The 18 mile Clarion-Little Toby Rail Trail is one of the most scenic rail trails in Pennsylvania. It follows the abandoned bed of the Ridgway and Clearfield Branch of the Pennsylvania Railroad and parallels the Clarion River, a designated Wild and Scenic River, for half its length and Little Toby Creek for the rest.
Because the Clarion-Little Toby Rail Trail lies mainly within Pennsylvania State Game Lands, you will be bicycling mostly through the pristine forest habitat of the Pennsylvania Wildlands. Wildlife is plentiful along the route and sightings of deer, wild turkeys, herons and eagles are not uncommon. If you are lucky, you might even see a four-toed salamander!
The scenery is spectacular with mountain and river vistas. At times the trail winds through narrow river valleys, the steep mountain slopes dotted with hemlock and rhododendron, close on both sides. At one point the trail runs alongside an active rail line for close to two miles.
This non-motorized, multi-use recreational trail provides an easy bike ride as it travels over a crushed limestone surface and relatively level grade. Remnants of the Lumber Era evident along the trail include ghost towns, logging dams, railroad bridges, historic quarry ruins including a "stone crusher".
On hot summer days, the shaded trail is a welcome relief and perfect for a family bike ride or hike. You'll often see fisherman in waders casting lines in the Little Toby, a designated trout stream. In winter, the trail becomes a popular xc ski route.
The bike path is well-marked with mileage posts along the route. This is a pack it in, pack it out venue and facilities are limited along the trail. Bring bring plenty of water and snacks. Picnic pavilions, trail kiosks and services can be found at the northern and southern trailheads in the towns of Ridgway and Brockway.
Clarion-Little Toby Trail Highlights
Highlights along the Clarion-Little Toby Rail Trail include several ghost towns including the ghost town of Blue Rock, located around mile 12.2, where a swinging bridge across Toby Creek provides an excellent place for a trail break and photo opportunities. Experienced mountain bikers will enjoy the challenging, fun ride across the bridge. Use caution and don’t forget your camera!
The northern section of the trail begins in Ridgway, a fine example of a late 19th century Victorian town. You'll find many historic structures within the the Ridgway Historic District listed on the National Register of Historic Places including the Elk County Court House and its attached jail (a gazebo and benches provide a nice place to rest), the O.B. Grant House (circa 1870), and the Ridgway Armory.
From Ridgway, the first stretch of the trail follows the Clarion River for about 8 miles to Carmen through predominantly oak forest as it winds along the southeastern edge of the Allegheny National Forest. It's a fairly level ride except for the short hill near the Water Treatment Plant, you'll encounter about a mile into your ride.
During the next stretch, as the trail travels along the creekside, you'll find yourself enjoying the flow and rhythm of the river as it flows around and over scattered boulders. It's especially pretty when the Rhododendrons on the slopes are in bloom.
At mile 2.6, you'll take a short detour onto State Route 949 (Portland Mills Rd) to make use of the roadway bridge that leads across Island Run before returning to trail.
At mile 4.1, you can see the remains of the Mill Haven Dam which was destroyed in the flood of 1936.
At around 6 miles, the trail runs alongside the tracks of the active Buffalo and Pittsburgh Railway. There is no fence separating the rail trail from the tracks so use caution. In just under two miles, the trail veers away from the rail line and you'll shortly arrive at the confluence of the wild, Little Toby Creek and the Clarion River.
As you pedal south, the trail runs close to Little Toby Creek. This stretch is totally undeveloped and isolated from roads. Glimpses of the wild Toby Creek can be seen through the lush forested hills and creekside greenery. Along this section of the route are historical markers pointing out locations of ghost towns such as Grove (mile 9.8), Shorts Mill (mile 10.1), Blue Rock (mile 12.2), Vineyard Run (mile 13.3), and Carrier (mile 14.5) where sawmills, rafting, leather tanning and wood chemical plants once thrived.
At mile 9.7 are the ruins of the Garovi Stone Crusher, built in 1905, which was part of a quarrying operation.
The Blue Rock Swinging Bridge, located at mile 12.2 is one of the most popular stops along the rail trail. It is anchored by the abutments of a railroad bridge which once crossed Little Toby Creek. The views of the creek from the center of the bridge are not to be missed. If you've got the skills (know your limits), mountain biking across the narrow suspension bridge is a thrill.
A few miles past Blue Rock, civilization slowly creeps back in. The road occasionally comes close to and parallels the trail and the forest is interspersed with homes and camps.
At mile 18, the trail emerges at the southern trailhead of the Clarion-Little Toby Rail Trail in Brockway at Taylor Memorial Park. Don't miss the Taylor Memorial Museum located in the park. Open seasonally, the museum houses a vast display of glass from local industry, plus many interesting artifacts from the lumbering, mining, and farming communities in the surrounding area.
Lumbering began in the Clarion River corridor in the early 1800s and continued to be an important industry in the area through the late nineteenth century. The Ridgway and Clearfield Branch of the Pennsylvania Railroad was built in 1885and ran for 27 miles from Ridgway to Falls Creek rimarily to transport lumber and coal from the mills to markets. It also provided a popular passenger service between Ridgway and Falls Creek. The last train ran in 1968 and the tracks were removed in 1972. It made the transformation to the Clarion-Little Toby Rails-to-Trails in 1992.
Today, the trail is maintained by Tricounty Rails to Trails, a not-for-profit organization whose mission it is to create and maintain rail trails in Jefferson, Elk, and Clearfield counties.
There are sevaral trail access points along the Clarion-Little Toby Trail. We have listed the major trailheads
Ridgeway: From I-80 take 219 North to Main Street (RT 948). Stay on MAin Street, travel through town and turn left onto Water Street. Look for the trailhead on your left. There is covered picnic pavilion and a trail kiosk with trail information. Additional parking can be found on nearby streets.
Carmen Siding: Near the ghost town of Carmen. At the intersection of Portland Mills Road/PA 949, turn left onto Game Commission Road (6.4 miles past the Treatmant Plant sign). If the parking is full, continue down Game Commission Road to the State Gamelands parking area at the Croyland access point.
Brockway: Trailhead is located at Taylor Memorial Park. Take I-80 to exit 16. Travel north on US 219 to Brockway. Turn left onto Main Street (Route 28) then right onto 7th Avenue. The trailhead is has a covered picnic pavilion and a kiosk with trail info.
Cook Forest State Park
The 8,500-acre Cook Forest State Park in northwestern Pennsylvania is famous for its stands of old growth forest. Cook Forest’s The "Forest Cathedral" of towering white pines and hemlocks is a National Natural Landmark. Picnic tables along the Clarion River, rustic cabins and camping facilities with modern restroom and showers, public canoe launches and 13 miles of bike trails, make this the perfect "base camp".
Website: Cook Forest State Park
For more information
TriCounty Rails to Trails Association
Website: Tricounty Rails to Trails