Trail between two cities
Named in honor of a local conservationist, the Thun Trail segment of the Schuylkill River Trail connects two major cities on the middle Schuylkill; Reading and Pottstown.
Although only 18 miles long, the multi-use trail takes users through a diverse array of environments. Most of its route follows abandoned rail lines, and two segments are "rails with trails," paralleling active freight lines.
The trail's western terminus is just upstream from the Reading Area Community College. After passing under the Penn Ave. bridge, the paved, urban trail crosses the grounds of the college campus and Reading's Riverfront Park. This section is noted for the ultramodern buildings of the campus as well as murals painted on an old RR bridge that was moved to the site. A small meditation garden is also located off the trail.
After bearing right at the junction with the Neversink Connector Trail, users cross the Schuylkill River via an old steel trestle. Although both the trestle itself and the modern viaduct that carries the Route 422 Expressway down the southwest bank of the river are impressive works of architecture, the segment from here southeast to Old Wyomissing Road is marred by the presence of graffiti and shady-looking people, creating an uninviting atmosphere (I can understand why some female reviewers felt spooked passing through here). The surface of the trail also changes from asphalt to crushed stone on the southwest side of the bridge.
Though still in the Reading city limits, the trail enters more suburban territory southeast of Old Wyomissing Road (users have the option of passing under the adjacent railroad tunnel, then following the Wyomissing Creek Trail to the Reading Museum and continuing deep into the city's western suburbs). A well-constructed pedestrian bridge carries users over Lancaster Ave., and while the trail is never far from busy Route 422 on much of this segment, surrounding woodlands screen out most of the noise.
After leaving Reading, the trail passes high above the Schuylkill River on two restored, concrete trestles on either side of Poplar Neck. In addition to providing spectacular views of the river and nearby Neversink Mountain, these bridges also look out onto both Route 422 to the north and an active, Norfolk Southern freight line to the south, providing excellent photo opportunities. Though largely wooded, the section from Poplar Neck to Route 724 in Ridgewood also passes a power plant, an abandoned landfill, incinerator and a quarry, all attesting to the river corridor's industrial past. Also, while Reading may no longer be the prominent industrial and transportation hub it once was, the trail's proximity to the aforementioned Route 422 and Norfolk Southern rail lines, as well as I-176, are clear reminders that these roles have not completely disappeared.
East of Ridgewood (where users are urged to use caution while crossing busy Route 724), the trail enters the countryside of southern Berks County. Users are urged to descend the stairs at the bridge over a small, unnamed creek and observe the impressive masonry, before continuing east to Gibraltar. With a little luck, a freight train may come rumbling down the active RR line that parallels the trail for much of this segment.
A signed, on-road route guides users through a 4-mile gap between Gibraltar and Birdsboro. The trail resumes behind the athletic fields off Armorcast Road on the town's east end, with the nearby, now-abandoned smokestacks attesting to Birdsboro's past as a mill town. After passing behind a nearby residential neighborhood, the trail turns through the woods to the Union Twp. Recreation Area, where it forms the southern part of a circumfrential walking path. The old Schuylkill River Canal, now just a swampy ditch, parallels the segment through the Rec. Area.
The trail turns abruptly to the right at the entrance to the Union Twp. Rec. Area (do not go straight or you will circle back around the park), crosses Route 724 in the small hamlet of Monocacy, then heads back into the woods. Caution is advised at this crossing, as well as a second about a mile to the southeast. Steep slopes on either side of the second crossing make it particularly dangerous, though the dense woodlands that line the trail for most of its length from Birdsboro to Douglassville provide welcome relief from the hot sun and make it ideal for warm days in spring and summer.
The trail crosses the Schuylkill River one more time west of Douglassville. Though not as high as the trestles at Poplar Neck, the remote location of this bridge makes it a great place to stop and enjoy nature. Heading further east, the trail follows another active rail line, providing more opportunities to "rail fan" and photograph trains. Another highlight of this segment is Morlatton village, a colonial-era settlement that widely believed to be the first European-American town in Berks County.
The rural nature of the trail abruptly ends after crossing the border into Montgomery County. The sometimes rough and uneven stone surface again gives way to smooth asphalt, and factories can be seen around the Grosstown Road trailhead. Mostly light industrial now, the presence of large concrete pads east of Old Reading Pike hints that there were once larger factories in this area. The presence of young vegetation poking through deteriorating concrete floors of now-razed factories gives this area a surreal feel.
After passing under Route 100, the trail enters Pottstown, though the shaded trees in Riverfront Park do not give the impression of being in an urban area. The trail currently ends near the intersection of College Dr. and Hanover Street, though a signed, on-street route leads to a small park off Queen St. in the town's (admittedly uninviting) east end. Eventually, the next segment of the Schuylkill River Trail should directly connect with the Thun Trail in this area.
Despite passing through some rough-looking areas near its west end, the Thun Trail is an excellent, multi-use rail trail that connects two southeast PA cities and forms a vital link in the continuous greenway that will one day extend from Pottsville to Philadelphia. In addition to linking several local parks and recreation areas, the trail also forms the backbone of the region's burgeoning trail network, with more extensions planned in the near future.
Where else, my friends?
I have traveled, and I can say this is a wonderful addition to Berks County. Those of you in fear for your life, stop watching so much tv. I have walked every section of this trail many times, and there is nothing to be afraid of. You have more chance of getting car-jacked. The experience of being outside on trails with no cars to fight is a gift. Sure there are some places where there are ruts and run-off spots but this is nature, folks, not some man-made pristine manufactured environment. So, come on, check the map, find a trail head, park the car, and get moving. You'll be glad you did.
Nice trail in a sketchy area, PS watch for the dead bodies
It's a shame this trail has to be located where it is. Coming from the Reading end we looked to park at the trail head on Angstadt Ln, which turned out to be inaccessible due to bridge construction. So we moved on to one behind several businesses. When we pulled in there was only one other vehicle, whose occupants appeared to be doing something other than planing to enjoy the trail. Weed? crackheads? I don't know they just looked sketchy, and I wasn't leaving my truck there. So we moved on once again. We finally came across another trail head behind some burger joint/bar and it was actually really nice, it appeared fairly new, and best of all no crackheads in sight. After we unloaded we headed out a trail from the parking lot, while somewhat narrow it still seemed nice. Turned out it was about a half mile loop that came out the other end of the parking lot. We realized the actual trail was across street. When we headed in that direction we noticed a guy coming out of the restroom carrying a bottle in a brown paper bag. It didn't look like gatorade either. We chose to head off and hope for the best. The trail was fairly nice although a bit narrow and doesn't show much use. I found it odd that on a fairly nice day we only came across about five or six other people on the ride the whole way to Pottstown. Bottom line is the closer to Pottstown you get the safer you feel. There's just an uncomfortable feel to the trail which is a real shame as it's a nice level, smooth, trail with some scenic sights along it. If you think I'm being a little overly critical regarding the security on the trail I'll just add that in today's paper there was a brief article about a body of a man who was found shot to death on the trail. I don't usually like to pack heat with me on bike ride my friends. But if I do it'd be on this trail. Stay safe my friends.
Not to stir the pot, but to help others avoid confusion, I have made three round trips through Birdsboro just this week alone.
1) I have seen NO trail signs between where the trail enters Armorcast Drive (the roughest piece of concrete pavement I can ever recall!) and the one on Schuylkill Road AFTER turning off 724 north/west of the Turkey Hill.
2)Route 82 no longer exists -- at least, not in Birdsboro. Route 345 joins 724 south of town, then splits just above the Turkey Hill with 345 traveling a bridge over the Schuylkill, and 724 turning to run parallel with the river. I believe that road over the bridge was once 82, but has been 345 since at least 2010.
For what it's worth, the shoulders on Route 724 are fairly wide and quite smoothly paved from said Turkey Hill up to at least where Schuylkill Road crosses 724 above town and becomes Old River Road. I sometimes ride that rather than Schuylkill Road -- it's a trade-off of smoother paving for more sun!
All in all, I find the trail from Pottstown up to Brentwood to be a pleasant trip. This very day I ventured up beyond the Reading Area Community College and found that section a bit disappointing in condition, although passable.
A nice rolling trail for any level of biker, walker, or runner!
I live in the area, and often ride from Wyomissing home with my girlfriend on this trail. We ride Canonndale Quick CX2 Hybrids and the 700c skinny tires with knobby outer edges are perfect for these trail surfaces. These bikes are mostly road bikes until you get to the tires and straight handlebars. We usually ride at a pace of around 11-12mph (which would be slower if we had larger tires or heavier bikes like cruisers or mountain bikes). If you are a runner, I think you'll love this trail!
This trail extends further than what Rails to Trails shows by about three or four miles to the north through the city limits of Reading, PA to Grings Mill recreation area/park. From there, it continues seamlessly as the Union Canal Trail finally crossing Reber's Bridge Rd and heading into Blue Marsh Lake. Click the "google bike trails button" to see the extension in green. It is labeled Schuylkill River Trail - zoom in to see better. North of Reading at Grings Mill and again at the Gruber Wagon Works you can find soda machines, restrooms, and lots of leisure areas! This is a popular area for photographers, too.
This trail is almost totally crushed stone in and around Reading until Gibralter where you'll continue on roads into Birdsboro. The trail is adequately marked at the intersection of routes 724 & 82 (at the Turkey Hill) where it crosses over route 82 continuing into the old Armorcast property continuing to the right behind the baseball fields. Not sure how a previous commenter missed that? I also suggest you generally research the trail maps before you ride so you'll know what to do if a sign is missing... You'll also find a new parking area with restrooms and water fountains just completed in Birdsboro. There's a loop around the area, too, so you can ride that loop for an extra mile or two before continuing to Pottstown.
From Gibralter into Birdsboro, the riding on roads takes you on relatively quiet sections with little traffic for a few miles over some gradual inclines and declines, and you'll ride past some beautiful old farm houses along the way. Dismount to cross route 724 safely. South of Birdsboro the trail continues on crushed stone until you near Pottstown. There is one road crossing with a short steep hill on both sides, so plan on dismounting to cross safely and get up the to the level sections to continue riding. My front tire lifts when I ride up the hills, so in the future I guess I should walk up. Heading into Pottstown you'll eventually be riding on asphalt, and some areas aren't shaded by the tree canopy, but it's super nice riding!
I enjoy the scenery almost the whole way and my favorite section is a bridge crossing over the Schuylkill River outside of Pottstown... So peaceful. This trail isn't typically crowded, and there aren't road racers since it's mostly crushed stone. Unfortunately, we have to dodge manure piles on occasion (even though horses aren't allowed on the trail).
Riding right near (and in the city of) Reading, heading north to Grings Mill, you'll normally find lots of people including kids, walkers, pets, and so on as this trail leads to the river where some folks go swimming and fishing. most of these folks are oblivious that anyone is riding toward them on a bike. We shout "passing on your left" or something - anything - to let them know we're going to pass. There may be a language barrier there sometimes. The "crowded" conditions have the potential to make some riders nervous, and I was offered marijuana by a teen one day just past Reading Area Community College. We've encountered motorcycles and a few partiers in the city sections, too. All in all, I'd say don't sweat it, the city is the city so act like you own it and ride on! Everyone knows the trail is there for anyone wishing to be on it. I really like the ride, and tremendously enjoy the many miles we've shared on it.
To avoid city related headaches, a great start point is the Brentwood Trailhead off Rte. 10 not far from Alvernia University. Fom here you can go south and your ride will be great until the end in Pottstown!
Thun Trail Update - September 2010
I've used this trail several times now, and for an unpaved trail it's not bad. In fact, the surface is more bicycle-friendly--and foot-friendly, for that matter--than Montgomery County's Perkiomen Trail, except for a couple isolated areas I will allude to below. The Thun Trail provides a unique and mostly flat bike trek from Pottstown to Reading or vice versa without having to use heavily-traveled routes 724 and 422.
Cyclists who have gotten used to the wide, paved trails in Montco may be a little stunned--or even disappointed--when they see the Thun for the first time. It's different, but in some ways that's good. The number of users here is nowhere near what it is between Valley Forge and Philly, at least not yet. There are also a lot fewer unshaded sections in Berks County than in Montgomery and Philly. While the surface is bike-friendly, its being unpaved discourages speeding, which for the most part keeps the "racing" cyclists off the trail. In the wooded areas that front the path, you'll often see deer, especially in the morning or evening. And the barriers to keep unauthorized vehicles off are bollards; those are a lot safer than gates which can cause near-head-on collisions.
There are short sections of pavement in areas where it is needed most, but a couple more wouldn't hurt either. I'm not saying pave the whole trail (good grief, no!) but a strip of asphalt or macadam would make it a lot safer and more comfortable in these areas:
1. Within the Reading city limits. Of all the municipalities the trail runs through, if any of them can afford to pave their section completely, one would think the city of Reading can. On the campus of Reading Area Community College (RACC) and near the Brentwood Trailhead, it already is paved. Bridging the gap between those two landmarks would be nice.
2. At all highway crossings. How far to extend the pavement depends on conditions at each intersection. In particular, where the trail crosses 724 near the I-176 interchange and Angstadt Lane, it has eroded so badly on the north/west side of 724 that filling it and refilling it won't do any good. A similar hazard that needs permanent repair exists about 1/4 mile from the end of the cinder portion at Gibraltar.
3. Anywhere erosion is a problem, including the two aforementioned areas.
4. Armorcast Road in Birdsboro. THIS IS BAD for bikes, and to compound it, it is not only a highway, but one that is privately owned. So don't hold your breath waiting for that one to be resurfaced. All we can do is use caution if we are going to ride our bikes here. The only way around that is to use Main Street (724), which runs parallel to Armorcast Road, from 345 (light at Rita's) to the trail crossing at the Ugly Mug.
I don't want to make it sound like this trail should be avoided--that is absolutely not so. 95% of it is fine. The cinder surface works as long as the material isn't spread too thick. The section that uses Old Schuylkill Road/River Road provides a nice break for bikes with narrow tires. If you've never rode, ran, or walked the Thun Trail, give it a try. You'll probably want to do it again.
"I rode this trail on July 12, 2003. It was about 85 degrees and somewhat sunny -- all in all it was not a bad day. The trail is crushed gravel, with a few small hills and one slightly rough ""S"" curve.
I probably won't ride this trail anytime soon again, just because there are so many other to try first. There are several benches for stopping and taking in the scenery or just resting.
For me, the highlight of the ride was the view of the river. By my bike's calculations, the trail is about 4.3 miles. There is a small parking lot at the Gilraltar end, a larger one at the mid-point, while the best one is at the Reading end. One suggestion for this ride, bring water, it's 50/50 shade vs. sun.
Ride on and remember, leave only tire tracks."