Autumn on the Rail Trail: Fall is the perfect time for a trip
Fall weather is often a delight in the northern tier of Pennsylvania. Its cool crisp mornings turn into warm colorful days. Leaves turn from green to yellow to orange and red and the annual autumn display delights visitors as well as local folks. It’s the perfect time to get outside and enjoy the perfection of fall.
It’s also one of the best times to take a bicycle ride or walk on the Pine Creek Rail Trail, that almost perfect multi-purpose 62 -mile long pathway that cuts through the mountains of two Pennsylvania State Forests and follows the meandering flow of Pine Creek. It’s a gift for the ages. From the earliest Native Americans’ walkabouts along the pre-pioneer Pine Creek Path to our recreation on today’s Pine Creek Rail Trail, it’s a delight for anyone who wants to share a great day in a fabulously scenic setting.
The Pine Creek Rail Trail runs between near Wellsboro to Jersey Shore. Folks start their trips at either end and in the middle too. It doesn’t really matter. Ride north to south, ride south to north, ride a long distance, ride a short one.
The trail can be ridden in a day by the hearty…all 62 miles of it. But most of us ride it in sections. Come along with me and I’ll show you the trail in a quick ride-a-long, using the Pine Creek Rail Trail Guidebook as our guide.
Starting in the north at Mile 0.0, we are three miles north of Wellsboro. The trail starts in a westerly direction and follows a wide valley along wetlands for about 9 miles. This area is the only section of the trail that runs east-west and the sunrises and sunsets are spectacular here. Some of this area has been designated an “important birding area” so keep a lookout for wetland birds and animals. There is an arch-shaped bridge on the trail that is architecturally interesting and the trail comes very close to the USGS Northern Appalachian Research Laboratory near Mile 5.1 which sometimes offers self-guided tours.
The trail turns south at Ansonia and heads into the Pine Creek Gorge, known as the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon. The Darling Run access area provides ample parking and “comfort stations”. On Sundays, the little museum there that looks like a train station is open by volunteers. Some afternoons, Ole Covered Wagon Tours seasonally use a side path next to the trail to take rides a few miles into the gorge.
The trail for the next 16 miles is isolated from civilization. It is often described as the most beautiful part of the trail. It closely follows Pine Creek as it cuts its way through the bottom of an 800 to 1000 feet gorge. There is no reliable water and non-existent cell phone coverage here. Seven miles south of Darling Run is the ghost town of Tiadaghton. Riders can ride there and back or continue on to Blackwell at the end of the 16 mile segment.
At Tiadaghton, riders can rest at the primitive creek-side campground and picnic area there.
On this section ride, visitors ride through Leonard Harrison and Colton Point State Parks. The lookouts can be seen on the rim of the canyon by eagle-eyed visitors. Speaking of eagles, there are several eagle nests along this section of the trail so eagles can often be spotted. Approximately four miles from Darling Run at Mile 12 is the Turkey Path waterfalls which is fabulous after a good rain.
At Mile 24.5, riders come to the teeny town of Blackwell. Miller’s Store, a general store-deli-gift shop is usually open for fortifications. Near the store is a small parking area which is used for fishing and boating access. The bicycle access area is 1.8 miles further south, at Rattlesnake Rock. Rattlesnake Rock has a vivid history and is now a popular fishing and swimming area.
Five miles further south is the quaint town of Cedar Run, with a cute general store run by the Dodds (open seasonally), the vintage Cedar Run Inn built in the early 1890’s (the restaurant here is great), and Pettecoate Junction, a private, popular seasonal campground.
Cedar Run is also the location of a fabulous steel truss railroad bridge that spans Pine Creek. The trail crosses the creek on the bridge and is worth a stop to appreciate the architecture and the beauty of the area. Look up on the mountain from the bridge to see Chimney Rock vista with the huge American Flag. There is no trail parking in Cedar Run so it can’t be a starting spot for riders.
The next official access area with parking is at Slate Run. Slate Run has Wolfe’s Store, a great deli and general store and Hotel Manor, an enjoyable restaurant/hotel on Pine Creek with a large creek-side deck for outdoor dining. There are no bathroom facilities at Slate Run so riders must ride a mile south to Tomb Flats campground. Another primitive campground at Black Walnut Bottom, another mile south of Tomb Flats. Availability of water at the campgrounds is questionable to bring your own water with you and stay hydrated.
Along Pine Creek along here, is a designated trophy brown trout fishing area, so often fly fishermen and women are out in the creek plying the water in hopes of catching a “big one”. Eagles and ospreys may be seen fishing in the creek in this area too.
Soon, the trail follows the highway more closely and there are a few highway crossings. Watch carefully for traffic at the crossings. Parking areas at Clark Farm/Utceter Station (Mile 38.6) and Ross Station (mile 39.9) provide visitors easy access to the trail. The tiny town of Cammal (Mile 41.8) greets us with beautiful old buildings, but limited refreshment opportunities.
The trail is near the highway again below Cammal (pronounced just like the dromedary) until the town of Jersey Mills where it veers away from civilization and follows the east side of Pine Creek along Huntley Mountain through a wooded isolated area. The trail exits 3.3 miles later, a mile north of Waterville (Mile 50.1) at the official parking area for the trail. It then follows along the back streets of town until it arrives at McConnell’s store, a deli-general store; the Waterville Tavern, a family-friendly restaurant’ and the magnificent steel truss bridge behind the tavern that takes us over Little Pine Creek.
Waterville is 12 miles from the southern end of the trail and riding this section of the trail has a more suburban feel to it, although there are still plenty of miles along isolated sections of the trail. Cell service is more reliable the closer riders get to Jersey Shore. And there are more highway crossings in this section of the trail.
The old stone mileage markers alongside the trail can be seen more frequently now. The letter “L” stands for Lyons, NY, headquarters of the New York Central Railroad. The number signifies how far we are at any given time from Lyons, NY. Mile marker L-108 is north of Wellsboro. Mile marker L-168 is at the southern terminus.
Three miles south of Waterville, we come to the revolutionary war hero town of Ramsey and the Ramsey steel truss bridge over Pine Creek. Once we ride across the bridge, we leave the highway and follow the west side of Pine Creek along an isolated section of the trail. The old Boy Scout Camp Kline grounds remain tucked along the trail here and wild mountain rhododendrons line the rock face along the trail. It’s dark and quiet here, but absolutely serene. The Bonnell Flats primitive campground and comfort station are near old Camp Kline.
The rail trail pops out into an expansive picturesque valley and farm area just before the Torbert steel truss bridge. After crossing the Torbert bridge, the trail has a suburban feel again as it follows along properties and homes and moves away from Pine Creek. The Whitetail parking area (Mile 59.1) is just three miles north of Jersey Shore and makes for a nice starting area for riders who want to ride north of the terminus.
Another highway crossing brings riders to the east side of Rt. 44 along a wide valley, where we then ride along impressive geological rock formations, cross the four- lane Rt. 220, on a steel mesh covered bridge and ride into the southern trail terminus at Jersey Shore. (Mile 62)
We’ve completed our scenic ride on one of the best rail trails in the country. From north to south, the overall grade is -.2 percent. The smooth limestone base makes for an easy ride for all levels of rider and for most bikes.
Every mile of the 62-mile long Pine Creek Rail Trail offers beauty and a sense of adventure. It is for every rider and walker. Ride or walk a little. Ride or walk a lot. The choice is yours. But it always awaits those looking for a great opportunity for outdoor recreation. Especially in the fall.