If you live in Central PA or are just here for a visit, we’ve discovered the best trails in the region for you to explore. Just a short drive from Harrisburg, PA, these exceptional Central PA bike trails are beautiful and well-maintained.
Trails are long and the views are spectacular. And, if you’re so inclined, you can also get a history lesson along the way.
Take a closer look — don’t miss these fantastic bike trails near Harrisburg, PA!
Heritage Rail Trail
The Heritage Rail Trail is in York County in South Central PA. If you live in the Harrisburg area, this is your go-to bike trail. The trail is just about 25 miles long and runs from York City to New Freedom, PA, which is right at the Maryland border. The final phase of the Heritage Rail Trail’s northern extension, which extends north to John C. Rudy County Park, is now complete. Although the trail is open year-round, the best time to visit is between April and October.
You’ll find the trail offers lots to see and lots of shade. As you ride the well-maintained route, you can take in a variety of breathtaking landscapes and also learn about the area’s rich history. You’ll travel through urban York City into the tranquil countryside and visit numerous towns along the way. Each community you pass through seems to have its own personality, and the old train signals and timeworn buildings are reminiscent of an earlier time.
The surface of the trail consists of crushed stone covered in blue stone dust, which is good for hybrid and mountain bikes. Inclines are nice and easy and the tracks are easy to navigate. Restrooms and other facilities are plentiful.
The trail follows one of the oldest railway corridors in the U.S. and takes you through York County’s expansive country landscape. During the nineteenth century, the Northern Central Railroad rode the lines from York County to Harrisburg, Washington D.C., Upstate New York and Lake Ontario. Local farmers began to prosper and new communities began to crop up along the tracks.
History tells us that during the Civil War, before the Battle of Gettysburg, Confederate troops tried to isolate Washington, D.C. by destroying telegraph wires and bridges along the rail line. President Lincoln also rode this rail on his way to deliver the Gettysburg Address.
In York City, you’ll start your ride in an urban area at the side of the Codorus Creek. The first thing you’ll see is York’s Colonial Courthouse, which is a replica of the original that was built in 1754. You’ll ride through York City for about a mile and then move into a rural landscape with farmland and wooded areas.
About a mile and a half south of Brillhart Station, you’ll reach the Howard tunnel, which is 370 feet long and, apparently, quite dark. The original tunnel opened in 1838 to accommodate the Northern Central Railway.
Eleven miles into your trip, you’ll reach Seven Valleys, where you’ll find some great places get a snack. Go another half-mile down the trail, and you’ll come to the Hanover Junction Station, which has been restored to look like the original structure built in 1863. You can visit the museum inside the station and see exhibits from the Civil War era and more.
For the next four miles, you’ll see lots of farmland and beautiful scenery as you ride alongside the Codorus Creek. The nine miles to follow wind through the towns of Glen Rock, Railroad and, finally, New Freedom. New Freedom is a quaint town established in the early 1900s just north of the Mason-Dixon line and a great place to grab lunch. If you wish to extend your ride an additional nineteen miles, you can pick up the Torrey C. Brown Rail Trail at the Mason-Dixon line and head south into Maryland.
The rail line between Hanover Junction and New Freedom is in use, so be careful. Steam Into History replicated a steam locomotive from Civil War times that rides the lines seasonally. If you decide to take the train, you may see narrators sharing historical accounts, Civil War re-enactors — including Abe Lincoln — and live music from the nineteenth century.
Facilities along the trail are well-maintained and include restrooms, picnic tables and benches. All trailheads offer parking.
You can access the trail from:
- John Rudy Park
- Route 30
- York City
- Brillhart Station
- Glatfelters Station
- Seven Valleys
- Hanover Junction Station
- Glen Rock
- The Town of Railroad
- New Freedom Station
Coming from Harrisburg, you probably want to park on the northern side of the trail in York City. You can take Interstate 82 to Exit 22 and take North George Street for about three miles. Take a right onto West Philadelphia street for two blocks and then take a right onto Pershing Avenue, and you’ll see the parking area.
Stony Valley Railroad Grade Trail
Another must-ride trail in South Central PA is the Stony Valley Railroad Grade Trail. Just fifteen miles east of Harrisburg, you can hop this spectacular trail in less than forty minutes.
The trail is over 21 miles long and crosses Dauphin, Lebanon and Schuylkill county lines with endpoints in Ellendale and Pine Grove Township. The surface is dirt and gravel and best for mountain and hybrid bikes. Make sure you pack supplies, because you won’t find any facilities along the trail.
The trail winds through more than 44,000 acres of state game land and is open all year long, except during hunting season. If you are a hunter with proper licensing and weaponry, however, you can cycle to your destination during this time.
On your ride, you’ll pass through tree-covered landscapes with lots of opportunities to see the local wildlife. Ensconced in nature, you’ll experience solitude in a serene environment with plenty of shade. It’s not likely that you’ll have cell service, but you should enjoy a tranquil ride through beautiful vistas. Since temperatures on the trail are typically more refreshing than the city, you should find the excursion comfortable and relaxing.
The trail and surrounding areas have a fascinating and somewhat spooky history. When coal was discovered in the Stony Valley region in 1824, five busy towns emerged. In the 1850s, the Schuylkill & Susquehanna Railroad stretched through 54 miles of productive farms and coal mines. During the height of prosperity, Stony Valley boasted businesses in 27 communities — none of which you’ll see there now.
Though formerly home to over 5,000 people, not one person lives along the trail today. The area’s mines produced a lower grade of coal, which was bad for business. By the nineteenth century, the local coal, lumber and iron businesses were in decline and the railroad headed for ruin. By 1944, all the coal and lumber was stripped from the region and the railway became obsolete. In 1945, the PA Game Commission bought the land and transformed it into one of the first rail trails in the United States.
If you hop on the trail at the Ellendale Gate, you can travel two miles to the Water Tank Trail, which climbs up Third Mountain and joins Rattling Run Road at the 5.7-mile mark. The Rattling Run section of the trail was once home to a community of coal miners. Today, you can see remnants of their existence along the mountainside.
At the nine-mile mark, you’ll arrive in the area formerly known as Yellow Spring. The once-vibrant town was situated on top of a mountain and was known for stripping lumber and coal. There, you can see a mysterious stone tower with unknown origins. Along your way, you’ll also feel like you’re going back in time when you spot old relics, such as an abandoned caboose, in the surrounding woods.
Eleven miles into your ride, you’ll reach Cold Springs. Back in the Stony Valley’s heyday, passengers traveled the railway to Cold Springs to soak in the restorative waters there. The springs became so popular that they prompted the development of a grand resort, enjoyed by well-off Philadelphians. Today, you can see some of the hotel’s remains not too far off the trail. Since this section of the trail has limited maintenance, we recommend riding it only when the weather is nice.
If you continue to ride for a couple more miles, you’ll reach Rausch Gap — a former mining town. Back in Stony Valley’s prime, Rausch Gap was the largest community in the area, with about a thousand residents. If you take a look around, you’ll see a cemetery and lots of ruins. If you’re interested in the history of Rausch Gap, information is available at the Rausch Gap Bridge, which is located 3.5 miles west of the eastern trailhead.
At just over fifteen miles, you’ll come to Sand Springs which, according to local legend, was once a camping site for Native Americans. You won’t find any artifacts, though. Another four miles down the trail, you’ll see a beautiful reservoir that holds drinking water for the surrounding areas.
If you’re coming from Harrisburg, you’ll want to begin your ride at the southwestern trailhead in Dauphin County. You can access the trail and park just off Stony Creek Road in Ellendale. You’ll have to travel down a dirt road that could be mistaken for a dead-end. The dirt road will take you to a parking lot and a gated trailhead. The address is 2680 Stony Valley Railroad Grade, Dauphin, PA 17018.
Pine Creek Trail
The Pine Creek Trail covers 62 miles of spectacular scenery in Lycoming and Tioga counties. Although it’s a slightly farther trek out from Harrisburg to North Central PA, this beautiful trail doesn’t disappoint. Not only is the Pine Creek Trail one of the highest-rated bike trails in Central PA, but it’s also one of the best in the entire Northeast Region — a real gem. Known as the “Grand Canyon of the East,” it was hailed as one of the top ten places to take a bike tour by USA Today.
The trail runs across Pine Creek in the Pine Creek Gorge with endpoints at the Wellsboro Junction and the town of Jersey Shore. The surface is made of crushed limestone and is suitable for hybrid and mountain bikes. The rural scenery is gorgeous and the trail is well-maintained with very little change in grade. Be careful not to fall off your bike when taking in the stunning views!
The rail trail is also historically significant. In 1883, the Jersey Shore, Pine Creek & Buffalo railroad carried freight from Wellsboro to Williamsport. The rail transported lumber to sawmills and carried coal into New York State. Trains were active until 1988 and you can still see the mile markers from when the train was in service. Stop in at either the Darling Run or Tiadaghton trailhead to learn more about the history of the area.
During 55 of the 62 miles, you’ll ride through views of great rock formations and waterfalls. If you’re starting at Wellsboro Junction, pack your own supplies for the first 26 miles, as resources are sparse. Once you hit Blackwell, you will find general supplies for the next 25 miles.
Riding the trail is relaxing and peaceful. The shade from the trees keeps temperatures cooler for a pleasant and comfortable ride. Bridges cross back-and-forth over the creek and the route is essentially flat. If you’re lucky, you’ll encounter some of the local wildlife.
If you start at Wellsboro Junction and ride south to Jersey Shore, the downhill incline is barely noticeable. Along the route, you’ll head through the Tioga and Tiadaghton forests, where you will find lots of hiking trails if you feel like taking a brief excursion on foot. In the spring, you can fish for trout or go kayaking, canoeing and whitewater rafting in this area.
You’ll find restrooms and campgrounds at many of the trailheads. In fact, you’ll see a clean bathroom about every six miles along the route. Your journey will take you through small towns and expansive landscapes, so the cell service is sporadic.
You’ll find lots of access points along the Pine Creek Rail Trail. The trailheads have nearby parking and some have comfort stations and campsites. You can find a detailed map of the trailhead amenities and other services along the trail on the Pine Creek Valley website.
The trailheads that offer parking include:
- Jersey Shore
- White Tail
- Ross Run
- Clark Farm, Utceter Station
- Black Walnut Bottom
- Rattlesnake Rock
- Robert McCullough, Jr.
- Darling Run
- Big Meadows
If you’re coming from the Harrisburg area, we recommend starting your ride at the Jersey Shore trailhead. From U.S. 220, get off at the Thomas Street exit. Take a right at Railroad Street and you’ll soon arrive at the Jersey Shore parking area.
Ghost Town Trail
Located in West Central PA, the Ghost Town Trail is 44 miles long and passes through Cambria and Indiana counties with endpoints in Black Lick and Belsano. The original trail was established in 1991, and in 2017 an eight-mile extension, known as Stritty’s Way, was added to the trail. While recognized as a National Recreation Trail by the U.S. Department of the Interior, this trail has also received accolades from the Rails to Trails Conservancy, naming it the Trail of the Month in 2011. Just over a two-and-a-half-hour drive from the Harrisburg area, you don’t want to miss this amazing mountain bike trail.
The Ghost Town Trail is named for the five “ghost towns” you travel through, but it’s not at all frightening. The well-maintained trail offers a lot of shade and is mostly flat with some big, yet doable, hills. If you prefer a ride that is on a downhill slope, we recommend starting in Ebensburg and traveling east-to-west. The surface is crushed limestone, so a hybrid or mountain bike will likely be your best bet for a pleasant ride. If you’re biking during hunting season, make a note to wear orange clothing, as some parts of the trail run through gameland.
As the trail winds through the Blacklick Creek Valley, you’ll be sure to enjoy a peaceful and relaxing ride. The scenery is spectacular and changes frequently. One minute you may be surrounded by nature, and the next you’re staring at a long-abandoned mine. You can also have peace-of-mind from knowing you will never be much farther than a few miles away from a bike shop at any point on your trip.
Although you won’t find any facilities trailside, you can find restrooms and pavilions at the Heshbon, Vintondale and Dilltown trailheads. If you’re interested in a little snack, such as a popsicle or Whoopie pie, check out the little store at the Dillweed Bed and Breakfast near the Dilltown trailhead. You can also find pizza and pie — yes, pie — at Al’s Pizza in Nanty Glo.
The trail follows the Ebensburg & Blacklick Railroad and the Cambrian & Indiana Railroad lines that traveled through the old mining towns in the area. You may even stumble across old railway ties and mining refuse along your way. At trail markers, you can learn more about the history of the old mining towns and blast furnaces.
Some of the sites along the trail include:
- The Eliza Furnace: On the National Register of Historic Places, the Eliza furnace is an exceptionally well-maintained blast furnace located slightly west of Vintondale.
- The Bracken Mine: The mine was situated in the small town of Bracken, which was once made up of twelve homes, a store and a one-room schoolhouse.
- Railcar salvage yard: You may be surprised when you see a salvage yard of old rail cars poking out from amongst the trees, just east of Saylor Park.
- Blacklick Creek bridges: Two lovely bridges were built in 2009 to cross the Blacklick Creek, which is situated west of Dilltown.
The Ghost Town Trail has lots of access points with various amenities. For more details on the facilities located at each trailhead, you can visit the Parks & Trails of Indiana County website. Access points to the Ghost Town Trail include:
- Nanty Glo
- Twin Rocks
- Saylor Park
If you’re coming west from Harrisburg for the day, you probably want to park at the Ebensburg trailhead, where you’ll find parking and local restaurants. The address is 424 Prave Street, Ebensburg, PA 15931.
Area lodging is also available if you’d like to stay overnight. In Ebensburg, you’ll find the Fairview Bed and Breakfast, the Noon-Collins Inn and the Quality Inn. There’s also the Dillweed B&B in Dilltown and the Days Inn in Blairsville.
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