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This is a process here in the United States by which abandoned rail lines are converted into multi-use trails. First, the line must be abandoned. For a railroad be abandoned, three things must happen:

  1. rail service must be discontinued
  2. the Surface Transportation Board approves the abandonment
  3. the fee schedules are canceled

After the line is abandoned, the railroad company will come through and remove all the ties and rails as part of a salvage operation. Generally, bridges and tunnels are left intact. Then, any interested trail agency may purchase the abandoned line. Sometimes, this is done through a process called railbanking where the railroad can sell, lease, or donate the abandoned line to a trail agency without the involvement of any other land owners. This is a provision of the National Trails System Act.

Once the line has been secured, the process of building the trail begins. This usually involves paving the rail line with asphalt, stone, wood chips, or whatever else is appropriate for the trail users. Decking and safety features are added to bridges. Road crossings are marked and signs are put up all over the place. Now the rail line has been converted into a trail suitable for hiking, cycling, horseback riding, and so forth.

Since the 1960s, almost 12,000 miles of trails have been created across the country. Some of these trails stretch for hundreds of miles across entire states. The majority of these very long trails are out in the Midwest though there's a trail in every state these days. Rails to trails have the advantage of either being flat or having a very low grade since trains used to ride over them. With some long trails and some short ones, there's pretty much something for everyone. They frequently run through or very close to parks, attaching to park trails as well.

Pennsylvania rails to trails

Almost 1000 miles of old railroad beds have been successfully changed to public access trails in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Millions of hikers, walkers, cyclists, mountain bikers and rollerbladers use the continually growing number of trails every year.

Many individuals volunteer their time and effort to acquire abandoned railroad property, design a pathway with access to the trail, and arrange construction. Many trails only need a minimum of work since the bridges and occasional tunnels are already in place. Another benefit is the gentle grade that railroad beds were built on. Surface materials range from grass trails to paved blacktop. There are 750 more miles of trails tentatively scheduled to be opened with 100 of that number presently under construction.

The following is a list of trails in Pennsylvania that are done. Also included is the approximate length of the trail and location by county.


  • Allegheny Portage Railroad Trail - 7 miles
    Blair & Cambria Co.
  • Allegheny Valley River Trail - 10 miles
    Venango Co.
  • Arboretum Trail - 1 mile
    Allegheny Co.
  • Armstrong Trail - 52 miles
    Armstrong Co.
  • Arrowhead Trail - 4 miles
    Washington Co.
  • B

  • Back Mountain Trail - 2.5 miles
    Luzerne Co.
  • Bellefonte Central Rail Trail - 1 mile
    Centre Co.
  • Bristol Spurline Park Trail - 2 miles
    Bucks Co.
  • Butler-Freeport Community Trail - 21 miles
    Butler Co.
  • C

  • Capitol Area Greenbelt - 20 mile loop
    Dauphin Co. (Harrisburg, PA)
  • Chester Valley Trail - 1.5 miles
    Chester Co.
  • Clarion-Little Toby Creek Trail - 18 miles
    Jefferson & Elk Co.
  • Clarion Highlands Trail - 16 miles
    Clarion & Venango Co.
  • Clearfield to Grampian Trail - 10 miles
    Clearfield Co.
  • Conewago Trail - 5 miles
    Lancaster Co.
  • Cross Country Trail - 3.5 miles
    Montgomery Co.
  • Cumberland County Biker/Hiker Trail - 6 miles
    Cumberland Co.
  • Cumberland Valley Rail Trail - 11 miles
    Cumberland Co.
  • D

  • D&H Trail - 32 miles
    Lackawanna, Wayne & Susquehanna Co.
  • Dimeling to Madera Trail - 12 miles
    Clearfield Co.

  • E

  • East Branch Trail - 8 miles
    Crawford Co.
  • Eliza Furnace Trail - 3 miles
    Allegheny Co. (Pittsburgh)
  • Endless Mountain Riding Trail - 14 miles
    Susquehanna Co.
  • Ephrata Railroad Linear Park Trail - 1 mile
    Lancaster Co.
  • Ernst Bike Trail - 5 miles
    Crawford Co.
  • F

  • Five Star Trail - 8 miles
    Westmoreland Co.
  • Forks Township Recreational Trail - 7 miles
    Northampton Co.
  • G

  • Ghost Town Trail - 16 miles
    Indiana & Cambria Co.
  • Great Shamokin Path - 6 miles
    Armstrong Co.
  • Greene River Trail - 4 miles
    Greene & Washington Co.
  • H

  • Heritage Rail Trail County Park - 21 miles
    York Co.
  • Hike & Bike Trail - 3.5 miles
    Tioga Co.
  • Hoodlebug Trail - 6 miles
    Indiana Co.
  • Houtzdale Line Trail - 10 miles
    Clearfield Co.
  • I

  • Indian Creek Valley Trail - 5 miles
    Fayette Co.
  • Iron Horse Trail - 10 miles
    Perry Co.
  • Ironton Rail-trail - 1 mile
    Lehigh Co.
  • J

    JFK Walking Trail - 1.5 miles
    Pottsville, PA

  • Jim Mayer Riverwalk - 1.5 miles
    Cambria Co.
  • John B. Bartram Trail - 1 mile
    Schuylkill Co.
  • K

  • Kelletville to Nebraska Trail - 12 miles
    Forest Co.
  • L

  • Lackawanna River Heritage Trail - 40 miles
    Lackawanna & Luzurne Co.
  • Lancaster Junction Trail - 2 miles
    Lancaster Co.
  • LeTort Spring Run Nature Trail - 1 mile
    Cumberland Co.
  • Lebanon Valley Rail Trail - 9 miles
    Lebanon Co.
  • Lehigh & New England Trail - 3 miles
    Schuylkill Co.
  • Lehigh Gorge State Park Trail - 26 miles
    Carbon & Luzurne Co.
  • Libety Bell Trail - 0.5 mile
    Montgomery Co.
  • Lititz to Warwick Trail - 1 mile
    Lancaster Co.
  • Little Buffalo State Park Trail - 20 miles
    Perry County
  • Lower Trail - 11 miles
    Blair Co.
  • Luzurne County Rail Trail - 12 miles
    Luzurne Co.
  • Lycoming Creek Bikeway - 3 miles
    Lycoming Co.
  • M

  • Mahoning Shadow Trail - 15 miles
    Jefferson Co.
  • Middle Creek Trail - 1 mile
    Lancaster Co.
  • Mill Creek Trail - 6 miles
    Elk Co.
  • Montour Trail - 40 miles
    Washington & Allegheny Co.
  • N

  • NOR-Bath Trail - 7 miles
    Northampton Co.
  • O

  • O&W Rail Trail - 20 miles
    Wayne Co.
  • Oil Creek State Park Trail - 10 miles
    Venango Co.
  • Old Railroad Grade Trail - 4 miles
    Monroe Co.
  • P

  • PW&S Bike Trail - 36 miles
    Westmoreland Co.
  • Panhandle Trail - 29 miles
    Allegheny Co.
  • Penns Creek Path - 3 miles
    Centre Co.
  • Perkioman Trail - 20 miles
    Montgomery Co.
  • Phoenix Iron Canal Trail - 1.5 miles
    Chester Co.
  • Pine Creek Trail - 41 miles
    Lycoming & Tioga Co.
  • Plainfield Township Trail - 7 miles
    Northampton Co.
  • Pymatuning State Park Spillway Trail - 3 miles
    Crawford Co.
  • R

  • Railroad Grade Trail - 3 miles
    Tioga Co.
  • Roaring Run Trail - 4 miles
    Armstrong Co.
  • Rotary Walk Trail - 0.75 miles
    Fayette Co.
  • S

  • Samuel Justice Recreational Trail - 5 miles
    Venango Co.
  • Sandy Creek Trail (part of the Clarion Highlands Trail) - 9 miles
    Venango Co.
  • Schuylkill River Trail - 14 miles
    Montgomery Co.
  • Schuylkill Valley Heritage Trail - 16 miles
    Schuylkill Co.
  • Shenango River Trail - 8 miles
    Mercer Co.
  • Snow Shoe Trail - 19 miles
    Centre County
  • Stavich Bike Trail - 12 miles
    Lawrence Co.
  • Steel Valley Trail (part of The Great Allegheny Passage) - 4 miles
    Allegheny Co.
  • Stony Valley Railroad Grade - 22 miles
    Dauphin & Lebanon Co.
  • Struble Trail - 3 miles
    Chester Co.
  • Swatara State Park Rail Trail - 18 miles
    Schuylkill & Lebanon Co.
  • Switchback Railroad Trail - 18 miles
    Carbon Co.
  • T

  • Three Rivers Heritage Trail (part of The Great Allegeny Passage) - 26 miles
    Allegheny Co.
  • Thun Trail - 13 miles
    Berks & Montgomery Co.
  • Tidioute Riverside Rec Trek Trail - 5 miles
    Warren County
  • Towpath Bike Trail - 8 miles
    Northampton Co.
  • Twin Lakes Trail - 2 miles
    Elk Co.
  • W

  • Warren to North Warren bike Trail - 2 miles
    Warren Co.
  • West Penn trail - 10 miles
    Indiana & Westmoreland Co.
  • Winn & Clara Tredway River Park - 2.5 miles
    Somerset Co.
  • Y

  • Youghiogheny River Trail North (part of The Great Allegheny Passage) - 43 miles
  • Youghiogheny River Trail South (part of The Great Allegheny Passage) - 28 miles
    Fayette Co.
  • Source: PA Dept. of Conservation and Natural Resources (http://www.dcnr.state.pa.us/railtrails)

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