them. The easier 2hr. excursion goes on the Redwood Route alongside Pudding Creek, while the more challenging, 4hr. one goes on a rail line reserved for railbikes along the Noyo River. Keep in mind that they only offer two-person railbikes, so plan accordingly.
8. Joseph Branch Railriders (Oregon)
Based in the northeast Oregon area, this railbike company has five offerings ranging from 6–20mi. excursions on their electric-assist railbikes. The longer the route, the more you’re immersed in the valleys of the Wallowa Mountains, with open meadows and dense pine forests. They also offer a special “Golden Hour” dusk excursion for those keen photographers of landscapes and animals on the prowl.
9. Vance Creek Railriders (Washington)
Bike the 13-mile round trip on the historic Simpson Logging Company Railway in the scenic Olympic Peninsula, from an old logger camp to Shelton, WA. Along Goldsborough Creek, you’ll spot different birds, or even salmon swimming in the waters. Pedal assist is only available by request, so keep that in mind for the one-mile stretch with a 2.2% angle one way.
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