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Along its 6-mile path, this paved rail-trail crosses through a rich array of natural habitats, from creek bottomlands to meadow, marsh and forest. The trail is named for Calvin Ernst, who owned the Meadville-Linesville Railroad corridor and donated it to French Creek Recreational Trails in 1996 for trail development.
Constructed from 1880 to 1892, the rail line connected Meadville to the Pennsylvania Railroad at Linesville. Business languished, and Bessemer & Lake Erie Railroad Company leased the corridor in 1891, using it to carry passengers to Exposition Park. Automobiles drove the rail route out of business in 1934; the line fell into disuse.
Traversing terrain with imprints of ice age glaciations, the trail follows the lush bottomlands of French Creek Valley. With 66 species of fish and 27 species of mollusk, the creek is the state's most biologically diverse body of water. From the creek the trail passes through varied environments of meadow and marsh, hardwood stands and hemlock thickets.
Starting out at the Route 322 trailhead in the busy commercial district of Meadville, the Ernst Bike Trail travels south, following the peaceful banks of French Creek. You pass farmland and wooded areas in the first mile. Once you reach the Mercer Pike trailhead, which is about halfway, you will have forgotten the hustle and bustle of Route 322 and be completely surrounded by the rural northwestern Pennsylvania countryside. The trail gently turns west and crosses underneath Interstate 79 and continues for another mile before ending at the trailhead near Route 19.
There are plans to extend the bike trail to 11 miles at Conneaut Lake and Bicentennial Park. The new segment will run along Conneaut Marsh, a stopping point for many species of migrating waterfowl and home to bald eagles.
Recently, a 1.9-mile extension opened to the public, including a new trailhead at Bailey Road.
To reach the Route 322 trailhead from I-79, take Exit 147A (Routes 322, 19, and 6) and head east for about 0.75 mile. The trailhead is on the right just past the third traffic light and Home Depot, in the corner of an auto repair parking lot. Pay close attention to the signs in this busy commercial area; the trailhead sign can be difficult to spot among the big box store signs.
To reach the Mercer Pike trailhead from I-79, take Exit 147A (routes 322, 19, and 6) east about 0.5 mile and turn right onto Mercer Pike, heading south. To stay on the pike, turn left before crossing I-79 (only about 1/4 mile) then follow Mercer Pike for 2 miles until it intersects with the bike trail. Parking is on the northwest side of the trail.
To reach the Route 19 trailhead from I-79, take Exit 147B (Routes 322, 19, and 6) and head west about 1 mile. Turn left onto Route 19 and follow it south for nearly 1.75 miles. The trailhead will be marked on the left.
To reach the Bailey Road trailhead - accessible from Route 19, turn west onto Bailey Road and go approximately 1 mile.
Nice run through varied landscape with the animal. Trees, farms, little bridges etc.
It's been a while since we rode this trail. Not much has changed. Trailhead in Meadville on Route 322 next to the Big Box home improvement store. Across the street from a handy shopping plaza. Eateries nearby. We rode on the paved section which follows French Creek, to Route 19 at Krider Road. Restrooms at Meadville end. Picnic areas along the trail. 5 miles of nice level asphalt.
At the Meadville end, they are construction a new branch off which goes no where for now. See photo's. It is rough gravel.
Passed the Krider Road trailhead-parking is the gravel section which will go to Bailey Road. Rough gravel also through a rough trailer park, rough in more ways than one.
Still an all around nice trail to enjoy!
Very nice family bicycle trail. Steady peddle from Meadville to RT. 19 and a nice easy ride back a lot of coasting. Our children enjoyed this ride. About two hours total. There are quite a few benches along the trail for those who like to stop and enjoy the scenery.
Living in the area, I have biked, walked, and skied this trail many times since it's initial construction. This is a well-maintained trail with benches and shelters and mowed berms. There is no water, though. The cooling shade, the diverse scenery, and, most of all, the lushness and variety of this glacial region's vegetation offer a unique experience for the naturalist.
The new section west of Rte. 19 to Bailey Road is a bit rough now, but the groundwork has been done for future paving when funds become available.
Continuation of the trail to Conneaut Lake is still the development group's ultimate goal.
Since a six-mile trail (or double that since it is not a loop) may seem like just a warm-up for some, consider biking the less traveled paved roads at the Bailey Rd. trailhead. A loop to Geneva and back via South Watson and Geneva Roads and US 19 gives a great view of the expansive Geneva Marsh. Or take West Vernon Road on to Conneaut Lake.
We've biked this trail in summer and enjoyed the shade, and again on a warmish, breezy day in early November. Not too busy. Just enough of an incline traveling one direction, then easy coasting going back. Paved. Scenic resting places. Covered bridge. Very clean and quiet. One of the all-round best trails. We would like too see it expanded.
On both occasions the trail was very well maintained, with benches and shelters conveniently placed along the trail. We parked at a lot near Hoss's on route 322 and ate a good meal at the Italian place across the highway. There are at least two other parking lots, one at midway and another with a shelter and tables at the trail end.
The new few mile addition, they call it the Bailey Road section, is gravel, big gravel and not smooth at all. The original 5 miles of the trail is smooth asphalt. The new section T's off the original section it goes past some residences, crosses a road, then through a cornfield and it's gravel. Rode it for less than a half mile and bailed (turned around).
Hopefully some day it will be paved.
We drove past the new Bailey Road parking lot it looked nice from the road. Ample parking, I think it was gravel though.
The original part of the trail is always a delight. We saw some deer and fawns.
This was our first rails-to-trail ride; so nice and great for the whole family!
I am new to biking and this was our first rails-to-trails ride; beautiful trail; very scenic; and wonderfully maintained! Our family loved it!
Suggested this trail to a friend to take their 12 year old son, who is new to biking, on the trail. The youngster loved the trail! He said he made it the whole length and back. Parents loved the trail as well. They said it was well kept and enjoyed the covered bridge, pretty flowers and rest stops along the way.
Liked the trail over all. The wife and I do this as a cool down ride on the way home from bigger rides. The trail is flat and easy around 5 miles. The trail heads can be a bit hard to recognize The east end is by a gas station in Meadville and the west end is off a country road that's off of rt 19. Condition is very good and never crowded. Do bring bug spray because the trail goes through some major wetlands and at times the bugs can be terrible. Over all its a nice fun ride....bicycling Pennsylvania /Facebook
I was excited to hear of the new trail extension as they work toward a Conneaut Lake terminus. My wife and I were pleased with the crushed stone surface of the new section. However, like Alkibler's observation, running this through a sketchy trailer park was not a great idea. A barking Rottweiler and suspicious sounds coming from inside one of the trailers as we passed by left my wife pretty spooked...to the point that she says she will not ride this part of the trail in the future. I am sure that getting the easements for the trail across private property is a challenge, and compromises have to be made...but when personal safety is in question, other options need to be pursued.
Other than that, it is a wonderful trail that we have biked numerous times.
We are new to cycling. Used to run (a lot) can't now due to knee injury/surgery. Anyhow, nice level trail good trail to start out on. 5 miles out, then 5 back makes it good for beginners. Scenic. With temps near 90 after a week of rain the mosquitos were out in full force...so don't forget the repellant!
Trail is very nice, especially in the early Am. The new extension is very peaceful, Only 2 things I didn't like about it was the ride across rt 19 and having to ride through the middle of a trailer park ( rough Looking place) to pick up where I left off. I'd have given it a higher star rating if not for that. The new packed gravel surface is actually smoother than I thought it would be. Just make sure to wear insect Repellant!
The Ernst trail is a wonderful ride along French Creek and west toward conneaut lake. The trail is cool on hot days with many rest areas and is well maintained. At a mere .62 % grade on the first 5 miles, it is a comfortable ride for the whole family. The trail is in the process of expanding and will soon offer the opportunity to travel to conneaut lake on back roads (West Vernon).
Just read the trail is being expanded by all most 2 miles, expected to be done early this coming spring Coonstruction is due to start anytime
we loved the trail goes along french creek very nice trail
It is so quiet in the early morning, only saw 3 people in the over and back ride, wish it was longer, but it is a excellant trail in awesome shape with loads of wildlife.The peolpe taking care of it should be extremely proud of their work. They deserve quite the pat on the back. Thank You Covered in spiderwebs
WHETHER YOU WALK, BIKE RIDE, WHEEL CHAIR MOTIVATE, CROSS COUNTY SKI, OR SNOW SHOE ALL YEAR LONG YOU CAN GET ALONG. WELL CONSTRUCTED, AND CARED FOR. 3 POINTS OF ACCESS, A COVERED BRIDGE, PICNIC SHELDER, GROWING NUMBER OF BENCHES FOR THIS STROKE SURVIOR. WILD FLOWERS, FALL HARD AND SOFT WOODS, INTEREST PLANT AND ANIMAL LIFE. AN HARD SURFACE THROUGH A TIME FROM THE PAST.
I really don't have a lot of experience on too many trails yet, but I've found at age 54 and being 100 pounds overweight that I can cycle and I love it. My husband and I rode on the trail yesterday even though the temperature was 90 degrees and humid. The trail goes through many shady areas some of which are densely forested resulting in a cooler temperature. The scenery was great. I loved seeing French Creek and there are places to rest. This Granny can do 10 miles you bet!
The trail is an "out-and-back" one, with access near the midpoint of the trail on the Mercer Pike south of Meadville. With its crushed cinder surface it is well suited for most bicycles.
"We bike the trail weekly and while it's a short trail, it does offer a great view of French creek and lots of wildlife."
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