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he Indian Creek Valley Bike and Hike Trail winds through the rugged hills in the former coal-mining region of southwestern Pennsylvania. Although remote, the trail passes through several small towns, where travelers can find food and drink at country markets and cafés.
The trail traces the Indian Creek Valley Railroad corridor that got its start primarily hauling timber out of the mountains in 1906. The railroad soon added passenger cars to serve communities along the line. By the time the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad acquired it in 1926, lumbering had declined, but coal mining and coke production boomed.
As those industries dwindled, B&O stopped using the line in 1969, and Saltlick Township acquired the section between Champion and Indian Head for use as a trail, known today as Indian Creek Valley Bike and Hike Trail. The nonprofit Mountain Watershed Association later acquired other segments, which became the Indian Creek Valley Trail, explaining why the trail has two names.
Several miles of private property separate the two segments that comprise the 13.7-mile trail. The older northern section runs about 8 miles alongside Indian Creek between Jones Mills and Indian Head. The isolated southern segment passes through scenic Indian Creek Gorge to the confluence with the Youghiogheny River. Long-range plans call for connecting these two segments and building a river crossing to link with the Great Allegheny Passage.
Beginning at the State Route 31/SR 381 intersection in Jones Mills, the trail runs southwest at the foot of the Roaring Run Natural Area on Laurel Ridge for about 1.5 miles to Champion on the Westmoreland–Fayette County line. Along the way it passes a facility operated by Babcock Lumber, which was established during the timber-cutting boom.
In less than a mile, you’ll likely see families from the Mountain Pines Campground enjoying Indian Creek on the opposite shore. The creek also draws kayakers and rafters to its stretches of whitewater. At the old station stop of Melcroft (named for two mining executives), a 1-mile spur heads north and loops around a series of ponds used to treat polluted mine drainage.
Both Melcroft and Indian Head (2.3 miles down-trail) have trailheads and markets. The path follows the creek through a wooded area 1.8 miles past Indian Head before it dead-ends. There’s no parking here.
The newest section of trail resumes at Killarney Road about 0.5 mile from SR 381. From the trailhead, the path rolls downhill through dramatic scenery in Indian Creek Gorge for 4.3 miles to the confluence with the Youghiogheny River. Plans are in the works to resurface this dirt stretch with crushed gravel. There are no services along this segment.
To reach the parking at the northeast trailhead in Jones Mills from I-70/I-76, take Exit 91 for SR 31 toward SR 711/Ligonier. Turn left onto SR 31 E, and go 2.8 miles. Turn left onto SR 381 N, and go just under 0.1 mile. Look for a small pull-off to your left. The trailhead is located 0.1 mile south along SR 381, where the road intersects with SR 31.
To reach the parking in Indian Head from I-70/I-76, take Exit 91 toward Donegal. Go through the toll plaza, and turn left onto SR 31 E toward Ligonier. Go 0.3 mile, and continue straight onto SR 31/SR 711. Go 1.8 miles, and turn right to stay on SR 711/SR 381. Go 6.2 miles, and turn left onto Indian Head Road. Go 0.1 mile, and turn left at C. W. Resh Memorial Park Lane. Go about 500 feet, and look for parking on the left. The trail heads south 1.8 miles to a dead end.
To reach parking for the southern segment through Indian Creek Gorge from I-70/I-76, take Exit 91 toward Donegal. Go through the toll plaza, and turn left onto SR 31 E toward Ligonier. Go 0.3 mile, and continue straight onto SR 31/SR 711. Go 1.8 miles, and turn right to stay on SR 711/SR 381. Go 9.7 miles, and turn left to stay on SR 381/Whites Bridge Road. Go 2.1 miles, and turn right at Camp Christian Road/Killarney Road. Go 0.5 mile, and look for parking on the left. The trail ends on the north shore of the Youghiogheny River in 4.2 miles.
The day after bicycling portions of the Great Allegheny Passage trail, we found Indian Creek Valley Bike Bike Trail to be a pleasant morning ride before our party went its separate ways. Lush, green, and a good surface.
My wife and rode the trail from Indian Head to Champion. It was a pleasant ride following the path of Indian Creek. The trail was a combination of crushed stone, grass and dirt. We found the trail to be generally easy to ride, but there were sections where the trail was two stone paths with grass in the middle. There was no incline on the trail to speak of, but if you like going downhill on the way back, start at Indian Head rather than Champion.
At the Champion trail head, there is a trail that continues North labelled an extension. The extension was not very well maintained and ended up on Route 31 about 3/4 mile from Jones Mill. And to get to Route 31, we had to drag our bikes up a short, but steep set of make-shift stairs. I wouldn't suggest taking the extension. We then ended up biking down Route 31 to Jones Mill.
Also, if you park at Jones Mill, to get on the trail, it's necessary to ride down Rte 711 to the Champion trail head. We like trails, not highways, but that's just us.
In summary, if you ride from Indian Head to Champion, it's a nice, pleasant ride.
From the northern point at Jones Mills to the end point you'll have a easy crushed gravel trail. However if you are looking for a little more continue on past the south end gate and follow the cinder trail. The trail seems to end on the paved Pritts Rd. There you would follow the paved road a short distance to the right past two houses on the right and find a gravel lane on the right. Walk across the wooden bridge pass the trailer and pick up the cinder trail again. Continuing south you will cross RT 653 Jim Mt Rd (also a parking area). Following the cinder trail you will come to what seems to be the beginnings of a new bridge as the steel beams you will walk on are in very new condition. Continuing south you will cross RT 381 Mill Run Rd. To your left you will see a sign for Camp Christian on Killarney Rd. At the next parking area follow the road a short distance along the west side of Mill Run Reservoir where the cinder trail veers off on your left. The trail follows Indian Creek (wrongly marked as Youghiogheny River on Google map)down the gorge and ends at the railroad tracks on the east side of the Youghiogheny River. Across the river you will see Camp Carmel and the Great Allegheny Passage at Morgan Run. The trail ends here as there is no portage across the river- maybe someday.
The ICV trail was one of the first rail-trails I rode back in 2008. The Jones Mills Extension had not been completed at that time, so with these short daylight hours, I thought it a good subject for a close trail only 22 miles from home. Yes, the two small Somerset Trust Bank lots in Champion are about the ONLY place to park near the north end of the trail. The 1.3 mile extension north of Champion is very crude, just two narrow tracks of crushed limestone, with lots of weed growth. Nevertheless the trail is smooth enough, and, south of Champion, most of the limestone cover is long gone. The JM Extension makes it right up to the south end of Jones Mills, and accessible to town at PA-31. There is a nice pizza shop on 31 at the west end of town. The trail can't go any further north, as the concrete piers are all that is left of a large bridge at the trail's northern terminus. That's a shame, because there is an interesting railroad tunnel at the railroad's former underpass of Route 31. Timber forested off Laurel Mountain exited to the B&O main via the ICV, southward, after the PW&S/Ligonier Valley RR outlet to the north closed in 1916. Heading south from Champion (We'll call that Mile 1.3), the trail is a "mild rollercoaster", but the ruling grade is definitely downhill from Champion. This trail offers a very beautiful overlook of the Indian Creek valley on its west side, with lots of interesting homes and backyards to either admire or mystify over. Classy homes, a gaggle of abandoned pickup trucks, and lots of summer camps down there. 2.8 miles south of Champion, the first railroad relic appears. The substantial, curved, steel plate girder Melcroft Trestle carries a 0.2 mile westward trail spur over to a decent-sized trail parking area on the west side of PA 381 / 711. For supplies or a snack, there is a general store just north of this highway crossing on 381 / 711. This is the most logical parking and access spot to the northern section of the trail. The ICV IS a nice, "friendly" trail, indeed a very "pleasant ride" in an unspoiled and quiet natural setting. -Rich Ballash 11/13/11
Another reviewer described the ride as "pleasant." That's exactly the word for it. The ride parallels the Indian River Creek, and is just nice. One note, the trail head off county road is easy to miss. It is directly across from the bank, immediately after the bridge. You can park at the bank during non-business hours.
"Found this delightful ride after joining a camping resort nearby. One of the nicest rides for its size I've done. Scenic, peaceful, and even well landscaped in spots. Above average! Would be nice to see it all the way to the river!"
"The ICV Trail is a pleasure for running and biking. It is not perfectly flat but has some nice gentle inclines. My six year old daughter can ride her bike beside me while I run it. Some walkers let their dogs run loose ahead of them, so keep an eye out."
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