If your family loves riding and hiking together as a family, chances are you’ve been on a Pennsylvania Rail Trail – old railroad tracks now turned trails that are scattered around the state. Where did these trails come from? Well, when the steel, coal, and iron industries were booming in Pennsylvania, trains were an important method of transportation to move goods from one town to the next. These flat railroad paths crisscrossed the countryside with stops in quintessential Pennsylvania towns delivering goods throughout the state.
Over the years, many of these railroad beds became vacant, and trails were developed in their place to commemorate the historical routes. These trails have been given new life and are a great place for families to bike, hike, and even cross country ski without the burden of busy traffic. The Pennsylvania Rail Trail system of trails throughout the state is truly a gift for those who love the outdoors.
Pennsylvania Rail Trail
Great Allegheny Passage – Pittsburgh and its Countryside/Laurel Highlands
Somerset, Westmoreland, Washington, Fayette and Allegheny counties
Considered to be one of the nation’s most popular Pennsylvania rail trails, the Great Allegheny Passage begins in Pittsburgh, Pa., and crosses the border into Maryland, eventually connecting to the C&O Canal Towpath and ending in the nation’s capital. The 335-mile journey from Pittsburgh to the end of the trail makes it the longest unpaved bike path on the East Coast. Crushed limestone offers a smooth surface for bikers, hikers, runners, and cross-country skiers to experience all the natural beauty between Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C.
Heritage Rail Trail County Park – Dutch Country Roads
Extending 21 miles through urban and rural landscapes, the Heritage Rail Trail County Park runs south from the City of York to the Mason-Dixon Line. Winding through farmlands, along the bank of Codorus Creek and throughout York City, the rail trail welcomes all ages to run, bike, or walk the scenic path. The four historic structures along the way, including the Colonial Courthouse in York City, provide opportunities to learn the area’s rich history.
Pine Creek Rail Trail – Pennsylvania Wilds
Lycoming and Tioga counties
Hop on a bike or lace up those hiking boots and take a trip on the Pennsylvania rail trail hailed as one of the “10 best places to take a bike tour” by USA Today. The world-renowned 62+ mile Pine Creek Rail Trail is a multi-use trail that can be used for hiking, bicycling, horseback riding, and cross-country skiing. Most of the trail is located along the bottom of the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon. Equestrians can also join the fun with a section of the path designed specifically for horses.
Perkiomen Trail – Philadelphia and the Countryside
The combination of crushed stone and a few paved surfaces makes the “Perky,” as some call it, a one-of-a-kind trail located amongst the history and beauty of the Philadelphia countryside. The 20-mile Perkiomen Trail follows the route of the Perkiomen Creek from Oaks to Green Lane Borough. The Perkiomen Trail connects numerous public parks and historical sites in the region and is open year-round for a variety of outdoor activities. Visitors can start their journey at the Valley Forge National Historical Park and then bike or hike along the picturesque Perkiomen Creek.
Ghost Town Trail – The Alleghenies
Cambria and Indiana counties
Originally established in 1991 when the Kovalchick Salvage Company donated 16 miles of the former Ebensburg & Black Lick Railroad to Indiana County, the Pennsylvania Rail Trail known as the Ghost Town Trail totals 46 miles across Indiana and Cambria Counties.
Named for the abandoned mining towns that once existed alongside the railroad corridor, the trail is an ideal spot for a hike or relaxing bike ride and was designated as a National Recreation Trail by the U.S. Department of the Interior and named Trail of the Month by the Rails to Trails Conservancy in 2011. The trail is packed with numerous historical sites to check out along the way. Markers educate visitors about the area’s intriguing past, and trailgoers can also view the Eliza Furnace, one of Pennsylvania’s best-preserved iron furnaces.
D&H Rail Trail – Upstate PA
Lackawanna, Susquehanna and Wayne counties
The varied trail surfaces and beautiful surroundings are what make the unique D&H Rail Trail a treat for any outdoor enthusiast. This 38-mile pathway stands in place of the historic Delaware and Hudson railroad, a small but vital rail line during the 1800s. The multi-use trail runs for several miles along the Lackawanna River and alternates between tree-lined sections and open stretches.
Stony Valley Railroad Grade Trail – Dutch Country Roads
Dauphin, Lebanon and Schuylkill counties
Located just outside Pennsylvania’s state capital of Harrisburg, the Stony Valley Railroad Grade Trail is a 22-mile nature lover’s paradise. Creating the perfect serene setting to escape the hustle of the city, this trail is open year-round to bikers, hikers, and horseback riders, as well as cross-country skiers and snowmobilers in the winter. The trail, located on 44,000 acres of beautiful state game land, is also a very popular spot for hunters.
Allegheny River & Samuel Justus Trail – Pennsylvania’s Great Lakes Region
Clarion and Venango counties
With the excitement of railroad tunnels, riverfront scenery, and stunning bridges, the 32-mile Allegheny River Trail is situated in the heart of the Oil Heritage Region and has something for everyone to enjoy. Whether riding a horse on the dirt access trail, inline skating, hiking, or road biking, visitors will enjoy a smooth, level and paved journey along the gorgeous river. You can see why this is such a popular Pennsylvania rail trail with such amazing scenery.
Buffalo Valley Rail Trail – Valleys of the Susquehanna
The Buffalo Valley Rail Trail follows the route of a railroad that once ran from Montandon, Northumberland County to Bellefonte in Centre County, crossing through Union County on an east-west alignment. The Lewisburg Centre & Spruce Creek Railroad was incorporated in 1853, and immediately faced the difficulties of the Civil War and the St. Patrick’s day flood of 1865.
In 1879, the branch was renamed the Lewisburg & Tyrone Railroad Co., and for another hundred years it was a key part of the valley’s transportation network. The rise of interstate highway system led to a reduction in rail traffic. In 1982, the line ceased operations.
In 2009, after several years of planning and feasibility studies, the West Shore Railroad right-of-way was acquired stretching from the Susquehanna River in Lewisburg to Mifflinburg.
Phase I, including nine miles of finished trail, trailheads, facilities, and parking areas, was completed in the fall of 2011. Since then, thousands of residents and visitors have walked, run, or biked the 9.5 miles of scenic trail. In October of 2015, work was completed on Phase II, building the trail into the heart of historic Lewisburg.
The Buffalo Valley Rail Trail is the result of years of investment by Buffalo Valley Recreation Authority, Union County, the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, and the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.
J. Manley Robbins Trail – Valleys of the Susquehanna
Although this trail spans only about three miles in length, its historical significance makes it a worthwhile destination for any biker, walker, or runner. Rumored to be the oldest rail trail in the United States, the path leads visitors along a once-existing Reading Railroad line. The Robbins Trail is an ideal route for recreational athletes, providing them with a beautiful getaway high above the Mahoning Creek.
The Great Shamokin Path – Pittsburgh and its Countryside
Built along the Rural Valley Railroad, the Great Shamokin Path is named after the route that once linked the Allegheny and Susquehanna rivers and ran from Kittanning to Sunbury during Native American times. Much of the trail features a lovely tree canopy that provides relief on a hot summer’s day, and wildlife can be seen along much of the trail, especially in the early morning. The trail ends at the water treatment plant after crossing the Cowanshannock Creek. This mostly grass-covered trail climbs steadily through the Cowanshannock Creek Valley and provides four miles of hiking and bicycle trails between NuMine and Rose Valley.