The Sandy Creek Trail carves its way through some of the most remote and spectacular countryside in northwestern Pennsylvania. This 12-mile paved trail has some impressive features, including tunnels and massive trestles like the Belmar Bridge, which crosses the mighty Allegheny River. This trail also connects to both the Allegheny River Trail
and the Clarion Highlands Trail
Beginning in the village of Van in the Clarion Highlands, this trail descends for the first 8 miles following Sandy Creek as it trickles down to the Allegheny River. Along this section, you cross numerous railroad trestles, some quite high with far-reaching views of the surrounding forests and hillsides. As you meander along the trail, you eventually reach the Sandy Creek Tunnel about a mile before hitting the Allegheny River. This former rail tunnel will cool you off on a warm summer day.
The trail eventually meets up with the Allegheny River, precisely where Sandy Creek empties out into it and where you can pick up the Allegheny River and Samuel Justus trails. Before crossing the Belmar Bridge, look for the sign down to them. Both follow the eastern banks of the river.
The 1,385-foot Belmar Bridge is a stunning example of the once booming railroad industry in the area. Originally built with funding from John D. Rockefeller, the bridge was intended to serve as a vital link on a corridor from New York to Chicago. In the end, the trestle and corridor were used more regularly to service the local coal industry. The trestle and trail cross the Allegheny River, where, after reaching the western bank, the trail turns left (southwest) and follows the river downstream.
The trail continues to follow the river's western shoreline for the remaining 4 miles. The gentle, wide river gives the area a soothing feeling as if it has remained in this state for thousands of years. The trail eventually reaches its terminus near Fisherman's Cove, where there is a backcountry access road.
To reach the Van railhead, follow 322 South/East out of Franklin and continue until you reach the village of Van. Take a right onto Tarklin Hill Road, and follow for 0.5 mile to the trailhead.
To reach the Fisherman's Cove Trailhead, from Franklin, head south on Route 8 out of town. Just before it turns into a divided highway, take a right onto old Route 8. Follow it until you cross the Pecan Bridge. Then take a sharp right down a hill and follow the sign to Seneca Hills Bible Camp. Take a right at the bottom of the hill and follow Fisherman's Cove Road for 3 miles until you see the trailhead on your right.
What a superb pedaling experience. On my first excursion last year we spotted a river otter, many deer, a porcupine and many varieties of birds. Be sure to take a light for the tunnel or otherwise walk it.
I always choose to do my artifact searches on the slower, uphill ride, hence my decision to start at this trail's west end. It's easy to get to, from the Old (2-lane) Route 8 overpass, just south of Franklin. Drop down under the bridge, and the dirt road ...
We rode this trail on a really hot July day. The shady trail went a long way toward making this a very comfortable ride. Several bridges, a black snake, a multitude of chipmunks, a few ground hogs, and nice views of the creek made this a very enjoyable ...