Paddling and Pedaling: Combining Boating with Bicycling
by Jon Nelson
Pennsylvania is fortunate to have several Rails-to-Trails (RTTs) that parallel whitewater streams. Paddlers can use the RTT for a bike shuttle (take a lock) or combine a day of paddling with some biking. Many of the RTTs can be ridden using road bikes, such as the Pine Creek Trail. Others require mountain bikes or hybrids. This article describes several available trails and streams. In all cases, the RTTs have several trail heads that must be coordinated. Pennsylvania has about 156 RTTs, with a total mileage of 1,470. Many of the trails have web sites or on-line maps. For more information, the following are good sources: Biking Pennsylvania’s Rail-Trails (Amazon, 2005); Great Allegheny Passage Trail Book (GAP website, http://www.atatrail.org/); and Rail-Trails: Pennsylvania, New Jersey, & New York (Railsto-Trails Conservancy, 2012). For rivers, there are three major sources: Ed Gertler, Keystone Canoeing (Seneca Press, 1985); Roy Weil & Mary Shaw, Canoeing Guide to Western Pennsylvania (Amazon, 1991); and Jeff Mitchell, Paddling Pennsylvania (Stackpole, 2010)
Lower Trail/ Frankstown Branch of the Juniata River – the Lower Trail (rhymes with “flower”) is a 17-mile RTT that runs from Alexandria to Canoe Creek State Park. The Frankstown Branch is an easy Class I stream. More information on the Lower Trail is here: http://rttcpa.org/lower.shtml. The main stem of the Juniata begins at the confluence of the Frankstown Branch and the Little Juniata; see Gertler’s bible or Mitchell for more information on these three streams.
Pine Creek Trail/ Pine Creek – this well-maintained RTT runs for 62 miles along scenic Pine Creek. Pine Creek is a Class I-II stream that can be paddled by a practiced beginner. Several bike/river segments are possible. The RTT is described in a DCNR brochure and map; see the DCNR web site or the many local web sites, such as visittiogapa.com/railtrailmap.pdf. Pine Creek is described in Gertler or Mitchell.
Ghost Town Trail/ Blacklick Creek – there is a system of RTTs in the Ebensburg– Indiana–Blairsville-Saltsburg area. The 37-mile Ghost Town RTT runs along the Class III Blacklick Creek. The 10-mile Hoodlebug RTT follows Two Lick Creek and the 16-mile West Penn Trail follows the lower Conemaugh River (see Mitchell). A brochure is available from the local Cambria & Indiana Trail Council: http://www.indianacountyparks.org/trails/trails.html . The 6.5 mile Class III section of the Blacklick runs from Heshbon to Josephine (see Gertler). There also is a Class III-IV section from Nanty Glow to Vintondale on the upper Blacklick; see the AWA River Info at: http://www.americanwhitewater.org/content/River/state-summary/state/PA/
Lehigh River Gorge Trail/ Lehigh River – compared to the other trails described here, this RTT is very busy on weekends. Bike rentals and shuttle services are available. The Trail runs for 25 miles along the scenic Lehigh River from White Haven to Jim Thorpe. For maps and other information, see: http://www.dcnr.state.pa.us/stateparks/findapark/lehighgorge/ . There are two whitewater sections: the 10-mile upper section is Class II-III and runs from White Haven to Rockport. The Class III lower-section runs from Rockport to the Glen Onoko take-out, and is about 12 miles long (see Gertler or AWA).
Great Allegheny Passage/ Casselman River – the GAP Trail runs for 150 miles from Homestead, PA to Cumberland, MD. It then joins the 184-mile C&O Towpath, which runs to Washington, DC. From McKeesport to Confluence, the GAP parallels the Youghiogheny River for 71 miles. The GAP then turns northeast and follows the Class II-III Casselman River for 31 miles; see: http://www.atatrail.org/ . When it has sufficient water, the Cassleman is an exciting run – slightly harder than the Lehigh, but not as hard as the Lower Yough. The usual run is from Marketon to Fort Hill, about 6 miles (see Gertler, AWA, or Mitchell). Be sure to park your vehicle at approved spots for this river.
Great Allegheny Passage/ Yough River – the GAP runs along the Class I-II middle Yough for 11 miles from Confluence to Ohiopyle (or vice versa). This section is easily combined by bike & boat, but it gets busy on weekends. North of Ohiopyle, the GAP runs along the Lower Yough for 17 miles to Connellsville, where the whitewater officially ends; for the rest of the paddle/ride, see: http://www.fish.state.pa.us/watertrails/yough/yough_north_guide.pdf .
Other Trails to Explore (see https://www.traillink.com/ ): Allegheny River/Justus Trail (29 miles from Oil City to St. George); Clarion River/Toby Creek (18 miles from Brockway to Ridgeway); and West Branch Susquehanna (10 miles from Grampian to Hyde). These streams are Class I and are described in Mitchell’s book. The nearby Penns Creek Path covers only 3.6 miles, but includes a bridge and tunnel. An RTT in West Virginia to consider is the Greenbrier Trail, which runs for 80 miles along the scenic Class I-II Greenbrier River; for WV, see http://www.wvstateparks.com/greenbrierrivertrail/descriptions.html. Of course, you can always do a bike shuttle locally too, such as Spring Creek, Bald Eagle Creek, Black Moshannon or even the Red Moshannon. SYOTR–RTT.