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Off the Beaten Path: Great but Lesser Known Pennsylvania Trails

September 15, 2020 12:00 AM

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Allegheny River Trail

The COVID-19 pandemic has many of us craving the outdoors. Trails have been especially popular to get outside and recharge while maintaining social distancing.

A side effect of that use is that some popular trails have become crowded. That can make social distancing hard, even outside.

We asked staff in our Bureau of Recreation and Conservation to give us ideas on “hidden gem” trails in Pennsylvania. Where are some great places to walk or bike that not many people know about?

Their suggestions are included here. With options around the state, there’s a hidden gem trail near you.

Note that even on these hidden gems, it’s still important to follow advice on social distancing and leaving no trace outdoors. Also remember to wear a mask outside when you are not able to consistently maintain social distancing.

Endless Mountains Trail, Northeast Pennsylvania

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The Endless Mountains Trail in Susquehanna County runs through some heavily forested areas, especially in its eastern stretch along Martins Creek.

Pennsylvania has more than 2,000 miles of rail trails -- disused railway tracks that have been converted into multi-use paths.

Northeast Pennsylvania has claim to one of the oldest rail trails in the United States -- the Endless Mountains Trail. It got its start in 1944 when the railway was decommissioned and transferred to the local Bridgewater Riding Club.

The trail runs 10 miles from Montrose to Alford. It’s open to hiking, biking, horseback riding, and cross-country skiing. Note that the Rail-Trail Council of NEPA is doing restoration work on this trail, so some sections may be rough.

Fairmount Park Trolley Trail and Gwynedd Preserve, Southeast Pennsylvania

It’s hard to find trails in the Philadelphia region that don’t see a lot of use, but one relatively hidden gem is Fairmount Park’s Trolley Trail.

The trail started as the Fairmount Park Trolley, which operated from 1896-1946. The trolley is long gone, but you can find remains like stone tunnels and bridge abutments along this wooded trail.

The Trolley Trail is still in development. It is envisioned as a 4.5-mile loop trail -- about 1.5 miles are complete.

Outside the city, consider Gwynedd Preserve, is a nature preserve in Montgomery County owned by Natural Lands.

Natural Lands owns numerous preserves in eastern Pennsylvania, many of which have seen heavy visitation during the pandemic. Gwynedd is one where the parking lot isn’t often full.

Gwynedd Preserve offers a map of four miles of hiking trails (PDF) across its 279 acres. Those trails connect with others on adjacent conserved land, including properties owned by Upper Gwynedd Township and Wissahickon Trails -- providing even more room to explore.

The preserve itself features a mix of forests and fields, including newly restored meadows of native grasses and wildflowers.

Rider Park Trails, Northcentral Pennsylvania

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Trail overview for Rider Park. The park also has a detailed trail map.

While many parks are public lands, Rider Park is privately owned. But thanks to the generous gifts of the late Thomas Rider, the park’s 867 acres and more than seven miles of trails are open to the public for hiking, mountain bike riding, and cross-country skiing.

“The trails are well-maintained paths through the woods of Lycoming County,” said DCNR Regional Advisor Wes Fahringer. “There are nice views, plenty of shade, and a sense of wildness. Great birding opportunities and other wildlife viewing exist throughout the park.”

Conestoga Trail, Southcentral Pennsylvania

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Not all stretches of the Conestoga Trail are strenuous. Some areas like this one are flat and easily accessible.

The 63-mile Conestoga Trail runs all the way from the old Lebanon Pumping Station to York County just across the Norman Wood Bridge. It was developed and is maintained by the Lancaster Hiking Club.

Portions of the trail are strenuous, with steep climbs and stream crossings. But the trail also comes with rewards including covered bridges and scenic vistas of Lancaster County’s rich farmland. The trail connects to several nature preserves and local parks for even more exploration.

Allegheny River Trail, Northwest Pennsylvania

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The Allegheny River Trail is perfect for biking, with 32 miles of smooth, flat asphalt from Oil City to Emlenton.

The trail offers views of the Allegheny River, which borders the trails’ west side. The east side of the trail is mostly woods.

The trail also features two former railroad tunnels, each over half a mile long. The tunnels are dark, so bring a light if you plan on going through them.

Warrior Trail, Southwest Pennsylvania

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Map of the Warrior Trail’s Pennsylvania portion.

Warrior Trail may be one of the oldest trails in Pennsylvania. It follows a path used by Native Americans for 5,000 years.

The hike offers not only historical interest, but pastoral farm landscapes and great rural scenery.

The Keystone Trail Association describes the trail as “reminiscent more of a European countryside path than an eastern American forest trail.”

The trail covers 67 miles, about 45 of which are in Pennsylvania. It travels along ridges from the Monongahela River in Greensboro to the Ohio River south of Moundsville, West Virginia.

The Warrior Trail can be accessed at any of its road intersections. Be sure to follow all applicable parking laws and regulations.

The Warrior Trail runs entirely on private property, so please respect property rights when visiting. Stick to the trail and use the yellow blazes and red mileposts to keep on track. The trail is only open for hiking.

Favorite Trails from the Bureau Director

DCNR Director of the Bureau of Recreation and Conservation Tom Ford passed along recommendations for three of his favorite trails. They are:

Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail

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The 70-mile Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail is a remote backpacking footpath that follows Laurel Ridge through state forest, state park, and state game lands.

Along the way, there are hemlock groves, mountain streams, hardwood forests and the sounds of wildlife.

Tom especially enjoys the section that’s about 15 miles long from Route 31 to Route 30 that includes a bridge over the Pennsylvania Turnpike and Beams Rocks.

Appalachian Trail

Everyone has some recognition of the Appalachian Trail, which runs from Maine to Georgia. In Pennsylvania, Tom suggests the section from the top of Peters Mountain near Halifax east, with an easy hike to the Shock Rock vista, or a little further hike to the Table Rock overlook.

Elk Trail

In the Pennsylvania Wilds, Tom’s last recommendation is to check out the Elk Trail (formerly the Black Bear or Little Bear Trail) off Dents Run Road.

The Elk Trail is a 26.2-mile moderately trafficked point-to-point trail located near Benezett that is rated as moderate. Tom says you can follow this trail up a mountain to a food plot and elk viewing area.

Explore Pennsylvania Trails

Looking for even more trails? Pennsylvania has more than 650 trails totaling more than 12,000 miles. More than 80 percent of Pennsylvanians live within a 10-minute drive of a trailhead. Visit the ExplorePATrails website to find trails near you.

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