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The Capital Area Greenbelt is a loop trail with many access points along its route, but the best parking is on City Island in Harrisburg. To reach the Walnut Street Bridge on City Island from I-83, take the 2nd Street Exit. Follow 2nd Street north to Market and turn left. Follow Market across the bridge to City Island. You will see the City Island parking lot entrance on your right. The Walnut Street Bridge sits parallel and north of the Market Street bridge. The section beginning at City Island and running along Front Street is wheelchair-accessible.
To reach Wildwood Lake Sanctuary, from I-81, take Exit 66 for Front Street. Go north on Front Street to the first traffic light and turn right onto Route 39 (Linglestown Road). Turn right at the first light onto Industrial Road. Go a little more than 1 mile and turn left onto Wildwood Way. Follow the paved road until you come to the nature center parking lot.
I've done this trail once on a bicycle and four times walking. I did the entire trail all five times by myself and once I did 16 miles walking with two friends. I had to giggle a little bit at a few recommendations to skip this unless you're an experienced bike rider. I hadn't been on a bicycle in 20 years and then two days after buying a bike I did the whole 20 miles by myself at age 41. Sure, my fanny was red and I walked a little gingerly for the next two days but it is not out of the question. I would suggest taking a map/directions because the signage is missing or misleading in a few areas. I rode around HACC parking lot for 15 minutes once before I figured out where to go. This last time I went the opposite direction and once I got onto HACC property from Wildwood direction after crossing the pedestrian bridge, I didn't see any sign telling me where to go. I went an extra .35 miles trying to find my way to the entrance of HACC by the Farm Show complex. That was the only spot I got lost this time and only because I'd always gone counter clockwise starting at Wildwood and this time I went clockwise. I don't remember seeing the trash other people said they saw. Now and then I saw a plastic water bottle or a wrapper but otherwise the trail was very clean and that's saying something for a loop that goes 20 miles around the city. That being said, that it goes around the CITY, no I wouldn't recommend it for inexperienced riders with kids. You go through the Five Senses Park, Wildwood Park, Reservoir Park and a few others and there are quite a few segments that are paved roads blocked to car traffic but in some places you do have to cross busy streets like Derry or Paxton. You will travel along some creeks and streams and most likely see deer, groundhogs, lots of squirrels, and plenty of birds. I have also found some unusual things along the way. Last year I found a perfectly good eggplant just sitting on a path. I took it home and baked it with mozzarella cheese and marinara sauce. Seriously. I prefer to walk this trail rather than bike it because there are some steep spots in three places where I walked my bike last time. Take bottled water - the water fountains on Front Street don't work sometimes but you can refill at Penn DOT or Wildwood. There are places along the way to put your feet in water, sit at picnic tables, talk to others. I recommend, as I would for any hike of this length, bottled water, some fruit and nuts to snack on, some protein, lip balm if it is sunny or windy, sunglasses, a hand towel in case you do put your feet in the streams so you can dry off your feet, cloth bandages or moleskin in case you get blisters, and maybe some tissues in case you have to use nature's rest room...If you want to do just part of the trail with kids or on a bike or if you're not usually a 20 mile hiker, ask someone who's done it a few times. We can probably recommend something suited for you.
I am a short, older recreational rider (30-50 miles a week) with troublesome knees and use a hybrid bike, but I still overall enjoy the trail. Within two weeks, both on a Sunday afternoon, we rode it starting from City Island, over the bridge & going counter clockwise the 1st time, the second time clockwise. Personally I would only enjoy riding it on a Sunday when there is less traffic. Not a ride for children. We took our time & I wasn't to proud to walk up a few hills. I preferred riding clockwise ... the first 6 miles are more downgrade, the 8 miles in the middle were tough and had to walk up some hills, and the last 6 miles were more downgrade. I skipped the hilly paved trail around Wildwood as I had ridden it before and opted to just ride the mile towpath along the edge of Wildwood. I also opted to not ride the hilly upper section of the civil war museum. I thought the trail was better marked going clockwise, but having a map of the trail really helped. From start to finish, rode about 20 miles each time.
I love parts of the trail, and the fact that it is so diverse - riverfront, urban, nature; however, it is poorly marked. You have to be watching carefully not to miss the signs. We made it through about 11 miles of the trail (went clockwise), and we ended up at the National Civil War Museum. From there, we were lost. There were no signs for the trail once we crossed the major road by the museum. We rode back to City Island on a main road. I did not like crossing major roads on this trail. I would strongly discourage families from taking kids on this trail. It is too dangerous.
I haven't been on a bike since fall, but my husband is a triathlete. This trail is a really nice trail and I think other cities should take notice. However, if you are a novice rider (like me) the one loop around a nature preserve is all hills! It was biking hell for me and afterwards, I couldn't finish the entire trail. I only made it 14 miles (that included a shortcut back to the car). You can skip this loop and I highly recommend that if you don't do hills--skip it!
Other than that loop, the 10 miles we did is a really nice ride. We did do it counter clockwise as suggested in other posts and the signage was great. You do have to cross highways. For adults, its fine but I would worry about kids.
Great job, Harrisburg!!
The full loop is not family friendly.
I appreciate that Harrisburg has a trail and parts of it are very nice. However, it is not a "green" loop. I cycled the full trail recently with my young son in tow.
Several segments of the trail are absolutely filthy and are very close to looking like garbage dumps. This is partly a reflection of the dysfunctional city government and partly a lack of pride from the locals. Politics should not play into a trail review; however, this is the state capitol. The amount of trash is so bad that a simple spring clean up by volunteers will not suffice.
Part of the trail requires going on a busy sidewalk with storefronts. There is no bike lane.
Too many scary traffic moments to list.
Near the end of the trail at it northern portion is at a "nature center" squeezed into the corner of two intersecting freeways. It is beautiful, but the noise is so loud that there is no chance of hearing the wildlife from the laughable viewing blinds. It is also not a good place to enjoy your bicycle ride as the trail is routed immediately next to the freeway.
And then the trail spits you out into an intersection at the off ramp from one of these freeways. Its as if the greenbelt designers got tired and just gave up. Consider that I have my less than 1-year old son in the bike trailer and I am completely surrounded by aggressive drivers and tractor-trailer trucks. Again, no bike lane. After turning left in front of the off ramp, you must then go down a hill and make another left across a busy four lane road. I'm a very experienced rider, but I was absolutely frightened that my son I would be killed in this traffic. Greenbelt indeed!
Short segments are good for kids. Only experienced riders should attempt the entire loop.
We started at mile 14. The trail is mostly well marked. We had conflicting signs at HCAA and the farm complex. Each time after cycling around we found the trail again. Negative: coming out of Wildwood park you must travel up an onramp to I81 and then cross over a bypass. This short distance was ridiculously busy with cars and we decided to walk this section as far on the burm of the road as we could. Other than this short piece it was a great experience!
We parked at Wildwood and headed toward HACC. I was concerned about riding on the road but we never really had to! So many trails I never knew about! It was fantastic! A great mix of woods,city scenery and cool bridges and tunnels. We ended near Verbeke and Front so i dont know what the rest of the route is like but the 10 mile section we did i cannot say enough good about it. We only got lost once near the civil war museum. The sign directs you to go right at the Y but you should go left toward the orange gate. If you accidently go right you end up on market, just go left until you see a trail head on your right. Turn in there and you are back on the trail.
I rode my bike on the Green Belt last year one week after buying a bicycle after not having ridden a bike in twenty years. I did the entire route starting on Front Street and going counter clockwise. There were a handful of places where I wasn't sure where I should go next (one trail near PennDOT went in a circle and I figured out where to get out of that circle to continue on) but I figured it out rather easily with the paper map available at various points along the trail. I have to admit that when I got home, I had a red behind even with the gel seat cover! But hey, I hadn't had my fanny on a bike in a long time. I'm looking forward to hiking the trail next month.
My girlfriend and I recently rode this trail on a beautiful July weekend. Most of the trail is well marked but there were a few places where we had to use intuition as to where to continue. It seems that someone had painted white arrows on the trail which we followed and we seemed to do ok with them. It is approximately 21 miles if you stay on the trail. We rode from City Island and went counter clockwise on the trail. This kept us from having to climb a rather steep area. The rise was much more gradual going counter clockwise. Very scenic with lots to see long the way. I would not recommend this trail with small children but good riders could handle it quite easily. We are looking forward to riding it again. Note: stay off the lower portion of the trail that runs along the river. Very bumpy and full of geese dodo. Use the upper trail. Just as scenic.
Take a map and directions with you!! Signs are totally absent, or worse, send you in the wrong direction. Corner of Graham and Green, sign sends you the wrong way. No signs on Derry street. No signs through HACC. Make sure you have a charged cell as well. Not so fun ride for me and my 9 year old. Some of posted maps are deteriorated, so when it was needed for us, it failed.
My husband and I rode this trail on a weekday, so there was little bike traffic. We loved the way we could see everything from the not so great industrial area, to the waterfront, and then back into the trails. This trail even takes you through the residential and community college areas.
Several problems though: limited signage in some spots. We went counterclockwise (as suggested in a previous review--we suggest that, too). As noted, there are arrows painted on the road for ease of reference. Since we're not from the area, we relied heavily on our iPhones to get us through some of the non marked areas. I compared this map to the navi map, just to be sure we were on the right path.
The other problem -- if you have kids with you-- is that there were no pedestrian/cyclist lights to cross some of the major roads (4 lanes). That might be a bit too much for a little kid. It was just the two of us, but that is my opinion.
Other than that, we loved riding this trail through town and then jumping back into the car to head home...a great way to break up a long drive by car. Would definitely do it again.
I ride this trail a few times a week in its entirety and prior to doing so I wasn't all that familiar with harrisburg but overall its fairly easy to navigate. It has the trail markers scattered throughout and earlier this spring someone actually painted arrows on the ground, you'll see the pattern after a short time of riding. In general its a pretty smooth trail but some parts are slightly rougher. If you choose the riverside trail versus the Front st trail prepare for a bumpy ride. Nice ride, nice people, but definitely easier running it counter-clockwise.
It is a nice scenic trail through Harrisburg. Some parts are really nice while others are just the opposite. No signs after Wilwood park on how to get to front street. I live around here so it was not hard for me to know where i was but for outsiders it's gonna be hard, so before heading out make sure you know how to get back to front st and have the map for the trail.
I would definitely Recommend this trail.
This trail was a total fiasco. DO NOT ATTEMPT WITHOUT A ROAD MAP. What started out as a 20 mile loop became a 33 mile nightmare. The trails are not marked well at all. There are points where there is no direction at all and the small square markers are next to impossible to see. We ended up traveling streets to find our self back to City Island. Will not do again until it is improved. I ran into two women from Boston. I think of them often, I hope they are ok and found their way back to their car. ALSO: Locals are not to eager to help. BEWARE!!!.
You had better be in good shape if you're going to do the whole loop. We found also that at times the trail is marked great and then at other times you have no idea which way you are supposed to be going. I normally ride rails to trails bike paths, there are times during this loop we had to get off the bikes and walk up the hills. Definitely not for the faint of heart or out of shape, at times such as along the river however it is very enjoyable.
Normally ride this trail 2-3 times a week. Normally travel the river side portion, some times a little crowded, just have to slow down a little and take in the views, until you can pass.
Originally constructed in the early 20th century, Harrisburg's Capital Area Greenbelt is one of the nation's oldest multi-use greenways. Unfortunately, this original incarnation of the trail fell into disrepair a couple decades later, after the explosive popularity of the automobile made pathways dedicated to bicycle, foot and other non-motorized traffic appear antiquated and unecessary. With the exception of the scenic portion along the city's Susquehanna River waterfront, most segments of the greenbelt were forgotten.
This situation changed in the early 90's, when groups of volunteers began restoring the forgotten segments of the trail. Two decades later, the green belt is once again serving as an active, multi-use trail that offers city residents an alternative to driving or walking through some of the seedier neighborhoods or traveling along frequently congested highways like I-83. Notable features include some unique sculptures and other works of art on the riverfront, the Walnut Street Bridge, which connects to City Island (the western span, from City Island to Wormleysburg, was partly washed out during the 1996 floods and remains closed, though efforts are underway to eventually repair it), historic sites like the grave of city founder John Harris and numerous small parks that can be found on most segments of the trail. Railroad afficionados will enjoy watching Norfolk Southern freight trains crossing the river on the concrete trestle near Shipoke or Amtrack passenger liners whizzing by at the footbridge near the Penn DOT building, while anglers can fish at the Dock Street dam under the I-83 bridge. Most of the city's major attractions, including the Capitol building and downtown, the Civil War Museum, Harrisburg Mall, Harrisburg Area Community College and the aforementioned City Island are located within short distance of the trail.
Unfortunately, the green belt has some negative qualities as well. The disjointed nature of the trail, which varies from smooth asphalt pavement, to relatively good crushed stone, to deteriorating concrete, as well as a couple on-road sections, along with poor signage on some portions, can be confusing to first-time users. Several of the aforementioned recreation facilities and pocket parks along the trail show signs of disrepair and the concrete along the Lower Path that follows the Susquehanna River is rough and in bad need of repair. Finally, the green belt crosses numerous busy streets, many of which are poorly marked. I commend the volunteers in their efforts to keep the green belt in as best condition as possible, but some improvements can only be done by professionals and major investment from the city. Knowing the city's current, cash-strapped financial situation, I don't expect this to happen anytime soon.
Despite these shortcomings, the Capital Area Greenbelt is a great asset to the Harrisburg Metropolitan Area, which has few multi-use trails. With some improvements, it has the potential to become a state-of-the-art "green beltway" around the state's political nerve center. Plans to construct long-distance greenways connecting Harrisburg to Philadelphia, York, Reading, Baltimore and even Pittsburgh will increase the Green Belt's importance and make it a hub in an emerging intercity trail network.
The Capitol Area Greenbelt Trail, which wraps itself around Harrisburg, Pa., has multiple personality written all over it. It’s more than just a ride; it’s an adventure, due to its ever-changing surfaces, scenery, topography and mood.
Start at the City Island lot, where you sometimes have to pay a parking fee, but usually do not. Ride counter-clockwise to avoid climbing a long 10-percent grade about a 1/3 of the way through the 20-mile loop, and be prepared for a something different at every turn. To start the ride you will cross one of six bridges that span the Susquehanna at Harrisburg. The Walnut Street Bridge – also named the People’s Bridge – is closed to automobile traffic. This bridge was rebuilt after part of it was washed away in 1996. As heavy snows melted, the river flooded to bridge level, pulling the structure down and under the Market Street Bridge, just down river. Look for the video on You Tube.
Once across the bridge, the trail starts along the Susquehanna River, where you can take a high or low path. The low path is pretty rough, but gives you an up-close-and-personal view of the water. The upper path is smooth and has its own charm – sculptures; sleeping homeless folks; unique home fronts; and the grave of John Harris, namesake of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania’s state capital.
This is not a trail for children if you plan to ride the full 20 miles, as it crosses over busy roadways several times and shares streets at others. There are trailheads located throughout the trail, so if you wish to take your toddler, you might want to hop from trailhead to trailhead to avoid crossovers.
Make sure you leave plenty of time for this trail, especially about halfway around the loop at the Wildwood Park Nature Center. This section of the trail, which can be ridden on the backside or along the canal, is a surprising gem for being so close to an urban setting. During our ride we had the pleasure of spying a Black-crested Night Heron, who refused to face the camera, and a Green Heron, who was intent on a bit of prey below the water’s surface.
Beware the traffic light just after the Nature Center. If there are no cars present you might not trip the light sensor. I sat for three light changes until an 18-wheeler pulled up next to me. This is a VERY busy intersection.
The trail passes under railroad bridges, major highways and through a tunnel that brings you up in front of the Pennsylvania State Farm Show complex, which, on the day we rode the trail, was hosting the Keystone Cluster Dog Show.
Four stars for variety.
Give yourself lots of time to explore on this trail. The GPS file currently available for this site is definitely not the same route as the signed route. The signs are small and difficult to locate in some places and I would have gotten hopelessly lost if I hadn't gotten a map at one of the early stops after crossing over from City Island. The trail is a bit sketchy on a road bike and best ridden with fatter tires. Even some of the paved areas need attention but my wife did make it through with her 25 X 700 tires although she wasn't happy.
Along the river stick to the higher path along the road because the cement path at the river's edge has lots of rough areas and it really isn't pretty.
We didn't have time to explore but there are lot's of interesting looking historic stops including the National Civil War Museum, the Governor's Mansion, State House, etc.
Definitely worth a ride but don't expect to bang out 20 miles...it's an adventure!
This was our first time checking out this trail. Some of the previous comments were justified....the trail was rough in a few spots and poorly marked at some places, and you do have to ride on a few streets, BUT other than having to go with our gut on a few occasions, we didn't have any trouble finding our way. We rode mid-week, so the streets weren't busy and you're only on the road for a few short spurts.
Some additional scoop....We parked at City Island, $5.00 to park all day. NOTE: Don't park along the outer banks of that lot, you'll get a ticket. Those spaces are reserved for permit parkers. We missed the posted signs but as luck had it, we arrived back just in time to see the guy beside us get a ticket! Timing and good karma saved our sorry (and only slightly tired) butts!
From the parking lot, the Trailhead wasn't marked. The parking attendants didn't know what a Rail-to-Trail was, so we did our civic duty and educated them. This might save you some time. From the parking lot, ride across the Iron Bridge and head down to the water. It's a loop, so you can ride either direction along the water and then look for the Greenbelt Signs to point you in the right direction. The Trail winds through some wooded areas, through a few really nice parks, through the HACC campus, through some neighborhoods and you end up back along the waterfront at City Island. It's an easy ride, just a few small hills...good for road bikes as the trail is all paved.
Let's get to the real deal...Food! There are many places along the way to stop for a picnic or you could take the easy way out like we did, and when we finished back at City Island, we walked our bikes two blocks to 2nd Street for some good grub. There are a bunch of nice cafes with outside seating, easy to park your bikes and have a nice lunch/dinner. Great spot for people watching and feeling cool in our biking gear. We stumbled upon Neato Burrito 209 N. 2nd St. Great Food! Inexpensive with lots of super fresh, healthy options.
I'd highly recommend this ride for those of you wanting to explore something a little different than your traditional rail-to-trail. It's a great way to expand your horizons and explore the city. Have Fun!
By Pat May 19, 2009
Some areas it is beautiul and some of it is rough. If more people would volunteer with this like the Adopt a Highway program then it would be alot nicer. The Capital Area Greenbelt's work is done by voluneers.
"The initial riverfront portion of the trail was awesome. Lots of scenery and relaxed atmosphere. Shortly after passing the East Mall the trail really goes south. The biggest problem is that it is very poorly marked. Second is the traffic, this ""trail"" puts you smack in very busy streets and questionable neighborhoods, the relaxed atmosphere quickly vanishes. The trail is poorly maintained, lots of glass everywhere. Bring your pump and patch kit.
It is still the best bike trail in the Harrisburg area, winner by default."
"Cows are on parade in 2004. There are over 120 cows in downtown Harrisburg. You can see about 20 of them from the trail, which makes for an interesting bike ride.
If you have kids just stick to the waterfront. I started the trail from Wildwood Park. Maps can be found at the nature center office. GET ONE to hold in your hand. Sadly I found this map after I had finished the loop. You will lose this trail several times. It is not recommended for kids or even teens. If you have young kids stick to the loop around Wildwood Park it is three miles long and a very interesting place. Or do just a few sections by the streams. You are on busy roads too often on this trail.
If you get to the Civil War Museum you go down a nice long 15-mph road with mowed lawns on each side. At the bottom of the hill is a bandshell. Currently the road to the right of the bandshell is torn up although there are no signs that is where you should go. Cross the four lanes of traffic and head straight. If you get lost ask people where Edgewood Park is. My trick was just to stand there till a bike passed me. Then follow it or ask if the person is going slow enough. I use this on many trails and few people mind.
When you get to Edgewood Park (at a ""T"" in the road, you are facing a hill and a ball field) turn left. Keep your eyes open for the trail to start on your left. You will see it before you get to the starting point. This is the state hospital. It's a nice place just to hike. If you know where the trail goes when you are facing the farm show please email me at email@example.com.
Ask locals where Wildwood Lake is. On the opposite side of the farm show complex is Industrial Road. Straight up that is Wildwood Park. There's really bad traffic though. We (me and the biker who was also lost) went right to the light, turned right, did an up turn and crossed with the light. This was safer then just making a left at the light. I went though the collage campus on the right while heading to industrial found a mile long parking lot. At the end of this lot the trail reappears. Or just take Industrial from there. Several other bikers did that. You can by pass Wildwood Lake by staying on this road or ride though the lake on a canal path. It's shaded and pretty. When the path becomes black top again you can continue around the lake and make a hilly 3-mile circle. The far side of lake is hilly and blacktopped. The side near Industrial is flat and dirt with wood chips. I rode 23 miles (on a 20 mile loop + city island) then walked the three miles around the lake. It may be less but someone on the trail told me it was three miles. It felt more like 2.5 miles.
Or take the left( where the trail surface becomes black top) go on to industrial again taking a right to the light at the top of the hill. Turn left and go over the bridge. You will pick up the signs once you get over the bridge, look for a left turn and ride down a pretty residential street. This will take you back to the river. For the next 9 miles you can follow the trail with ease. Nice ride other then getting lost. Lots of interesting things to look at, scenery changes often, woods, streams, city,river, traffic, fast food near the five senses gardens, which is by the east Harrisburg mall. Lots of good parking. I'll do it again.
If you have kids ride along the water, there are two sidewalks. One near the road that is interesting with art, gardens,history signs, work out trail items;the one lower trail is bumpy cement but right on the water edge. Ride over the bridge to city island, You can get some water, snacks, an play mini golf. The area where the trail veers from the river may also be fun for kids. It is though industrial ruins. After that you cross a road and bike along a stream. Then you get to the east mall area. They are building a section of the trail here but till it is done do not take kids much farther. Too much traffic, to few signs."
"THE DIRECTIONS FOR PARKING WERE VERY CLEAR AND CONCISE AND THE FIRST PART OF THE TRAIL WAS VERY NICE, ALONG THE RIVER FRONT. THE TRAIL WAS NOT CLEARLY MARKED AND EVEN THE LOCALS DID NOT KNOW THAT THERE WAS SUPPOSED TO BE A 20 MILE LOOP AROUND THE CITY. WE CAME TO A DEAD END AND A COUPLE OF BIKERS SUGGESTED WE TAKE A SHORT HIGHWAY STRETCH TO THE PARK YOU DESCRIBE. THAT WAS NICE, BUT AGAIN THERE WERE NO MARKERS TO LET US KNOW WHERE TO GO NEXT TO COMPLETE THE LOOP. IT SHOULD BE NOTED THAT THERE IS HIGHWAY TRAVEL TO THE LAKE AND BIRD SANCTUARY AND AM ASSUMING THAT TO COMPLETE THE LOOP THERE WOULD BE MORE HIGHWAY AND TRAFFIC TO CONTEND WITH."
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