Along its 5-mile path, this paved rail-trail crosses through a rich array of natural habitats, from creek bottomlands to meadow, marsh and forest. The trail is named for Calvin Ernst, who owned the Meadville-Linesville Railroad corridor and donated it to French Creek Recreational Trails in 1996 for trail development.
Constructed from 1880 to 1892, the rail line connected Meadville to the Pennsylvania Railroad at Linesville. Business languished, and Bessemer & Lake Erie Railroad Company leased the corridor in 1891, using it to carry passengers to Exposition Park. Automobiles drove the rail route out of business in 1934; the line fell into disuse.
Traversing terrain with imprints of ice age glaciations, the trail follows the lush bottomlands of French Creek Valley. With 66 species of fish and 27 species of mollusk, the creek is the state's most biologically diverse body of water. From the creek the trail passes through varied environments of meadow and marsh, hardwood stands and hemlock thickets.
Starting out at the Route 322 trailhead in the busy commercial district of Meadville, the Ernst Bike Trail travels south, following the peaceful banks of French Creek. You pass farmland and wooded areas in the first mile. Once you reach the Mercer Pike trailhead, which is about halfway, you will have forgotten the hustle and bustle of Route 322 and be completely surrounded by the rural northwestern Pennsylvania countryside. The trail gently turns west and crosses underneath Interstate 79 and continues for another mile before ending at the trailhead near Route 19
There are plans to extend the bike trail to 11 miles at Conneaut Lake and Bicentennial Park. The new segment will run along Conneaut Marsh, a stopping point for many species of migrating waterfowl and home to bald eagles
Parking and Trail Access
To reach the Route 322 trailhead from I-79, take Exit 147A (Routes 322, 19, and 6) and head east for about 0.75 mile. The trailhead is on the right just past the third traffic light and Home Depot, in the corner of an auto repair parking lot. Pay close attention to the signs in this busy commercial area; the trailhead sign can be difficult to spot among the big box store signs.
To reach the Mercer Pike trailhead from I-79, take Exit 147A (routes 322, 19, and 6) east about 0.5 mile and turn right onto Mercer Pike, heading south. To stay on the pike, turn left before crossing I-79 (only about 1/4 mile) then follow Mercer Pike for 2 miles until it intersects with the bike trail. Parking is on the northwest side of the trail.
To reach the Route 19 trailhead from I-79, take Exit 147B (Routes 322, 19, and 6) and head west about 1 mile. Turn left onto Route 19 and follow it south for nearly 1.75 miles. The trailhead will be marked on the left.
The Ernst trail is a wonderful ride along French Creek and west toward conneaut lake. The trail is cool on hot days with many rest areas and is well maintained. At a mere .62 % grade on the first 5 miles, it is a comfortable ride for the whole family. ...
Just read the trail is being expanded by all most 2 miles, expected to be done early this coming spring Coonstruction is due to start anytime