Western Pennsylvania’s industrial past may be just a memory, but the railway tracks it left behind have made this part of the state a premier bicycling destination. More than 50 rail-to-trail bike routes allow riders to explore the cities of Pittsburgh and Erie as well as meander through small towns and the bucolic countryside that Pennsylvania is known for. These six bike trails showcase this region’s natural beauty and fascinating history.
1. Great Allegheny Passage
Stretching 150 miles from downtown Pittsburgh through Western Pennsylvania’s rural landscape southeast to Cumberland, Maryland, the Great Allegheny Passage draws bicyclists seeking both quick afternoon rides and multiday adventures. This crushed limestone bike route began its conversion from railroad to recreation path in 1978 and reached its completion in 2013. A highlight of this ride includes Steel Valley, where the remnants of Pennsylvania’s once-thriving steel industry as well as new industrial-style artwork line the route.
Farther along, tunnels and trestles lead riders through mountains and over valleys, including a 26-mile segment that runs through Ohiopyle State Park, where it crosses the state’s deepest gorge. A panoply of murals at the trail’s highest point near Deal, the Eastern Continental Divide at 2,392 feet, offers riders a memorable photo op. B&Bs, restaurants, and other services await day-trippers and long-haul riders in all the towns along the trail.
2. Allegheny River Trail
A 32-mile multiuse crushed limestone path from Oil City to Emlenton follows the banks of the Allegheny River as it snakes its way through Venango County’s small cities and towns. The trail’s first section, the Samuel Justus Trail, is named after a local baron from the area’s 1850s oil boom and runs along former railroad tracks from Oil City to Franklin. At that point, the bike path becomes the Allegheny River Trail and continues an additional 28 miles to Emlenton.
Bikers can rest or picnic at benches and tables with river views along the bike route. Several towns along the way offer dining and lodging.
3. Oil Creek State Park
Just north of Oil City, a 9.7-mile dedicated asphalt bike trail winds through Oil Creek State Park, combining the area’s natural beauty and its history of oil discovery for a ride that’s both scenic and educational. Petroleum Center at the trail’s south end is now an oil-boom ghost town. At the north end, the Drake Well Museum and Park describes the initial 1859 oil drilling at the site and the methods used to extract and refine the oil.
4. Ghost Town Trail
Running 46 miles over three segments, the Ghost Town Trail tells the story of coal mining, another once-prospering Western Pennsylvania industry. This crushed limestone bike trail, named the 2020 Trail of the Year by the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, runs past relics of the area’s industrial past: iron furnaces, coal-loading tipples, and coal-refuse piles. But it’s not all about long-gone history—the Blacklick Creek Valley also presents a verdant landscape, with streams and wildflowers lining the trail. A highlight of this ride is a stop at one of the state’s best-preserved iron furnaces, the Eliza Furnace in Vintondale, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Ghost Town Trail is part of the Trans Allegheny Trails (TAT), a network of 13 bike trails in the region. Riders who want to make this a multiday trip, either by sticking to the Ghost Town Trail or by exploring one of the others in the TAT network, should consider the Dillweed B&B in Dilltown, at about the path’s midpoint. It offers four guest rooms and one suite, as well as a cozy shop with local gifts and Ghost Town Trail merchandise.
5. Presque Isle State Park
Jutting into Lake Erie from downtown Erie’s west end, Presque Isle State Park is Pennsylvania’s most-visited state park, welcoming more than 4 million guests each year. In addition to its 11 sandy beaches, boat tours, and hiking trails, the park is home to the Karl Boyes Multi-Purpose National Recreation Trail. This flat, 13.6-mile asphalt circuit of the peninsula is a relaxing way to enjoy the park.
Visitors can find ample parking, restrooms, and picnic areas. Bike rentals are available from the Waterworks Pumphouse.
In addition to the miles of beaches and wildlife-watching spots, a popular destination on this ride is the Perry Monument, which overlooks Misery Bay. Built in 1926, it commemorates the War of 1812 victory of Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry in the Battle of Lake Erie.
Bird lovers will want to stop at the Gull Point Observation Deck, although they should check first to make sure it’s open; seasonal closures ensure a safe environment for breeding wildlife.
6. Corry Junction Greenway Trail
The Corry Junction Greenway Trail carries cyclists thorough the Brokenstraw Valley’s hills, streams, swamps, and forests. The path runs approximately 6 miles from Corry to Clymer, New York, a small town that retains the influence of its Dutch founders, including a popular biennial tulip festival.
The railroad once brought fame to Corry as the home of the Climax locomotive factory in the late 1800s to early 1900s. The Northwest Pennsylvania Trail Association took over the former logging railroad in the early 2000s, and opened the converted multiuse, all-season trail in September 2010. At several shops near either end of the trail, riders can grab a quick snack or refill water bottles. The trail surface is crushed gravel and dirt, so touring or mountain bikes are the best choice for this ride.
Pamela Hunt, a freelance writer in Burlington, Vermont, grew up in Erie and Elk counties and will always be a Western Pennsylvania girl at heart.
AAA Travel Alert: Many travel destinations have implemented COVID-19–related restrictions. Before making travel plans, check to see if hotels, attractions, cruise lines, tour operators, restaurants, and local authorities have issued health and safety-related restrictions or entry requirements. The local tourism board is a good resource for updated information.