Originally named St. Anthony's Wilderness by Moravian missionaries who arrived in the colony in 1742 to convert Native tribes, the Stony Creek Valley became the site of five bustling towns after discovery of coal in 1824. The Schuylkill & Susquehanna Railroad was built in the 1850s to transport coal to the canals and tourists to enjoy the healing mineral waters at Cold Springs. The spring water's popularity led to the construction of a 200-room resort to accommodate the wealthy Philadelphians who came for the healing waters. Not far off the rail-trail, you can see the old foundations of the once grand resort. At Rausch Gap Bridge (about 3.5 miles west of the eastern trailhead) you can find information about former mining town of Rausch Gap, now a ghost town.
By 1944 the mines were exhausted, the lumber stripped, and the railroad fell into disuse. The elegant, 200-room resort hotel at Cold Springs burned to the ground. The Pennsylvania Game Commission purchased the land in 1945 and converted the railroad corridor to a trail soon after, making the Stony Valley Railroad Grade one of the nation's earliest rail-trails.
Located on 44,342 acres of state game land, the trail passes through natural habitat with an abundance of wildlife. Little evidence of the once thriving town of Cold Springs remains. The foundation and stone steps to the old Cold Springs Hotel are now hidden beneath towering Norway spruces planted by the hotel's original landscapers.
Unique among rail-trails in Pennsylvania, each fall the Stony Valley Railroad Grade is open to motor vehicles for one day. During hunting season, the trail is closed to non-hunting bicycle and equestrian use. Hunters with the appropriate license and weapon can bicycle to their quarry.
The western trailhead, located a few miles north of the state capital of Harrisburg, can be busy in the fall and during hunting season. As with all rail-trails located along state game lands, check with the game commission for trail status before your visit.
Parking and Trail Access
To reach the southwestern trailhead from Harrisburg, take Route 322 north, exiting at Dauphin. Turn right on Schuylkill Street then immediately right again on Erie Street. Go 1 block to the end and turn left on Stony Creek Road. Continue for 5 miles to Ellendale. You will see a dirt road on the right, which looks like a cul-de-sac but continues. Follow the dirt road to the gated trailhead and parking lot.
To reach the northeastern trailhead from the north Lebanon area, take SR 72 north. Where it cross the Appalachian Trail SR 72 turns into SR 443. When you reach Gold Mine Road, turn left (north) and follow it to the top of the mountain; turn left onto Old Railroad Bed Road. The trailhead and parking are straight ahead.