Rails || Trails


Railroads Connect Us, Even When They Are No Longer Here ||


(Left): A consist of Milwaukee Road, diesel and electric engines haul a freight of automobiles along the bends in western Montana near Drexel in July 1973. Photograph by John Bjorklund, Center for Railroad Photography & Art, Bjorklund-63-23-03. (Right): The Route of the Olympian is a scenic trail that runs 31 miles across the rustic Montana countryside. The trail follows the former Pacific route of the Milwaukee Road, which connected the railroad’s Wisconsin terminus with Washington state. The name for the trail comes from the Milwaukee Road’s popular Olympian Hiawatha passenger train that operated from 1911 to 1947 between Chicago, Illinois, and Tacoma, Washington. Photograph by Justin Franz.


Rails || Trails is a traveling photography exhibition that explores the lasting ways railroads connect people and places through the rails-to-trails movement in the United States. The exhibition’s mission is to educate the general public about the prolific influence that railroads have left on the United States’ history, geography, economy, and community structures through the lens of the rail-trail movement and its presence in both rural and urban life.

The railroad industry employed 1.8 million people at its height in 1916. Today, the industry employs roughly 150,000 in both freight and passenger rail. Most people who interact with the railroad landscape do so through the use of recreational trails that have been developed in revitalized former railroad corridors. This exhibition explores the history of how those transitions came to be and the impacts of both railroads and rail-trails on communities. We invite rail-trail users to explore their connections to both their national and local railroad history.

The exhibition spotlights 24 rail-to-trail transitions across 19 states. The photography features collections from the Center for Railroad Photography & Art, the Denver Public Library, the Museum of History & Industry, the Historical Society of Western Virginia, and many more. We are also proud to feature the photography of members of the Center for Railroad Photography & Art who assisted in the creation of this exhibition.

Contributing photographers

B&O RR Historical Society, Center for Railroad Photography & Art, Denver Public Library, Historical Society of Western Virginia, Kheel Center, Miami-Dade Public Library System, Museum of History & Industry, Princeville Heritage Museum, and South Dakota State Historical Society

Chap Achen, Ben Bachman, Bryan Bechtold, Ron Flanary, Barre Fong, Justin Franz, T. Bondurant French, Barry Gaston, Oren Helbok, Paul Hensler, Drake Hokanson, Franz Jantzen, Wayne Kemp, Cate Kratville-Wrinn, Elrond Lawrence, David Lester, Mark Llanuza, Scott Lothes, Mike Matejka, Emily Moser, Hailey Paige, Mike Pechner, and Robert Sartain


With Generous Support

Rails || Trails would not be possible without the generous support of the Lexington Group in Transportation History and the annual support from our member community. Thank you to everyone who donated to this project.


Exhibition Components

Five self-standing exhibition displays

  • 1 x introductory exhibit box (4 sq. feet)
  • 4 x zig-zag exhibit displays (8 sq. feet)

Timelapse video of the Elroy-Sparta State Trail across four seasons (10 min)

Option for local history and/or trail section (personalized for venue)

Booking information
Get in touch with the Center at:


Upcoming Venues

  • The Canvas Gallery at the Garver Feed Mill, Madison, Wisconsin, May to June 2024
  • East Troy Railroad Museum, East Troy, Wisconsin, Summer and Fall 2024

Featured Trails

Trails in the Exhibition ||

1. Pacific Electric Inland Empire Trail
2. San Francisco Bay Trail

3. Mineral Belt Trail

4. The Underline / Miami Loop

5. Atlanta BeltLine

6. Route of the Hiawatha

7. Illinois Prairie Path
8. Rock Island Trail

9. Erie Lackawanna Trail

10. High Trestle Trail

11. Capital Crescent Trail

12. Stone Arch Bridge on the Saint Anthony Falls Heritage Trail

13. Katy Trail

New York
14. The High Line
15. Walkway Over the Hudson

16. D&L Trail
17. Manayunk Bridge Trail

South Dakota
18. George S. Mickelson Trail

19. Historic UnionPacific Rail Trail

20. Virginia Creeper National Recreation Trail

21. Burke-Gilman Trail

22. Elroy-Sparta State Trail
23. Southwest Commuter Path

24. Medicine Bow Trail

Elroy-Sparta State Trail

Ride the Elroy-Sparta State Trail in All Four Seasons ||

Discover the historic 32.5-mile rail-trail in western Wisconsin, a former Chicago & North Western Railway mainline. This trail made history in 1967 as the first rail-to-trail conversion in the U.S. Now, it’s a year-round tourist hotspot!

Join the Center for Railroad Photography & Art as we pedal through the seasons:

Spring: Sparta to Tunnel 3
Summer: Tunnel 3 to Tunnel 2
Autumn: Tunnel 2 to Tunnel 1
Winter: Tunnel 1 to Elroy

This video was made in conjunction with our traveling exhibition Rails || Trails.

Online Exhibition