Runners of all levels looking for a scenic route have hit the jackpot. While the trail is flat it is also flexible offering runners the option of a quick three mile route or its longest 28 mile out and back.
The Island Rail Trail is a 14-mile long route, (one way) of mixed pavement and packed gravel that combines the Burlington Bike Path, the Colchester Causeway and the Allen Point Access Park. This rail to trail was originally built as the railbed for the Rutland-Canadian Railroad and has since been turned into a stunningly scenic multipurpose trail for runners, walkers, bikers and outdoor enthusiasts.
What Makes It Great
The scenery along the entire 14-mile run is unbeatable. Runners cruise along the shores of Lake Champlain and are treated to unobstructed views of the lake, sailboats, lighthouses, amazing sunsets and the Adirondack Mountains. The trail itself offers an appealing landscape of beaches and shoreline parks which are beautiful to run by or to stop on and just enjoy the surroundings.
The trail starts at Oakledge Park in Burlington and travels north past a handful of beaches and waterfront parks before heading across the Winooski River Bridge, a half-mile long elevated bridge over the Delta flood plain that connects the Burlington Bike Path to the Causeway. The Causeway extends three miles out into Lake Champlain and ends in the middle of the lake. There is a seasonal bike ferry that brings riders across to South Hero and Allen Point Access Park.
The Causeway is definitely the highlight of this run. Built as an access point to connect the New England coast to the Great Lakes area for the railroad, the Causeway now sits atop huge marble boulders and is like an arm that extends out three miles into the middle of the lake. Standing at only 10 feet wide and surrounded by water on both sides, the trek out on the Causeway gives runners the feeling of floating on water. Runners can choose to do the three mile causeway only for an out and back total of six miles. Park at the Mills Point Road or Airport Road lots in Colchester to take advantage of this beautiful shortened route.
The Causeway stops in the middle of the lake at “the Cut,” a 200 foot gap in the trail, so runners will need to turn around and head back at this point. There is a seasonal bike ferry run by the local nonprofit Local Motion that will take folks over to the island of South Hero for $8 a person if you are interested in exploring. The trail continues for another 1.5 miles before ending in a parking lot.
While this trail can be very congested in town it tends to be relatively easy for runners to navigate, and thins out after points north of Burlington’s New North End heading into Colchester. It’s very flat and while the southern eight miles of the trail are paved, the northern part is packed gravel, making it a soft trail run for runners through Colchester, out on the Causeway and back.
Who is Going to Love It
This run can be as long or as short as runners would like it to be, a full 28-mile loop, a quick three-miler or anything in between depending on where along the path they decide to stop and start. Being as flat as it is this trail is great for beginners but can be challenging for runners of all levels because of its length, although hardcore runners should not expect to find any type of a hill workout here. And, the views are unforgettable, so runners looking for a scenic route have hit the jackpot.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
The beginning of the path starts at Oakledge Park in Burlington. Parking is available, but May 15 - Sept. 3 there is a $5 per vehicle daily parking fee ($6 for non-residents) between 9:30 a.m. and 7 p.m. Riders can also choose to begin their ride at other various locations, parks or beaches along the path. Parking and costs for each may vary.