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Although the J. Manley Robbins Trail spans only 2.6 miles, its rich history and natural beauty make a stop in the rural Pennsylvania borough of Danville worthwhile. The rustic trail—forming a loop of hard-packed gravel tucked among the trees north of downtown—is best suited for hikers and mountain bikers.
In the mid-19th century, Danville became a boomtown: iron mines peppered the surrounding hillsides, bustling iron mills were located in town, and local company Montour Iron Works was a major producer of T-rails, a key technological advancement in the flourishing railroad industry. Visit in July when the town celebrates its past with the Danville Heritage Festival; many of the event’s activities take place in the Hess Recreation Area, which the rail-trail traverses.
The Robbins Trail, also referred to as the Danville Cycle Path and the Old Reading Line Trail, is built along a former narrow-gage railroad that once carried iron ore to furnaces for smelting. Fortuitously, just as use of the railroad was declining, bicycles were booming. In the 1890s, when the tracks were no longer in use, a local bicycle club converted the old railroad corridor into a pathway.
To journey through this piece of history, a good place to begin is the Hess Recreation Area, where you’ll have access to parking, restrooms, and other park amenities. From there, a counterclockwise direction of travel will whisk adventurers into the solitude of the woods and away from State Route 54/Continental Boulevard, which parallels the east side of the park. Near the top of the loop, you’ll encounter a delightful covered wooden bridge over Mahoning Creek, a crossing once used by the Reading Railroad. A branch of the trail stretches north to a trailhead at Liberty Valley Road. (Note that road construction is planned to begin in 2021 to realign PA 642/Jerseytown Road with SR 642/Liberty Valley Road at SR 54 near the northern point of the trail loop).
Heading southward, you’ll be traveling along a slope overlooking Mahoning Creek, a popular trout-fishing stream and tributary of the Susquehanna River. The deciduous forest that envelops the trail makes this an enchanting place to view autumn’s colors. For those who want to linger, additional nature trails are available in the park.
After 1.5 miles, you’ll approach the Beaver Place trailhead in a residential neighborhood. You’re not far from downtown at this point, so you could take an on-street side excursion down the quiet Beaver Place roadway to the bicycle/pedestrian crossing over Mahoning Creek and Continental Boulevard to reach central Danville. At the end of the bridge, turn right to head southwest on Mill Street to enter the business district, where you’ll find many dining and shopping options, as well as the opportunity to see decorative ironwork on some of the town’s historical buildings.
If you stayed on the trail, as you round the southern end of the loop, the route becomes on road for 0.4 mile. You’ll cross over Mahoning Creek on Montour Street, which becomes Meadow Lane shortly after the creek crossing; trail signage is absent here, but you’ll see a blue sign pointing to Hess Fields to know you’re headed in the right direction. Soon you’re back on the trail, paralleling Continental Boulevard northward. Although you will hear road noise, trees screen the pathway. Soon, you’ll arrive back at the Hess Recreation Area parking lot, where you can end your journey, perhaps with a packed lunch in the picnic pavilion.
To reach the Hess Recreation Area from I-80, take Exit 224 to SR 54/Continental Blvd. toward Danville. Head south 2.5 miles, and turn right onto Montour St.; the road is unmarked, but the turn is located at the Perkins Family Restaurant. Take an immediate right onto Meadow Lane. Go 0.2 mile (the road veers left in 400 feet and then turns right in another 0.1 mile), and you’ll have the option of turning right into a trailhead parking lot here. To reach the Hess Recreation Area, continue on Meadow Lane an additional 0.7 mile north to the park’s main parking lot, and look for parking immediately to your left, adjacent to the sports fields.
To reach the Beaver Pl. trailhead from I-80, take Exit 224 to SR 54/Continental Blvd. toward Danville. Head south 2.5 miles, and turn right at Perkins Family Restaurant onto Montour St., and then immediately turn left to stay on Montour St. Go 0.1 mile, and look for parking on your right, where the road bends.
Rode this trail today, it was a great trail for young kids, not too muddy. Great scenery and mostly all shaded.We will be back!
Driving south from I 80 we parked at the north end of the trail. The parking area was not marked so we found a spot across the road near Old Valley School Road. When we started riding down the trail we did see space for a few cars along the first hundred yards or so. The trail along the busy Route 54 has constant traffic noise and the trail surface is a bit rough. Where the trail meets Meadow Lane the is a trail map so we were able to find where the trail continued, other than the map there were no signs pointing the way. After crossing the bridge on Montour Street there is a steep but short climb to the nice half of the trail. Gone is the traffic noise and the trail surface is for the most part much smoother.
I needed a place to run while my dad was in the hospital. A doctor told me about this trail. I ran back and forth and made several loops to get my 15 miles in. It was beautiful at this time of year with the leaves changing. It's a very nice trail, great for walking and running. Many of the leaves had started falling though, and they were covering rocks, which meant one had to watch his or her footing closely. Overall, it was a beautiful place to get a run in! I also loved running over the bridge over the Susquehanna River!
We were driving I80 and needed a place close to I80 to Walk. This trail was Perfect! It was within 2 miles of I80, right off main drag. We parked at Perkins and the trail is right there. Then you can get a bite to eat if you'd like. So many wildflowers and even a deer walked very close to us. Restrooms are at the sport complex that you pass while on the path. We didn't walk the entire path this time but we will the next because I want to walk over the rustic bridge. The directions and descriptions on TrailLink are right on!
We hiked this today in the spring sunshine. We parked on 642 and walked the bicycle path. The back part of the path through the woods gets you away from the road noise. Trail is in really good condition and only slightly sloping so fairly easy.
This is by far my favorite place to bike to on lunch and walk during the weekends. The trail is relativity flat and very user friendly. There are various side trails that you can take. The inner trail runs right next to Mahoning Creek and has great photo scenery.
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