Nice, but could use some improvements
Originally constructed in the early 20th century, Harrisburg's Capital Area Greenbelt is one of the nation's oldest multi-use greenways. Unfortunately, this original incarnation of the trail fell into disrepair a couple decades later, after the explosive popularity of the automobile made pathways dedicated to bicycle, foot and other non-motorized traffic appear antiquated and unecessary. With the exception of the scenic portion along the city's Susquehanna River waterfront, most segments of the greenbelt were forgotten.
This situation changed in the early 90's, when groups of volunteers began restoring the forgotten segments of the trail. Two decades later, the green belt is once again serving as an active, multi-use trail that offers city residents an alternative to driving or walking through some of the seedier neighborhoods or traveling along frequently congested highways like I-83. Notable features include some unique sculptures and other works of art on the riverfront, the Walnut Street Bridge, which connects to City Island (the western span, from City Island to Wormleysburg, was partly washed out during the 1996 floods and remains closed, though efforts are underway to eventually repair it), historic sites like the grave of city founder John Harris and numerous small parks that can be found on most segments of the trail. Railroad afficionados will enjoy watching Norfolk Southern freight trains crossing the river on the concrete trestle near Shipoke or Amtrack passenger liners whizzing by at the footbridge near the Penn DOT building, while anglers can fish at the Dock Street dam under the I-83 bridge. Most of the city's major attractions, including the Capitol building and downtown, the Civil War Museum, Harrisburg Mall, Harrisburg Area Community College and the aforementioned City Island are located within short distance of the trail.
Unfortunately, the green belt has some negative qualities as well. The disjointed nature of the trail, which varies from smooth asphalt pavement, to relatively good crushed stone, to deteriorating concrete, as well as a couple on-road sections, along with poor signage on some portions, can be confusing to first-time users. Several of the aforementioned recreation facilities and pocket parks along the trail show signs of disrepair and the concrete along the Lower Path that follows the Susquehanna River is rough and in bad need of repair. Finally, the green belt crosses numerous busy streets, many of which are poorly marked. I commend the volunteers in their efforts to keep the green belt in as best condition as possible, but some improvements can only be done by professionals and major investment from the city. Knowing the city's current, cash-strapped financial situation, I don't expect this to happen anytime soon.
Despite these shortcomings, the Capital Area Greenbelt is a great asset to the Harrisburg Metropolitan Area, which has few multi-use trails. With some improvements, it has the potential to become a state-of-the-art "green beltway" around the state's political nerve center. Plans to construct long-distance greenways connecting Harrisburg to Philadelphia, York, Reading, Baltimore and even Pittsburgh will increase the Green Belt's importance and make it a hub in an emerging intercity trail network.
Multiple Personality Trail
The Capitol Area Greenbelt Trail, which wraps itself around Harrisburg, Pa., has multiple personality written all over it. It’s more than just a ride; it’s an adventure, due to its ever-changing surfaces, scenery, topography and mood.
Start at the City Island lot, where you sometimes have to pay a parking fee, but usually do not. Ride counter-clockwise to avoid climbing a long 10-percent grade about a 1/3 of the way through the 20-mile loop, and be prepared for a something different at every turn. To start the ride you will cross one of six bridges that span the Susquehanna at Harrisburg. The Walnut Street Bridge – also named the People’s Bridge – is closed to automobile traffic. This bridge was rebuilt after part of it was washed away in 1996. As heavy snows melted, the river flooded to bridge level, pulling the structure down and under the Market Street Bridge, just down river. Look for the video on You Tube.
Once across the bridge, the trail starts along the Susquehanna River, where you can take a high or low path. The low path is pretty rough, but gives you an up-close-and-personal view of the water. The upper path is smooth and has its own charm – sculptures; sleeping homeless folks; unique home fronts; and the grave of John Harris, namesake of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania’s state capital.
This is not a trail for children if you plan to ride the full 20 miles, as it crosses over busy roadways several times and shares streets at others. There are trailheads located throughout the trail, so if you wish to take your toddler, you might want to hop from trailhead to trailhead to avoid crossovers.
Make sure you leave plenty of time for this trail, especially about halfway around the loop at the Wildwood Park Nature Center. This section of the trail, which can be ridden on the backside or along the canal, is a surprising gem for being so close to an urban setting. During our ride we had the pleasure of spying a Black-crested Night Heron, who refused to face the camera, and a Green Heron, who was intent on a bit of prey below the water’s surface.
Beware the traffic light just after the Nature Center. If there are no cars present you might not trip the light sensor. I sat for three light changes until an 18-wheeler pulled up next to me. This is a VERY busy intersection.
The trail passes under railroad bridges, major highways and through a tunnel that brings you up in front of the Pennsylvania State Farm Show complex, which, on the day we rode the trail, was hosting the Keystone Cluster Dog Show.
Four stars for variety.
This was our first time checking out this trail. Some of the previous comments were justified....the trail was rough in a few spots and poorly marked at some places, and you do have to ride on a few streets, BUT other than having to go with our gut on a few occasions, we didn't have any trouble finding our way. We rode mid-week, so the streets weren't busy and you're only on the road for a few short spurts.
Some additional scoop....We parked at City Island, $5.00 to park all day. NOTE: Don't park along the outer banks of that lot, you'll get a ticket. Those spaces are reserved for permit parkers. We missed the posted signs but as luck had it, we arrived back just in time to see the guy beside us get a ticket! Timing and good karma saved our sorry (and only slightly tired) butts!
From the parking lot, the Trailhead wasn't marked. The parking attendants didn't know what a Rail-to-Trail was, so we did our civic duty and educated them. This might save you some time. From the parking lot, ride across the Iron Bridge and head down to the water. It's a loop, so you can ride either direction along the water and then look for the Greenbelt Signs to point you in the right direction. The Trail winds through some wooded areas, through a few really nice parks, through the HACC campus, through some neighborhoods and you end up back along the waterfront at City Island. It's an easy ride, just a few small hills...good for road bikes as the trail is all paved.
Let's get to the real deal...Food! There are many places along the way to stop for a picnic or you could take the easy way out like we did, and when we finished back at City Island, we walked our bikes two blocks to 2nd Street for some good grub. There are a bunch of nice cafes with outside seating, easy to park your bikes and have a nice lunch/dinner. Great spot for people watching and feeling cool in our biking gear. We stumbled upon Neato Burrito 209 N. 2nd St. Great Food! Inexpensive with lots of super fresh, healthy options.
I'd highly recommend this ride for those of you wanting to explore something a little different than your traditional rail-to-trail. It's a great way to expand your horizons and explore the city. Have Fun!
By Pat May 19, 2009
The cows are out!
"Cows are on parade in 2004. There are over 120 cows in downtown Harrisburg. You can see about 20 of them from the trail, which makes for an interesting bike ride.
If you have kids just stick to the waterfront. I started the trail from Wildwood Park. Maps can be found at the nature center office. GET ONE to hold in your hand. Sadly I found this map after I had finished the loop. You will lose this trail several times. It is not recommended for kids or even teens. If you have young kids stick to the loop around Wildwood Park it is three miles long and a very interesting place. Or do just a few sections by the streams. You are on busy roads too often on this trail.
If you get to the Civil War Museum you go down a nice long 15-mph road with mowed lawns on each side. At the bottom of the hill is a bandshell. Currently the road to the right of the bandshell is torn up although there are no signs that is where you should go. Cross the four lanes of traffic and head straight. If you get lost ask people where Edgewood Park is. My trick was just to stand there till a bike passed me. Then follow it or ask if the person is going slow enough. I use this on many trails and few people mind.
When you get to Edgewood Park (at a ""T"" in the road, you are facing a hill and a ball field) turn left. Keep your eyes open for the trail to start on your left. You will see it before you get to the starting point. This is the state hospital. It's a nice place just to hike. If you know where the trail goes when you are facing the farm show please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ask locals where Wildwood Lake is. On the opposite side of the farm show complex is Industrial Road. Straight up that is Wildwood Park. There's really bad traffic though. We (me and the biker who was also lost) went right to the light, turned right, did an up turn and crossed with the light. This was safer then just making a left at the light. I went though the collage campus on the right while heading to industrial found a mile long parking lot. At the end of this lot the trail reappears. Or just take Industrial from there. Several other bikers did that. You can by pass Wildwood Lake by staying on this road or ride though the lake on a canal path. It's shaded and pretty. When the path becomes black top again you can continue around the lake and make a hilly 3-mile circle. The far side of lake is hilly and blacktopped. The side near Industrial is flat and dirt with wood chips. I rode 23 miles (on a 20 mile loop + city island) then walked the three miles around the lake. It may be less but someone on the trail told me it was three miles. It felt more like 2.5 miles.
Or take the left( where the trail surface becomes black top) go on to industrial again taking a right to the light at the top of the hill. Turn left and go over the bridge. You will pick up the signs once you get over the bridge, look for a left turn and ride down a pretty residential street. This will take you back to the river. For the next 9 miles you can follow the trail with ease. Nice ride other then getting lost. Lots of interesting things to look at, scenery changes often, woods, streams, city,river, traffic, fast food near the five senses gardens, which is by the east Harrisburg mall. Lots of good parking. I'll do it again.
If you have kids ride along the water, there are two sidewalks. One near the road that is interesting with art, gardens,history signs, work out trail items;the one lower trail is bumpy cement but right on the water edge. Ride over the bridge to city island, You can get some water, snacks, an play mini golf. The area where the trail veers from the river may also be fun for kids. It is though industrial ruins. After that you cross a road and bike along a stream. Then you get to the east mall area. They are building a section of the trail here but till it is done do not take kids much farther. Too much traffic, to few signs."