The Best Rail Trails in Australia
The Best Rail Trails in Australia by State
Cycling along a Rail Trail is pure joy.
The sense of freedom, as you glide along taking in the scenery, no traffic to worry about.
Australia is gradually building a network of wonderful rail trails. These are ideal for cycling and walking and often form the core route on many of our cycling tours.
We here at Tour de Vines are always looking for rail trails to explore, so we asked ourselves the vexed question, which is the Best Rail Trail in Australia.
After some analysis, coffee and discussion, here is our response! In our list of best rail trails in Australia below, we have broken the list into states, and added a video or image so you can get a feel for what it's actually like riding the trail. Enjoy!
Why Cycle on a Rail Trail?
Before we discover the best rail trails in Australia, we pondered the perhaps obvious question of why bother cycling a rail trail at all? Aren’t they limiting where you can ride, how far and what highlights you can see and reach? Sure, rail trails perhaps aren’t for everyone. If you are an avid road bike rider for example, and only want smooth surfaces and big hills, then rail trails probably aren’t your preferred riding route.
However if you class yourself as more a recreational cyclist that values safety, scenery and a distinct lack of steep hills, then rail trails are certainly for you. Here are some of the reasons why cycling a rail trail is a good idea
Rail Trails are Safe for Cycling
Perhaps the most important reason to want to ride a rail trail. Rail trails are dedicated, off road, seperate bike and walking paths that get you completely out of harms way. The result is completely stress free riding. And that is reason good enough to ride them.
Rail trails are (normally) old railway lines that carried passengers, cargo or both back in the day. More often than not the scenery is delightful as the routes were carved through regional areas and from town to town. Being away from traffic means you can stop, take photos, rest and do pretty much whatever takes your fancy.
No Big Hills!
The old steam trains couldn’t really manage big hills or steep gradient climbs. So that’s perfect for us gourmet cyclists who prefer flat and gentle rolling hills. The vast majority of rail trails are mostly flat with low level hills and very manageable inclines.
Best Rail Trail in Victoria
Selection: Murray to Mountains Rail Trail
Held up as the hero of rail trails and off road cycling paths in Australia, and rightly so. An exceptionally well maintained path, covering a wide variety of terrain with great views, lots of stops and places to stay and cutting through some of Australia’s best wine and food country.
Here’s some facts about the Murray to Mountains Rail Trail.
Location: Australia, North east Victoria, 3 hrs drive from Melbourne
Length: 132 kms of sealed path
Surface: Fully sealed, loose stone edges, any bike suitable.
Max gradient: Beechworth is 538m above sea level, so that’s a big hill up or even better, down.
Towns visited: Wangaratta, Milawa, Rutherglen, Beechworth, Gapsted, Myrtleford & Bright.
Cellar Doors: Approximately 15 wineries within riding distance from the trail
Things to see: Majestic Mt Buffalo; historic Beechworth (see our post about this lovely town); autumn colours of Bright; the flowing Ovens River; the old tobacco farm kilns; open stretches of farmland.
Recommended Tour/s: The most popular cycling tour on this rail trail is the 3 night self guided Tour de Bright, or the small group weekend Murray to Mountains guided trips
Best Rail Trail in South Australia
Result: The Riesling Rail Trail
Certainly not as well known as the Murray to Mountains Trail, but perhaps not rightly so. A stunning path up the Clare Valley, within day trip distance of Adelaide, well sign posted and an intense congregation of cellar doors.
Location: Australia, South Australia, Clare Valley 1 hour and a bit drive from Adelaide
Length: 35 kms one way, plus add on loops of varying lengths up to 16 kms, total possible 51 kms (worth noting there is a new extension from Auburn to Riverton of 19 kms called the Rattler Trail which would extend total possible length to 70 kms)
Surface: Smoothed & compacted gravel, not really suitable for thin tyre road bikes.
Max gradient: The Riesling Rail Trail itself is gradual gradient uphill to Clare from Auburn, there is steep section off the main trail on the loops that are very short and possibly need to be walked by non regular riders.
Towns: Auburn, Clare, Sevenhill, Leasingham, Watervale, Penwortham, and within striking distance to the Barossa Valley.
Cellar Doors: Over 30 wineries immediately or very closely accessible from the rail trail
Things to see: Historic Sevenhill Cellars (home to some of Australia’s oldest vines); Rows & rows of vineyards in real wine country; the historic town of Auburn; story boards and information posted along the rail trail including local indigenous history; award wining restaurants and cellar doors.
Recommended Tour/s: Whilst we agree the best rail trail in South Australia is the Riesling Rail Trail, we have a tour recommendation that includes all the rail trails in this state. The 5 night South Australia Vineyards tour includes the Barossa Trail, the Riesling Trail and the McLaren Vale Shiraz Trail all in one tour!
Best Rail Trail Queensland
Result: The Brisbane Valley Rail Trail
Described as Australia’s longest offical rail trail, the Brisbane Valley Rail Trail is a stand out in Queensland.
Location: Australia, Queensland, Ipswitch (2 hours north west of Brisbane)
Length: 161kms from Yarraman to Ipswitch
Surface: Part sealed, largely gravel and compacted gravel more suitable to mountain bikes. There are big variations in the trail surface in parts.
Max gradient: The trail runs downhill mainly from the western start point of Yarraman
Towns: Yarraman, Blackbutt, Moore, Toogoolawah, Esk, Lowood, Fernvale and Ipswitch. Any of these towns could be start or end points with ample parking and trail access. Esk is regarded as the main town on the trail with a number of pubs, cafes and eateries and places to stay. Esk is also an ideal halfway point.
Things to see: The Old Church Gallery is well worth a visit with cafe and art gallery making an idea stop.
Recommended Tour/s: Tour de Vines offers a unique 2 day cycling on the Brisbane Valley Rail Trail combined with a 2 day hike on the Scenic Rim Trail nearby (rated as one of Australia’s great walks).
Best Rail Trail Tasmania
Result: The North East Tasmania Rail Trail
Tasmania is in the development phase of rail trails. There are quite a few short trails but only a couple of longer trails that would suit a day or multi day riding trip.
Location: Australia, Tasmania, Scottsdale (90 mins from Launceston).
Length: 26 kms one way
Surface: Compacted gravel with loose gravel in parts, not really suitable for thin tyre road bikes.
Max gradient: Like most rail trails the gradient is gradual throughout. For more downhill it is best to start from Tulendeena riding back to Scottsdale.
Towns: There are limited towns directly accessible along this trail. Scottsdale is the ideal town to finish at with a selection of cafes, a brewery and accommodation.
Things to see: This is a beautiful rail trail to explore. Lush forests, fern lined cuttings and views of the surrounding mountains.
Recommended Tour/s: The north east Tasmania rail trail is the start day on our Tasmania East Coast cycling tour.
What's your favourite rail trail in Australia?
We'd love to hear from you so leave a comment below with your thoughts.
And keep riding rail trails.