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Note: During hunting season, Pennsylvania Game Lands Regulations require ALL non-hunters present on game lands between November 15 and December 15 (excluding Sundays) to wear a minimum of 250 square inches of fluorescent orange material on the head, chest and back combined, or, in lieu thereof, a hat of the same colored material. Orange material must be visible 360 degrees.
Bicycling is prohibited on in game lands from the last Saturday in September to the third Saturday in January during spring turkey season. Check the PA Game Commission website before you embark and heed the signs posted on the trail to avoid citations.
Tucked into the Appalachian Ridge and Valley region, the Stony Valley Railroad Grade makes tracks through a state game land for nearly 20 miles past vanished coal boomtowns and tourist resorts. There are no services, but there is plenty of quietude for those who enjoy a forested reprieve from hustle and bustle.
Originally named St. Anthony’s Wilderness by Moravian missionaries who arrived in the 1740s to convert the local American Indians, the Stony Creek Valley was a big draw for lumbering and coal mining companies in the 1820s due to its abundant natural resources. The Dauphin & Susquehanna Railroad entered the region in 1854 to haul coal to larger railroads, and it subsequently became the Schuylkill & Susquehanna Railroad in 1859, and then part of the Philadelphia & Reading Rail Road in 1872. The Reading pulled the plug on the money-losing line in 1939 after a bridge burned down.
The state game commission acquired the 44,000 acres in 1945 and later transformed the railroad corridor into a restricted road through State Game Land No. 211. Hunters come here for deer, squirrels, grouse, and turkeys. The route is closed to nonhunting bicyclists and equestrians in hunting season (the last Saturday in September through the third Saturday in January, and before 1 p.m. from the second Saturday in April through the last Saturday in May). Visitors must wear an orange vest during those periods. It is open one day a year to vehicles between the Ellendale Road and Gold Mine Road trailheads. The route can be susceptible to ravages of extreme weather, so be prepared for potholes and washouts.
Starting from the western trailhead, you’ll experience a slight but steady grade for 13.0 miles, and then a downhill journey for the remainder of the route. You’ll cross a bridge at 5.7 miles over Rattling Run, which shares its name with an old coal mining town up the hill. At 9 miles, a footpath on the right heads uphill to a deteriorating stone tower.
The Coldspring Road parking area at 11.2 miles marks the approximate location of a former 200-room tourist resort where visitors once soaked in spring waters. It was swept away by fire in 1900. About 2 miles later, the Appalachian Trail crosses the old railroad grade at 13.5 miles, also the site of the ghost town of Rausch Gap. Stone foundations, as well as a cemetery with a few headstones dating to the 1850s, are visible in the forest here.
The trail passes the Gold Mine Road trailhead in about 17.3 miles and then ends another 2.4 miles ahead, where it overlooks Lebanon Reservoir, which supplies drinking water to the town of Lebanon.
To reach the western endpoint on Ellendale Road from I-81, take Exit 67B, and merge onto US 22 W/US 322 W. Go 5.4 miles, and exit to Dauphin Borough/Stony Creek onto Allegheny St. Go 0.3 mile, and turn right onto Schuylkill St. Then go 250 feet, and turn right onto Erie St. Go 0.1 mile, and turn left onto Stony Creek Road. Go 4.9 miles, and Stony Creek Road becomes Ellendale Road at a traffic circle. Go 2.0 miles, and look for trailhead parking straight ahead at the gate.
To reach the Gold Mine Road trailhead from I-81, take Exit 100, and head west onto SR 443/Suedberg Road. Go 6.1 miles, and turn right onto Gold Mine Road. Go 2.8 miles, and look for trailhead parking on your right. The endpoint is located 2.4 miles farther east along the trail at the Lebanon Reservoir.
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