As a native Pennsylvanian, editing our new Rail-Trails: Pennsylvania Guidebook was a project close to my heart. Last summer, nearly two dozen staff members from Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) went out to ride the state’s many wonderful trails to verify map data and waypoints (like parking and restrooms), and write detailed descriptions from our firsthand experiences.
I loved the chance to explore trails that were new to me as well as some old favorites (like the stunning Three Rivers Heritage Trail), and can’t wait for RTC to unveil the finished product in April! The guidebook contains 70 destination-worthy rail-trails and other multiuse pathways; here, we’ve included a few excerpts and photos from the book to give you an enticing peek at what’s inside.
Special thanks to my co-writer for this post, and fellow rail-trail guidebook editor, Laura Stark!
Allegheny River Trail
Keep your eyes open for wildlife when you visit the Allegheny River Trail. This segment of the Allegheny River—once a canoe route for local tribes and French trappers—was designated a national wild and scenic river, and the forests teem with animals. Everything from chipmunks to wild turkeys to deer are frequently spotted along the trail, while eagles rule the sky overhead. The paved, 30-mile pathway in Northwestern Pennsylvania is also part of the developing 1,500-miles-plus trail network through Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio and New York being spearheaded by the Industrial Heartland Trails Coalition.
Capital Area Greenbelt
Every year, tens of thousands of people take to the Capital Area Greenbelt looping around Harrisburg to play, exercise and commute. The greenway completely encircles Pennsylvania’s capital city as it connects parks, museums, and a stretch of gardens and woods along the Susquehanna River. The route’s 20.6-mile main loop comprises paved and crushed-rock paths, wide sidewalks next to streets, low-traffic streets, and road shoulders; the greenbelt also includes a small spur and loop within two parks.
The D&L Trail runs for more than 140 miles through Eastern Pennsylvania, from Philadelphia’s northern metro area to Mountain Top in the Appalachians. It follows historic canal and railroad routes at the core of the Delaware & Lehigh National Heritage Corridor, where natural resources and human ingenuity combined to power the nation’s Industrial Revolution. The pathway is also included in the Circuit Trails, which will connect 800 miles of trail in Greater Philadelphia and New Jersey.
Great Allegheny Passage
Ever since the Great Allegheny Passage (gaptrail.org) opened in 2007, overnight bicycle riders and hikers have flocked to the 150-mile rail-trail in Western Pennsylvania. The welcoming small towns along the route lure travelers with lodging, camping, markets and dining. Trail users marvel at the awesome scenery along one of the longest rail-trails in the United States and the first rail-trail in the country to be inducted into RTC’s Rail-Trail Hall of Fame.
Heritage Rail Trail County Park
Spanning 25.5 miles, Heritage Rail Trail County Park, along with the connecting Torrey C. Brown Rail Trail that continues south through Maryland, are RTC Hall of Fame Rail-Trails. Both trails follow the former Northern Central Railway corridor, which once connected Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, to Baltimore, Maryland. Built in the 1800s, the railway was used during the Civil War to provide supplies to Northern troops heading south. For an immersive historical experience, trail users can board a replica 1860s steam locomotive from New Freedom to Hanover Junction.
Oil Creek State Park Trail
It’s hard to believe that the world’s first oil boom occurred along the path of what’s now the Oil Creek State Park Trail. The park’s forests, beaver ponds and trout streams were once the site of oil derricks, boomtowns, pipelines, refineries and a railroad that served the nation’s first oil patch. This paved, 9.7-mile pathway in the northwestern corner of the state is also part of the expansive Industrial Heartland Trails Coalition’s trail network.
The Panhandle Trail offers the most direct and scenic route for self-propelled travel between the Pittsburgh suburbs and West Virginia. Although the 29-mile trail follows an old railroad grade through the hilly terrain, there was only so much the railroad builders could do to flatten the route. Expect a steady climb to the town of Midway, the high point on the rural journey. This keystone pathway has been designated a “gateway trail” in the newly launched Great American Rail-Trail route which will span the country, and is also part of the Industrial Heartland Trails Coalition’s trail network.
Pine Creek Rail Trail
The Pine Creek Rail Trail offers a true destination experience in north-central Pennsylvania. The 62-mile well-maintained trail runs at the bottom of überscenic Pine Creek Gorge, commonly called the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania. Small towns along the route cater to trail visitors, and numerous trailheads, comfort stations, campgrounds and lodging make extended stays possible.
Schuylkill River Trail
At one time an important thoroughfare for commerce carried by canal barges and railroad cars in southeastern Pennsylvania, the Schuylkill River corridor now accommodates walkers, bicyclists and others on the Schuylkill River Trail, covering about 71 miles. The trail helps make up part of the Circuit Trails network in Greater Philadelphia.
Three Rivers Heritage Trail
Three Rivers Heritage Trail features the best that the city of Pittsburgh has to offer, connecting major cultural venues, the downtown area, historical sites, and some of the city’s most well-known neighborhoods and parks along more than 20 miles of riverfront trails. Extended outward in three major paved, connected segments from Point State Park, the urban trail parallels its namesake three rivers—the Allegheny, Ohio and Monongahela—that helped lift the city into prominence as America’s once-industrial powerhouse. It also serves as a major spine for the Industrial Heartland Trails Coalition’s trail network.
Rail-Trails: Pennsylvania Guidebook
Want to experience one of these amazing destinations? You’ll find maps, helpful details and beautiful photos of 70 multiuse trails across the state in our upcoming Rail-Trails: Pennsylvania Guidebook, available April 2019.Pre-Order Your Guidebook Today