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The Panhandle Trail offers the most direct and scenic route for self-propelled travel between the Northern Panhandle of West Virginia and the suburbs of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Although the trail follows an old railroad grade through the hilly terrain, there was only so much the railroad builders could do to flatten the route across the Allegheny Plateau. Expect a steady climb to Bulger, the high point on the rural journey.
This route was made famous by the merger of several railroads in the 1860s to create the Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Chicago and St. Louis Railroad (PCC & StL), also referred to simply as the Panhandle Railroad. It was named for the sliver of northern West Virginia it crossed. The Pennsylvania Railroad leased the route in the 1920s, and the line later became part of the Penn Central and Conrail systems until it fell into disuse in 1991.
The 29-mile trail is maintained by several communities and organizations along its route. It is part of the 3,700-mile Great American Rail-Trail, a cross-country route that will connect Washington, D.C., and Washington State, and is a segment of the 1,500-mile trail network through Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, and New York being developed by the Industrial Heartland Trails Coalition. Both are Rails-to-Trails Conservancy TrailNation projects.
The Panhandle Trail starts in Weirton, which borders both Ohio and Pennsylvania in West Virginia’s narrow Northern Panhandle. It makes a steady 16-mile climb through hardwood forests to Bulger, where it begins its descent to Collier Township in the western suburbs of Pittsburgh. The 17-mile center segment through Washington County is paved.
The Panhandle Trail crosses the 61.5-mile Montour Trail, which links to the 150-mile Great Allegheny Passage and the 184.5-mile C&O Canal Towpath for an off-road connection to Washington, D.C. Horseback riding is allowed in the corridor in Pennsylvania but not on the trail itself.
Beginning at the trailhead on McColl Road in the onetime steel mill town of Weirton, the crushed rock trail heads west to a dead end in about a mile. Heading east, you’ll follow Harmon Creek, with its wildflowers and flowering shrubs, through the small community of Colliers, to the Pennsylvania state line in 4 miles. The trail continues on a grade for 7 miles to Burgettstown, the first burg with services for hungry or thirsty travelers.
After a short descent, you’ll continue at a steady grade for 4.5 miles to the high point in Bulger. In 2 miles the trail arrives in Midway, so named because it is the railroad’s halfway point between Pittsburgh and Steubenville, Ohio.
In 2 miles, travelers can hook up to the north–south Montour Trail via a mile-long connector trail. In 0.5 mile, the Panhandle Trail passes be-neath the Montour Trail’s 1913 railroad trestle, which also crosses Robinson Run.
More services are available in a mile in McDonald, home of the McDonald Trail Station, a history center at the South McDonald Street (Railroad Street) trailhead. It’s open weekends April–October. The substantial brick buildings in McDonald are evidence of the oil boom that struck in the late 1800s; coal is still mined, and coal piles can be seen.
Over the next 3.5 miles, the trail passes through Sturgeon, Noblestown, and Oakdale. All have food, refreshments, and trailhead picnic tables (some covered).
You’ll cross Robinson Run six times over the next 3.7 miles before the trail’s end at Walkers Mill Road in Collier Township. A pedestrian bridge 0.6 mile before the end crosses Robinson Run to Fossil Cliff, where rock hounds can search for fossilized fern leaves.
There are numerous other access points and parking areas along the entire route; refer to the map for more details.
To reach the eastern trailhead in Oakdale from I-79, take Exit 57 toward Carnegie, and head west on W. Main St./SR 3048. Go 0.5 mile, and turn right onto First St., and then immediately bear right onto Dorrington Road. Go 0.8 mile, and turn right onto Hilltop Dr./SR 3052, and then go 1.6 miles, and turn right on Boyds Run Road/SR 3028. Go 0.5 mile, and look for trailhead parking on the left.
To reach the western trailhead in Colliers, West Virginia, from I-376, take Exit 60A and merge onto US 22/US 30 W. Go 3.9 miles, and stay straight to continue on US 22. Go 18.5 miles, and take Exit 3 for WV 1/Harmon Creek Road/Cove Road toward WV 507, and turn left onto Harmon Creek Road. Go 0.2 mile, and turn right onto Worthington Lane. Then go 100 feet, and turn right onto McColl Road. Go 0.2 mile, and turn right into the parking lot. Facing the trail, turn left to go 1.5 miles to the western endpoint.
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The Great American Rail-Trail promises an all-new American experience. Through 12 states and the District of Columbia, the trail will directly serve nearly 50 million people within 50 miles of the route. Across the nation—and the world—only the limits of imagination will limit its use.Learn More
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