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The five best rail trails in Australia

Alia Parker's picture
Cycling across the Sandy Creek Inlet bridge, Victoria. Cycle Traveller

There are many rail trails across Australia; some are beautifully sealed and signposted, others have been barely touched since the rail sleepers were removed. The overwhelming majority of rail trails, however, only extend a handful of kilometres, making for a very short bike ride. But times are slowly changing.

We've pulled together a list of the top five rail trails in Australia – all above 50km – to keep you entertained for the entire weekend. It's not hard to notice that the list is very heavily skewed towards Victoria, with only the odd segue into South Australia. We considered trails all over the country, and two trails – one in Queensland and another in Western Australia – earned honourable mentions. But the Victorians have been leading the way when it comes to rail trail development and, at this present time, their trails are hard to beat. So here we are, these are the five best rail trails in Australia.

1. Murray to the Mountains, VIC – 116km

Cycling on the Murray to the Mountains rail trail. Cycle Traveller

It's little wonder this rail trail has become the nation's pin-up model; it has got the distance, the scenery is lovely, there are gorgeous small towns dotted along the route and, wait for it … the trail is actually sealed! Stretching from Wangaratta to Bright, with an arm up to Beechworth, the trail passes through the Victorian High Country via the likes of some of the country's highest mountains, like Mount Buffalo. The Murray to the Mountains has it all, and the ride is still getting better, with works already under way on an adjoining trail that extends south out of Bright toward Germantown. Read more about the trail in Romance of the ride: Murray to the Mountains Rail Trail.

Website: murraytomountains.com.au

2. The Riesling and Rattler Trail, SA – 54km

Cycling the Rattler Rail Trail South Australia. Cycle Traveller copyright.

These two fine gravel trails join to make for a very enjoyable ride through one of Australia's best wine regions: the Clare Valley. Starting in Riverton, 130km north of Adelaide, the Rattler Trail runs for 19km through the rolling farmland of the Gilbert Valley (pictured right) and joins the Riesling Trail at Auburn. From here, cyclists are taken off on a quiet ride through the farmlands and vineyards of the Clare region with plenty of opportunities to sample its Riesling specialty. There are so many side trips branching from these two trails that a ride along them will easily fill an entire weekend. We rode through this region in 2014 and have a little 133km route you can try that takes in these two rail trails as well as the Barossa Valley. More info in The Wineries Route: rail trails through Clare and Barossa.

Website: southaustraliantrails.com

3. The Great Southern Rail Trail, VIC – 71km

This rail trail runs through some rather lovely countryside with everything from green rolling hills, bush and views out to Wilsons Promontory. Stretching from Leongatha to Welshpool (where it conveniently joins a bike path down to Port Welshpool), it's easy to access from Melbourne. The Great Southern has a good churt surface suitable for all types of bikes. There's a chance this trail will get even better in the future, with the local council expressing support for the idea of extending it to Korumburra, potentially growing it to 85km.

Website: promcountry.com.au/railtrail

Tunnel on the Great Victorian Rail Trail. Cycle Traveller

4. Great Victorian Rail Trail, VIC – 134km

Australia's longest continuous rail trail runs through the rolling hills of the Great Dividing Range from Mansfield to Tallarook. A crushed gravel trail, with heavy leaf and stick debris in parts, it's a nice ride through rural Victoria with pockets of bush. Highlights include crossing the rail bridge at Bonnie Doon and the Cheviot Tunnel. Services along the trail are not quite as developed as on the nearby Murray to the Mountains, but the Giddy Goat Cafe at Yarck is worth a pit stop. We rode this trail from end to end recently and wrote about it in A cycling trip on the Great Victorian Rail Trail.

Website: greatvictorianrailtrail.com.au

5. High Country Rail Trail, VIC – 50km

This trail runs east out of Wodonga, Victoria on the NSW border and along the picturesque Lake Hume. One very impressive feature of the trail is the Sandy Creek Inlet Bridge, which was designed to represent the movement of the old trains crossing the water (pictured top). Only about 50km of the trail is currently developed, but there is the potential to run it as far as Cudgewa, which would push the distance out to 109km. The trail is suitable for all bikes between Wodonga and Tallangatta, and can be ridden in parts beyond that on a mountain bike.

Website: highcountryrailtrail.org.au

Honourable mentions

  • Brisbane Valley Rail Trail, QLD -- 114km (114km of 160km complete. Bit rough, sandy or grassy in patches and lots of gates, but scenic with little towns along the way.)
  • Denmark-Nornalup Heritage Rail Trail, WA – 54km (section missing in the middle)
  • The Gippsland Plains Rail Trail, VIC – 67km
  • East Gippsland Rail Trail, VIC – 94km (trail condition varies)
  • Ballarat to Skipton Rail Trail, VIC – 54km

Do you agree? Have your say below...

Image: 1. Cycling across Sandy Creek Inlet Bridge on the High Country Rail Trail near Wodonga, Victoria. 2. Murray to the Mountains Rail Trail near Bright, Victoria. 3. Rattler Rail Trail, Barossa, South Australia. 4. Cheviot Tunnel on the Great Victorian Rail Trail. Source: Cycle Traveller

Comments

My husband and I took the kids, 10 and 12, to ride the Murray to the Mountains for a family holiday. We all had a good time. The trail was easy to follow and safe for the kids and there were lots of places to stop along the way. Great way to have fun and tire them out. We went from Bright to Beechworth over two days and my husband rode back quickly to get the car.

I didn't even know we had that many rail trails. lol.

Fernlegh Track Belmont (Newcastle NSW). Great little ride.
Bandianna to Tallangatta - this is the track pictured at the head of this article, the Sandy Creek Bridge.For the more adventurous, you can continue from Tallangatta on quiet country roads around Lake Hume back to Bellbridge & across the weir wall to complete a loop.

The Amy Gillet Rail Trail is a 16km sealed trail from Oakbank to Mt Torrens. It is relatively flat and has lots of interesting stops along the way. Most people do a round trip (32km) and stop for a bite to eat in one of the cafes in Oakbank.

We cycled the BVRT a few years ago and it was deteriorating rapidly. A great trail which goes through some lovely scenery and towns it would be a shame if it is not looked after. We also found the website misleading. It hadn't been updated in a long time and knowledge of the trail at the local information centres was sadly lacking. Such a shame.

Hi,

Check Rail Trails Australia webpage

http://www.railtrails.org.au/trail-descriptions/queensland?view=trail&id=39

Regards Mark

My family rode from Wangaratta to Bright via Beechworth and had a fantastic time. It was a great ride, sealed trails, well signposted, plenty of interesting places to stop and great scenery. My only caution would be to pick another time other than spring. The magpies are highly active and we felt like we were running the gauntlet as we were swooped on many times. Be careful especially near Everton and Beechworth where the maggies were especially aggressive.

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