About this Itinerary
The Montour Trail follows a portion of the old Montour Railroad through suburban communities near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Highlights include the 500-foot Enlow Tunnel in Findlay Township and the impressive McDonald Trestle, spanning more than 900 feet, on the outskirts of McDonald. Another major draw of this trail is that it connects to the Great Allegheny Passage, providing access to more than 330 miles that stretch from Pittsburgh to Washington, D.C.
The Montour Trail will ultimately be 46 continuous trail miles, between Coraopolis and Clairton, but at the time of this writing only 40 miles of the trail have been completed. Until then, you must travel on-road at several points along the way. Each year, however, trail construction projects leave the trail closer to the ultimate goal of contiguous passage. The Montour Trail Association website provides up-to-date information on construction projects, detours and trail conditions.
One of these projects is the connector trail to the Pittsburgh International Airport, which will enable air travelers easy access from the airport to the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) via the Montour Trail. For now, you can bike the Montour-Trail Airport Connector as a combination of public and airport roads for 6.5 miles to join the Montour Trail (mile 8) at Enlow. If you are flying to Pittsburgh with your own bicycle, you may opt to begin the ride as soon as you land and assemble. Alternatively, the Marriott and Comfort Suites are located next to the trail at mile marker 5 and offer free shuttles from the airport for their guests.
To rent bicycles, the best option is at Golden Triangle Bike Rental in downtown Pittsburgh— approximately 14 miles southeast of the Montour Trail trailhead in Coraopolis. Bill’s Taxi can shuttle you and your bike to the trailhead but you must make advanced arrangements. You could bike to the trailhead from Pittsburgh as well, though the route involves significant on-road segments in addition to a portion of the Three Rivers Heritage Trail. If transportation is not an issue, we recommend staying overnight in Pittsburgh and shuttling yourself to the trailhead in the morning. There is so much to see and do in Pittsburgh that an extended stay here is well worth your while. You can head straight to Pittsburgh’s Cultural District to enjoy a 14-block arts scene filled with theaters, galleries and museums; numerous hotels, restaurants and bars are easily accessible throughout the downtown area as well.
The Montour Trail amenities are well-placed with access points, water fountains and portable toilets along the entire route (toilets available May-October only). Accommodations, however, are not so plentiful, which makes trip planning less clear cut. There is a single campsite with a tent platform in Boggs, mile 11, and five camping sites at the Cecil Henderson campground at mile 26. The Oak Noggin B&B and Econo Lodge Clairton are both located in Jefferson Hills (mile 45), though they are situated 2 miles off the trail. There are no hotels in Clairton, Glassport or McKeesport.
Our itinerary suggests riding the Montour Trail one way, beginning in Coraopolis to its end in Clairton, and the hopping on the Clairton Connector to McKeesport (5 miles), then picking up the GAP trail from McKeesport back to Pittsburgh (15 miles). Shuttle arrangements from the trailhead in Pittsburgh (Point State Park) will be necessary. Long-distance cyclists may want to ride the entire loop in one-day (66 miles). The best option for splitting the ride into two days is to stay overnight in Jefferson Hills (adding 4 miles roundtrip), completing the loop via the GAP to Pittsburgh the next day (70 miles total).
Both the trail and the railroad are named for the creek that runs alongside you for the first 8 miles from Coraopolis. You will primarily have views of leafy, green neighborhoods as you cycle through the various townships of the greater Pittsburgh area. Woodland patches and road crossings are never too far apart, so remain vigilant about your surroundings. You quickly encounter the Enlow Tunnel (mile 7.2–7.3), a lighted 558-foot expanse in Findlay Township built in the 1920s during a realignment effort to decrease the sharp curvatures of the original route of the Montour Railroad.
The rail line was built between 1877 and 1914 to link the Pittsburgh and Lake Erie Railroad with the region's many coal mines. The first segment of the line ran from the Ohio River near Coraopolis south to the town of Imperial. At its peak, the railroad served 27 mines and transported millions of tons of coal as well as providing passenger service. Forming a semi-circle around Pittsburgh, the Montour Railroad also connected other railroads: the Pennsylvania, the Pittsburgh & West Virginia, the Baltimore & Ohio and the Union.
At miles 9 and 11, you pass by the small communities of Imperial and Boggs, respectively. The trail soon skims the edges of McDonald (mile 17), a place to stop for food and drink if needed. Take Noblestown Rd. east for just under a mile; a Subway and other eateries line this street. Back on the trail, you quickly traverse the impressive McDonald Trestle, spanning more than 900 feet and carrying you over Robinson Run. Here the Montour Trail connects directly to the Panhandle Trail, which travels east to Collier Township and west to Weirton, West Virginia.
Continuing south of McDonald, the trail offers beautiful rural landscapes. In Venice a new bridge takes you safely over the crossroads of PA 980 and PA 50 (mile 21.6). Outside of Cecil Township is another tunnel once used by the Montour Railroad and now part of this rail-trail. The National Tunnel (mile 27) is shorter than the Enlow Tunnel, at 623 feet long; it is paved with asphalt and has reflectors for safe navigation. Be prepared to cross the busy Highway 79 in another mile or so; the small town of Hendersonvillelies on the other side of this thoroughfare. You will soon see Valleybrook Golf Course to your left, an indication that the trail will shortly cross Chartiers Creek (mile 30) on another old remnant of the rail line: the Greer Viaduct and Tunnel. Two bridges are adjacent to the tunnel, one of which is the Chartiers Creek High Bridge, the highest bridge along the trail. Keep an eye out for remnants of the once-working line, such as ties, ballasts and the railroad’s X-1 crane. Shortly after you see the crane, the trail terminates at mile 30.3. For detailed instructions of all detours, make sure to read the descriptions provided by the Montour Trail Organization.
After you cross Route 19 (Washington Road), the Montour Trail joins with the Arrowhead Trail for 3.5 miles. This stretch of the old rail line was built in 1912-1914 and in 1985—fortunately for us—the Peters Township purchased 100 acres of the railroad right-of-way to develop the recreational trail and preserve the natural surroundings with native trees and wildflowers. As you roll through the township, keep an eye out for a restaurant that entices you, since this area offers the most options for a lunch or dinner break. (If you are spending the night in Jefferson Hills, you may want to consider having a large meal because there aren’t many choices farther along the trail). Arlecchino Ristorante serves Italian dishes and is open for dinner; you’ll find it near the trail on Washington Road (turn right on Washington and right again on Campus Lane). Continue a half mile down Washington Road to the Sunny Bridge Natural Foods & Café (Gallery Drive) for deli, bakery or market goods. You’ll find more restaurants and bars the farther you go southwest on Washington Road.
Alternatively, continue on the Montour Trail until you reach E. McMurray Road (mile 32). Head left and you will see My Big Fat Greek Gyro (502 Valley Brook Rd.) and several other franchises, such as Starbucks, Pizza Hut and Subway. Back on the trail at E. McMurray Road, travel for 2 miles, through Peterswood Park, until you see the trail split: the Arrowhead Trail branch continues 3.5 miles north to Bethel Park, while the Montour Trail continues east. Take the branch to your right to continue toward Clairton.
Another incomplete segment of the trail begins at mile 35 and requires riding on roads for 1.5 miles. At Library Road (Route 88) go right and cycle on-road for 0.3 mile. Turn left at the light on Brownsville & Library Road for a mile, then take a left on Steward Road. The trail resumes quickly to your right.
An additional off-trail segment starts approximately 2.5 miles later at Piney Fork Road (mile 39). There are many road changes in this stretch, so it could be useful to review the on-line interactive map beforehand. Also, there may be maps available at Piney Fork Road—look for a map sign indicating a box with maps. This bypass is 0.8-mile, followed by the longest gap of the trail, 3.4 miles, between Gill Hall Road and Large. In the midst of all this, if you have opted to stay the night at the Oak Noggin B&B, take Gill Hall Road north for 2 miles once you come to the trailhead in Jefferson Hills (at the intersection of Gill Hall and Peters Creek roads). The peaceful seclusion of this historical log house, among rolling hills and furnished with early-America antiques, might be just what you have in mind about now.
If you are staying at the Econo Lodge instead, continue on the route until you reach Clairton Boulevard/Route 51. You will notice the Olde Large Hotel Pizzeria at the intersection of Oak and Clairton Boulevard. The lodge is 2 miles north on Rte. 51. Note: Route 51 gets busy and has no shoulder, so please take care. It’s best to ride on the grassy strip on the east side of Route 51.
The rail-trail begins again 0.5 mile farther down Peters Creek Road at the back end of the Park and Ride. This last stretch of the pathway gently meanders alongside a creek and is surrounded by woodlands (with one just one major road crossing). The southern terminus of the Montour Trail is in less than 2.5 miles at N. State Street in Clairton. The Clairton Connector Trail begins here.
The Clairton Connector Trail is an urban, on-road route with occasional Steel Valley Trail signs marking the way. It connects with the famed Great Allegheny Passage in McKeesport. If you’re up for more riding, explore the GAP trail today, which follows the Monongahela River and ends at Pittsburgh’s Point State Park.