Along Clarion River and Little Toby Ck from Ridgway to Brockway in Elk and Jefferson Counties
Way up in the headwaters of the Clarion River, where the Clarion is still a creek and the mountains tower 700 feet over the water, two railroads once ran south from Ridgway along the Clarion River and Little Toby Ck to Brockway. Now only one remains, the Buffalo & Pittsburgh RR, and the other, the former Ridgway and Clearfield Branch of the Pennsylvania RR has become a trail. The Clarion-Little Toby Bike Trail runs for 18 miles, largely through woods and punctuated by homes, camps, ghost towns, and industrial relics.
Clarion-Little Toby Bike & Hike Trail
Location Ridgway to Carman to Brockway, Jefferson County
Trailheads Ridgway, Carman, Brockway
Length, Surface 18 miles crushed limestone
Character Uncrowded, forest, shady, mostly flat
Usage restrictions No motorized vehicles, no snowmobiles, no horses
Amenities Rest rooms, water, bike rental, food, fishing
Driving time from Pittsburgh 2 hours to 2 hours 30 minutes northeast
The trail starts in Ridgway on the south side of the Clarion River, on Water St a block south of Main St. The trail follows Water St along the river out of town, then climbs a short steep hill (10% for a quarter-mile) to the water treatment plant (mile 0.9). After a slightly gentler descent past the water plant, the trail breaks away into a lovely creek side trail with rhododendron towering on the shore. The Clarion has been designated a Wild and Scenic River.
A home blocks the railbed at mile 2.7, and the trail detours briefly to the road to avoid this house. At mile 4.1 there are visible remnants of Mill Haven Dam, which was destroyed in the flood of 1936. At mile 5 the active railroad, which has been on the opposite side of the Clarion River, crosses to the trail side and runs parallel to the trail, though a little distance away. Now the railroad grade, the trail, and PA949 are pinned between the cliff and the river, but the railroad and road have little traffic, and the road is high enough to keep traffic noise away from the trail.
At mile 5.8 the trail becomes rail-with-trail, running right alongside the Buffalo & Pittsburgh RR tracks for two miles. At mile 7.7 the trail and tracks cross under the PA949 bridge over Little Toby Ck. The railroad crosses to the west side of the creek, and the trail remains on the former railroad grade on the right side. There are occasional glimpses of the current railroad from the trail from here to Brockway.
At mile 7.8 there’s a short steep footpath to a parking area, but an easier access is at Croyland (mile 8.5). Just off the trail here is a former CCC camp that provided jobs for 250 men during the Great Depression (1932–1941). It was previously the Portland Lumber plant (1895–1902) and a munitions plant (1918–1920).
At mile 8.8 a sign marks the Indian Rock Trail, which leads up the steep bank to a cleft in the stone outcrop at the top of the slope.
From Croyland to Carrier, the trail runs close to Little Toby Ck, wholly isolated from roads and houses and most other signs of civilization. Traces of the railroad heritage endure, including industrial remains and signs marking the location of ghost towns. The Garochii Quarry with remains of a stone crusher is visible at mile 9.7, and there are ghost towns marked at Grove (mile 9.8), Shorts Mill (mile 10.1), Blue Rock (mile 12.2), Vineyard (mile 13.3), and Carrier (mile 14.5). At Blue Rock ghost town a suspension footbridge crosses Little Toby Ck. Carrier is near the site of the former Galushas Mill. There is likely to be wildlife anywhere along the trail, but especially near the streams. Expect birds, deer, rabbits, and chipmunks; rejoice at rarer species.
Along the Little Toby, the trail is not simply a bench along the creek. To round out the railroad curves there are small cuts through little knobs that jut into the bends of the creek.
Beginning at Carrier, the woods and ferns are punctuated by homes and camps, and the road occasionally parallels the trail. The trail emerges in Brockway at Taylor Park, with pond, playground, swimming pool, ball fields, and parking.
This trail will eventually connect with the Wolf Run Trail (page NE-252) which is an extension paralleling US219 from Brockway to Falls Ck (9 miles). Four miles of this section have been cleared and rolled. We have not traveled this trail but did sample a half mile at each end. It was a too rough for our taste, but in 2014 it was already a great walking trail.
Five Bridges Trail (page NE-251) is the continuation of the Toby Trail west from Brockway for 18 miles to Brookville. At Brookville this extension would connect to Redbank Valley Trail (page NE-129), which would in turn connect to the Armstrong Trail (page NE-99) on the Allegheny River. At present (2017) 9 miles from Brockway to Allen Mills is available with a rough trail surface. There is an issue where I80 crosses the railroad grade since the highway was built on top of the railroad grade.
Vicinity: Directions begin at the intersection of I80 and US219 (I80 exit 97) headed north on US219. To reach this point from Pittsburgh, go northeast on PA28 to I80, then east on I80.
Ridgway (northern) trailhead: From I80, go north on US219 24.5 miles to Ridgway and go straight on PA948 (Main St) when US219 turns right/northwest. Go 0.2 miles on PA948 and turn left/south on Water St. The trailhead is a block down Water St, with parking just before the trailhead
Carman trailhead: From I80, go north on US219 24.5 miles to Ridgway and follow the signs for PA949. Go 7.5 miles on PA949. Just after crossing the bridge over Little Toby Ck, turn left/southeast on Carmen Rd. Shortly after this turn there is access over the bank to the trail. However, there is easier access 0.7 miles farther down the road: After passing through the old stone gates of a former CCC camp, follow signs a few yards to the trail and park alongside the trail.
Brockway (southern) trailhead: From I80, go north on US219 for 7 miles to Brockway and turn left/west on PA28. After 5 blocks turn right/north on Seventh Av. Go a few blocks, through Taylor Park and past several ball fields, to parking across 7th Av from a small lake.
Rest rooms, water: At the park in Brockway (seasonal). At Welcome Center in Ridgway, at the intersection of PA219 and PA948 (six blocks from trailhead).
Bike shop, rentals: At outfitters in Ridgway.
Restaurant, groceries: In Brockway and Ridgway.
Camping, simple lodging: Hotels and B&Bs in Ridgway and Brockway.
Swimming, fishing: Swimming at pool in Taylor Park in Brockway (fee, check hours). Fishing in the Clarion, canoe rental in Ridgway.
Winter sports: Cross-country skiing. Snowmobiles prohibited.
Wheelchair access: A few steep hills.
TriCounty Rails to Trails Assn
PO Box 115
Ridgway, PA 15853
Maps, guides, other references
USGS Topographic Maps: Ridgway, Portland Mills, Carman.
Text version of 2 Jul 2018 based on personal observation while bicycling Ridgway to Brockway 10/2014, Brockway to Allen Mills not biked, trail website Oct 2014. Conditions may have changed, you are responsible for your own safety. Oldest segment check 10/2014.