Planning a Different Summer Vacation on Rail Trails

2-19 Thompson rail trail

Pine Creek Trail, following the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania, offers easy riding, shaded trails and spectacular views. Photo by Virginia Thompson

By Virginia Thompson and Tom Shaffer

With the cold settling on Swarthmore and environs, it’s the perfect time to begin dreaming of summer vacation, and planning travels.

As enticing as those big trips to Hawaii, Alaska, or Greece are, there are wonders much closer to home that rejuvenate the body and replenish the soul. Whether for a long weekend, a full week or more, bicyclists and walkers are discovering the rail trails of Pennsylvania. We are among them, and we hope to interest you in exploring some of the lovely and varied areas we’ve hiked and biked. Here are some destinations you should consider in planning summer weekend or week-long expeditions; when the weather warms up we’ll talk about nearby trails for day trips and overnights.

The Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania, also known as the Pine Creek Trail, offers 67 miles of beautifully shaded trail with native trees. Wellsboro is a terrific little town, the county seat of Potter County, with historic homes and quaint businesses, and in fact delightful small towns abound along the trail for meals and exploration. Whitewater rafting is available in spring and summer. Rattlesnake Rock is lovely, sunny, and aptly named. The area also includes the Leonard Harrison State Park and state forest lands, both of which offer spectacular views of the gorgeous gorges.

The 26-mile Lehigh River Gorge Trail connects White Haven to Jim Thorpe, Pa. Whitewater rafting is also popular along this stretch, with biking and rafting vendors at both ends of the trail. Jim Thorpe is a charming town with two distinct business districts, each with small shops and lovely restaurants and one with Jim Thorpe’s grave. The hilly terrain adds to the scenic views as well as to the exercise factor. The last 5 miles heading into Jim Thorpe parallels an excursion railroad track, and the oncoming train provided quite a rush as we rounded the bend.

The Lebanon Valley Trail runs 15 miles from the city of Lebanon to the Lancaster County line, where it connects to the Conewago Trail, continuing on to Elizabethtown. Along the way, explore Mount Gretna, home of a summer playhouse with a long theatrical history, as well as lovely restaurants and shops. The trail is also near the Cornwall Iron Furnace National Historical Site, where remnants of a Revolutionary War-era iron foundry remain. The Root Beer Barrel, formerly along Route 72, is now at the Cornwall trailhead for local refreshment.

Not in Pennsylvania, but within relatively easy travel distance are two other lovely trails. The Lehigh Valley Trail near Rochester, N.Y., is 17 miles long and featured golden yellow leaves on the trees and ground on a sun-dappled day when we biked the trail in early October. The trail goes from the Genesee River east to Victor, N.Y. Named after the Lehigh Valley Railroad, which traveled from the Lehigh Valley, Pa., to Buffalo, it is a gem in the middle of the western Finger Lakes. Letchworth State Park, located nearby, features large waterfalls carrying the Genesee River downstream to Lake Ontario. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers owns and operates a dam which welcomes visitors.

The Island Line Trail in Vermont is located along the lakefront of Lake Champlain going north from Burlington and a causeway into the middle of the lake. The scenery is incredible: you can see the Adirondacks and the Green Mountains while surrounded on either side by the lake. Burlington, home to the University of Vermont, is a wonderfully cosmopolitan city with a strong appreciation for its natural environment.

We truly enjoy exploring the lesser known treasures of the Mid-Atlantic region, and we hope to see you on the trail, too, this summer.

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