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Running east-west through southeastern Pennsylvania, the Enola Low Grade Trail is remarkably flat, even for a rail-trail—it says so right there in the name! Even across hilly terrain, the trail’s grades never exceed a 1% slope due to a feat of civil engineering.
Built between 1903 and 1906 by the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR), the Low Grade Line significantly changed the landscape through wide-scale cuts and fills that were needed to create a level pathway for trains. At the time it was built, it was second only to the Panama Canal in terms of the amount of earth moved—some 22 million cubic yards that provided the PRR with a superhighway of freight rail linking western markets to the ports of Philadelphia, New York, and Baltimore.
Today, the trail is under the auspices of several townships that acquired ownership and responsibility for the sections within their boundaries. With management divided between several municipalities, trail conditions can differ from one to the next, though the overarching elements—including trail regulations, signage, style of benches, and the like—remain consistent. The trail is open sunrise–sunset.
Western Section (Manor Township): 5.5 miles
With ample parking available, the westernmost trailhead in Manor Township is a good choice to start a quick trail excursion. The crushed-stone and clay-aggregate surface makes for a smooth and easy nearly 5.5-mile ride along the north bank of the Susquehanna River to the point where the Conestoga River empties into it and the Safe Harbor Trestle Bridge spans the Conestoga River. This section of the trail is extremely popular with families and is wheelchair accessible.
Visible from the path are active Norfolk Southern tracks, situated downslope from the trail close to the water’s edge; the elevation difference between tracks and trail puts the top of passing trains nearly at your feet. Near the trailhead, there is a restored 1947 Norfolk Southern caboose and a replica of an old railroad lookout tower. These towers were built along the rail line at three mile intervals and were used by the cable walkers on the lookout for debris on the track. There are also picnic shelters, restrooms, observation platforms overlooking the Susquehanna, and signage that explores the history of the railroad.
A quarter-mile-long pedestrian bridge over the Conestoga River connects this section of the trail with the 3.4-mile Middle Section. Following a multi-year reconstruction of the old railroad trestle, the Safe Harbor Trestle Bridge opened in May 2022. The paved bridge features unparalleled views of both the Susquehanna River and the Safe Harbor Dam, a Great Depression–era hydroelectric public works project. There are six glass panels built into the bridge offering views through the girders to the Conestoga River below.
Middle Section (Conestoga): 3.4 miles
Continuing east from the Safe Harbor Trestle Bridge, the train continues along the Susquehanna River to the South Wall Trailhead on Green Hill Road, where it turns inland (east) towards Atglen. The trail is temporarily closed from the Colemanville Church Road trailhead to Red Hill Road due to the vandalism of the Martic Forge Bridge. The Martic Forge bridge is expected to reopen in late 2022.
Eastern Section (Atglen to Martic Township): 20.0 miles
The best place to begin your journey on the eastern segment of the Enola Low Grade Trail, which provides a longer 20-mile journey, is the Quarryville East trailhead along State Route 372/East State Street. The trail quickly deteriorates east of here, turning into unimproved ballast with a sharp, rocky path suited only to hikers and the most dedicated of mountain bikers. Head west instead, where you’ll ride along crushed stone and pass by Quarryville; the town, with food options, is accessible on its west end by heading south on Oak Bottom Road. Shortly after Oak Bottom Road, you’ll pass over US 222, a recent addition that quite literally bridged a gap in the trail.
The trail in this section is far removed from the Susquehanna, so river views are replaced with expansive farm country—when you’re not riding through a cut. You may see snakes, turtles, deer, foxes, turkeys, hawks, falcons, and bald eagles along the way. The crushed-stone path you’ll follow westward is nominally downhill, but with such a slight grade, coasting is not an option. The trail offers little shade and no drinking fountains, so come prepared with sunscreen and water.
About 9.5 miles from your starting point, you’ll approach what was considered by many to be the jewel of the trail: the Martic Forge Trestle over Pequea Creek and River Road. Previously damaged by a fire, the Martic Forge Trestle was repaired and reopened in October 2022.
To reach the River Road trailhead in Manor Township from I-83, take Exit 21A. Merge onto US 30 E, go 12.9 miles, and take the exit toward SR 441 immediately after crossing the Susquehanna River in Columbia. Turn right onto Linden St and go 0.2 mile. Turn left onto N. Second St and go 0.2 mile. Turn right onto Bridge St and go 0.1 mile. Turn left onto SR 441 S/N. Front St and go 3.6 miles. Continue on Water St., go 0.1 mile, and then veer left onto Herr St. and right onto River Road. Go 1.8 miles and turn right into the Turkey Hill Nature Preserve parking lot, where the trail begins, just after passing out of farmland and into a forested area.
To reach the River Road trailhead from the intersection of US 30 and US 222 in Lancaster, head west on US 30 for 1.6 miles, and keep right at the fork to remain on US 30 W. Continue 10.7 miles and take the SR 441 exit toward Columbia/Marietta. Continue straight onto SR 441 S, go 4.2 miles, and continue on Water St. Follow the directions above from Water St. to the Turkey Hill Nature Preserve.
To reach the Quarryville East trailhead along E. State St./SR 372 from the intersection of US 222 and US 30 in Lancaster, head east on US 30, and go 3.9 miles. Keep left to continue on US 30 E and go another 2.4 miles. Turn right to head southbound on SR 896/Hartman Bridge Road, and go 9.3 miles (as you progress, the road becomes Decatur St. and then May Post Office Road). Turn right onto SR 372 W/Valley Road and go 1.7 miles. Turn left into the trailhead parking lot.
To reach the Quarryville East trailhead along E. State St./SR 372 from the intersection of US 322 and US 30 in Downingtown, head west on US 30 for 10.8 miles, and continue another 2.5 miles on US 30 W. Turn left onto Swan Road and go 2.7 miles. Turn left onto Green St., and take the first right onto Valley Ave. In 1.2 miles turn left onto SR 2009, and in 0.2 mile turn right onto Upper Valley Road. Go 2.3 miles and continue straight onto Valley Road, going another 6.6 miles. Continue on E. State St. 0.2 mile and turn left into the trailhead parking lot.
To reach the trailhead on SR 896/Georgetown Road in Quarryville from Lancaster, follow the directions above to SR 896/Hartman Bridge Road, and go 2.4 miles. Turn left to stay on SR 896 S/Historic Dr and go 7 miles. Turn left onto SR 896/Georgetown Road and go 0.3 mile. Turn right onto SR 372 W/SR 896 S and go 1.3 miles. Turn right into the parking lot and look for spaces immediately to your left.
To reach the trailhead on SR 896/Georgetown Road in Quarryville from Downingtown, follow the directions above to Upper Valley Road. Go 2.3 miles and continue straight onto Valley Road, going another 2 miles. Turn left onto SR 896 and go 0.3 mile. Turn right into the parking lot and look for spaces immediately to your left.
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