This article is from the Fall 2016 issue of Rails to Trails magazine, which is hitting mailboxes in late September. It has been republished here in an edited format.
“I Heart Trails” is an appropriate slogan for the developing Industrial Heartland Trails Network, a collection of nearly three dozen pathways featuring scenic wilderness, dramatic railroad tunnels and trestles, welcoming trail towns and historical sites from the birthplace of America’s Industrial Revolution.
The system is ambitious and breathtaking in scope: 1,450 miles of trail spiraling out across four states: Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia and New York. Here is a sampling of the beauty to be found within the network.
This interconnected collection of unpaved rail-trails in the southwestern corner of New York offers nearly 30 miles of serene pathway through pine and hardwood forests, wetlands and wildflower-filled meadows.
Along the way, travelers will cross old railroad bridges, traverse quaint communities and skirt the shores of Lake Chautauqua.
Little Beaver Creek Greenway
With an intriguing mix of both untouched natural vistas and man-made relics from the corridor’s industrial past (such as a row of hauntingly beautiful coke ovens), this paved rail-trail offers a true taste of eastern Ohio.
The 12.5-mile route winds through wooded ravines, open farm fields, wildlife-rich wetlands and a charming covered bridge.
Ohio & Erie Canalway Towpath Trail
Remnants of an early-19th-century canal dot this trail as it journeys 85 miles through a panoply of varied landscapes in northeastern Ohio. Down the primarily crushed-stone pathway, adventurers will discover a series of canal locks, restored historical buildings, interpretive signage and, of course, the canal itself. A portion of the trail traverses Cuyahoga Valley National Park, where train enthusiasts can take a ride on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad.
Portage Hike and Bike Trail
Bookended by two bustling cities less than an hour from Cleveland, the nearly 10-mile rail-trail is quiet in between: traversing woodland, grassland, farms and prairie.
Like the pendant on a chain, Towner’s Woods Park at the trail’s midpoint is a highlight of the route with its beautiful natural setting, hiking trails and a pristine lake.
Allegheny River Trail
A canopied gem, this paved, 32-mile rail-trail is lined with oaks, maples, elms and other tree varieties that turn spectacular shades of flame in the fall.
Two railroad tunnels, friendly small towns and plenty of wildlife round out the experience; keep watch for deer, wild turkeys and eagles on this adventure through the scenic northwestern Pennsylvania countryside with the river alongside.
Oil Creek State Park Trail
This rail-trail in the northwest corner of Pennsylvania provides a journey through the oil boom era of the 1860s. Paralleling a sinuous, wooded creek, the paved pathway offers natural beauty around every bend, historical sites to explore and interpretive signage about the region’s history. Even better, travelers can combine their nearly 10-mile bike ride with an excursion through the park on vintage 1930 train cars operated by the Oil Creek & Titusville Railroad.
Three Rivers Heritage Trail
Lining the shores of the three major rivers that meet in Pittsburgh—the Allegheny, Monongahela and Ohio—this paved rail-trail provides access to some of the city’s most dynamic views and attractions.
Numerous bridges over the waterways offer expansive vantage points and connections to an eclectic mix of industrial, commercial and residential neighborhoods.
Mon River Trails
The beauty of West Virginia’s Mon River Trails network, which is centered in Morgantown, is that visitors have access to four trails—and four unique experiences—all in one interconnected system spanning nearly 50 miles. Head away from town and quickly become immersed in dense woodlands, where the quiet is broken only by the splash of small waterfalls along the crushed-stone pathway. Or stay in town and enjoy access to a number of city parks as well as great dining and shopping opportunities on the paved, urban portion of the trail system.
North Bend Rail Trail
Winding under lush tree canopies and through rocky cuts in the hillsides of the Appalachian region, this 72-mile unpaved rail-trail exemplifies “Wild and Wonderful” West Virginia. The remote and pristine pathway offers a whopping 36 bridges, most over picturesque small creeks, as well as 10 tunnels to explore, including its longest, which spans 2,297 feet.