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Part of a larger system in Western Pennsylvania known as the Trans Allegheny Trails, the Ghost Town Trail was named for the long-abandoned towns strung along the tracks of the Ebensburg & Black Lick Railroad and Cambria and Indiana Railroad. When the coal--mining industry started declining in the early 1900s, so too did the towns along the rail route, eventually fading into the ghost towns of today. Established in 1991, the Ghost Town Trail is a designated national recreation trail. The pathway is also part of the Industrial Heartland Trails Coalition’s developing 1,500-mile trail network through Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, and New York.
The crushed-limestone trail winds through the scenic Blacklick Creek watershed east of Pittsburgh and offers a 32.3-mile main stem from the small community of Black Lick eastward to Ebensburg, as well as a 12.2-mile spur. You’ll pass massive iron furnaces, long-disused tipples (equipment that loaded railroad cars with coal), slag (a by-product of mining), old railroad ties, and other artifacts attesting to the path’s rich rail history. Coexisting with these industrial castoffs is a variety of wildlife; hit the trail early enough and you’re likely to encounter deer and more than a few chipmunks. Once the sun gets high, watch out for the occasional snake sunning itself on the warm pathway. Black bears have even been spotted crossing the trail!
The trail rises a bit more than 1,000 feet from west to east, so if you’re planning a one-way trip, it might be tempting to start at the eastern trailhead and ride downhill; resist the urge and make an uphill ride instead. Spread over 32 miles, the slope is gradual, and you’ll end in the town of Ebensburg, the largest along the route, with dining and brewery options available after the ride.
Note that Saylor Park, where you begin your ride, is also a trailhead for the 10.5-mile Hoodlebug Trail. You’ll soon make one of several crossings over Blacklick Creek—your near-constant companion along the route—and encounter a salvage yard of discarded rail cars, their rusted hulks seeming to bloom among the trees.
Interpretive markers along sections of the trail provide information about the long-gone mining towns, as well as some of the historical features you’ll pass. Restrooms and a drinking fountain are available at the Dilltown trailhead, 12.5 miles from your start.
As you approach the town of Vintondale, 18.5 miles from your start, the trail will split; to the left (north), a spur of a little more than 12 miles travels along the former rail line of the Cambria and Indiana Railroad. The segment loosely parallels the North Branch of Blacklick Creek and then Elk Creek before curving south toward, and then away from, the small community of Twin Rocks, ending at North Street in Cardiff. Two miles of this trail were completed in late 2018, and plans are in the works to add another 5.5 miles, transforming this spur into a loop that meets back with the main trail at the community of Revloc. Interestingly, the surface of this extension is crushed slag—the otherwise--unusable remnants of the iron smelting process.
Bear right (east) at the fork before Vintondale, and you’ll cross over Blacklick Creek and see the remains of the Eliza Furnace on your left. This hot-blast iron furnace, one of the first in the region, produced more than 1,000 tons of iron annually at its peak in the late 1840s. It’s one of Pennsylvania’s best-preserved iron blast furnaces and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
A four-paneled mural at the US 219 underpass celebrates the rail-trail’s history and signals that your ride is almost over. In another 1.5 miles, you’ll roll in to the Ebensburg trailhead. While the railroad’s demise created many ghost towns, the reborn rail-trail has, in a fitting bookend to the region’s history, helped breathe new life into towns such as Ebensburg, with restaurants catering to the trail crowd.
The path extends another 0.5 mile to the eastern edge of Ebensburg before terminating at Rowena Drive; future plans call for extending the trail another 6 miles to Saint Francis University in Loretto.
Short portions of the trail run through state game lands; users are advised to wear orange year-round, particularly in the fall. Bring your camera along to capture the historical features and natural beauty that you’ll encounter during your visit: mountain streams, stands of rhododendrons, dozens of wildflower species, and riparian woodlands.
To reach the Black Lick trailhead at Saylor Park (1284 Old Indiana Road, Blairsville) from the intersection of US 22 and US 119 in Blairsville, head north on US 119. Go 2.3 miles, and turn right onto Main St./SR 2017. Go 0.5 mile; as the road curves left, it becomes Old Indiana Road. In 0.2 mile turn left into the parking lot at Saylor Park. The trailhead is located at the southwest side of the parking lot; head south on the spur, past the baseball field, and turn left onto the Ghost Town Trail.
To reach the Black Lick trailhead from the intersection of US 422 and US 119 in Indiana, head south on US 119. Go 7 miles, and turn left onto Old Indiana Road. Go 1.3 miles, and turn right into the parking lot at Saylor Park. Access the trail by following the directions above from Saylor Park.
To reach parking near the endpoint in Cardiff from the intersection of US 22 and US 119 in Blairsville, head east on US 22. In 21 miles take the exit for SR 271, and turn left. Go 1.7 miles, and turn left to continue on SR 271/Second St. In 3.1 miles turn right onto Expedite Road, and go 1.6 miles. Turn right onto North St., and go 0.1 mile to the parking lot.
To reach parking near the eastern endpoint in Ebensburg from the intersection of US 22 and US 119 in Blairsville, head east on US 22. Go 27.8 miles, and turn left onto S. Center St. (you’ll curve left at S. Locust St. to stay on S. Center St.). In 0.3 mile (near the curve) turn left onto Prave St., and look for parking immediately on your left.
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