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Western Pennsylvania had a booming coal industry during the late 1800s, and a number of coal mines and coke ovens sprang up along Mahoning Creek, a tributary of the Allegheny River that runs through the heart of Punxsutawney. To connect these resource centers with the major markets in Pittsburgh and Altoona, the Pennsylvania Northwestern Railroad was plotted out and developed in the 1880s.
The Mahoning Shadow Trail is built on the line of the former Pennsylvania Northwestern Railroad, which was later acquired by the Pennsylvania Railroad. A popular point of interest along the trail is the set of coke ovens between the Fordham and Water Street trailheads. These industrial relics smelted raw bituminous coal into coke, a fuel used in the steelmaking process.
The trail ‘shadows’ Mahoning Creek, hence its name, and stays under tree cover for most of its route to the east and west of town, which contributes an additional element to the “Shadow” portion of its name. The name also alludes to the Groundhog Day legend of Phil looking for his shadow as the trail runs through Punxsutawney, home to this annual traditional since 1886.
The trail crosses over two and under three bridges along its 15-mile route, including a railroad truss bridge about half a mile east of the Water Street trailhead. The rail line and the trail run parallel between the trailhead and the bridge. Trail users also get some see several of Punxsutawney’s other recreational assets along the way, including baseball fields, a swimming pool, a playground and a skateboard park.
The trail stays relatively flat for most of its route, but it increases to a 2 percent grade for its easternmost 3 miles and climbs close to 400 feet in elevation from Canoe Creek to Winslow. The grade also increases briefly at the road crossing with Gresock Road near the Rose Run trailhead and along the flood-control dike in Punxsutawney as it crosses Penn Street.
Parking is available at six of the trail’s seven trailheads (from west to east): Fordham (Fordham Road near Route 3013), Water Street (Water Street near Delaware Avenue), Indiana Street (Indiana Street near Route 119), Skateboard Park (307 Elk St.), Cloe (Route 36 near Cloe-Rossiter Road) and Winslow (Winslow Road near Milliron Road).
To reach the Fordham trailhead from downtown Punxsutawney, take Route 119 South. Follow Route 210 South as it turns right. Stay straight on Valier Road, or State Route 4025. Drive 0.8 mile and make a right at Center Street in Valier. Go 0.3 mile. A trail parking area will be on your right.
To reach the Winslow trailhead from downtown Punxsutawney, take Route 36 South for about 5 miles. Make a right on Winslow Road, toward Johnsonburg, then travel 0.6 mile on Winslow Road. Trail parking is on the right side of Winslow Road.
We parked in Cloe, and headed into Punxsy, then turned around went back to Cloe and headed to the Winslow trail head. You have to briefly ride on the road to reconnect to the trail, just past the Cloe Lumber yard. The ride to Winslow is mostly up hill and was a great work out. Crews had obviously been out to do trail maintainence with the heavy rain the area has received this summer. Saw only a few others when we were on the trail. The trail is very secluded, with only a few benches. Seeing hunting tree stands right next to the trail is a bit unnerving, but I just won't ride this trail come Fall.
Did the windslow trail yesterday was a nice ride with the wife we are going back to do the rest of it when weather gets nicer real nice trail i like the rails to trails dont know the history on this trail an it could have a few more signs nice ride
Started in Punxsutawney and rode to Fordham and back. Had lunch and then rode to Winslow and back. The trail is mostly secluded except in Punxsutawney. There is a short road section with no shoulder that could be marked better. The trail needs some maintenance near Winslow. The 3.6 mile climb was worth it for the ride back down. Our recumbent trikes just cleared the bollards.
Started from Fordham trailhead. No portajohn there this year. Crushed stone surface was comfortable to ride on with hybrid tires. Going through Punxy is a bit confusing. Better signage would be a good idea. Also the section continuing at Cloe is not marked either. You hAve to cross 36 and go past the lumber yard. Trail is on the left. Section from Cloe to the eastern trailhead is a steady uphill climb. Very enjoyable ride.
This was a decent trail. There were a few really nice stretches close to Punxsutawney.
I had a very pleasant ride today from the Fordham trail head to Punxsy. The trail is somewhat near a road, but there was very little road noise. There was a slight uphill grade heading toward Punxsy, which made for a nice "boost" on the way back. Very pretty scenery with a feeling of remoteness. Lots of shade.
Started at the Fordham Road Trailhead (western end). Counter to a previous review, and some other information I had received, there was no toilet of any sort at the Fordham Road Trail head, or anywhere along the western 2/3 of the trail that we rode today. Have to go off trail, in town to a commercial or public enterprise. Joe's drive-in is one, near the trail. Across from Joe's are little league ball fields. If ball games are in progress, the restrooms there may be open. Otherwise a good trail. Some on street riding in town. One place where a new building has gone in, the route is not well marked, but not too hard to figure out. A few areas of a bit rougher gravel, not big ballast stones, but rougher than the usual crushed stone.
This is one of the nicest Rails to Trails I've been on. The surface is well maintained and the entire area is scenic.
I discovered the trail through the reviews here, and located it on Google's Bicycling map feature. It's a good thing I read the reviews here and looked at where the trail started and how it navigated through Punxsutawney before I rode on it with my bike. I started at the west end of the trail at the Fordham trailhead. There's no trail signs at the 3-way intersection on route 210, or at the beginning of Fordham Road, telling you to turn right onto these roads, it'd be nice if there was. There is a sign right at the Fordham trailhead though. The Fordham trailhead is the best place to start, they have ample parking there, a picnic pavillion with benches, and a portajohn. The trail between Fordham and Punxsutawney is mostly level, with a crushed limestone surface, and it runs alongside the Mahoning creek. It's very similar to the Ghost Town Trail between Dilltown and Vintondale. The highlight of this section of the trail is the beehive coke ovens and coal mine cart display. It describes what the ovens were used for, and how the concrete piers between the trail and the river were once part of a bridge to bring coal over from the mines. It also describes how the railroad once ran to Bellwood, near Altoona. The Bellwood end of the former railroad has now been converted to the Bell's Gap Rail Trail. Once the trail gets to the on-road section in Punxsutawney things get confusing. I exited the trail and made a left onto Indiana Street, and I completely missed the right turn to get back onto the trail about a block down the road onto South Gilpin Street. I wound up taking a right onto Route 119 and riding into town, then another right onto Route 36 through the middle of town. I started looking for Elk Street on the left to get back onto the trail, and I saw a trail sign pointing to the right through the parking lot of the Graystone Manor senior apartment complex. I rode into the parking lot, and there was a trail leading up along the river, but it had a "no bicycles" sign posted on it, and that had me even more confused. That was actually the end of a whole section of trail I missed because it was either poorly marked, or the signs were confusing. You have to make a right onto the road on Route 36, then a left onto Elk street, but the Elk Street sign is completely blocked by the gas station price sign at the Unimart on the corner. Once you get to the end of Elk Street you turn right into a skateboard park, and you actually have to ride the sidewalk through the middle of the park and between the two skateboard areas, in order to get back on the trail which is up the hill behind the park on the left. That had me confused at first too. At Cloe you exit the trailhead parking lot, ride onto the road, ride past the Cloe lumberyard, and the trail is on the left again right past the lumberyard. After Cloe you pass under an old railroad bridge, and from there it's pretty much just a ride through the woods. The last 2-3 miles at the end of the trail are all uphill, probably somewhere around a 2% grade. Once you turn around at the Winslow Road end of the trail you can coast back downhill on that grade at about 10-15mph.
My wife and I rode the full length of this trail, round trip, in May 2012. We very much enjoyed the ride. This is a very nice trail. Good, varied scenery. Good surface. Well maintained. You do not need knobby tires. We have 35mm and 1.5 inch tires and were just fine. You would be fine with a bit narrower tires.
Here are the caveats:
1. There are no toilets along the trail. The town of Punxsutawney is in the middle of the trail and has several toilet opportunities. We used the public library before the ride and Joe's Drive In during. Joe's is also good for a snack. The library is not near the trail. Joe's is only a couple of blocks from the trail. Print a map before you go. Google maps shows Joe's and the trail. Search Google Maps for Joe's Drive In.
2. There is some on road riding, both in Punxsutawney, and east of town at Chloe. The on road sections are not quite as clearly marked, in town, as one might like. You have to keep your eyes open for signs. A trail portion in town is marked for pedestrians only. This accounts for part of the on road section. All in all, the on road sections are not troublesome. They add some variety to the ride. The on road sections are probably too difficult for very young riders. A 9 year old, confident rider, should be OK.
3. The eastern trailhead is a bit hard to find while driving a car. The instructions say Winslow Road, but the corner where you turn off of Rte 36 may be labeled Jackson Run Road. It is County Road 2001, but, although a sing is there, Pennsylvania persists in making their county road markers so small that they are quite difficult to read while driving a car. (They would be fine if you were driving a buggy.) Print a map.
4. The eastern trailhead is pretty basic. There is a gravel and dirt parking area, and the trail. It's fine, if not muddy, and all you want to do is unload bikes. It's not a picnic spot. (The western trailhead has a nice, large gravel lot and a large, nice picnic shelter.)
5. The eastern 3 miles or so of the trail slope up to the east at a fair grade. It is enough to make a casual rider know he is working hard, and may be the excuse for a few stops to view the scenery. If I were planning another round trip ride, I'd start at the western end, so the uphill grade came in the middle rather than the end of the ride.
I did this trail this month. The description and the reviews are all excellent, however if you have a shuttle like I did it is best to start at the Winslow Trail Head at the top of the hill since the opposite way is a steep path for an old RR grade. This concerns the eastern end of the trail. Bob Youker 5/22/11
I've paddled, hiked, and biked in a lot of different states, and I still argue that the Mahoning Creek area is one of Western PA's best kept secrets. It's a shame more trails aren't being developed in this region.
The trail starts in Valier on Fordham road. There is a nice parking lot with a picnic pavilion, but no restroom facilities. It then takes you around the town of Valier. The trail is a little rough (pea gravel) for a short stretch, but quickly smooths to limestone base. My smooth bike tires had no trouble with it.
The trail closely follows the beautiful Mahoning creek, which is also a great place to canoe/kayak when the water is high enough. You will see very few houses and cross only a couple of roads on the way to Punxsutawney. The trail has a very low percentage of grade; I hardly noticed I was peddling upstream. Check out the restored coke furnaces along the way; there's an informative sign explaining when/how they were used.
When you arrive in Punxsy, it's about 7.5 miles from the Fordham trail head, and there are a lot of nice places to get a bite to eat and relax, such as the historical Pantall Hotel, although you do have to bike through the streets of town. Punxsy is a fantastic little town, famous for its weather-predicting groundhog. The people are very friendly and there is a park in the center of town.
If you enjoy Pennsylvania's woodlands, then you will love this trail. There are birds, wildflowers, and wildlife. It's easy to ride and well maintained.
The bridge to get to the parking lot is under construction at Valier, but it looks like it's almost done. You'll have to take a detour until it's finished. Take a map or ask directions like I did but the detour is marked. I recommend you take a map of Punxy. There are lots of signs through town but a couple are down and a map helps. When you get to the skate park the trail is in the far left corner.
You'll need to ride the street for a short distance in Cloe. The trail continues just past Cloe Lumber.
From Cloe to Winslow is rather steep for a railroad grade. It's worth it though because along that section is mixed hemlock forest, deep & dark & beautiful and you can coast the ride back down. Really!
The people who live next to the trail wave at you when you go by. Nice. ...and everyone says hello.
Don't forget to stop and look inside the coke ovens. They're cleaned-up and documented as a senior project. Read all about them.
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