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You’ll want to pack water, food, and flashlights to travel the Sandy Creek Trail, as it crosses 12 miles of remote, but scenic, countryside in Northwestern Pennsylvania. Named for separate Sandy Creeks at each end, the paved trail passes through forests and a tunnel and makes seven stream or river crossings, including the spectacular Belmar Bridge spanning the Allegheny River. There are no services along the route or at either end. The path is part of the Industrial Heartland Trails Coalition’s developing 1,500-mile trail network through Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, and New York.
Local oilman Charles Miller built the Jamestown, Franklin and Clearfield Railroad, a subsidiary of the New York Central Railroad, through here around 1907 to take advantage of the oil exploration and production. The corridor mostly carried passengers and coal, however, and later became part of the Penn Central Railroad, before the line eventually fell into disuse.
From the east, the trail trends downhill to the Allegheny River crossing and then follows the river downstream almost to the trail’s end. A short gap exists between it and the 8-mile Clarion Highlands Trail in the east, and it crosses the 30-mile Allegheny River Trail spanning from Franklin to Parker.
Starting on Tarklin Hill Road a couple miles north of the crossroads community of Van, the trail begins its descent through evergreens before it emerges into a hardwood forest. The path keeps to the ridge south of East Sandy Creek (also known as Turkey Run) until a high crossing just before Cranberry Rockland Road.
At 5.6 miles past the trailhead, the path crosses the creek on another high bridge and enters a tunnel—known variously as the Mays Mill or Deep Valley Tunnel—that’s 967 feet long. The 100-year-old railroad tunnel, suffering from a crumbling ceiling, has been improved by building a smaller tunnel inside and filling the gap with concrete and recycled rubber tires.
Once outside the chilly tunnel, the trail continues to descend and crosses the creek three more times before reaching the 1,385-foot-long Belmar Bridge. You’ll have unfettered views up and down the Allegheny River from the wooden deck of the through-truss bridge. This section of river is a national wild and scenic river. Below, you can see the paved Allegheny River Trail. A stairway connects with the trail.
After the bridge, the path runs along a hillside above the river for 4 miles. Then the trail crosses another Sandy Creek and veers inland for 0.2 mile to the trailhead on Fishermans Cove Road. The railroad grade (not part of the trail) continues another 3 miles on the dirt road until it reaches Old SR 8 in Polk.
To reach the eastern trailhead in Van from I-80 E, take Exit 45 to SR 478 W toward St. Petersburg/Emlenton. Turn left onto SR 478 W, and go 0.3 mile. Turn right onto SR 208/SR 38, and go 10.1 miles. Turn left onto US 322/Lakes to the Sea Hwy., and go 1.4 miles. Turn left onto Tarklin Hill Road, go 0.3 mile, and look for trailhead parking on the left. As you face the trail at the back of the lot, the Sandy Creek Trail heads right.
To reach the eastern trailhead in Van from I-80 W, take Exit 53, and turn right onto T385/Canoe Ripple Road. Go 0.5 mile, and turn right onto SR 338. Go 7.6 miles, and turn left onto US 322. Go 4.9 miles, and turn left onto Tarklin Hill Road. Go 0.3 mile, and look for trailhead parking on the left. As you face the trail at the back of the lot, the Sandy Creek Trail heads right.
To reach the western endpoint in Polk from I-80, take Exit 29, and head north on SR 8/Pittsburgh Road. Go 5.1 miles, and exit and turn left onto SR 308 N. Go 0.3 mile, and turn right onto Old SR 8/State Route 3013. Go 5.1 miles, and take a slight left at the exit (sign for Seneca Hills Bible Camp). Turn right onto Fishermans Cove Road (passing underneath Old SR 8). Go 2.8 miles, and find parking along the road at the endpoint.
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