Youghiogheny River Trail, Southern Section
Confluence to Connellsville, in Fayette County
George Washington followed the Youghiogheny to Ohiopyle in 1754 in his search for a water route to Fort Duquesne (now Pittsburgh), but he gave up when he encountered the falls at Ohiopyle and the rapids below. Modern visitors easily cycle this route through the Appalachians on the former route of the Western Maryland Railroad.
This trail has been named as one of the best walking trails in the world. Writing in the October 1994 issue of Travel and Leisure Magazine, Rita Ariyoshi named the Youghiogheny River Trail among 19 paths from France to New Zealand as “The World’s Best Walks”. It’s a popular trail, and hence can be a busy one. In 12 years from 1986 to 1998 the number of user-days grew from 45,000 to 300,000.
Youghiogheny River Trail, Southern Section
Location Confluence to Ohiopyle to Connellsville,
Henry Clay, Stewart, and Dunbar Townships, Fayette Counties
Trailheads Confluence, Ohiopyle, Connellsville
Length, Surface 28 miles, packed crushed stone
Character Busy to crowded, wooded, mostly shady, flat to gentle grade
Usage restrictions No motorized vehicles; no snowmobiles; no horses
Amenities Rest rooms, water, bike rental, food, lodging, fishing
Driving time from Pittsburgh 1 hour 30-45 minutes southeast to Ohiopyle;
1 hour 15 minutes southeast to Connellsville
The milepost for this section are the miileposts for the Great Allegheny Pasage (GAP). The Confluence is MP<<xxx.x>>, Ohipyle is Milepost <XX.X>> and Connellsfille trailhead is MP89.0. There are two ways to cross the Youghiogheny River in Confluence: the bike lane on the upstream side of the PA281 road bridge, and a dedicated bike-pedestrian bridge is a hundred yards downstream from the road bridge. You’ll prefer the former if you’re connecting to the Allegheny Highlands Trail, the latter if you’re visiting the town of Confluence.
Whichever bridge you use, for about 0.6 miles the crushed limestone trail parallels Ramcat Hollow Rd to a rest area where you can admire the junction of Laurel Hill Creek, Casselman River, and Youghiogheny River. This unusual configuration gives Turkeyfoot Township its name.
Soon the trail turns away from the road and enters the woods. After a couple of road crossings, the trail passes through the Ramcat Hollow trailhead, which it shares with a popular canoe/raft access site for the Youghiogheny River. From here to Ohiopyle, the trail is isolated. The river is frequently visible, and you can enjoy watching the canoeists/rafters in the easy rapids between Victoria and Ohiopyle. Along this portion of the trail you’ll notice remnants of the railroad, most notably <<cuts through hills such as the one at mile 2.5>>, fills that kept the railbed nearly level over <<hollows such as the one at mile 2.7>>, and <<retaining walls like the one at mile 5.7>>. You’ll also see traces of old farms, such as the fruit trees in the <<field at mile 6.3>> and the long stacked fieldstone fence that <<runs from mile 6.5 to mile 6.7>>. Half a dozen or so benches along the trail provide chances to rest and watch the traffic go by.
You enter Ohiopyle at the canoeist’s parking lot <<mile 9.5)>>, so slow down for the congestion. Bicycle parking is just a little farther, at<< mile 9.8>> near the restored railroad station that hosts the information center <<(mile 10.1)>>. Ohiopyle is a popular tourist area and has bike rental facilities. The trail is likely to be very busy with both pedestrians and bicyclists in the vicinity of Ohiopyle. From the information center the trail crosses a handsome trail bridge across the Youghiogheny River and into the Ferncliff Natural Area, a wildflower preserve.
Although it’s only half a mile across Ferncliff peninsula before the trail crosses the river again, the river takes 2 miles to go around the peninsula, dropping 80 ft in the process. As the trail leaves the Ferncliff Peninsula, it crosses the Youghiogheny River on a converted trestle. Notice how much higher above the river you are here than in Ohiopyle. This trestle is a good place to watch raft trips negotiate (or fail to negotiate) Railroad Rapid just upstream. From Ohiopyle to Bruner Run (mile 16) the trail runs well above the river, and the woods are too thick for good views of the rafting and kayaking action. However, you’ll hear, if not see, the rafting crowds. Signposts with cryptic 2-letter abbreviations mark paths down the steep hill to some of the named rapids. You can also enjoy the maturing deciduous forest, the cascading feeder streams, and the June display of laurel and rhododendron. Note especially the rock face with coal seams at mile 13.7 and the railroad ties remaining alongside the trail at mile 15. Half a dozen benches provide resting places. Several hiking trails intersect our trail: Great Gorge at mile 10.6, Beech at mile 10.7, Jonathan Run at mile 13.5, and Kentuck at miles 13.5 and 13.7. Bicycles are forbidden on most of these, though it is permitted to take bikes up the steep trail to the campground. The trail gradient is more noticeable between Ohiopyle and Bruner Run than elsewhere (not surprisingly, as that’s also the more difficult whitewater section). Bruner Run is the termination of the very popular whitewater trip that begins at Ohiopyle. The only traffic on the road at Bruner Run will be the buses shuttling boaters and equipment up from the river, but watch out for the nasty curbs at the crossing.
The Youghiogheny valley is a Pennsylvania Important Bird Area. The rocky banks and steep hillsides covered with hemlock, laural, and rhododendron provide high-quality habitat for many species, including many species on the Pennsylvania special concerned list.
From Bruner Run for about 8 miles to Wheeler Bottom (mile 24.7), the trail is isolated in the Youghiogheny gorge. A spectacular view opens at mile 16.9, where a huge retaining wall holds up the hillside at a pipeline crossing. The solitude is interrupted only at mile 19.4 by Camp Carmel, a small church camp that is rarely occupied. At MP89.7, just before crossing the first trestle, you pass the connection to the Sheepskin trail. Currently (2022) it goes 2,6 miles, following Dunbar Ck, to the mining/railroad town of Dunbar. Eventually the Sheepskin trail will connect to Port Marion on the southern Pennsylvania birder.. To stay om the GAP trail, cross the first of two high trestles that take you into Chancellorsville.
In Connellsville the trail emerges behind the former Connellsville Sportswear plant on First St (mile 27). It moves over to Third St in a bike lane separated from auto traffic by landscaped planters. The crossing of busy PA711 is protected by a traffic signal which is triggred bybicylits on the trail, no need to push the button. The trail follows Third St through mixed residential and commercial areas of Connellsville to parking at Yough Riverfront Park MP89, about 28 miles from Confluence.
At Connellsville the river leaves the water gap through Chestnut Ridge and enters the farm and mining lands in the valley. Here you cross to the northern section of the trail, the character of the trail changes from whitewater to flatwater, and the setting changes from near-wilderness gorge to rural mining towns. The Mon-Yough section of the GAP Tsrail starts on the far side of Riverfront Park.
Local history, attractions
Monongahela Indians lived in the basin between 900 and 1600 AD. After they left, Delaware, Shawnee, and Iroquois Indians used the area as a hunting ground. Old records indicate that the name Ohiopyle was derived from the Indian word “Ohiopyle”, which means “white frothy water”, a reference to the large falls on the Youghiogheny River. If you find the spelling of these names daunting, take heart: The river was called Yok-yo-gane in its first appearance on a map, in 1737. Since then it has been called Yawyawganey (1751), Joxhio Geni and Yoxhio Geni (1755), Yehiogany (1784), and even Yuh-wiac-hanne (early land grant).
In the 19th century, the falls made Ohiopyle a commercial center. Water power supported variously a sawmill, a gristmill, a planing mill, and an electric power plant. After the Western Maryland Railroad arrived in 1914, Ohiopyle became a popular resort destination. Round trip fare from Pittsburgh was $1.00.
In years past, two railroads used the Youghiogheny valley to pass through Laurel and Chestnut Ridges—the Baltimore and Ohio on the north bank, and the Western Maryland on the south bank. The B&O merged with the Chesapeake and Ohio and the Western Maryland to become part of CSX. The B&O tracks are still in use, now as part of CSX on Conrail tracks, but the Western Maryland tracks were abandoned in the 1970’s.
Now Ohiopyle relies primarily on tourism. The State Park offers over 19,000 acres of natural beauty, including the Falls, Ferncliff Natural Area, whitewater rafting and kayaking, and hiking. A 10-mile mountain bike trail (Sugarloaf Snowmobile and Mountain Bike Area) has been established on the southwest side of SR2012 between Ohiopyle and Confluence. Only roads connect the mountain bike area and the river trail.
Extensions of the ride
State Park rules hold around Ohiopyle, so biking is restricted to places designated for biking, plus roads. The side roads will get you the few blocks around town, but the main road is pretty busy and hilly, so the on-road options aren’t attractive. The State Park has added a 3.8-mile mountain bike trail (Sugarloaf Trail) connecting the canoeists’ parking lot in Ohiopyle to the Sugarloaf Snowmobile and Mountain Bike Area, which has 9.4 miles of mountain biking and equestrian trails. These are mountain biking trails; Sugarloaf Trail climbs 800’ as it leaves the parking lot.
At milepost 87.9 the Sheepskin Trail (page SE7) heads up Dunbar Creek 2.6 miles to the town of Dunbar. In Dunbar, there is a small historical museum and a rebuilt coke oven.
This section of trail is complete. There are plans for the Sheepskin Trail which starts at MP87.9 and will eventually connect the Youghiogheny River Trail with the West Virginia rail-trail system at Pt Marion, where the Monongahela River crosses the state line.
Vicinity Southern Trailheads: directions begin southbound on PA381 entering Ohiopyle. To reach this point from Pittsburgh take the PA Turnpike (I76) to Donegal. Turn east (left) on PA31. About 2 miles later turn south (right) on PA381. Follow PA381 about 18 miles to Ohiopyle.
Ramcat Hollow (southern trailhead): Follow PA381 through most of Ohiopyle and turn southeast (left) on SR2012 at the Boater’s Change house. Go 8.1 miles to PA281 and turn north (left) on PA281. When PA281 turns right to cross the Youghiogheny River, you may either continue straight on River Rd to trailhead parking at Ramcat Hollow or else follow PA281 across the bridge to park in Confluence and ride back across this bridge. Alternate route: For a shortcut to Ramcat Hollow trailhead, turn left off SR2012 onto Ram Cat Rd 7.3 miles from Ohiopyle.
Ohiopyle: As PA381 enters Ohiopyle, it crosses an active rail line, then the Youghiogheny River. A right turn just before the bridge takes you to the Ferncliff parking lot, access for the Ohiopyle-Bruner Run section. The first left turn after crossing the river takes you past the old train station to parking for the Ohiopyle-Confluence section.
Confluence: << need directions confluence>>
Vicinity northern trail heads: Directions begin at the intersection of PA711 and US119 in Connellsville. To reach this point from Pittsburgh take the PA Turnpike (I76) to New Stanton. Follow signs to go south on US119 about 16 miles to Connellsville.
Connellsville: From the traffic light at the intersection of PA711 (Crawford Av) and US119 in Connellsville, go north on PA711 for a few blocks to Third St. You’ll recognize it by the traffic light, the bike shop, and the separate bike lane. Turn left on Third St and follow the bicycle trail to the parking area.
Rest rooms, water: Rest rooms and water at trailheads.
Bike shop, rentals: Bike shops and rentals in Confluence, Ohiopyle, and Connellsville.
Restaurant, groceries: Groceries and restaurants in Confluence, Ohiopyle, and Connellsville.
Camping, simple lodging: Camping at Outflow Campground, at the base of Youghiogheny Dam, near Confluence. There’s also a campground at Ohiopyle State Park high on the ridge above the trail. You wouldn’t want to ride up the steep, narrow, busy road, but the State Park advises us that you can take bikes up the trail marked “To Campground” at the north end of the bridge at mile 10.6 (this is also steep, but it doesn’t have traffic). In Ohiopyle, a motel and Falls Market in town.
Swimming, fishing: The State Park does not allow swimming (to do so would require lifeguards). Wading is permitted, however. Be careful of the current in the Youghiogheny River. The north side of the river at Ferncliff is popular. If you enter the water near Confluence, be aware that the water is probably freshly released from the bottom of Youghiogheny Lake and hence quite cold, even in summer. Fishing is good to excellent all along the trail, in part because it’s cool all summer. Common catches are trout and small-mouth bass plus other varieties including catfish.
Winter sports: Cross-country skiing. No snowmobiles.
Wheelchair access: Steeper-than-normal grade just south of Connellsville. Lips on curbs at Bruner Run Rd crossing.
Maps, guides, other references
Ohiopyle State Park information brochure.
Bill Metzger. The Great Allegheny Passage Companion. The Local History Company, 2003.
Mary Shaw and Roy Weil. Linking Up: Planning Your Traffic-Free Bike Trip between Pittsburgh PA and Washington DC. Shaw-Weil Associates, 2002.
Trail Book 2019. Available from Allegheny Trail Alliance and local businesses.
Tim Palmer. Youghiogheny, Appalachian River. University of Pittsburgh Press, 1984.
USGS Topographic Maps: Confluence, Ohiopyle, Mill Run, South Connellsville, Connellsville.
Text version from 2002 edition based on personal observation while bicycling Connellsville (MP89) to Confluence (MP59.8) 5/2022. Conditions will have changed; you are responsible for your own safety. Oldest segment check 5/2022.