The Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's blog picked two regional trails, the Schuylkill River Trail and Lebanon Valley Rail-Trail, as top trails to visit in Pennsylvania.
"The Keystone State is a very fitting nickname for Pennsylvania — not only for its central role in the development of the country, but also for its role as a leader in national trail development, claiming 188 completed rail-trails to date collectively spanning more than 2,100 miles. That’s more rail-trails than any other state," the conservancy wrote on a Jan. 8 blog post.
The list was updated from a similar list in 2014.
This developing 71-mile multiuse trail encapsulates the rich history and geography of southeastern Pennsylvania, home to the American, Industrial and environmental revolutions, the conservancy noted.
A highlight is the 2,000-foot Schuylkill Banks Boardwalk that travels 50 feet out over the river between Locust Street and the South Street Bridge in Philadelphia.
A 30-mile stretch, which begins at the boardwalk’s northern end and heads to Valley Forge National Historical Park, boasts a plethora of attractions, including the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Boathouse Row and the 2,000-acre Fairmount Park.
It goes through Berks, Chester, Montgomery, Philadelphia and Schuylkill counties.
Lebanon Valley Rail-Trail
The 18-mile Lebanon Valley Rail-Trail — and the connecting Conewago Recreation Trail — trace the route of the Cornwall & Lebanon Railroad, which served a local iron mine and foundry until the tracks and mine were wiped out by Tropical Storm Agnes in 1972, the blog notes.
Heading into Cornwall, the trail passes the brick Gothic Revival Cornwall Iron Furnace building — circa 1742 and part of a National Historic Landmark District — after which Mount Gretna emerges to welcome visitors and vacationers.
In Lebanon, in the first of two separated segments of trail, you can catch some R&R at Union Canal Tunnel Park, a National Historic Landmark that offers boat rides as well as picnic tables and walking trails.
• The D&L Trail, which runs for 140 miles through eastern Pennsylvania, from Philadelphia’s northern metro area to Mountain Top in the Appalachians. It follows historic canal and railroad routes at the core of the Delaware & Lehigh National Heritage Corridor, the conservancy said.
"Hauntingly beautiful river gorge views await in the 24.3-mile section through Lehigh Gap and Lehigh Gorge State Park, where a new pedestrian bridge connects to Jim Thorpe (“Little Switzerland”) — a world-class adventure town named after the famous indigenous American Olympic athlete who is buried there," the blog said.
It stretches through Bucks, Carbon, Lehigh, Luzerne and Northampton counties.
• In York County, the Heritage Rail Trail County Park (Heritage Rail-Trail) (along with the connecting 19.5-mile Torrey C. Brown Rail Trail, a fellow Rail-Trail Hall of Famer) travels the historical route of the former Northern Central Railway corridor, which once connected Harrisburg to Baltimore, Maryland, the blog said.
Built in the 1800s, the railway was used during the Civil War to provide supplies to Northern troops heading south.
The route is popular with cross-country skiers and snowshoers.
• The Pine Creek Rail Trail offers a true destination experience in north-central Pennsylvania.
"The 62-mile well-maintained trail — which slopes imperceptibly downhill alongside Pine Creek, from Wellsboro Junction in the north to Jersey Shore in the south — runs at the bottom of überscenic Pine Creek Gorge, commonly called the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania," the blog wrote.
•The Montour Trail features a diverse selection of bridges, trestles, viaducts and tunnels framed by colorful landscapes and vegetation along a winding 62-mile half-circle route on the western side of Pittsburgh.
Both the trail and the railroad are named for the creek that runs alongside them.
Highlights include the 575-foot Enlow Tunnel (Findlay Township); a 6.3-mile connector in Enlow to the Pittsburgh Airport; the beautiful 900-foot McDonald trestle, which crosses over the Panhandle Trail; and the Chartiers Creek High Bridge and the adjacent 235-foot-long Greer Tunnel just past Hendersonville.
At the southeastern terminus in Clairton, you can take the Clairton Connector route (urban, on road) about 5 miles to McKeesport, which links to the 150-mile Great Allegheny Passage (gaptrail.org).
• The 30-mile Allegheny River Trail in Northwestern Pennsylvania was once a canoe route for Native Americans and French trappers, according to the conservancy.
It was designated a national wild and scenic river, and the forests teem with animals, from chipmunks and wild turkeys to deer and even eagles.
The trail is also part of the developing 1,500-miles-plus Industrial Heartland Trails Coalition (IHTC) and the 270-mile Erie to Pittsburgh Trail in Clarion and Venango counties.
• The 51-mile Redbank Valley Rail Trail is an example of local and regional connectivity at its best, the conservancy said.
Located in Armstrong, Clarion and Jefferson counties, it follows a rail corridor developed by the Allegheny Valley Railroad in 1872 to carry passengers, coal and lumber to Pittsburgh and beyond.
Much of the trail runs along Redbank Creek and includes many bridges and beautiful stone arches. The trail also connects schools, soccer fields and rural areas to commercial and residential centers.
• Three Rivers Heritage Trail parallels its namesake three rivers — the Allegheny, Ohio and Monongahela — for some 33 miles through the heart of the Steel City and into the surrounding neighborhoods. It extends outward in three paved, connected segments from Pittsburgh’s famous Point State Park.
• The 150-mile Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) (gaptrail.org) has become a premier bucket-list destination for bicyclists and hikers, drawing some 1 million visitors annually. Connecting five counties and 15 communities, with Pittsburgh as its western focal point, historic Cumberland at its eastern base; sprawling foliage-lined landscapes through the Laurel Highlands; 34 bridges and tunnels; and relics encapsulating the region’s industrial and Revolutionary War history, the blog noted.