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The Armstrong Trail connects riverfront towns along the east bank of the Allegheny River as it winds through the lush Allegheny Plateau. The flat trail, currently 35.5 miles, follows the river downstream from Upper Hillville to Rosston, passing relics from the area’s railroading and industrial past.
The Allegheny Valley Railroad began laying tracks in 1853, and by 1870 the railroad ran between Pittsburgh and Oil City. Absorbed by the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1900, the corridor went through several ownership changes until the Allegheny Valley Land Trust acquired it in 1992 for a trail. Court challenges delayed construction of some trail sections, resulting in today’s mix of surfaces, which include asphalt and crushed stone.
The Armstrong Trail is part of the 270-mile Erie to Pittsburgh Trail that will run from Presque Isle on Lake Erie to Pittsburgh’s connection with the Great Allegheny Passage; it’s also part of the Industrial Heartland Trails Coalition’s developing 1,500-mile trail network through Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, and New York. In addition, it connects with the Redbank Valley Trail, which runs east from the Armstrong Trail for more than 40 miles and includes a 9-mile spur leading to Sligo.
East Brady is the best place to start for an uninterrupted trip down the trail. A closed tunnel the railroad built as a shortcut across a river bend isolates an orphaned 4.5-mile crushed-stone segment upriver. You’ll travel on short stretches of gravel road as you leave town.
Just past Phillipston in 2 miles, look for an old railroad turntable left over from the days when the railroad serviced locomotives here. In another 1.2 miles, you’ll see the southern entrance to the 0.5-mile 1915 Brady Tunnel; future plans call for renovating and reopening it to connect the northern segment to the rest of the trail. In a little less than 1.5 miles later, you’ll pass the coaling tower used to replenish locomotives from 1930 until 1957, when diesel power replaced steam.
The junction for the Redbank Valley Trail and Sligo Spur is just past here, joining the Armstrong Trail at the confluence with Redbank Creek. The Armstrong Trail rolls nearly 2 miles to Allegheny River Lock and Dam 9, built in 1938 as the farthest upstream navigation impoundment (a dam located farther north is for flood control).
Over the next 7.5 miles, the route passes through small communities to Templeton, where you can find a diner and a campground. You’ll pass another dam and lock structure a little over 2 miles past Templeton, and 4 miles later you’ll come to a junction with the 1.2-mile Cowanshannock Trail, which climbs uphill along a spur line that served a coal mine and brick plant and today passes Buttermilk Falls in Cowanshannock Creek.
In less than 2 miles, you’ll enter Kittanning, named for a Shawnee and Lenape village that was destroyed during the French and Indian War. Today it’s the largest borough on the trail and home to a wide variety of restaurants, as well as the old train station at Grant and Reynolds Avenues. Continuing south takes you to Ford City, founded in 1887 as the company town for Pittsburgh Plate Glass, at one time the largest glassmaker in the nation. The company left town in the 1990s, but the worker’s entrance is preserved at trailside Memorial Park.
The path ends just a couple more miles past Ford City at Rosston Boat Ramp. Beyond the dilapidated bridge over Crooked Creek, the Kiski Junction Railroad continues 9 miles via the old Allegheny Valley Railroad corridor.
To reach the Sarah Furnace Road trailhead, which provides the only parking available for the northern section of trail, from I-79, take Exit 99, and turn right to head east on US 422/Benjamin Franklin Hwy. Go 15.9 miles and exit onto PA 68/Chicora Road. Turn left, and go 10.8 miles. Make a slight right to continue on PA 68, and go another 8.4 miles. Just after crossing the Allegheny River, turn right onto PA 68/Kelly’s Way. Go 0.4 mile, and turn left onto PA 68/Third St./T581. Go 4.1 miles, and turn left onto SR 3006/Sarah Furnace Road. Go 1.9 miles, and look for on-road parking on the left at the trailhead. The trail dead-ends north and south from this point.
To reach parking in East Brady from I-79, follow the directions above to PA 68/Third St. Go 0.2 mile, and turn right onto Robinson St. Go 0.2 mile, and take a slight left onto Shady Shores Dr. Go 0.1 mile, turn right onto a short access road, and then immediately turn left into the parking lot (adjacent to the East Brady Maintenance Department). Facing the trail from the parking lot, turn right and go 0.3 mile to reach the endpoint.
Additional parking is available at East Brady Playground & Skatepark, which is located at the corner of Robinson St. and Shady Shores Dr. From Third St., go 0.2 mile, and then turn right onto Robinson St., and go 0.2 mile. Take an immediate right turn into the access drive for the park, and look for parking on the left. To reach the endpoint, turn left onto Sixth St. and go 0.1 mile.
To reach the trailhead in Rosston from I-79, take Exit 99, and turn right to head east on US 422 E/Benjamin Franklin Hwy./New Castle Road. Go 36 miles, and take Exit A onto PA 66 toward Ford City. Go 1.2 miles, and bear right onto PA 128/Fifth Ave., and then go 1.8 miles, and turn left onto Ross Ave. Go 0.8 mile, and stay straight onto Ross Cir. Go 0.2 mile, and turn left to stay on Ross Cir.; then go 300 feet, and look for parking to your left at the Rosston Boat Ramp.
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