West Penn Trail

Pennsylvania

West Penn Trail Facts

States: Pennsylvania
Counties: Indiana, Westmoreland
Length: 17 miles
Trail end points: Newport Rd. nr. Lakeview Dr. (Blairsville) and Nr the end of Urban Rd. (Saltsburg)
Trail surfaces: Asphalt, Crushed Stone, Dirt
Trail category: Rail-Trail
ID: 6032510
Trail activities: Bike, Wheelchair Accessible, Horseback Riding, Mountain Biking, Walking

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West Penn Trail Description

The West Penn Trail, a National Recreation Trail, runs largely along the corridor of the Portage Railroad line that operated from 1830 to 1864 between Pittsburgh and Harrisburg. The trail is steadily being extended. Before you visit, check the Conemaugh Valley Conservancy website for current route information.

Since the first trail section opened, the West Penn Trail has been extended to cover 17 miles. It is made up of five sections: 1) Conemaugh River Lake, near the Conemaugh Dam; passes over four stone arch bridges dating back to the early 1900s; 2) Bow Ridge Switchback to Conemaugh Dam Section passes two tunnels and a hydroelectric plant; challenging and great for extreme bikers; 3) Dick Mayer, follows a former railroad bed and is challenging; 4) Saltsburg, hugs the banks of the Conemaugh River for more than 4 miles, passing through beautiful woodlands filled with lush green vegetation during warmer months; horseback riding permitted; 5) Kiski Extension, continues along the east riverbank for 1.5 miles, where it comes to an open field. Past this point the trail becomes private property and has two washouts that are not passable by bicycle.

Two main events are held in Saltsburg each year: an annual Native American Festival and a 3-day Canal Day Festival with live music, crafts, food, games and fireworks.

At Canal and High streets, the West Penn Trail links to the Westmoreland Heritage Trail.

Parking and Trail Access

To reach the Saltsburg trailhead from downtown Pittsburgh, take Interstate 376 (Parkway East) 12 miles to Monroeville, where Interstate 376 becomes US Route 22. Follow US Route 22 for about 18 miles to State Route 981 North at New Alexandria. Turn left on PA 981 North and continue about 8 miles to State Route 286 to State Route 981 toward Saltsburg. Cross the bridge over the Kiskiminetas River into Saltsburg. Turn on Salts Street and go three blocks. The trailhead parking will be on your right near the playground.

West Penn Trail Reviews

If you are looking for a typical Rails Trail, this one is not for you. It actually is about the first 3.5 miles from each end, but the middle 5 miles are more of a non-technical, hilly single path. It has two 400 foot elevation changes during these miles. I consider myself an intermediate rider and 25 miles (round trip from Saltsburg to Blairsville) was harder than 50 miles on the Armstrong trail. It is a nice ride for the right rider.....but I definitely would be honest about your skill level. The Trails around the Conemaugh Dam was awesome!!!!

Started at Saltsburg at the south end of Salt St. Had to park in a "Temporary parking lot" today. Usual parking area has been taken over by heavy equipment constructing new sewage treatment plant. This will continue indefinitely. PortoJohn available at old parking lot. We ride east on West Penn Trail to left turn away from river between 3.5 and 4.0 miles. Follow trail 2.2 more miles to the Conemaugh Dam. Return same route. Lots of small hills along the last 2.2. miles. Lunch at Fox's on Salt St. Good menu, good food, not fancy, not expensive. River and Trail Café is no longer open. Replaced by another restaurant not open on Monday. Trail was bumpy and not maintained well from Saltsburg going east. Last half mile past Conemaugh Dam turnoff is still rough, no limestone surface. More construction along the trail. Could be a nice trail. Don't know who handles maintenance. All in all, the trail follows the river for 3.5 miles and then heads into a forested area and then to the Conemaugh Dam. It is pleasant riding and a little challenging.

Ran from Delmont to Saltsburg and back Saturday morning. Sure would have been nice to find the water fountain operable at the playground where the West Penn Trail intersects the Westmoreland Heritage Trail.

Accordion

My friend and I rode parts of the West Penn Trail for the first time yesterday, and we definitely plan to come back. It is well work the 1.5 hour drive.

We started out in Saltsburg, and we rode east to mile marker 10.

The first 4 miles or so are nice and flat, then after a sharp left turn the terrain becomes more challenging. We both had mountain bikes, but my friend is more fit than I.

Be very careful heading down the switchback; I went slowly, but still skated a bit.

The next couple of miles we rode were flat again.

The scenery is very attractive.

After finishing the 20 miles round trip, we were quite hungry. We asked a local for the best food in town, and he recommended the River and Trail Grill. The food was fantastic! I also recommend it.

What a great day! We definitely will ride the trail again and dine on some excellent food!

If you are planning to ride the entire trail, be prepared for some crazy terrain in the middle best suited to mountain bikes, but worked well with my hybrid too. About a 5 mile stretch (+/- 2.5 miles from Conemaugh Dam) has some big climbs and rapid decents such that strong legs and good brakes are a must. The balance of the trail (to include the 8.5 additional miles on the Westmoreland Trail that meets up in Saltsburg) is all very scenic but only has mild grades and is an easy and charming trail to ride with any bike. I started from the eastern trailhead near Blairsville which is quite remote. Don't expect much in way of amenities until you get to the Dam.
Fine ride, will definitely do it again.

I rode out from Saltsburg all the way to the eastern terminus at Newport Road. Riding east, just before you hit mile 4, the trail takes a hard left and things get tough. Effectively for the next 4+ miles you're going over two ridgelines, and it's not easy. Most of it can be ridden, but after you cross over the river on the old bridge and detour the Bow Ridge tunnel, coming down to the RR grade on the eastern side of Bow Ridge is switchbacked and steep. Stairs at the bottom, so be ready to dismount. After that, all the way to the eastern end is paved, smooth and beautiful. The water level in the pool behind the dam was low enough I could see a lot of the old canal works out there. I did the out and back and going back is no easier than going out. Be prepared to carry or push going over Bow Ridge. Most of the trail surface is in really good shape, but the routing is a little weird, and there were a couple rough spots due to recent work and flooding. Watch the leaves this time of year, wet leaves can be exceptionally slippery!

I rode the trail from 219 to the Connemaugh Damn. It was the most picturesque length of trail I have ever seen. Climbing the steps with the bike and biking down to the damn was a good work out but riding back up the hill to return was a killer. No matter, it was a phenomenal ride and I recommend it for everyone who is in shape. There must be some interesting history as to how this area was used by industry before the trail was established. The bridges across the water are construction marvels. I will return again and again.

My wife and I rode the trail today from Saltsburg to the 5.5 mile marker.The first 4 miles is easy enough for any level rider,but after that I would suggest only going on if you are looking for something more strenuous and only on a mountain or hybrid bike.
The trail can be narrow with ruts and a lot of uphills where you will be walking the bike.There is enough scenery to make it worth the extra effort.
Pack lots of water if you plan on doing more than 4 miles up,it is very secluded and no where to refill.
We are planning to go back to ride to the dam which is about another 3 miles from where we left off.
The other thing nice about this is you can also get on the west moreland heritage trail which intersects and is much easier to ride.
Good place to spend the day,Saltsburg is a neat little town..enjoy!

I've ridden most of this trail on a loaded touring bike. Some parts of western half are a little rough for a road bike and have some loose gravel on steep grades. If you are cycling this trail, especially if you happen to be on a loaded bike, note that the tunnel closure presents a significant obstacle. Each time that I've riden through, I've had to take all of the bags off of my bike, carry them up the steep single-track/staircase trail to the top of the hill on the eastern side of the closed tunnel, and then walk back down and carry my bike up. At the top, I could reload my bike and ride carefully down the trail/road on the western side to the dam. While this isn't terribly difficult (the climb is short), plan for it to take extra time.

Otherwise, the trail is nice and scenic with a nice, smooth surface most of the way.

The West Penn was one of the first rail-trails I rode, some 775 trail miles and 4 years ago. The oncoming spectacular foliage beckoned me to spend a few short evening hours of this past beautiful weekend revisiting my old friend 15 miles north. I only got out 3 miles east from Saltsburg, but what I saw this time was simply fascinating. The Pennsylvania Main Line Canal was the first "high traffic" corridor through this river valley, but only for a short few 20 years or so. The West Penn Railroad came along in 1864 and built the first rail line high up on the river bank through the Kiski River valley, and high up on the hill in Saltsburg. Take a quick trip up the hill from the trail and check out the old city hall. It was the FIRST railroad station in Saltsburg, and it is worth visiting. Check out the wealth of priceless pictures inside! These people are very friendly, and very history conscious! Now, when you park near the PA-286 bridge to access the trail right behind you, check out those old stone piers down the river. Those are the piers of that first railroad bridge to cross the Kiski River here, and it served that old train station way up there on the hill! Along comes the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1902. They drained the old canal, and laid the new (2nd) railroad line on top of the (mostly) filled-in canal bed! The handsome "new" (2nd) railroad depot was located on the north side of that 286 crossing, at the east end of the new road bridge. Dangling crossarms rot on the few old pre-1950 telegraph poles along the trail on this line, a mile east of town. Skip ahead to 1950. After the devastating regional floods of 1936, they decided to build a flood control dam up here to protect Pittsburgh. Some nice new plaques along the trail east of town explain the decision to build it WAY downstream. Nevertheless, 15 miles of a new main line Conemaugh Division main line railroad had to be built around Saltsburg. You can see that current (3rd) railroad line, now Norfolk Southern's Pittsburgh-New Florence "Conemaugh Line", way up there behind White Station. You might even see or hear a train or two chugging east. The "old main line" (the West Penn Trail) was retained from White Station to Saltsburg so the railroad could still access that coal-rich branch line between Saltsburg and Trafford (the new Westmoreland Heritage Trail, currently running west to Slickville). Now the fascinating part of this is that you can see ALL of these transportation eras on this trail! About 25 years ago, Dr. William Dzombak, a professor at nearby St. Vincent College, in conjunction with Saltsburg's annual Canal Days festival, conducted a walking tour, through the then-high weeds of the intact old railroad, showing us quite a few traces of the old canal! Those traces are quite visible upstream from town, indeed, much of the canal bed still contains standing water, and the old towpath is quite visible at many places! I know there are water inlets and outlets and such out there, because we saw them back then. And while you are contemplating the old canal, look way up above you on the hillside, and observe that first railroad line grade riding up against those rocks! I was thinking, what a spectacular ride THAT must have been, up on that rock ledge! I do intend on revisiting, very slowly and very carefully, that four or five miles east from Saltsburg after all of the foliage is gone. What a place! It's just so beautiful, and so quiet and peaceful back there! Having just returned from the Xenia-Dayton trails out is Southwestern Ohio, let me say that there is a lot to be said for these wonderful, ISOLATED trails with no major 4-lane (or even busy 2-lane) noisemakers running parallel to them! This is a GREAT trail, and it IS one with a FASCINATING, almost 200-year history! Just drink it in!

My husband and I just got off the trail an hour ago. For us, we've never seen the water level this high. Unfortunately when you get near the Stone Arch bridge closest to the blockaded tunnel (the base of the switchback) you may have a hard time getting through since the water is over the bridge. So, for us, we enjoyed turning around and going to the end again...the spring scents are beautiful. Such a unique trail - we love it!

I have recently walked a short distance on the West Penn Trail with my 84 year old mother and one of my four sisters, it was so pleasant and such an easy walk that Mother was able to walk 1.5 miles.
But my story begins much earlier in time. In the early 1960’s we would walk this still used railroad track from White Station to Saltsburg to go to the Saltsburg Movie Theater, at that time we had to listen for the occasional oncoming train and had no time to notice the surroundings nor were we much interested at that time rather than flowers and trees the typical landscape coal company scares was and the Conemaugh river then smelled of the sulfur run off from coal mines in the area. And so as we walked there recently without the fear of an oncoming train our mother told us of walking to school using this same root in the 30’s and of those now gone who walked here with her. As bicyclists passed and nodded or stopped to chat we spoke of old times good and bad, of fresh air, the scent of spring and beauty of the wild flowers and how amazing it is to now see the changes in the landscape, all of the loveliness, the calm splendor of the area as it is now. I’m sure as the weather clears we will spend more time getting to know one another all over again along the West Penn Trail. The trail is truly a welcome prescription for the heart and soul.

If you are accustomed to riding the Great Allegheny Passage and other railtrails in Western PA, be advised, the West Penn Trail may not be what you expect. Much of the trail is steep, gravelly, single-track and, depending on the weather, muddy. It is, however, a fun ride through some beautiful spots, and you may find it well worth the effort. We did. (Road bikes not recommended.)

This was my first trip to a rail trail. I did not know what to expect. I must say I was very impressed by the condition of the trail considering the time of year. The trail was clear of almost all debris. I started at the Saltsburg end just down from the Westmoreland Heritage Trail connection. The first 4 plus miles are very easy as you follow the river, pretty flat. Then comes the Dick Mayer section, I'm not quite sure how long it was, certainly a few miles. This is way more challenging. Many changes in elevation, some pretty good extended climbs. You then come out at the Conemaugh River Dam, which is pretty cool. You go down to the river and across a stone bridge then a fairly long climb up to the top which is directly across from you r previous position on the other side of the dam. I took the trail which runs along the ridgeline. Some nice views to be had here. The trail continues down the other side of the mountain to a fairly flat section of several miles where you cross over 4 beautiful stone bridges. I'm a rookie so the return trip was pretty brutal but I will definetly return. Overall, This trail was very fun for mountain biking but I would not recommend the Dick Mayer section for average cyclists.

"I have ridden this trail several times before and really like the trail section from the Westinghouse trail end on up to the tunnel at Bow Ridge. The views from the bridges on the trail are really nice, especially around sunset, and the view of the bridges themselves from down at water level is nice as well....reminds me of the Monocacy aqueduct on the C&O Canal, only on a larger scale. The best place to get down to water level to see a bridge is at the third bridge...go to the end of the bridge and walk down the embankment on it's left side, it's the most gradual slope.....watch out for the riverbank because it's really soft and muddy.

This section of the trail is paved with a semi-coarse pavement, and is around 3.3 miles long. You'll often see the locals out fishing on this section of trail. This is the best section of the West Penn Trail to visit if you plan on going to it. They have built a trail connection/detour from this section, up over Bow Ridge and down into the Conemaugh Dam park that links the Eastern end up with it's Western trail section that runs to Saltsville, but it's kind of a rough connection.

At the end of the 3.3 mile section from Westinghouse to the tunnel the trail goes up up a set of stairs and a small switchback to get to the top of the hill. The stairs are fairly steep, but there is a ramp built into the side of them to make it easier push your bike up them. From the top of the hill the trail follows the ridgeline gently rolling along for around for .53 of a mile. At the end of this section you come out onto a dirt and gravel road that overlooks the Conemaugh Dam, from here you make a 180 degree turn to you left and follow this dirt road down to the bottom of the hill. Be carefull...the road is fairly steep and when I rode it the surface was fairly soft and loose from the lack of recent rain...you'll be on your brakes the whole way down. You'll pass several of the old canal and railroad tunnels on the way down the hill, and from the top of this section down to the last tunnel near the bridge is .39 of a mile.

From the tunnel the trail crosses over the bridge, which gives you a nice view of the railroad bridge, the river and the dam. At the end of the bridge the trail goes downhill to the left and down into Tunnelview Park. From here you go under the bridge, then uphill in to the Conemaugh Dam park. Straightahead near the road entrance to the park is the visitor's center...you'll see a sign near the right side of it for the Woodchuck Nature Trail. Get on the trail here, turn left on the trail behind the visitor's center and follow the gravel path that runs parallel to the main road leading out of the park. The distance from the last tunnel at the bridge, up into the park to the visitor's center is .85 of a mile.

From the visitor's center the connection path is crushed limestone/gravel, and runs along side the park road for a short distance before it turns off into the woods, following the Woodchuck Nature Trail. This section follows the nature trail for a short distance before you'll see a white cardboard sign for the West Penn Trail pointing you to the left, to go uphill through the woods...this section is a short combination of singletrack and fireroad-type of trail. The trail passes through a gate, across a road, then continues on the other side going gradually uphill. This section is similar to a fireroad in it's condition and the terrain it follows...kind of rough and rolling terrain. This section is around .95 of a mile long, until you get to the top of a hill and the trail starts heading down.

This short downhill section is about .3 of a mile long and is kind of treacherous due to it being downhill, and also the trail surface is heavily rutted, washboarded, and soft...I'd be carefull going down this section if you're an inexperienced rider.

From the bottom of the first rutted downhill section the trail continues along, crosses another road, and still has a fireroad feel to it due to it's condition, and the way it goes through the rolling terrain. There is another steep short downhill section that passes under an old road or railroad bridge...both this downhill section and the rutted one I mentioned above were steep enough to require using the grannygear chainring when coming back up them traveling in the opposite direction....in other words you'll be on the brakes hard going down. From under the bridge it's a short distance over some more rutted/washboard trail to the end of the connection link and the start of the Saltsburg section. Total length of this section from the bottom of the first rutted downhill section to the end is around 1.4 miles.

IMHO this connection section is not something I'd recommend to your typical casual cyclists...especially the older folks that I often see out riding Rails To Trails that have limited cycling abilities/skills. This connection is NOT level, not smooth, and is more like a fireroad or forest service road in it's character. If you have experience riding offroad on fireroads you shouldn't have a problem doing it, otherwise you'll probably be walking your bike on the steeper sections. The total distance for this whole connection link between the bottom of the stairs at the start of it on the Eastern end to it's Western end where it connects to the Saltsburg section came out to 4.48 miles on my bike computer.

I also did the Saltsburg section of the trail, which is a typical nice crushed limestone trail of about 3 1/2-4 miles long, until it ends in Saltsburg. Saltsburg has some historical plaques in town describing the canal and it's operation.

I also rode the Saltsburg to Trafford section of trail, that one crosses a nice bridge across the river at it's start before it passes through a road underpass. On the other side of the underpass the trail turns into a surface of fine compact original ballast dust...kind of like a ""normal"" Rail Trail, but black. The trail surface was OK, fairly smooth except for a few spots where there were washouts. This section of trail was pretty short, around 2.6 miles long, and dead-ends on an embankment overlooking a 2-lane road. "

"This trail was not what the description led us to think the trail was like. There was no mention of going up the steps to get to the road trail on the other side of the Tunnel. This is entirely two different trails and should not be considered as one. By the way, when you get to the dam, there are no signs to lead you to link up to go west to Saltsburg. Both ends of this trail are short ""on the trail"" rides of 4 miles or less."

"I can't say this enough . . . this trail is awesome! I was so surprised at the natural beauty of this trail. This was my first time here, and I started at the Westinghouse Road parking area of off Rt. 22. I rode approx. 6 miles one way and couldn't find the trail to Saltsburg, so I turned around and went back. What I saw on those six miles reminded me of the African Serengetti during the rainy season. I saw great views of the vast flood plains surrounding the river and cool bridges that allowed me to see nothing but pure wilderness as far as the eye can see. I saw a tunnel that was closed to all traffic, and a steep set of steps that takes you over the mountain, and down into a valley where the Conemaugh Dam regulates the river flow. I saw lots of cool birds and 2 raccoons (in seperate areas) that ran away from me. There were more tunnels on the other side with historical documentation and a really cool aqueaduct and steel railroad bridge. I also saw part of an old canal system and towpath, and a park area, where I lost the trail and turned around. Other than the fact that I couldn't find the rest of the way into Saltsburg, this trail is excellent, and I will start at the other end next time, so I can do the entire trail (and hopefully find my way)."

This is a great nature trail that is awesome for beginners. Currently it's an out and back ride of over six miles. The trail is very flat.

There are four bridges over the Connemaugh River that allow you to enjoy the wonderful scenery. I can't wait until the trail is longer. Definitely a beautiful ride.

"This is a sweet trail but needs to connect to be longer. The trail may connect to Trafford someday, which will be great."

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