“Do you even rail bike, bro?” You’ll probably be asked this question dozens of times this summer by anyone from your most extreme adrenalin-addicted friends to your grandmother’s sweet old knitting buddies. That’s because the newest bucket-list adventure activity on Earth is beloved by adventure seekers of all ages.
Put simply, rail bike tours involve riding pedal-powered (and sometimes even electric) machines along abandoned or disused railroad tracks that no longer carry train traffic. Rail bike tours are relatively new over the last few years, and they’re expanding all over the world, making use of defunct rail lines that traverse scenic natural areas. Here’s a closer look at the best rail bike tour operators and where to find them.
Multiple U.S. Locations
This company provides rail bike tours in four U.S. locations, including the Catskill Mountains, Rhode Island, and Boone, Iowa. With scenic views throughout the relaxed excursion, these trips are perfect for those looking to get off the beaten path and check out each region in a new and exciting way.
The eight-mile roundtrip Catskills tour travels for about 2.5 hours along the historic Ulster and Delaware Railroads, alongside Esopus Creek through the woods. Bring a snack and a drink for lunch at the creekside turnaround.
The Rhode Island trip offers a variety of regular and themed tours, including the most popular: “The Northern Ramble” and “The Southern Circuit.” The Ramble takes guests on a six-mile jaunt from Portsmouth to the Sakonnet River. It’s a one-way trip with a return via shuttle bus — perfect for anyone looking for a more leisurely rail ride. The Circuit trip is six miles roundtrip and allows guests to eat lunch at a private waterfront picnic area.
At every location, Rail Explorers USA offers two types of “Explorer” vehicles: a tandem for two people or a quad for up to four people. Both are safe, well-designed, and easy to use.
Who says southern Norway doesn’t have some of the best rail biking on Earth? Well … no one, really. But if you’re in the Flekkefjord area and looking for stunning nature scenes, architectural wonders, and some leg-pumping, self-propelled, train-inspired action, the rail-biking tour at Flekkefjordbanen is not to be missed.
This railway line operated for most of the 20th century, connecting Flekkefjord to Sørlandsbanen. Though the last journey made by the Flekkefjordbanen train was in 1990, visitors and locals alike can once again tour this magical area by rail — by rail bike.
Local Norwegians are intent on preserving the railroad and turning it into a living museum. Example A: The slogan, which goes “cultural salvation through active use.” Rail biking is the perfect way to put that slogan into action. An activity suitable for old and young alike, the track takes you through a beautiful natural landscape and no less than 17 tunnels. There are tours every day in the summer.
Multiple U.S. Locations
The Adirondacks-based Revolution Rail Co. started with its initial rail bike tour leading riders on a six-mile adventure through the forest along the Hudson River in New York. One of the highlights of this fairly flat-terrain ride is crossing a trestle bridge over the Hudson (think Stand By Me sans train). At the turnaround point, riders can refuel with a snack and a drink while the bikes are readied for the return trip.
This trip will truly be a unique exploration for most, considering this section of the Adirondacks has never seen passenger traffic before. Tours run throughout each day, and there is no minimum age requirement, meaning even baby Timmy can be a part of the fun. The company has since expanded beyond this one tour to multiple rail biking locations in New Jersey, Colorado, and even coastal Maine.
Fort Bragg, California
The East Coast may have popularized rail bike tours, but “The Other Coast” is picking up on the trend. Beginning in Fort Bragg, Pudding Creek Railbikes takes riders on a tour of California’s beautiful Mendocino County, over wooden trestle bridges and past the ancient redwood trees of the state’s famous Redwood Route. It’s an area rich in wildlife, so nature lovers can keep an eye out for osprey, blue herons, deer, turtles, and even the occasional bear.
What truly sets this rail bike tour apart, however, is that each bike is electric, which makes this the laziest — er, most leisurely — rail bike tour in the country. Just hop on and go, so you can focus on the important things, like taking pictures of birds and your kids. Plus, for an extra $30, dog owners can even take their pup along for the ride in a purpose-built rail bike “caboose.” Free bandana and doggo treat included!