There was a time when trains were the main form of continental transportation. Railroad tracks crossed the country from north to south and east to west. For years, this means of transportation thrived. Over time, other advances in transportation such as airplanes and motor vehicles replaced the once mighty locomotives as the preferred way to travel and transport goods and materials.
When the trains ceased running, their abandoned railroad tracks littered the landscape. For years, these unused tracks cluttered up communities until a movement to repurpose these abandoned areas was founded.
Instead of allowing these tracks to continually deteriorate, the rails to trails movement converts former railways systems into scenic trails that are ideal for hiking, biking, walking, running, horseback riding and, in some cases, cross country skiing.
Pennsylvania is one of the leading rails to trails developers in the country with almost 200 completed and functional trails.
Here are a few of the many outstanding rails to trails options you’ll find in the Keystone State.
PA Rails to Trails That Are Under Five Miles Long
If your preference is for trails that you can complete in a morning or afternoon, then there are lots of options that are under five miles long. Here are two wonderful choices that are ideal for leisurely strolls, quick workouts or to build stamina for longer trails in the future:
- Bartram’s Mile Trail – A newer addition to the popular (and much larger) Schuylkill River Trail, this 1.1 mile asphalt trail is designed for walking, jogging and biking. To enjoy Bartram’s Mile Trail, visitors access it from the 56th Street Plaza continue their journey to Bartram’s Garden (a historical landmark and public garden in Southwest Philadelphia), and head north to conclude their trip at the Grays Ferry Bridge. Along the way, visitors can enjoy gorgeous views of the Schuylkill River and the Philadelphia skyline. If visitors wish to extend their journey, they can easily connect to the Grays Ferry Crescent Trail (another segment of the Schuylkill River Trail) via an operational swing bridge.
- J. Manley Robbins Trail – Larger than Bartram’s Mile Trail, yet still under five miles, this combination grass and gravel trail is believed to be one of the oldest in the country. Located in Montour County along the old Reading Railroad line, this three-mile trail is ideally suited for walking, running, hiking, biking and horseback riding. During the winter months, many PA residents take advantage of significant snowfalls by cross country skiing along this trail. No matter what time of year visitors hit this trail, they’ll be rewarded with beautiful views of the Mahoning Creek.
A PA Rails to Trails That Is Rich In State History
Looking for a trail that offers more than an opportunity for a great workout and scenic views. Then you’ll want to set your compass for the option that was once named “Trail of the Month” by the Rails to Trails Conservancy:
- Ghost Town Trail – Spanning 46 miles between Cambria and Indiana Counties, the Ghost Town Trail incorporates elements of PA history throughout its 36 miles, including grist mills, coal hoppers from the old C&I Railroad, and the Eliza Furnace. Named after the area’s abandoned mining towns, this crushed stone hiking/biking/walking trail is part of the Trans Allegheny Trails Network.
The Ultimate PA Rail Trail
No article about PA’s rails to trails is complete without mentioning the ultimate trail of all:
- Great Allegheny Passage – This 335-mile, multi-state crushed-limestone trail begins in Pittsburgh, extends to Maryland and ends in Washington D.C. Along the way, trailblazers can stop at the Allegheny Museum, camp at Cedar Creek, visit the historic Pump House (which supplied water from the Monongahela River to the Carnegie Steel Company) and enjoy the many natural wonders of the great outdoors.
Ready to hit the rails to trails this year? Eager to enjoy all the great parks, events and recreational facilities Pennsylvania has to offer? Then be sure to stay up to date on all of the latest PA parks news and announcements by subscribing to the Good For PA newsletter!