Grab your bike or your walking shoes, or saddle up your horse, and head for the cool breezes and dappled shade of the 17-mile Lower Trail. The name "Lower," which rhymes with "flower," refers to attorney T. Dean Lower, who provided the funds ($1) for the local rails-to-trails group to purchase the corridor in 1990 and create the trail.
The trail follows the Juniata River like a streamer in the breeze—at times crossing it, sometimes stretching out as if a gust of wind caught it for a few moments but never straying far. The well-maintained, crushed limestone surface and nearly flat terrain makes travel an easy and pleasant effort. The scenery makes it a delight. Native trees of butternut, oak and bald cypress, among others, create a deep shade for most of the way, interspersed with farmland for short periods.
It glances through the heart of the communities of Point View, Ganister, Cove Dale and Williamsburg along the way, like its predecessor: the Petersburg Branch of the Pennsylvania Railroad, which operated from 1879 to 1979. However the history of this corridor goes back even further, to the 1830s, when it was part of the old Pennsylvania Canal—a system of waterways connecting Philadelphia to Pittsburgh used to transport goods on barges pulled by mules down the slow-moving canal and through numerous locks. Some of the canal locks and channels, as well as remnants of the lock tenders' houses, peek out from the thick vegetation if you look closely between Cove Dale and Mt. Etna and north of Williamsburg. Several times you pass over the Juniata River on repurposed railroad bridges.
This peaceful trail is sheltered from the roads not far from its view. If you make your way quietly, or pause on a streamside bench or in one of the numerous covered shelters, you may be treated to seeing some of the furry creatures who live there: deer, rabbits, squirrels, turtles, black bears, turkeys, bobcats and more. In May trail users report seeing many species of migrating birds passing through the area; be on the lookout for bald eagles, great blue herons, ospreys, red-eyed vireos, cerulean warblers and scarlet tanagers, to name a few. The wildflower and the scenery change with each season, making it worth coming back time and again.
To reach the southern trailhead east of Hollidaysburg, start from Interstate 99 and US 220 to Exit 23 for Hollidaysburg, US 22E, Portage and Roaring Spring. Follow US 22 east for 8.2 miles. Pass Canoe Creek State Park on the left and turn right onto Flowing Springs Road. Cross the bridge and continue 1 mile to the parking area and trailhead on the left.
To reach the northern trailhead at Alexandria, follow US 22 to the city. Turn north (left if coming from the west) onto Main Street just before the metal bridge. The parking is less than 0.25 mile ahead on the right, and the trailhead is at the far end of the parking area.
There are trailheads with parking, picnic pavilions and chemical toilets at Ganister, Williamsburg, Cove Dale and Mt. Etna off of US 22. To start the trail at Ganister Station, take US 22 from Hollidaysburg past Flowing Springs Road to turning east (right) on State Route 866. The trailhead and parking lot are to the right just after crossing the metal bridge.
The Williamsburg Station is reached by following State Route 866 past Ganister to Williamsburg. You come into town on West 1st Street and go two blocks past the stop sign. Turn left onto High Street and into the parking lot and trailhead.
To reach the Cove Dale Station off of US 22, turn right (east) on Yellow Spring Road and then left on Cross Valley Road. Turn right at Fox Run Road and then left onto Overlook Drive to the trailhead.
From Hollidaysburg to the Mt. Etna Trailhead, turn right (east) on Polecat Hollow Road and left on Fox Run Road. Turn right into the parking lot.