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Less than an hour west of Philadelphia, the East Branch Brandywine Trail begins south of Downingtown and continues south along its namesake river. The paved trail passes through meadows and wooded areas, including the M. John Johnson Nature Center and the Harmony Hill Nature Area. The trail crosses over the river at approximately its mid-point. Branching off from the main trail are a number of unpaved paths for mountain bikes.
This trail is part of the Brandywine-Struble Regional Recreation Corridor, which extends north and south through Chester County. It is hoped that this system will someday afford connections between Philadelphia, Norristown, King of Prussia, Downingtown, and West Chester.
In Downingtown, from the intersection of Lancaster Ave. (PA Route 30) and PA Route 322, head east on 322 for about a mile. Once you pass under the trestle bridge, parking for the trail is on the left. There is also parking on Harmony Hill Rd. just off of PA 322.
The trail is in great condition and there is what looks to be a new parking area, paved and with a portable toilet just north of the Skelp Level Road parking area. The trail mostly follows the stream for which it is named and much of the trail is wooded. Still there is constant highway noise. Even though this trail is short there are lots of other trails nearby so you can make a day of riding in the area.
Took my boys on this trial for a bike ride. The paved part is nice and they had an awesome time on the alternate trail along the river. I definitely recommend going on the alternate trail. Road noise was quieter too.
I parked at the South Entrance. The parking fits about 6 vehicles plus an accessible one. It's an asphalt surface with the option of going off road with your mountain bike. The trail is 5 plus miles total, going and coming. We only crossed one road. Since it was a Tuesday, we did not encounter lots of walkers or other bikers. The path is not that wide-skinnier than Struble Trail, but it's just as scenic. It has a couple of small inclines and a few curves. You ride along the creek. There are great opportunities to go off path hiking. Also, there are some picnic tables along the way. I actually think I prefer this trail. Though, I do like to bike the Uwchlan Trail just off of the Struble Trail. Probably because it has variety-small wooden bridges that cross over the creek in various places.
Despite its short length, the East Branch Brandywine Trail is a great experience for hikers and bikers. The latest addition to Chester County's section of "The Circuit," an ambitious network of greenways that will one day span southeast PA, the trail has a smooth, paved surface suited for cycling, hiking and parents pushing young children in strollers. There are numerous benches, trash cans and receptacles for pet waste, but not restroom facilities.
The trail begins immediately below the large RR trestle on the south side of Downingtown. A freshly paved surface and shared-use bridge with Route 322 anticipate an extension further north into the borough, but this has not yet taken place. The current, northern trailhead is located on the south side of this trestle, off Route 322. Although unpaved, this access point provides adequate parking and features a quaint, barn-like kiosk, as well as spectacular views of the trestle.
From here, the trail heads southeast through meadows, young forests and wetlands. After crossing the Brandywine about a mile to the south, the trail enters woodlands and follows the approximate route of an old trolley line that once connected Downingtown and West Chester. A couple smaller bridges on this section that cross streams and drainage swales may be remnants of this line. This portion also connects with several unimproved trails suitable for mountain biking and nature hiking.
Further south, the trail crosses Harmony Hill Road. The only at-grade crossing along the sections of trail completed thus far features a second trailhead, and Gibsons Covered Bridge is located about 1500 feet to the west. Although the bridge itself is used by motorists on Harmony Hill Road, there are interpretive signs off the northeast approach that describe its history.
The southeasternmost section of the trail continues through the woods, passing along a grade and through rock cuts that were probably originally used by the trolley line. Numerous footpaths branch off, providing the opportunity for a more rugged hiking experience. After taking a sharp turn to the left just before a gate that keeps trail users from straying onto busy Route 322, the greenway crosses a small, stone bridge and ends at a trailhead off Skelp Level Road.
In addition to eventually being incorporated into the aforementioned "Circuit," the East Branch Brandywine Trail is also part of a greenway that will follow the Brnadywine Creek and River system through Chester County. Plans are already under way to connect it to the Struble Trail north of Downingtown, and, like that older rail trail, the EBBT also doubles as a section of the Brandywine Trail, a footpath that connects the Horse Shoe and Mason Dixon trails. It will also eventually connect to the Chester Valley and Enola Low Grade trails to the east and west, respectively.
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