Franklin to Parker in Venango County
The Allegheny River Trail follows the Allegheny River south from Franklin toward Belmar, Brandon, Kennerdell, St George, Emlenton, Foxburg, and Parker Landing. Eventually it will reach Upper Hillville. The trail is mostly 8-foot wide asphalt, marked with mileposts. This trail provides access to some of the region’s most outstanding rivers—the Allegheny River in this area was added to the National Wild and Scenic Rivers system in 1992, and East Sandy Ck, which enters the Allegheny at Belmar, is on the Pennsylvania Scenic Rivers inventory. This trail is part of the Erie to Pittsburgh Trail (page NE-16).
Location Franklin to Parker, Venango and Clarion County
Trailheads Franklin, Deep Hollow, Belmar, Emlenton, Foxburg, Parker
Length, Surface 34.1 miles total (29.1 paved, 0.8 town streets, 1.0 gravel road, 3.2 closed)
Character Uncrowded, rural, mostly sunny, flat
Usage restrictions Horses okay beside paved trail, no motorized vehicles, no snowmobiles
Amenities Rest rooms, bike rental, food, fishing
Driving time from Pittsburgh 1 hour 25 minutes to 1 hour 45 minutes north
As of 2020 the trail had two sets of mile markers: Wooden markers counting downstream from zero at the Franklin trailhead and concrete railroad markers counting upstream from zero at Pittsburgh to 130.0 at Oil City. At any point on the trail, the mileage from the Franklin trailhead plus the railroad mileage will always equal 123.5. The railroad markers go MP100 about 3.3 miles frm the parking lot, so for this write-up, we use the trail markers counting from Franklin.
The trail leaves the parking lot at Franklin headed downstream, with the river on the right. It gradually bears away from US322, finally breaking away at MP0.6 near the ruins of a former industrial plant. This, the Whann Litha Springs building, came down in 1995. From here on, there are frequent views of the river, and overhead power lines tower above the trail. The flat area at MP1.3 is a campsite with Adirondack shelters, fire rings, tent spaces, picnic tables, chemical toilets and canoe access. At MP2.2 an overlook provides views up and down the Allegheny River with good bird watching opportunities, including ducks, crows, geese, herons, or even a bald eagle. Here and beyond there are summer homes on the far shore of the Allegheny River. Near MP2.5, oil pumps and a storage tank hide in the shrubbery beside the trail. At MP3.8, a picnic and riverside camping area with picnic table and fire ring lies below the trail by the river remnants of an old pipeline operation. This section of the Allegheny River is a National Scenic River, so it is popular with canoeists.
At MP5.1 the trail crosses over East Sandy Ck and then goes under the Belmar Bridge high above. Built in 1907, the Belmar Bridge carried the Clarion Secondary RR over the Allegheny River. This line is now developed as the Sandy Creek Trail (page NE-121). A stairway connects the Allegheny River Trail with the end of the Belmar Bridge. To reach the stairs, turn away from the river on the sidepath just beyond the bridge and follow it up and back under the bridge. The Belmar parking lot is across the bridge, and the Sandy Creek Trail continues on the west bank of the Allegheny River for 7.2 miles to Pecan. In the other direction from the top of the stairs the Sandy Creek Trail goes east 7.9 miles to Van.
Beyond Belmar, the Allegheny River Trail continues along the east bank of the Allegheny River with views of summer homes on the far side. Blue blazes mark the North Country Trail, which comes down Sandy Creek Trail and then follows the Allegheny River Trail from Belmar to Parker. Between MP7 and MP8, several old oil barrels from defunct pumping operations lurk in the shrubbery. At about MP7.6, the power lines turn up the hill and away from the trail. Near MP8.5, the trail passes Indian God Rock, a large rock at river’s edge. It is said to hold 50 Indian rock carvings dating from 1200–1750, and the rock is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Unfortunately, the Indian carvings are obscured by more modern “contributions”, many dating to the 19th century. The Venango County Historical Society built a viewing platform here.
Through Brandon the trail is adjacent to the access road for some weekend homes. At MP12.5 the pavement ends. Straight ahead is marked “No Outlet”. The trail bends left on to a rutted dirt road with soft sandy spots for about 100 yards. When it reaches another dirt road, it follows that road to the right. The trail continues on the dirt road though the settlement of Sunny Slopes for about a mile. These roads are occasionally very rough and rocky. In Oct 2017, we walked about half of this section, however, in 2018 the trail group reported that they had improved the road. A little after MP13, the dirt road climbs a short steep 15-foot hill. A tenth of a mile later, another, taller, hill rises and then drops back down again, passing behind a fence that provides privacy for a trailer that occupies the railroad grade.
From MP109.5 to MP108.9, the unlighted 3350-foot long Kennerdell Tunnel has a bend at the southern end preventing light from entering the tunnel. Surface reflectors mark the sides and centerline, but it is very, very dark indeed so a good light is required. The sleepy summer cottage community of Kennerdell is accessible via a 4.2-mile road loop that goes around the peninsula from one end of the tunnel to the other end.
After leaving the tunnel, the trail returns to a bench on the hillside above the river, with occasional vacation homes visible across the river. An Adirondack shelter at MP104.2, in the flats below the trail, marks another riverside camping area. From MP104 to MP105.2, the trail passes through the pretty weekend homes of St George. The trail seems to be the only pavement here, so children often play on the trail.
South of St George the trail returns to the woods for two miles or so, reaching the Rockland Tunnel at MP102.6 to MP102.1. Half a mile up the side creek from here are the remains of the Rockland Iron Furnace, which operated from 1832 to 1854. The furnace is not visible from the trail, but similar furnaces can be visited at Buena Vista and Vintondale on the Ghost Town Trail (page NE-217). A side trip up the dirt road provides views of the furnaces and, a little farther on, Freedom Falls. Although regularly visited, these sites are on private land.
The 2868-foot long Rockland Tunnel, like the Kennerdell tunnel, is not lighted and has surface reflectors to pick up light from a headlight. It is not as dark and long as the Kennerdell Tunnel, but it is also curved, so a light is nevertheless quite a good idea.
In many places the railroad was built on an embankment to allow it to run on smooth curves near the edge of the river; sometimes more than one embankment is visible. These embankments cut off sections of flood plain, creating hollows between the trail and the hillside. Several stone arch bridges, which allow side streams to flow under these embankments, are still visible; the most impressive is over Mill Ck at MP100.2. A riverside camping area here has an Adirondack shelter. These stone arch bridges were built about 1865 by the Allegheny Valley RR. The Pennsylvania RR straighted out the line and built the tunnels.
The trail continues to Emlenton in woods along the river. From MP96.6 to the parking lot, both sides of the trail are fenced with white rail fence for the final half-mile. Here the trail runs through the former Emlenton Refinery, which operated from 1895 to 2000. The fence discourages trail users from entering the industrial remains on either side. The Emlenton trailhead runs from the end of the fence to MP95.0.
The route exits the trailhead parking lot and follows a one-lane road for about 900 feet alongside an industrial building. At the end of the one-lane road the route makes a sharp right-hand U-turn on to Allegheny Av which is a back street through town. Allegheny Av goes for about 0.5 miles to a No Outlet sign at 1st St, where the route turns left/north and goes up a steep hill.
At a level spot halfway up 1st St the route turns right/east on to the railroad grade that will eventually go to Foxburg. For now (2020) the next three miles of the trail to Foxburg is closed, as it is private property. It is possible for experienced road bikers to detour via PA268/Kittanning Pike, which has traffic and minimal shoulders.
In Foxburg, the paved trail starts again at the south end of the Main St parking lot and continues along the Allegheny River for 2.6 miles to Parker. Shortly after leaving town an overgrown dirt road drops to the right, leading past an old oil collection barrel and a home site with just the chimney remaining. At mile 1.3 from Foxburg a spring flows into a rock basin. The trail crosses the mouth of the Clarion River 1.6 miles from Foxburg. After 2.6 miles the paved trail ends under the bridge to Parker.
Local history, attractions
For local history and attractions around Franklin see the Local History and Attractions section of the Samuel Justis Trail (page NE-81).
The Emlenton trailhead is on the site of the Emlenton Refining Company, which was established in 1890 by local oil producers who wanted to be independent of Standard Oil’s control. In 1931 it joined 18 other independent companies to form Quaker State Refining. Loss of rail service in the early 1980s closed the refinery, but specialty wax production continued until 2000.
In Emlenton, 0.6 miles along Allegheny Av, was the historic Emlenton Grist Mill. Built in 1875, it was one of the first steam powered grist mills in the United States. The mill used to houses a restaurant, ice cream shop, bunkhouse, and miller’s machinery. It burned in 2014 and is no longer there.
The Allegheny River from Warren to Oil City and from Franklin to Emlenton is a Wild and Scenic River.
This trail is in the Oil Region National Heritage Area (oilheritage.org), which includes all of Venango County, plus the towns of Titusville, Hydetown, and Oil Creek Township in Crawford County.tells the story of Colonel Edwin Drake drilling the world’s first successful oil well in 1859, which changed the course of industry, society, and politics in the modern world. The Oil Region contains many remnants of the oil industry, as well as historic valley settlements shaped by native and immigrant populations.
At least half a dozen Indian paths converged at Venango (now Franklin), but none of them appears to have followed the Allegheny River. The river corridor was originally defended by French and British fortifications. More recently it provided transportation for the oil and timber industries.
The historic Foxburg Country Club is the oldest golf course in continuous use in the United States. There are several other golf courses nearby as well.
Extensions of the ride
The next segment to the north along the Erie to Pittsburgh Trail is a seamless connection to the Samuel Justus Trail (page NE-81) at Franklin.
The next segment to the south along the Erie to Pittsburgh Trail is the Armstrong Trail (page NE-99) at Upper Hillville. The route has not yet been established. The gravel road continues along the Allegheny for 1.3 miles and then ends in railroad ballast. The Allegheny River Trail must be extended to Upper Hillville to meet the Armstrong Trail (page NE-99), and the Armstrong Trail will require substantial work to reach Upper Hillville. There is no practical road detour.
From the Franklin trailhead, a trail into Franklin is marked as a bike path. It goes under the US322 bridge (going north), crosses the bridge on the bike-pedestrian lane, turns right on 9th St at the end of the bridge, goes through Riverfront Park on a paved path, goes up 9th St two blocks to Liberty, then continues on the sidewalk on the east side of Liberty, which is marked and officially designated as the bike path to downtown.
At Belmar a stair with a ramp for wheeling bicycles up and down connects this trail to the Belmar Bridge and the Sandy Creek Trail (page NE-121), which goes east for 7.9 paved miles to Van, and on the opposite side of the Allegheny River for 4.4 paved miles to Fisherman’s Cove, and an additional 2.8 miles on dirt road to Pecan.
From the bridge in Kennerdell there is a steep 1.5-mile road climb up the nose of the ridge to an overlook of the Allegheny River.
For hikers, the Sandy Creek Trail from Van to Belmar and the Allegheny River Trail from Belmar to Parker are part of the blue-blazed North Country Trail. See northcountrytrail.org/volunteers/local-contacts/clarion-county-chapter/
A grant has been obtained to improve the dirt section through Sunny Slopes (MP12.5 to MP13.3). About half of the work has been done (July 2018) and the trail group hopes to complete it in 2018.
The trail organization has a grant to create a trail at the Belmar Bridge that will eliminate the stairs. Plans provide for a switchback trail from under the bridge on the Allegheny River Trail to the bride deck on the Sandy Creek Trail. Negotiations with the land owners are ongoing (2018).
The trail group is working on determining ownership between Parker and Upper Hillville. There are over 140 owners of adjacent properties in this 7.8-mile section.
Negotiations continue for developing trail in the gap between Emlenton and Foxburg. For now (2020), this section of trail is closed.
The Allegheny Land Trust holds right of way on all but one property on a future trail along French Ck which heads northwest out of Franklin.
Vicinity: Directions begin at the I79-I80 interchange. Go east on I80 towards Clarion.
Franklin trailhead (northern): From the I79-I80 interchange go east on I80 toward Clarion. Take Exit 29, PA8 and turn left/north on PA8 toward Franklin. In Franklin, when US62/PA8 turns left, remain on US322. Continue 0.3 miles to the second stoplight, turning left/east to follow US322 on 8th St. Take US322 another 0.4 miles across the Allegheny River. At the end of the bridge, trailhead parking is visible on the right. Access to the parking lot however, is about 0.1 miles farther; it is well marked by a sign for “Samuel Justus Trail”. This parking lot is also the southern trailhead of the Samuel Justus Trail (page NE-81).
Deep Hollow trailhead: Follow directions to Franklin trailhead. After crossing the river, continue past the Franklin trailhead parking for another a mile and a half. Just after where Deep Hollow Rd comes in from the left and before the billboard and the FMS driveway, turn right/south and go a short distance to the parking lot.
Belmar trailhead: From the I79-I80 interchange go east on I80 towards Clarion. Take Exit 29, PA8 and turn left/north on PA8 toward Franklin. The expressway ends after about 12.8 miles. Continue 1.6 miles more to the traffic light and sign for the Sandy Creek Trail at Pone La. Turn right/east on Pone lane. Go 2.4 miles and at the “T” intersection, turn right on Belmar Rd. Follow Belmar Rd 3.6 miles to trail parking. This parking lot is also the middle trailhead for the Sandy Creek Trail (page NE-121).
Brandon and Rockland Tunnel MP102.6 Access: These remote access points can be reached from Rockland Rd by various tertiary roads. Rockland Rd is one of several similarly-named roads between Oil City and Emlenton east of the Allegheny River. To get to these access points you have to really want to get there. Take a GPS and a good map.
Emlenton (2018 southern) trailhead: MP96 From the I79-I80 interchange go east on I80 towards Clarion for about 22.1 miles. Take Exit 42, PA38 toward Emlenton. At the bottom of the ramp, turn left/north on PA38. Shortly afterwards, at the “T”, turn right/east toward Emlenton on PA38/208. Follow PA38/208 as it twists, turns, and descends for 1.6 miles to a bridge across the Allegheny River. Turn left/north on PA38/208 to cross this bridge, following signs to the Allegheny River Trail. At the end of the bridge, at the stop sign, turn left /west on Main St. In about 3 blocks, bear slightly right following the Allegheny River Trail signs to the parking lot 500 feet ahead.
Note: As of 2018 there was no trail between Emlenton and Foxburg. The trail group is working to make this connection and it may happen in the near future.
Foxburg trailhead: From the I79-I80 interchange go east on I80 toward Clarion for about 22.1 miles. Take Exit 42, PA38 toward Emlenton. At the bottom of the ramp, turn left/north. Shortly afterwards, at the “T”, turn right/east toward Emlenton on PA38/208. Follow PA38/208 as it twists, turns, and descends for 1.6 miles to a bridge across the river. Do not turn left to cross the Allegheny River, but instead continue straight on PA268. In 2.8 miles turn left/east on PA58 and cross the Allegheny River. At the end of the bridge turn right/south into trailhead parking.
Parker (southern) trailhead: From the I79-I80 interchange follow instructions to Foxburg. Instead of crossing the bridge into Foxburg on PA58, continue another 3.3 miles on PA268. Just as Parker comes into view, turn left/east on PA368 and cross the Allegheny River. Just past the end of the bridge, turn left/north and circle around under the bridge. Parking is under the bridge.
Rest rooms, water: No water, seasonal chemical toilets at Franklin, Emlenton trailheads.
Bike shop, rentals: Bike shop with rentals in Emlenton.
Restaurant, groceries: Restaurants and groceries in Franklin and Emlenton. Restaurants in Foxburg. None of the small communities along the route seem to have any stores.
Camping, simple lodging: Motels and B&Bs in Franklin, Emlenton, and Foxburg. The bunkhouse in Emlenton burned down and is no longer available. Rental cottages in St George. Several primitive campsites between Franklin and Belmar, and another at Mill Ck MP23.3. Camping permitted between trail and the Allegheny River except where developed or posted.
Swimming, fishing: The Allegheny River has strong currents and power boats. Good fishing for bass and walleye.
Winter sports: Cross-country skiing.
Wheelchair access: Long steep flight of stairs from Belmar Bridge to the trail. Clearance at gates and bollards is often tight.
Allegheny Valley Trails Association
Franklin, PA 16323
Maps, guides, other references
Trail brochure, Recreational Trails in the Oil Region, by Oil Region Alliance & Allegheny Valley Trails Association.
Self Guided Walking Tour of Franklin PA,
USGS Topographic Maps: Franklin, Kennerdell, Eau Claire, Emlenton, Parker.
Text version of 20 Jul 2018 based on personal observation while bicycling Franklin to Sunny Slope 10/2017, Sunny Slope to Rocland Tunnel MP102.2, Rockand Tunnel to Emlenton MP96 09/20202020, Emlenton to Foxburg not ridden, Foxburg to Parker 7/2017. Conditions may have changed; you are responsible for your own safety. Oldest segment check 7/2017.