The birthplace of the oil industry supplies the setting for a ride that combines the natural beauty of Oil Ck Valley’s clear trout stream and hemlock-hardwood forest with traces of the oil boom that once dominated the valley. The trail follows the path of the railroad that once carried oil from wells in this and adjacent valleys. The intervening century has erased most evidence of the industry, but there are interpretive signs along the trail and the Drake Well Museum has outdoor exhibits that show the oil well machinery, and indoor exhibits that explain the history. This trail is part of the Erie to Pittsburgh Trail (page NE-15).
The trail is surfaced in aging asphalt (2017), 8.5 feet wide, with a few short hills. It is well populated with interpretive signs, views of Oil Ck, wildlife, picnic tables, benches, and rain shelters (MP3.3, 6.7, 8.3). It can be busy to crowded on nice summer weekends, but the seclusion of the valley and the possibility of watching herons or eagles makes it worthwhile.
Oil Creek State Park Trail
Location South of Titusville to Petroleum Centre, Venango County
Trailheads Petroleum Centre, Drake Well Museum
Length, Surface 9.5 miles total (0.5 on road, 9.0 paved)
Character Busy, wooded, shady, gently rolling
Usage restrictions No motorized vehicles, no snowmobiles, no horses
Amenities Rest rooms, water, bike rental, food, fishing
Driving time from Pittsburgh 2 hours north
The trail begins in the Jersey Bridge Trailhead parking lot about 0.4 miles from the Drake Well Museum. A spur trail leads from the parking lot to Drake Well Museum. It is well worth a trip to the museum to see its vast open-air collection of oil field equipment, which often is operating. There are two milepost numbering systems, one with zero at the north end, and the other with zero at the south end. They are about a half a mile apart. At any point on the trail the north mileage plus south mileage will always equal 9.5. This description refers to southbound mileposts.
After the trail leaves the parking lot, it climbs steeply for 0.2 miles to reach the railroad grade. At MP2.2 are visible remains of a foundation wall at Boughton. Farther along there are historical markers, but no remains, for Miller Farm (MP4.3), Shaffer Farm (MP5.6), Pioneer (MP7.7) and Funkville (MP8.1). At MP8.8 the trail crosses Oil Ck, and at the end of the bridge leaves the railroad grade and begins winding in and out amongst the trees. It drops down to Oil Ck, crosses under the Oil Creek and Titusville RR and snakes around an old pond. Shortly thereafter the trail climbs 15 feet to a township road and follows the road for the last 0.5 miles to Petroleum Centre near the SR1004 bridge.
All along the way there are occasional views up and down the creek. One day we sat on a bench and saw an eagle fly by just above eye level.
Local history, attractions
This area is the birthplace of the American oil industry. For centuries, oil occurred naturally on the surface along Oil Ck. In 1859, Colonel Edwin Drake came to the area searching for the source and a way to get larger quantities. He became the first to successfully drill for oil. On Sunday August 28, his well just south of Titusville struck oil at a depth of 69 feet. Drake Well Memorial Park is on the site of his well.
The next dozen years saw boom and bust in the local oil industry, with development and demise of entire towns. Petroleum Centre grew suddenly to a population of 3,000 in 1863; the town of Pithole was built between May and September of 1865, and grew to a population of 20,000. By January of 1866, Pithole was already vanishing and in the census of 1870 there were only 237 residents. Both towns are now historical sites where remaining traces are still visible. There were also oil fields at Tarr Farm, Pioneer Farm, and Miller Farm along the bike trail. The Oil Creek RR was created to haul oil out of the valley. Miller Farm was the terminus of the railroad; the world’s first successful oil pipeline connected the railroad to Pithole, 5.5 miles to the east.
Oil Creek State Park provides interpretive information at many points along the trails. Additional attractions (mostly with admission fee) include the Drake Well Museum 0.4 miles from the northern end of the trail, the Pithole historical site to the east, and the Oil Creek and Titusville excursion train, which runs on the opposite side of Oil Ck from the trail.
Drake Well Museum tells the story of the early oil industry. In addition to traditional and interactive exhibits, it has an extensive open-air exhibit of oil-field machinery featuring a full-size working replica of the steam engine that drove the pumps for the first successful oil well and a working rod line system. The museum is less than half a mile from the northern end of the trail, and a bike trail runs alongside the road to the museum.
The valley is still an oil center: The oldest producing oil well in the country is McClintock No. 1, owned by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and located on the McClintock Trail (page NE-62) near Rouseville. It has been producing continuously since August 1861.
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.
Excursion trains of the Oil Creek and Titusville RR can be heard across the creek. Stations within the park are at the Drake Well Museum, Petroleum Center, and Rynd Farm/Coal Jonny House. The main station, Perry St, is in Titusville. It is possible to ride one way with bicycle from any of these stations. Bikes, kayaks and canoes are accommodated on the train for a small premium over the one-way fare, octrr.org
Oil Creek State Park is a Pennsylvania Important Bird Area. The rugged hillside and streamside forest support a high diversity of breeding forest birds, including up to 20 species of breeding warblers and up to 34 species of migratory warblers.
Oil Ck is one of the largest trout streams in Pennsylvania. It offers prime trout fishing throughout the season and is stocked by the state. Deep pools alternate with productive riffles. It was designated a PA State Water Trail in 2017.
The next segment to the north along the Erie to Pittsburgh Trail is a seamless connection to the Queen City Trail (page NE-50) at Jersey Bridge Trailhead near Drake Well Museum.
The next segment to the south along the Erie to Pittsburgh Trail is the McClintock Trail (page NE-62) at Waitz Rd. The route is a marked on-road route. From the southern end of the trail at the Petroleum Centre trailhead, turn right/north and immediately cross a one-lane bridge with metal grating. After crossing the bridge turn left/west on Number Five Power Rd. This road is a scant 2 lanes with no shoulders. It is state park road with a speed limit of 35 mph, although the traffic typically is going slower because of the curves and hills. The route is marked with the green EPTA logo signs. Continue on the well-signed, paved, but hilly route (short grades up to 11%) for 3.2 miles to PA8. At PA8 the route turns left/southeast, goes 200 feet and turns right/south on Waitz Rd
Drake Well Museum is an open-air museum of the early oil industry, including a full-size working replica of the first successful oil well, and a replica of the steam engine that drove the pump. From the northern trailhead, turn right/southeast on the bike lane alongside Drake Well Rd. The museum is less than half a mile away.
The development of the Erie to Pittsburgh Trail has raised the priority of extending the trail south, for 3 miles from where it ends in Petroleum Centre to the Rynd Farm/“Coal Jonny House” where the trail would connect with the McClintock Trail (page NE-62). The State Park is evaluating options for this segment of the trail.
Vicinity: Directions begin northbound on PA8 at the end of the bypass around Oil City. To reach this point from Pittsburgh, go north on I79, east on I80, and north on PA8, taking the PA8 bypass around Oil City.
Jersey Bridge (northern) trailhead: From the northern end of the PA8 bypass around Oil City, continue north on PA8 for 14 miles to the stoplight at Bloss St, marked for Drake Well Museum. Turn right/east and continue for just under a mile to trailhead parking on the right (just before Jersey Bridge over Oil Ck). This parking lot is also the southern trailhead for the Queen City Trail (page NE-50).
Petroleum Centre trailhead (southern): From the northern end of the PA8 bypass, continue north 3.5 miles on PA8 to the turnoff marked for Petroleum Centre at Oil Creek State Park. (The correct turnoff is just north of the PA8 bridge over Oil Ck. Do not confuse this with the turnoff for Rynd Farm and OC&T RR, which is just south of this short bridge). Turn right/northeast toward Petroleum Centre on State Park Rd (SR1007). Follow signs for 3.1 miles to a “T” where SR1007 turns left and SR1004 goes right. Turn right/south on SR1004 and cross Oil Ck. Trailhead parking is just ahead on the left.
Alternate route: If coming south from Titusville on PA8, it’s faster to reach Petroleum Centre by going 5.4 miles, and just after crossing Oil Ck turning left/east at the well-marked intersection in Cherrytree. Do not do this in snowy conditions.
Rynd Farm (southern) trailhead: From the northern end of the PA8 bypass, continue north 3.4 miles on PA8 to the turnoff for Rynd Farm at Oil Creek State Park. The correct turnoff is just south of the PA8 bridge over Oil Ck. Turn right/east on Old Bankson Rd and go about a tenth of a mile to parking at the scenic railroad station. To reach the trail, return to PA8, turn right/northwest, cross the bridge, and immediately turn right/northeast on State Park Rd. This parking lot is also the northern trailhead for the McClintock Trail (page NE-62).
Other access: If truly determined to gain intermediate access, get the park brochure and follow back roads to the Pioneer or Miller Farm historic sites.
Rest rooms, water: Rest rooms and water at Drake Well Museum. Chemical toilets at both southern and northern trailheads. Latrine along trail just south of the intersection with Miller Farm Rd (southbound mile 4.55). Rest rooms and water at park office in Petroleum Centre.
Bike shop, rentals: None.
Restaurant, groceries: Soft drink machines at Drake Well Park. Groceries in Rouseville and Titusville.
Camping, simple lodging: Campground north of Petroleum Centre.
Swimming, fishing: No authorized swimming area in the state park. Fishing in Oil Ck.
Winter sports: Cross-country skiing on trail and 1.3 miles east of Petroleum Centre at the Oil Creek State Park Cross Country Ski Area. No snowmobiles.
Wheelchair access: Trail surface is asphalt and gates are wide. There are a few short hills with steeper-than-ADA grades.
DCNR—Oil Creek State Park
Maps, guides, other references
The map in the park’s information brochure shows the bike route.
Trail brochure, Recreational Trails in the Oil Region, by Oil Region Alliance & Allegheny Valley Trails Association.
USGS Topographic Maps: Titusville South, Oil City.
Text version of 17 Jul 2018 based on personal observation while bicycling Petroleum Centre to Drake Well Museum 3/2017 and driving the on road segment from Rynd Farm to Petroleum Centre 3/2017. Conditions may have changed; you are responsible for your own safety. Oldest segment check 3/2017.