Head to the river for hiking and biking fun

This sign marks the entrance of Hamburg’s State Street Trailhead, part of the Schuylkill River Trail that includes miles of paths stretching from Tamaqua to Philly. The Hamburg site includes popular Kernsville Dam and miles of pathways accessible by foot or bicycle. Pets are permitted, and fishing and boating are available in some spots. Photo by Kolleen Long — For 21st Century Media
The Reading Blue Mountain Northern Railroad was once part of a vital transportation route that came through Hamburg but which shut down in the late 1970s. Evidence of this once mighty system can be seen from points along the Schuylkill River Trail. Photo by Kolleen Long — For 21st Century Media

Summer is all but over, and school is looming around the corner (at least for Hamburg’s middle and high schoolers). That means dreaded back-to-school shopping has hit families’ pocketbooks, and many budgets are stretched to the limit. So this past Friday, our obvious choice was a favorite, and absolutely free, family outing: exploring the paths that wind around the Schuylkill River on the west side of Hamburg.

The Schuylkill River Trail is a designated National and State Heritage system that stretches from Tamaqua to Philadelphia. The Hamburg section borders the Hamburg Park and includes the Kernsville Dam. It overlaps a section of the Appalachian Trail; markers highlight local history including the Schuylkill Canal Locke and the Reading Blue Mountain Northern Railroad. Blue Mountain Wildlife, Inc., maintains these local trailways, which are free for public use.

The paths include fairly easy groomed trails plus lots of interesting footpaths of gravel or rough dirt. Our family has been exploring the area for several years now, and we have walked in all weather and seasons, as well as explored it on bicycle or with our family hound dog. Our favorite portion by far is the pathway leading to the Kernsville Dam Recreation Area.

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For this Fun Friday outing, however, we opted to try a different route, the State Street Trailhead which begins at the corner of Front and State streets. A large sign marks the entrance, and a second, larger display includes rules and regulations, local history, maps and a mileage chart for the entire Schuylkill Trail system. We unloaded our bikes, checked out the map and then hit the trail. The sun was shining brightly, but we soon found ourselves on shady pathways, surrounded by the soothing sounds of rushing water and trilling insects.

We curved briefly around the Schuylkill before climbing abruptly to cross the river via a bridge. A short, wooded stretch brings hikers briefly out to Industrial Road before veering off on the trail again. This segment, named the Therman Madeira Switchback, lasts 0.88 miles before intersecting with the next portion of the trail, the Kernsville Dam Road alongside the Cabela’s Wetlands Trail loop.

We spent about an hour exploring these trails, time enough to walk briskly (or cycle comfortably) to the Kernsville Dam Road and back. As we progressed, we stopped to admire the man-made marvels like the towering Route 78 bridge, or the crumbling remains of the old Reading railroad. We waved at other families who passed on bikes, taking advantage of this golden summer day.

My son enjoyed racing ahead on his larger bike and challenging his balance and strength on steep side paths. He urged us to take one footpath, where we found a beautiful, rocky outlook of the river. My daughter pointed out fuzzy caterpillars and woodland critter dens before later stopping to ponder the mystery of a large, bear-claw shaped knothole on an old tree.

Everywhere we went, we saw signs of fall. Acorns clustered at the feet of oak trees, and brightly colored leaves drifted down and littered the path at our feet. While my children wanted to deny this evidence that summer is soon done, they happily chattered about favorite vacation memories as well as what they hoped to do at school this fall. When we reached our truck and began loading the bikes, we also made plans to return to the paths soon.

In fact, the Schuylkill River Trail is a great locale for year-round hiking. For more information, visit schuylkillriver.org. Better yet, carve out a few hours on your next free, sunny afternoon and check out the paths yourself.