- Find a Trail
- My TrailLink
- Explore Trails
- About Us
- Get Involved
Spurred by the success of New York’s revolutionary Erie Canal, Pennsylvania started constructing its own canal system in 1826 to link Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. But the Allegheny Mountains complicated Pennsylvania’s task.
In the years it took to establish Pennsylvania’s canal system on either side of the Alleghenies, trains were coming into use. Forward-thinking engineers looked to these machines to traverse the final 40 miles of rugged terrain, but the primitive locomotives couldn’t manage the mountain slopes. Pennsylvania’s solution was the Allegheny Portage Railroad, a complex system that saw entire canalboats transferred from canals onto trains that, much like the canals themselves, ran over more or less level ground before coming to an elevation change. At each steep incline, the locomotive would be disconnected and its line of cars hoisted up the slope by a stationary steam engine at the top. The train cars would be connected to a new locomotive and transported to the next incline, where the process would be repeated. On the downhill side, the same machinery controlled the train cars’ descent.
Ten such inclines brought canalboats and other cargo up and over the Alleghenies between Johnstown and Hollidaysburg—five each on the eastern and western slopes of the range. Once the barges had been portaged across the mountains, they were returned to canals to finish their journeys. It was a massive undertaking that reduced travel time between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh from about 23 days to just under 4. Officially opening in 1834, the system would run only for a little more than two decades before more powerful locomotives rendered it obsolete.
Today, the 10.3-mile route between inclines 6 and 10 has been converted into a rail-trail featuring both hiking and biking sections, with historical culverts (drainage structures) visible along the hiking-only route. The trail makes up a small part of the September 11th National Memorial Trail that connects the 9/11, Flight 93, and Pentagon Memorials.
Start your visit at the top of the mountain, where the National Park Service maintains a visitor center at the Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site dedicated to the history of the railway, as well as restrooms, drinking fountains, and picnic areas. At the summit is a reproduction of an engine that lifted the train cars and a re-creation of the steep tracks of incline 6, as well as a tavern restored to its 1840s appearance. These buildings are open daily (9 a.m.–5 p.m.) in spring, summer, and fall, and weekends only in winter. This area also provides access to a hiking-only trail heading westward, the Summit Level Trail.
From the visitor center, hikers can tackle the 6 to 10 Trail as it heads east and downhill along the path of the Allegheny Portage Railroad; this twisting section is a steep and tricky descent recommended for capable hikers. Loops and spurs offer opportunities to extend the mileage a bit and to see additional historical artifacts. Bicycles are not allowed on this portion of the trail, so bikers will start about 3.3 miles farther along the route at the Muleshoe trailhead and follow the path of the railroad that supplanted the portage system.
From the Muleshoe trailhead, you’ll roll about 4.2 miles downhill on limestone dust to the Dry Run Road trailhead, where restrooms and water fountains are available. Look for wildlife such as white-tailed deer, turkeys, pheasants, and chipmunks, as well as snakes and the occasional black bear. About halfway along this segment, you’ll also come to another 1.2-mile hiking-only segment that extends past two historical culverts and then reconnects with the trail just southeast of Valley Forge Road and a third historical culvert.
As you near the southeast trailhead at Dry Run Road, the trail connects with the 1.6-mile Foot of Ten Trail, a hiking-only, somewhat triangular loop that extends northeast toward the former site of an engine house and another historical culvert, after which it heads south (on a partially overgrown path) toward the Dry Run Road trailhead. The last 0.25 mile of the 6 to 10 Trail, leading to the trailhead, shares the same path as the southwest side of the Foot of Ten Trail loop.
Be aware that the biking portion of the trail contains steep grades and poor sight lines, and while it is wheelchair accessible, the Valley Forge Road crossing is not. State game land surrounds much of the trail (both hiking and biking sections), and users are advised to wear bright colors to alert hunters year-round, but particularly in the fall. The trail and parking areas are open sunrise–sunset.
To reach the endpoint at the Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site visitor center from I-99, take Exit 28 to merge onto US 22 W. In about 7 miles, take the Gallitzin exit, and turn right onto Tunnelhill St. Go 0.7 mile south, following signs for the Allegheny Portage Railroad. The road terminates at the visitor center parking lot.
To reach the Muleshoe trailhead from the visitor center parking lot, take US 22 W 1.7 miles to the exit for Old US 22, following signs for Cresson/Summit. Turn left onto Old US 22/Admiral Peary Hwy. In 3.0 miles, you’ll find a parking area on the right, immediately before the curved stone archway of the Muleshoe Bridge; if that lot is full, another option is just 700 feet farther down the road on the left.
To reach the Dry Run Road trailhead from I-99, take Exit 28 for US 22 E. Keep right to immediately exit onto US 22 E, and go 1.5 miles. Turn right onto Old US 22 in Duncansville. Go 0.2 mile, and turn left onto Foot of Ten Road. Go 0.5 mile, and turn left onto Mill Road. Go 0.3 mile, and turn right onto Dry Run Road. Go 0.6 mile, and turn right into the trailhead parking lot.
TrailLink is a free service provided by Rails-to-Trails conservancy
(a non-profit) and we need your support!