About this Itinerary
Today, Western Pennsylvania offers visitors a bucolic rural landscape of rushing streams, dense woods, and abundant wildlife, but in the latter part of the 19th century this part of the state was a thriving mining region. Visitors then would find mines scattered in the hillsides, enormous hot blast iron furnaces, a rail line stretching across the land, and numerous small towns catering to the industry scattered around the countryside. With the decline of the coal industry, mines closed and by the 1930s many of the towns were abandoned. Now the former rail corridor, once the route of the Ebensburg and Blacklick Railroad, provides a means to explore this region. Bike through several of these ghosttowns on the nearly 37-mile Ghost Town Trail, which takes riders from the town of Black Lick east to Ebensburg, following the path of Blacklick Creek.
Located trailside in Dilltown, stay at the quaint Dillweed Bed & Breakfast. This turn-of-the-century home features four guest rooms with two shared baths and one garden suite with an ensuite bath. There are comfortable common spaces including a parlor, a dining area, a covered front porch, and an herb garden. In addition to serving as a B&B, the property also houses a shop which provides snacks, drinks, as well as gift items for trail users. The owners have created a warm and inviting atmosphere for guests, and with its trailside location, the Dillweed B&B offers the ideal base from which to explore the Ghost Town Trail.
With a surface of mostly crushed stone (some short sections are paved), a mountain or hybrid bike is recommended for the trail. Although there are several bicycle shops in the general area, shops offering rentals seem to come and go, and as of this writing rentals are not available on or near the trail. If you are driving from Pittsburgh we recommend stopping at Golden Triangle Bicycle Rentals in the downtown area. This full service bike shop has a variety of rentals available including hybrid, hybrid performance, mountain, kids’ bikes, and tandems. While this is a considerable distance away from the Ghost Town Trail, at this time it is the closest bike rental shop.
Given the nearly 37-mile length of the trail, our itinerary divides the route up in to two days of riding. To take advantage of the Dillweed B&B’s trailside location, and to avoid having to drive to a trailhead, the itinerary departs each day directly from the property. This results in a one day ride of about 46 miles round-trip, and another day of 26 miles roundtrip. Water is available at a few locations trailside, and on the route to Ebensburg there is an opportunity to purchase food and drinks in the town of Nanty-Glo. There are no shops in the western direction toward Black Lick. We recommend, for both days, packing plenty of liquids and on the western route also bringing food. Picnic tables are located along the trail, providing a nice opportunity for a trailside lunch break. As always, also be sure to bring a bicycle repair kit. Note that sections of the route pass through areas that allow hunting. If you are out on the trail during hunting season, be sure to wear brightly colored clothing as a precaution.
Today we will tackle the longer route, 23 miles (46 miles round-trip), which includes a 4-mile long diversion on a northern spur. The spur can easily be omitted to reduce the mileage. There are a couple of hills along today’s route—one as you approach Nanty-Glo and another as you approach Ebensburg—but otherwise the trail is relatively flat. After a hearty breakfast at the inn, set out with full water bottles. The trail is located right next to the property. Once on the trail head east towards Ebensburg.
The trail almost immediately heads in to a wooded area where you will find yourself riding alongside Blacklick Creek. This area is abundant with wildlife including deer and a large variety of bird species, and provides a peaceful and quiet ride. You will notice that the Blacklick Creek is an unusual bright red; this color is the result of acid drainage from local coal mines. You will see further evidence of the coal industry as every few miles the trail briefly leaves the forest behind and you enter a blighted area that is the result of ecological destruction from long abandoned mines. While not particularly scenic, these sections are limited, and serve as a reminder of the industrial past of this region.
Along this section of the trail are the remains of one of the largest ghosttowns along the route, Wehrum. This town once had 250 homes, a store, a bank, and other services for the Lackawanna Coal and Coke Company, and was developed by Warren Delano, uncle of President Franklin Roosevelt. The town was abandoned in the 1930s and today only one house remains (it is located where SR-3013 crosses Blacklick Creek). Like most of the buildings that remain of former towns along the route, the house in Wehrum is on private property, so please respect the owners’privacy and do not wander on to the grounds.
As you reach the town of Vintondale, about 6 miles along, the trail splits with the route to Ebensburg heading off to the right and the 4-mile long Rexis Branch trail spur, which travels north, heading off to the left. Continue to the right toward Ebensburg and look for the historical Eliza Furnace just after the split. The Eliza Furnace is on the National Register of Historic Places and one of the few remaining iron furnaces in the country. Stop to see the 32-foot-high dry stone fitted furnace and read the signage that gives more detail about the history of the furnace and the town in the 1800s. Just east of the furnace find restrooms before heading back in to a wooded area and the beginning of the uphill section of the trail. You will notice here that the woods become denser, there are no burnt-outareas, and the creek becomes a clear mountain stream with rapids and waterfalls. This section also contains one of the ghost towns,Bracken, which unlike the other towns which are called ghost towns due to being abandoned, is considered by some to actually be haunted. Little evidence of the former town exists; however, the area in general is reportedly the sight of the Lady in White,a woman who was killed by her lover in the early part of the century.
In the town of Nanty-Glo, stop for a cold drink and snack at Al’s Pizza. Located only about a block off of the trail, turn left on Chestnut Street in the middle of town and find the restaurant on the corner of 2nd Street. Nanty-Glo is the only opportunity to replenish drinks or grab a snack before reaching Ebensburg.
The trail ends at the intersection with Rowena Drive in Ebensburg. There are no shops at the end of the trail, but as you return back through town, take a right on W. High Street to find a couple of lunch options. Among the restaurants on the street, find Subway, where you can pick up a quick sandwich and drink. Or, at Our Station House, located slightly farther along the road, enjoy sit down service in a casual environment. This restaurant offers pulled pork sandwiches, burgers, salads, and more. At the intersection of W. High Street and Route 422, turn left and take another quick left on Clara Street to reach the only bicycle shop in the area, Ebensburg Bicycle. Located at 106 Clara St., this shop does not have rentals, but does offer repair services, if that is needed.
Back on the trail, enjoy the downhill as you head back towards Dilltown. In Vintondale, consider adding a little extra mileage to your ride and take the 4-mile long Rexis Branch spur north. Keep in mind that there is a gradual incline, although it is not as steep as the route to Ebensburg. Along the way, pass through several of the other ghost towns in the area.
Today’s ride is 13 miles (26 roundtrip), and includes a modest elevation gain of about 370 feet, with the downhill on the return. Enjoy breakfast at the Dillweed B&B before heading west on the Ghost Town Trail. We recommend packing a lunch for today’s ride as there are no restaurants or other places to purchase food. The nearest full service grocery store is Walmart Supercenter, which is located about a 15 minutes drive off of US-22W in Blairsville. Food can also be purchased at the trailside shop at the Dillweed B&B.
The route towards Black Lick is entirely through a wooded section before ending in Saylor Park, where water and restrooms are available. Before you reach the park keep your eyes open for a salvage yard just off the trail that has an assortment of old, discarded rail cars. In Saylor Park, it is possible to connect to the Hoodlebug Trail. This route travels for more than 10 miles and ends in the town of Indiana (although by picking it up in Saylor Park and heading north you will be cutting almost two miles off the route). The quirky name for the trail references the local nickname for a self-propelled passenger coach that ran on the Indiana Branch of the Pennsylvania Railroad until 1940. Heading south on this trail will take you to just north of the town of Blairsville. Note that if you decide to take this route to Blairsville looking for a lunch spot, the trail ends near a busy road and to reach the center of town you will need to ride on US-22.
Return east towards Dilltown and enjoy the downhill ride. Stop along the way to relax over a riverside picnic lunch, or on a hot day, dip your toes in the creek for a refreshing cool down.
For dinner: Dilltown does not have any restaurants, but there are several good options in Johnstown, which is only about 12 miles away and well worth a visit. The cozy Back Door Cafe focuses on foods made with seasonal, market fresh ingredients. Enjoy a casual and comfortable atmosphere and dine on such dishes as artichoke, spinach and brie; sesame ahi tuna; or enjoy one of the popular brick oven pizzas. The restaurant is run by a husband and wife team and the intimate space is popular with locals. Given its small size, reservations are highly recommended. Asiago’s Tuscan Italian Restaurant features more than 100 fine wines, craft beers, the restaurant’s own vodka and rum infusers, signature martinis, and much more on the extensive drinks menu. Enjoy a drink as you linger over a fine meal of Tuscan dishes such as baked ricotta, gnocchi, or Tuscan chicken. Save room for one of the delectable desserts or a dessert wine. Located near the Incline Plane in Johnstown, the restaurant also offers stunning views of the town and the surrounding area. Located in historical downtown Johnstown, Press Bistro is a modern yet casual space serving simple, fresh foods and a wide selection of craft beers. Try the bistro burger, steak and bacon, Guinness fish n’ chips, or Indian seafood masala. This casual spot is also a popular for live music.
Today is your day to explore the multitude of attractions that this region has to offer. In Johnstown, visit the Johnstown Flood Museum. Dedicated to telling the story of the massive flood that killed more than 2,200 people and destroyed the town on May 31, 1889, the museum chronicles events surrounding this tragedy. Visitors can see the Academy Award winning documentary, ‘The Johnstown Flood,’several exhibits, and artifacts. Also in Johnstown, ride the Incline Plane. Built after the flood, the original purpose of the Incline Plane was to connect the downtown area with higher grounds that were in the planning stages of development. Today, visitors can ride the Incline, see exhibits about the history of the town, the Incline, and the flood, as well as enjoy spectacular views from the top.
In the Pennsylvania town of Indiana, visit the James M. Stewart Museum. This museum, dedicated to hometown legend Jimmy Stewart, features a variety of exhibits and memorabilia honoring his life and career in radio, TV, and film. Located on the third floor of the Indiana Public Library, visitors will gain a better understanding of the entertainer, but also of life in Western Pennsylvania during the early 1900s when the Stewart family owned a hardware store in the town.
This region of Western Pennsylvania was a particularly strong force in the Underground Railroad. In nearby Blairsville, visit the Blairsville Underground Railroad History Center. This center is only open by appointment from May through October, but is an excellent resource for those interested in this historical movement that led thousands to freedom. Docents and guides are available at the center to help plan walking tours of historical sites in the area, or download the driving tour guide from the website if you are unable to arrange a visit.