From Walkers Mill in Collier Twp near Pittsburgh to Weirton (near Colliers) WV
The Panhandle Trail is the first interstate trail in West Virginia and the second in western Pennsylvania (after Stavich, described in the Northwest volume of this guide). The trail route follows the former Panhandle Branch RR for 29 miles from Walkers Mill, in Colliers Township west of Pittsburgh to Weirton Junction near Weirton WV. The small town of Colliers WV is not far from the western end of the trail, so the trail is sometimes described as connecting Collier to Colliers. The trail runs through rural areas and small towns, and the wide right of way is about 60% paved with the rest crushed stone.
Location Walkers Mill PA to Collier WV, in Allegheny and
Washington Counties PA and Brooke County WV.
Trailheads Walkers Mill, Oakdale, Sturgeon, McDonald, Midway, Joffre, Burgettstown, Colliers
Length, Surface 27.6 total miles total,; 6.7 miles packed limestone in Allegheny County
17.2 miles paved in Washington County, PA
3.7 miles pea gravel in Brooke County, WV.
Character Uncrowded, rural, sunny, flat
Usage restrictions No motorized vehicles
Driving time from Pittsburgh 30 minutes east to 1 hour 30 minutes
There are 4 mileage marker systems along the trail. Railroad mileposts are 8- by 12-inch white panels with black numbers mounted about 8 feet up on a post; numbering starts with zero in Carnegie, and the trail runs from 11.2 at Walkers Mill to 38.8 at the western end. An MCI fiber cable is alongside the trail and is marked in tenths of miles that differ from the railroad’s by a tenth or two. Allegheny County uses a system of white posts with green lettering; they start with zero at Walkers Mill and go to 6.7 at the county line in McDonald. In West Virgina, green squares with white lettering mark quarter-miles; they start at the state line with 3.5 and count down to 0 at the US22 parking lot. Since the railroad numbering covers the entire system, this write-up uses those.
Allegheny County’s 6.7-mile section starts at Walkers Mill Rd (MP11.2) in Collier Twp. and runs to the county line (MP17.9) just west of Laurel Hill Rd in McDonald. It connects seamlessly to 17.2 miles of the paved Washington County section which ends at the state line (MP 35.1) and connects seamlessly to 3.7 miles that end near Weirton (MP38.8).
Beginning at the Walkers Mill trailhead (MP11.2), the trail almost immediately passes a rock face with a small pond at the bottom. This is one of several ponds left over from a former quarry. The windmill on the south side of the trail is pumping air into the pond to increase its oxygen content. This produces a variety of benefits, including fewer weeds, less algae growth and bottom sediment, better clarity, less odor, and a friendlier environment for fish. This area sometimes used by boy scout encampments and concerts.
There is a hiking trail at (MP12) that crosses the creek and explores the hillside, including a fossil cliff to poke around and find a fossil from a long ago era.
Around MP12.8, on the left is the 1950’s vintage Nike missile site, visible only during late fall and winter. After six creek crossings and 3.75 miles, the trail reaches the picnic pavilion and trailhead at Oakdale (MP14.9). The remaining 3.4 miles into McDonald (3 in Allegheny County and 0.4 paved in Washington County) are more developed and closer to Noblestown Rd. The McDonald trailhead (MP18.2) is at the McDonald Trail Station and Meeting House, a trail information and community center on PA980, two blocks from downtown McDonald. Inside there is some of the historical information and photos of the McDonald area.
The next half-mile of trail to Primrose (MP19.7) passes through the bottom lands of Robinson Run. The high McDonald Trestle (MP19.1) that carries the Montour Trail (page PIT-31) over this valley dominates the view here. Just before Primrose there is a junction with the Montour Trail Connector (MP19.5). This side trail follows a railroad connector that provided interchange between the Montour railroad and the Panhandle Branch railroad. It leads to the Montour Trail parking area under the McDonald trestle and then across SR980 and up to the Montour Trail.
At MP22.0 while traversing an old reclaimed strip mine area, there is on the right, up on the hill, a model airplane airport. Often there are RC model airplanes doing aerobatic maneuvers in the area.
After the last road crossing in Burgettstown (MP27.9), on the right across the ravine, is more of Burgettstown that is a company town. The homes are all the same basic shape and style, although a few have had additions added.
Soon after a deep cut (MP29.3) the trail has a distinct downhill slope to its end (MP38.8) near Weirton WV. This section is rural Pennsylvania woods with an occasional road crossing. On the right is the reamins of strip mining. There are no services accessible from the trail in this section.
The state line (MP35.1) is marked by a welcome sign, a railroad marker, and the end of the paved trail. The 3.7-mile West Virginia section is pea gravel and reflects the more rugged topography of that state. The railroad shared a narrow valley bottom with the creek, Harmon Creek Rd, and an occasional row of houses or industrial plant, and the village of Colliers (MP35.6 to MP36.7). An old-fashioned swimming hole, complete with rope swing, is at a picnic area alongside the trail near (MP37.3). The finished trail stops just past the parking area under the US22 Bridge (MP38.8). A two track gravel road continues for about a mile and just stops.
Extensions of the ride
At MP19.5 a crossover trail connects to the 50-mile-long Montour Trail (page NP-11).
The Walkers Mill trailhead is less than half an hour from Pittsburgh, so the eastern end of the Panhandle is often combined with rides on medium- to low-traffic roads in the area. Heading north from Oakdale or McDonald climbs over a former strip mine, and then picks up the Montour Trail near Beagle Club Rd, return via McDonald. Alternatively, cross over to the Montour Trail and work back through Candor and Midway.
The Montour Trail south of McDonald also provides access to some pleasant riding in the Cherry Valley area, with a return via Midway or Joffre and the Panhandle Trail.
These on-road extensions involve light to moderate traffic. The back roads provide a wealth of opportunities for riders with road-riding skills; take a map and explore (carefully).
There are hopes to connect the western end of the Panhandle Trail to the growing trail system along the Ohio River in Weirton, but nothing concrete is happening
There is hope to extend the eastern end of the trail into Carnegie and beyond.
Vicinity Eastern Trailhead: Directions begin headed west on US22/30 (Parkway West) from Pittsburgh.
Eastern (PA) trailheads: Take I79 south from the Parkway West, and then take the first exit (Carnegie, exit 57).
Walkers Mill: At the bottom of the ramp turn right on Noblestown Rd. After a mile and a half on Noblestown Rd, turn left on Walkers Mill Rd, toward the Collier Twp Municipal Building. Follow this road around a couple of corners to trailhead parking on the right and left.
McDonald: At the bottom of the ramp turn right on Noblestown Rd. After a little over 9.5 miles on Noblestown Rd, turn left on PA980. Follow this road for a block across the creek and the trail to parking on the left, in front of the Trail Station and Meeting House.
Vicinity Western Trailhead: Take US22 west from the Parkway West.
Burgettstown: Take the SR18 exit, following signs to the First Niagara Pavilion. Continue south on SR18 for 3.0 miles. As you approach Burgettstown the road widens and there is a right hand road at an angle. Take this road and go 0.3 miles to the trail. Parking is on the right just after the road bends. If you miss the side road, you will pass under the trail and start to bend right. Immediately turn right on Bridge St, Go one block and turn left on N Main St. Go one block and turn right. Go one block and you will cross the trail, parking is on the left just past the trail.
Colliers (WV section): Follow US22 into WV and take Exit 3, for Harmon Ck and Cove Road. At the bottom of the ramp, turn left/south. Go 0.3 mile, crossing a bridge over Harmon Ck and the trail. Take the first right, almost a U-turn onto McColl Rd, and descend to stream level. After 0.2 miles, turn right at the sign just before the three house trailers. Trailhead parking is behind the house trailers. Biking under the US22 Bridge leads to one mile of trail that dead ends. Heading away from the US22 Bridge leads towards Pittsburgh.
Rest rooms, water: Seasonal chemical toilets at trailheads; rest rooms at Trail Station in McDonald when it’s open
Bike shop, rental: None
Restaurant, groceries: Restaurants and groceries within a few blocks of the trail in McDonald, Oakdale, Burgettstown and beside trail at Cemetery Hill Rd.
Camping, simple lodging: None.
Swimming, fishing: Possibly in Robinson Run or the quarry pond. In the creek one mile from the WV trailhead.
Winter sports: XC skiing. No snowmobiles.
Wheelchair access: Generally good.
Panhandle Trail Association Panhandle Trail
2520 Hilltop Rd 361 Greenbrier
Oakdale, PA 15071 Weirton WV 26062
Maps, guides, other references
USGS Topographic Maps: Oakdale, Canonsburg, Midway, Clinton, Burgettstown, Avella, Steubenville East, Weirton.
Text version of 08 Aug 2020 based on personal observation while bicycling Walkers Mill to McDonald 8/2020 McDonald to Burgettstown 12/2019, Burgettstown to Colliers WV 8/2020. Conditions may have changed; you are responsible for your own safety. Oldest segment check 12/2019.