Rail-to-Trails Conservancy is non-profit organization focused on a nationwide network of trails built on former rail lines. In the 1980s the U. S. Congress became concerned about the loss of railroad infrastructure, thinking that some day in the future, the country may need to utilize this mode of transportation anew. In an attempt to preserve these right-of-ways that crisscrossed the nation, they amended the National Trails System Act to create the "Railbanking" program. This is a method where unused rail corridors would be preserved for future rail use by converting them to interim public recreational trails.
Recent Supreme Court Legislation has created a setback for the concept of turning former rail line right-of-ways into public trails and communities may be forced to compensate land owners for the portion of land where the trail crosses. This 8-1 decision by the court could affect existing trails all over the country.
Colorado has many of these old rail corridors throughout the state that have been converted to public trails for pedestrian and cycling uses. These trails generally have very gentle grades and are a great way to see areas that were previously closed to the public.
Following is a list of the recreational trails located in Colorado that are one of the Rail-to-Trails Conservancy projects:
Animas River Trail - Durango
This is a 7 mile long trail in Durango, Colorado in the southwestern corner of the state. The trail runs from south of the city of Durango to just north of the historic downtown area. The trail follows an old railroad bed along the banks of the Animas River and has beautiful views of the La Plata Mountains and the Animas River valley to the north. You can also see the Durango-Silverton trail go by during the summer months.
Arkansas River Walk - Cañon City
This trail is located in Cañon City, just 30 miles west of Pueblo. A portion of this trail follows an old railroad bed. You can walk along the trail near the station where the train for the Royal Gorge Railway departs.
Rio Grande Trail - Glenwood Springs to Aspen
Running form Glenwood Springs to Aspen in the central mountains of Colorado along the beautiful Roaring Fork Valley, this 42 mile trail follows the abandoned railroad bed of the narrow gauge Rio Grande Railroad. The Rio Grande Railroad reached the silver mining town of Aspen in 1887. If you ride along this trail, you can still see some of the old rail lines, trestle bridges and rail cars. The development of this trail was highly contested by some of the local land owners, but the trail was constructed over 10 years ago. The trail is paved for the most part, but there is a section of gravel running from Woody Creek to Aspen.
Great Western Trail - Windsor, Severance and Eaton
This is an ongoing improvement project of a stretch of abandoned rail line that runs from Eaton, through Severence and onto Windsor. The raillines were constructed to support the farms and factories for the sugar beet industry in the early 1900s in Northern Colorado. The introduction of irrigation canals created a boom in the sugar industry with plants in Eaton, Windsor, Loveland and Longmont. This trail hooks up with the paved trail system for the Town of Windsor and is part of the growing regional recreational trail systems in Northern Colorado.
New Santa Fe Regional Trail - Monument and Colorado Springs
The New Santa Fe Regional Trail is an unpaved and paved trail that is built in part on the abandoned bed of the Santa Fe Railroad tracks. The trail is mostly through rural areas as it runs north to south, west of Interstate 25, for around 19 miles before it meets up with the Pikes Peak Greenway Trail. The Santa Fe Regional Trail starts on the north end at Palmer Lake, just 2 miles west of Interstate 25 on W. Palmer Divide Road and the intersection with S. Spruce Mountain Road.
10-mile Canyon Trail - Copper Mountain to Vail
This 22 mile trail occupies the right-of-way for the Denver-South Park Pacific Narrow Gauge Railroad that formerly climbed up and over Vail Pass. The trail starts at the west end of Copper Mountain and goes up and up to the top of Vail Pass roughly along the same route as Interstate 70. It then drops you down to East Vail.
Blue River Bikeway - Breckenridge
This trail runs north to south along the Blue River Valley from Frisco to Breckenridge roughly parallel to Highway 9. The trail follows the route of an abandoned narrow-gauge railroad that serviced the mining industry in the area.
Fraser River Trail - Winter Park to Fraser Colorado
The Fraser River Trail runs from Fraser Colorado south to the resort town of Winter Park. This is a gentle paved trail that parallels Highway 40 and has views of the western side of the Indian Peaks and the ski slopes of Winter Park and Mary Jane.
Mineral Belt Trail - Leadville
This loop trail around the town of Leadville is located on three railroad right-of-ways that served the mining town of Leadville during the boom days at the turn of the 20th century.
Uncompahgre Riverway Trail - Montrose
This 7 mile paved and unpaved trail extends from Montrose south along Highway 550.
Rock Island Regional Trail - Falcon to Peyton
Rock Island Regional Trail is currently 9 miles long and runs parallel to State Highway 24 connecting the towns of Falcon and Peyton in Eastern Colorado, northeast of Colorado Springs. This trail was constructed on an abandoned railroad bed and is part of the "Railbanking" efforts of the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy. The railroad that ran along these tracks was the Chicago and Rock Island Line that went from Colorado Springs to Limon.
Galloping Goose Trail - Telluride
This is a hiking trail that runs from Telluride to Lizard Head Pass on Highway 145. It follows the abandoned railbed of the narrow gauge Rio Grande Southern Railroad. This trail offers spectacular views of the San Juan mountain range.