Path of The Flood Trail / Staple Bend Trail /Johnstown Trails
Johnstown to Ehrenfeld in Cambria County
The Path of the Flood Trail commemorates the Johnstown Flood of 1889, when the South Fork Dam on the Little Conemaugh River failed catastrophically, releasing 20 million tons of water that raced 14 miles downstream in less than an hour to Johnstown, destroying entire towns along the way. When the torrent reached Johnstown, it had taken over 2200 lives and caused over $17 million in damage. This trail generally follows the Little Conemaugh River along . . . wait for it . . . the path of this flood.
The trail ranges from on road to crushed limestone to packed dirt, the setting ranges from urban/industrial to wooded/remote, and the route climbs and descends several big hills along the way. Part of this trail is included in the IHTC Pittsburgh to Harrisburg Corridor (page NE-183) and it is one of the trails in the Trans Allegheny Trails System (page NE-183).
Path of The Flood Trail/Staple Bend Trail/Johnstown Trails
Location Johnstown to Ehrenfeld
Trailheads East Conemaugh, Staple Bend Tunnel, Mineral Point, Ehrenfeld
Length, Surface 11.5 miles total (4.7 on road, ,0.5 paved,
5.1 crushed limestone, 1.2 packed dirt and gravel)
Character Some steep hills and long grades, on road, urban to mostly wooded uncrowded, shady
Usage restrictions No motorized vehicles, no horses, no snowmobiles
Amenities Rest rooms, food, lodging
Driving time from Pittsburgh 1 hour 45 minutes east
The trail sections and their status are:
Cambria Iron Trail and Johnstown Trail—0.5 miles paved, 3.5 miles on road
Coy and McCombie Trail—1.2 miles packed dirt and gravel
Staple Bend Trail—2.5 miles crushed limestone
Mineral Point gap—0.3 miles on road
Path of The Flood Trail, South Fork—2.6 miles limestone, 0.9 miles on road
Cambria Iron Trail and Johnstown Trail—4.0 Miles
The trail begins in Johnstown, at the intersection of Branch St and Roosevelt Blvd, by crossing an iron girder bridge that is closed to motorized traffic. After the bridge, the trail continues for half a mile on the flood wall adjacent to Iron St to Johns St.
At Johns St the trail joins the road for 3.5 miles through Johnstown to East Conemaugh, partly residential, partly industrial. The route goes left/northeast on Johns St for a short block as Bike Route B, then right/southeast on Walnut St. After a long block on Walnut St the route turns right/south and crosses the Conemaugh River on the Walnut St Bridge. Immediately the route turns left/east on Washington St at the Johnstown Flood Museum.
At the Flood Museum, the route follows busy Washington St through the Johnstown commercial district to PA271 (Clinton St) and bears left on (busier) PA271. It follows PA271 through an industrial area, changing names from Clinton to Phobe Ct, to Maple Av, and finally to Locust St. It crosses the Little Conemaugh River twice along the way. At a “T” intersection 2.4 miles from the Flood Museum, PA271 turns left to cross the river again on Main St, but the trail goes right/south on SR3029 and a block later turns left/northeast on SR3026 (also called Main St). It goes about half a mile on SR3026/Main St, and just after that road swings right, the trail route turns up/northeast on Pershing St and climbs a steep (12%) grade to the Franklin Ball field. After a stone gate the road bears right and leads past the ballfield to parking.
Coy and McCombie Trail—1.2 miles
From the Franklin ballfield trailhead, the trail traverses east along the hillside above Little Conemaugh River. It starts out as pea gravel on a gentle grade for half a mile. At a gate the trail narrows, steepens, and the surface becomes packed dirt and gravel. A third of a mile later it passes a handsome masonry basin. The next third of a mile is very steep with loose gravel; some may prefer to walk. The trail levels again at a small bridge marked MP1.0. At MP1.2 it turns left/east to cross a little bridge and joins the Staple Bend Tunnel Trail at the bottom of the former inclined plane.
This section starts with a steep climb up what was one of the inclined planes of the Allegheny Portage RR. Railroad cars were hauled up or lowered down along this steep hillside between the tunnel and the next level of the railroad. Several water bars placed diagonally across the trail deter erosion but create bumps.
At the top of the hill the trail enters the Staple Bend Tunnel. Built in 1833, this was the first railroad tunnel in the US. The west portal has the original Roman Revival facade. Most of the 900-foot tunnel is natural rock, but 150 feet at each end is lined with stone blocks. It takes a good flashlight to appreciate the interior rock and the accomplishment of building this tunnel. The original stones for the east facade were used for other buildings, but the entrance was restored by the National Park Service.
The trail continues for over 2 more miles on a bench along the side of the hill above the Little Conemaugh River, of Johnstown Flood fame. Half a mile after leaving the tunnel area (MP1.4), 2 to 3 rows of square stones parallel the trail on the right for a quarter-mile. Each stone has two drilled holes about the size of a finger. These “sleepers” supported wooden rails with iron straps on the running surface. At MP0.5 the drop off to the left is steep and slipping; caution is advised. This section of trail ends at the Staple Bend Tunnel Park Trailhead.
Mineral Point gap—0.3 Miles
The well-marked road route from Staple Bend Tunnel Park to the start of the next section of trail drops into the valley, crosses the creek and climbs back up. The trail exits the Staple Bend Tunnel Park parking lot, turns left/northwest on the road, and descends steeply for 900 feet. This road enters a one-lane culvert under the railroad, controlled by a traffic light. Two short blocks later, the route crosses the river and turns right/west. One block later, where the main road bends left, the route continues straight for one block on Front St. A left/northwest turn sign marks a turn on to a 200-foot road that meets the trail at the base of a climb up to the railroad roadbed.
Path of the Flood, South Fork Trail—3.1 miles
After the climb in Mineral Point, the crushed limestion trail continues climbing for another quarter-mile, then levels off to a gentle grade. It runs on a bench cut into the steep hillside. There are great views of the river, and about a mile from Mineral Point an overlook with a bench and interpretive sign offers a view of the stone arched Conemaugh Viaduct with the possibility that a train will cross it. The crushed limestone trail ends at Portage St in Ehrenfeld. In Ehrenfeld, the route continues on roads for a total of 0.9 miles through residential areas. The first half is on Portage St; a block after the bridge Portage joins 2nd St. The route continues for 0.4 miles and turns right/south on Penn St, headed steeply downhill (16% grade) for two blocks to end at the trailhead in Ehrenfeld Park.
Local history, attractions
Staple Bend Tunnel was the first railroad tunnel in the United States. It served the Allegheny Portage RR, a combined railroad and incline system that shortened the travel time from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh from three weeks to four days. Now part of the Allegheny Portage RR National Historic Site, the tunnel used to be closed except for special occasions but was reopened for public use in 2001.
Just west of the tunnel was one of the inclined planes that alternated with railroad tracks to make the Allegheny Portage such a distinctive transportation system. As cars came out of the tunnel, they were lowered on an inclined plane to the next railroad level below. Westbound traffic was brought by train to the foot of the incline, raised to tunnel level, and sent onward, pulled by the same engines that delivered eastbound traffic to the head of the incline. The incline originally operated with thick manila ropes, but these were later replaced with steel cables. The large concrete structure at the end of the tunnel is a later addition. It was built in the 1950s by Bethlehem Steel to control water flow in a pipe they had laid through the tunnel. When the incline was operating, the power plant was at about this location. So the tunnel is now in its third life.
Johnstown Flood Museum is operated by the Johnstown Area Heritage Association and tells the story of the 1889 flood—including the town’s triumphant recovery. It has many pictures of the before and after, a relief map showing the path of the flood and a reconstructed debris field. A documentary film about the flood is shown once an hour. The museum is 4 blocks from the Johns St trail intersection.
Johnstown Incline Plane opened in 1891 to carry people, horses and wagons to the new hilltop community of Westmont. It is about 900 feet long with a steep 70.9% grade. It is the world’s steepest vehicular inclined plane and still today takes automobiles up and down. It is 5 blocks from the Johns St trail intersection. inclinedplane.org
Extensions of the ride
The next segment to the west along the IHTC Pittsburgh to Harrisburg Corridor is the Ghost Town Trail (page NE-217). The route is not yet established, so the length is uncertain. Various road routes between the two trails are 8 to 13 miles.
The next segment to the east along the IHTC Pittsburgh to Harrisburg Corridor has not yet been determined.
The September 11 National Memorial Trail follows this trail from Johnstown to Ehrenfeld. The continuation in both directions of the Memorial Trail is on roads.
The Jim Mayer River walk Trail is a short (1.5 mile) trail along Stonycreek River abut two miles south of Johnstown.
There are hopes to shorten or eliminate the on-road section through Johnstown by following the river bank.
The Urban Johnstown Connection Project is also improving connectivity to the Jim Mayer River walk Trial through a combination of on-road signage and new trail.
The on-road section in Mineral Point will probably be there for a long time because the route descends from one side of the valley, crosses the river, and climbs up to the railroad grade on the other side.
Vicinity: Directions begin as the intersection with US22 and PA403. To reach this point from Pittsburgh, go east on US22.
For the Roosevelt to Jones St Trail section, there is no official trailhead. Either park on some side street or at the Johnstown Flood Museum.
Johnstown Flood Museum Access: From the intersection of US22 and PA403, follow PA403 south. Go 9.2 miles. Just after crossing the river turn left/south on Broad St. In 1.2 miles Broad St becomes Roosevelt Blvd. Continue on Roosevelt Blvd for another 0.5 miles and turn left/southeast on Washington St. Go 0.4 miles, parking will be on the right, just past the Flood Museum. To get to the start of the Path of the Flood Trail along the river in Johnstown, backtrack for 0.5 miles on Washington St and turn right/northeast on Jones St. Immediately after crossing the bridge turn left/northwest on to the trail along the river bank. Continue for 0.5 miles to the start. To get to the Franklin Ballpark trailhead, continue on Washington St and follow next set of instructions.
East Conemaugh/Franklin Ballfield (eastern) trailhead: From the intersection of US22 and PA403, follow PA403 south. Go 9.2 miles. Just after crossing the river turn left/south on Broad St. In 1.2 miles Broad St becomes Roosevelt Blvd. Continue on Roosevelt Blvd for another 0.5 miles and turn left/southeast on Washington St. In 0.7 miles Washington St becomes SR271. Continue on SR271 for 2.1 miles and shortly before crossing the river the third time at the “T”, turn right/southeast on SR3029. Go one block and turn left/northeast on Main St. Go 0.4 miles and just after the right bend of Main St, turn left/northeast on Pershing St. Go 300 feet and bend right at the “Y”. Go 350 feet and continue straight/right at the second “Y”. Go 0.3 miles to trailhead parking.
Mineral Point/Staple Bend Tunnel Park trailhead: From the intersection of US22 and PA403, follow US22 east. Go 7.2 miles and turn right/south on Mile Hill Rd. Go 2.1 miles and turn left/west on Benshoff Hill/SR3039. Go 1.0 miles and turn right/south at the “T” with William Penn Av/SR271. Go 2.2 miles and turn left/southeast on Mineral Point Rd. Go 1.6 miles and turn right/southwest on Beech Hill Rd in Mineral Point and cross the river. Go 0.3 miles and the Tunnel Park Trailhead parking will be on the right.
South Fork trailhead: From the intersection of US22 and PA403, follow US22 east. Go 13.7 miles and exit on to US219 south. Go 6.9 miles and exit on to the US53 ramp. At the end of the ramp turn left/west on Railroad St. Go 0.6 miles and turn right/north on Oak St and cross the railroad tracks and river. Immediately turn left/west on Portage St. Go 0.3 miles to the trailhead.
South Fork Ehrenfeld Park (western) trailhead: Follow directions for South Fork Trailhead except turn right/east on Portage St. Go for 0.4 miles and turns right/south on Penn St, headed steeply downhill (16% grade) for two blocks to end at parking in Ehrenfeld Park. To get to the trail go back 0.9 miles on Portage St.
Rest rooms, water: Rest rooms at Staple Bend Tunnel Park, Flood Museum.
Bike shop, rentals: None.
Restaurant, groceries: In Johnstown.
Camping, simple lodging: In Johnstown.
Swimming, fishing: None.
Winter sports: none.
Wheelchair access: Several steep grades, very steep grade on crushed limestone surface west of tunnel probably not manageable for a wheelchair.
Cambria County Conservation Allegheny Portage Railroad
& Recreation Authority National Historic Site
401 Candlelight Dr Ste 240 110 Federal Park Rd
Ebensburg, PA 15931 Gallitzin, PA 16641
Maps, guides, other references
Path of the Flood brochure:
USGS Topographic Maps: Johnstown, Geistown, Nanty Glo.
Text version of 22 Jul 2018. Observed Roosevelt Blvd to Johns St 5/2018, drove Johns St to East Conemaugh 5/2018, bicycled East Conemaugh to Ehrenfeld 5/2018. Conditions may have changed; you are responsible for your own safety. Oldest segment check 5/2018.