Regional communities around the world are breathing new life into their local tourism by turning disused railway tracks into cycling trails. Fondly referred to as rail trails, these paths are often ideal for cycling along as their gentle gradient makes them accessible for cyclists of all abilities. While each rail trail is distinct in its own way, what they do share in common is beautiful country scenery, fresh local produce, and thriving communities that are happy to see cyclists visiting their towns.
In the below list, we've collected the world's best rail trails that every cyclist should aim to ride in their lifetime. From Australia to Canada, and Italy to New Zealand, you're sure to have an amazing experience cycling a rail trail on an active holiday. How many have you pedalled already?
1. Great Victorian Rail Trail | Australia
The Great Victoria Rail Trail is one of Australia’s longest rail trails, passing through charming towns and diverse countryside. The dedicated cycleway meanders next to the heritage-classified Goulburn River, crossing Lake Eildon before entering the pretty Trawool Valley.
Between 1883 and 1970 the Mansfield Line passed through the Cheviot Tunnel, a historic structure constructed with over a million hand made clay bricks. With the rail line decommissioned in 1978 the now cycle trail affords inspiring views of the Victorian High country foothills, and come evening, you'll settle into a local atmospheric hotel to enjoy the region's exceptional food and wine set in iconic country towns.
2. Otago Central Rail Trail | New Zealand
As New Zealand’s original Great Ride, and the trail that inspired the New Zealand Cycle Trail network, the 150km Otago Central Rail Trail follows a historic railway line from Clyde to Middlemarch.
The trail delves deep into the heart of Central Otago as it winds its way through the vast rocky landscapes, spectacular gorges, railway tunnels, viaducts, and preserved gold mining settlements. Experience the famous ‘southern hospitality' from friendly locals as you explore rural farming townships and indulge in the region's own wines and orchard fruits at one of the many cafés and restaurants.
3. Brisbane Valley Rail Trail | Australia
Between Wulkuraka and Yarraman in southern Queensland is the remnants of the Brisbane Valley rail line, constructed over 29 years between 1884 and 1913. The steam locomotives have long gone, replaced by cyclists following the same path.
The conversion of the rail line to a cycle trail took a little less time, about 11 years with completion in 2018, only possible through the dedication and hard work of locals keen to showcase this special region of Australia. At 161km (100mi) in length, the Brisbane Valley Rail Trail (BVRT) qualifies as the longest rail trail in the country.
The cycling is on mixed surfaces of gravel, dirt and asphalt and is achievable for anyone of reasonable fitness and cycling ability. Along the route, you'll pass through prime agricultural land, a rugged mountain range and forests of Blackbutt, Hoop Pine and Cedar. Stops at historical townships with good coffee and bakery items, interesting museums and friendly pubs are all part of the BVRT experience.
4. Le P'tit Train du Nord | Canada
Rail trails don't come much more beautiful than Le P’tit Train du Nord, a gentle 200km-long rail trail through gorgeous Laurentian countryside. Enjoy leisurely cycling through lush tree-tunnel forests, vibrant villages, and restored historical stations.
Meander around sparkling lakes, bubbling brooks and the base of the Laurentian mountains, greet friendly locals, sample cafes, explore a summer festival, spot wildlife, pick up fine wine and cheese and visit the world famous Mont Tremblant resort. The Le P’tit Train du Nord offers an unforgettable and unique combination of Quebecois landscape, food, history, culture and adventure.
5. Parenzana Rail Trail | Italy & Croatia
Journey along the Parenzana Rail Trail, from Trieste in Italy to Porec in Croatia. The name, 'Parenzana', is derived from Parenzo, the Italian name for Porec. Along this rail trail there is ample time to appreciate the unique culture and culinary delights in each country.
6. Murray to Mountains Rail Trail | Australia
Victoria’s best developed rail trail, the Murray to Mountains Rail Trail, offers cyclists of all abilities a fantastic Australian cycling experience through the heart of Victoria’s alpine region. Snaking through the Ovens Valley, the Murray to Mountains Rail Trail stretches over 100 kilometres in the north-east of the state.
As you cycle along the sealed off-road cycle trail you’ll savour delightful hidden valleys with sublime views, spectacular mountain scenery as well as have the opportunity to get out of the saddle to sample the delicious bounty of gourmet producers, many renowned cellar doors, and cafes and craft brewers that can be found along the Murray to Mountains Rail Trail.
The trail is open from October through to April which allows you to enjoy the different seasons. Cool down in rivers and streams during summer or just enjoy the changing colours during autumn.
7. Confederation Trail | Canada
The Confederation Trail is an abandoned railway line that crosses forest, farmland, wetlands, rivers and villages on Prince Edward Island in Canada. These hard-packed rail trail sections are as gentle as Prince Edward Island’s reputation. You’ll discover small communities, artisan stores, local cafes, heritage buildings, abandoned rail stations and endless sandy beaches.
Meet costumed characters in summer Avonlea, tuck back world-renowned lobster dinners, interact with islanders known for their warmth and hospitality, and admire the sweeping lush fields of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables.
8. Hauraki Rail Trail | New Zealand
Explore the wonderfully laidback Hauraki Rail Trail on New Zealand's North Island. The trail traces one of New Zealand’s oldest railway corridors, dating back to 1898, wandering through the Hauraki Plains, before delving into the flinty Karangahake Gorge, strewn with old gold mining relics.
Experience the best trailside highlights, including visits to the townships of Paeroa & Te Aroha, riding through lush Waikato farmland, before reaching the end of the line in Matamata.
9. Kingaroy to Kilkivan Rail Trail | Australia
The Kingaroy to Kilkivan Rail Trail is 90km and can be linked to the Brisbane Valley Rail Trail. Cycling the Kingaroy to Kilkivan Rail Trail is a great way to become immersed in the laidback atmosphere of rural Queensland. Besides the heritage-listed pubs and churches, friendly locals, disused railway stations and regional produce, you can also see the following attractions.
Kingaroy is famous for its peanut production - it's why it's known as Australia's Peanut Capital. As you cycle into the town, you won't miss the gigantic peanut silos.
10. Kettle Valley Rail Trail | Canada
Cycle through one of Canada's sunniest regions on an awe-inspiring section of the Trans Canada Trail in the Okanagan, British Columbia. The Kettle Valley Rail Trail (KVR) is a converted railway bed originally built in the early 1900s to facilitate mining in the area.
Ride alongside beautiful lakes, over the dramatic Myra Canyon Trestles, through mountain tunnels, and into the heart of one of the biggest fruit and wine-producing areas in Canada. Enjoy views of vine-covered hillsides along Okanagan Lake and endless opportunities to sample the local wines and culinary delights of Naramata, Summerland and Kelowna.
Honourable Mention: Rattler Rail Trail | Clare Valley, Australia
At just 19km, the Rattler Rail Trail doesn't quite cut it with the longer rail trails. However, it would be unjust to leave it off the list of top rail trails in the world, as it's a fantastic cycle trip when combined with the Riesling Trail in the Clare Valley. The Clare Valley is a celebrated wine region in South Australia that needs to be on every wine-loving cyclist's to do list!