Allegheny River to Brookville along Redbank Ck in Armstrong, Clarion, and Jefferson Counties
The Redbank Valley Trail travels the route of the former Allegheny Valley Low Grade RR along Redbank Ck for 42 miles from the Allegheny River to Brookville, with a 9-mile spur to Sligo branching at MP5.9. The trail has been actively under development since August 2010. As of July 2018, volunteers have decked more than a dozen bridges and surfaced 43 miles of trail with crushed limestone. On the main line this leaves only a quarter-mile construction project at MP21.5 which is scheduled to be improved in 2018. In 2016 work began on the Sligo Spur. In 2017, 1 mile was crushed limestone surfaced. In early 2018 the remainder is reported to be raw ballast, but scheduled to be surfaced sometime in late 2018. This trail is part of the IHTC PA Wilds Corridor.
Redbank Valley Trail
Location Allegheny River to Brookville with spur to Sligo
Trailheads Armstrong Trail, Redbank Jct, Lawsonham, Climax Tunnel,
Length, Surface Main line 42 miles crushed limestone,
Character Little-used, rural, sun and shade, flat
Usage restrictions No motorized vehicles
Amenities Food, lodging
Driving time from Pittsburgh 1 hour to 1 hour 30 minutes northeast
The mileposts use the original railroad mileages, which start at the mouth of the Redbank Ck on the Allegheny River. This is the Low Grade RR’s junction with the north-south Allegheny Valley Line, today’s north-south Armstrong Trail. The mile markers are a mix of original railroad markers and new trail markers; they use the same numbering system. The originals are either squat stone or metal flag markers. The new markers are 4X4 wooden posts with routed mile numbers. In addition, there are a few classic “dual numbered” (and rather rare) mile markers, indicating miles west to the western terminus (Allegheny River), and miles east to the rail line’s former junction with the north-south Harrisburg-Buffalo main line at Driftwood PA. The two numbers will add up to 110, which is the length of the entire railroad line. For example, the milepost at Summerville has 34 on one side and 76 on the other. We describe the trail from west to east using the increasing mile markers.
Because of the local geology, in many places it was possible to construct the railroad with a very steep drop-off on the river side of the trail. This drop-off is steeper and has less vegetation than the typical rail trail in western Pennsylvania; extra caution is advisable in these areas.
The Redbank Valley Trail starts on the Armstrong Trail near the junction of Redbank Ck and the Allegheny River. This junction is MP63.5 on the Armstrong Trail and MP0.0 on the Redbank Valley Trail. From this junction, the trail closely follows Redbank Ck upstream. For the first few miles there may be motorboats in the wide slackwater caused by the backwater of the Allegheny River.
The trail is on a bench with a gradual climb from 25 feet above the creek at the mouth, to over 100 feet at Lawsonham (MP5.8). Once past the slackwater and power boats, the trail shares the isolated valley with the riffles of the creek, which is easy whitewater. The first 20 miles are remote except for a short stretch at Lawsonham and the Climax Tunnel. The forest in this area is relatively new growth. The densely growing trees are only 3 to 8 inches in diameter, but some stumps of 30 inches or more are visible in the woods. It was probably logged about 15 to 20 years ago.
At the Lawsonham trailhead (MP5.8), the Sligo Spur branches off and follows Wildcat Run north for 9 miles towards Sligo. The first mile of the spur has a crushed limestone surface and ends at an undecked bridge (2017). We have not traveled past this bridge, but it is reported to be rough ballast. A grant has been obtained for work in 2018 to surface the spur from mile 4 to the end at mile 9, leaving a 3-mile gap in the middle for the trail group to work on.
On the main trail, the crushed limestone surface continues to the end of the trail at Brookville, except for a construction project at MP21.5.
Just before MP8.0 an older railroad grade, unrideable, forks to the left and then turns back to cross the main trail and follow the contour around the ridge while the main trail continues straight ahead through the Long Point Tunnel (MP8.4). This tunnel is curved, so a light might be useful as light from the other end is not visible until about half way through. About 100 feet into the tunnel, the entrance stonework stops, and the tunnel is cut from natural rock for about 500 feet to within about 80 feet of the other end. Just after the trail emerges from the tunnel there is a substantial picnic pavilion and Adirondack shelter. The old grade rejoins the trail here.
The trail continues on a bench above the creek to MP14.8, where the remains of a firebrick factory lie for a tenth of a mile between the trail and the river. An interpretive sign just before the road explains the production process. The loading dock for the finished bricks is adjacent to the trail just after the road. After passing this industrial relic, the trail crosses Leatherwood Ck at MP14.9 and returns to woods along the creek. A sign at MP15.0 marks where an 1860 tornado passed. Notice the amount of recovery in the forest. Another substantial pavilion appears at MP15.5
At MP17 the trail enters Climax Tunnel, which was paved in July 2018. This tunnel is also curved, so light from the far end is not visible until half way through. A good light is advisable.
Crushed limestone surface resumes at the east end of the Climax Tunnel (MP17.1). Just before MP19 coke ovens are visible below the trail, explained by a nearby interpretive sign. At MP19.4 a short spur (0.1 miles) crosses Redbank Ck on the Trail Volunteers Bridge to meet Kohlersburg Rd. There is no trailhead here, just an access for local residents. Continuing on the main trail, at the west edge of town (MP20.1) a bear statue sports an impressive paint job. For the next mile and half the trail runs through New Bethlehem, adjacent to streets and parking lots. On the far end of the municipal parking lot an alleyway, directly south of the kiosk, connects to the main street providing access to food and services. A quarter-mile past the last street in town (MP21.0), a sculpture and Subway shop stand beside the trail.
The trail is finished in crushed limestone for two more blocks, to Fairmount Av (MP21.3). In early 2018 a construction project has closed 0.6 miles of trail to resolve an acid mine drainage issue adjacent to the trail. Best guess for completion is mid to late 2018. When the trail reopens, it will descend to Middle Run Rd (MP21.5) and ascend back to railroad grade where the railroad bridge has been removed. The detour is 0.6 miles along busy US28.
Shortly after Middle Run the trail crosses route PA28 at MP22. The sight lines here are poor, the cars are traveling fast, and the drivers are paying attention to making the sharp bend in the road, so extra care is required at this crossing.
The trail emerges from a low cut at MP22.5 to run alongside Alcola Cemetery and then for about 2 miles alongside PA28. The Redbank Historical Society is uncovering a turntable (MP22.95) just before the sewer plant. The outer ring of stones and the center pivot stone is now visible. Phillipston has a more complete example (2018).
Around MP24.5 the trail remains beside the creek as the road climbs away. East of the Mayport Rd (MP25.6) crossing, the trail is mostly in woods with occasional waterfalls. At MP30.2 the trail moves away from the creek as the creek takes a horseshoe bend. Behind the bench at MP30.3 and about 10 feet higher up are the remains of a stone retaining wall. This wall is best seen about 25 feet farther down the trail at a pipeline crossing. The wall continues along the trail, slowly descending to the trail grade. We speculate that this might a railroad siding for a logging operation.
The trail cuts through a ridge (MP30.7), providing some coolness, and then crosses Redbank Ck (MP30.8). The Baker Hiking Trail (rachelcarsontrails.org/bt) comes off the hillside from the south at MP30.9, joins the trail for a half-mile, and leaves our trail to the north at the crossing of Strausser Rd (MP31.4). Emerging from the woods at MP32.8, the trail parallels Barr Rd to Yount Rd MP33.3, where it continues through farmland for half a mile to the trailhead in Summerville (MP34). In Summerville, the trail parallels streets in town. After Summerville the trail returns to the woods, crossing the Redbank twice over two long bridges within a quarter-mile (MP35.7). There is an impressive cut between Moore Rd and the second crossing (MP35.9). The trail association has installed thermometers just outside the entrance and inside the cut. During summer months, there is often a difference of 30 degrees. Just before the trail crosses Redbank Ck again (MP40.9), the Depot St Spur branches left to follow the creek into downtown Brookville. Just after crossing Redbank Ck, the railroad grade ends at the closed Brookville Tunnel (MP41). If the tunnel were open, the trail could cross 2 other bridges into Brookville. But this is a project for the future, so access to downtown Brookville is via the Depot St Spur that branched off just before the west end of the bridge.
Local History and Attractions
The Allegheny Valley, Clarion, Red Bank and Shannon Transport railroads operated from the Allegheny River to Lawsonham and then up the Sligo spur. The AVRR, PRR, Conrail, and Pittsburg & Shawmut (Mountain Laurel RR) operated from Lawsonham to Brookville and on to Driftwood. These early railroads were consolidated into the Pittsburg & Shawmut RR. Coal and lumber were always the business of the railroad, although passenger service ran until the 1930s and other types of freight traveled over the line as well. More history of the railroads can be found at shawmutline.com
Extensions of the ride
The trail connects on the west with the Armstrong Trail (page NE-90) at the junction of Redbank Ck and the Allegheny River. This trail goes north for about 5 miles to East Brady and about 25 miles south to Ford City.
At the eastern end of the Redbank Valley Trail, the trail will someday connect the 20 miles between Brookville and Brockway and intersect the Clarion-Little Toby Bike and Hike Trail (page NE-149). There is a major development problem, as the railroad grade has been severed by Interstate highway I80.
MP21.5 Middle Run: In early 2018, a contractor began working on a mine drainage problem in this area and the trail is closed. It is a muddy mess with heavy equipment crossing the trail. If all goes well the trail should be open again mid-summer 2018, but if there is a blowout, it could be closed until 2019. This section can be bypassed by dropping down to busy PA28 at Fairmount Av (MP21.3), traveling PA28 for 0.6 miles and picking up the trail as it crosses PA28 (MP22.0).
Sligo Spur: 9 miles from Lawsonham to Sligo. The first mile from Lawsonham is crushed limestone, the rest is unimproved. This mile ended in 2017 at an undecked bridge. The trail group was working in 2018 to connect this 1-mile segment to the 5-mile segment from mile 4 to mile 9 that is already under contract for construction.
Vicinity: Directions begin at the interchange of PA28 and US422 west of Kittanning. To reach this point from Pittsburgh, go northeast on PA28.
East Brady trailhead on the Armstrong Trail: From vicinity north (intersection of PA268 and Kittanning Hollow Rd) turn right/north on Kittanning Hollow Rd and go 3.4 miles to PA68. Turn right/east on PA68. Follow PA68 about 2.6 miles, across the Allegheny River, into East Brady. PA68 is called Kellys Way and then turns left/southeast as Third St in East Brady. After the left turn on to 3rd St, go 6 blocks (counting the alleys) and turn right/southwest on Robinson St. Go to the end of Robinson St and turn left/south on Shady Shores Dr. Go four blocks and turn right/west into sewer plant parking. The trail continues down the private road part of Shady Shore DR, which allows bicyclist and hikers, but not cars.
Redbank Junction trailhead: This is a remote access points. To get to this access point you have to really want to get there. Take a GPS and a good map. It is easier to bike from East Brady (4.3 Miles).
Lawsonham trailhead: Note: There is bridge under construction at Lawsonham in 2018, so these instructions will not work until 2019. From the interchange of PA28 and US422, go east on US422/PA28 for 4 miles and take the PA28/PA66 north exit. Go 4.2 miles and turn left/north on Sloan Hill Rd. Go 2.4 miles and turn right/east at the first “T”, then 400 feet later turn left/north at the second “T” on to SR1031. Go 0.4 miles and bear left/north at the “Y” on SR1031. Go 2.9 miles and in Templeton turn left/west on 4th St. Ignore the alley and turn right/north on Clay St. When leaving town, turn left/north on SR1003. Go 4.0 miles and turn left/west and then right/north to stay on Lawsonham Rd/SR1003. Go 3.3 miles and turn left/west in Lawsonham after crossing Redbank Ck. Go 0.3 miles to the trailhead on the right.
Climax Tunnel, west side trailhead: From the interchange of PA28 and US422, go east on US422/PA28 for 4 miles and take the PA28/PA66 exit. Go 15.6 miles, and just before entering Distant make a very sharp left hand turn on to Kohlersburg/Madison Rd. Go 1.6 miles and turn right/north on Hetrick Rd/T582. Go 0.1 miles and take a slight right/northeast on Climax Rd. Go 1.2 miles, cross the bridge, and the trail/parking/tunnel will be on the left side of the road.
New Bethlehem trailhead: From the interchange of PA28 and US422, go east on US422/PA28 for 4 miles and take the PA28/PA66 exit. Go 18.6 miles to Lafayette St in New Bethlehem, turn left/north at the stoplight. Go two blocks to Arch St and turn right/east. Go half a block to the municipal parking lot. The trail is on the left side of Arch St. There is some parking alongside the trail and there is parking in the metered lot with a sign that says “free parking”.
Hawthorn trailhead: From the interchange of PA28 and US422, go east on US422/PA28 for 4 miles and take the PA28/PA66 exit. Go 22.5 miles to Walker Flat Rd in Hawthorn and turn right/southeast. Go 300 feet, cross the trail and turn left/north east. Park alongside the trail, not on it. Do not park inside the soccer field.
Mayport trailhead: From the interchange of PA28 and US422, go east on US422/PA28 for 4 miles and take the PA28/PA66 exit. Go 24.2 miles to SR536 and turn right/south on Mayport Rd. Go 0.7 miles, trail parking is before crossing the river.
Heathville Rd trailhead: From the interchange of PA28 and US422, go east on US422/PA28 for 4 miles and take the PA28/PA66 exit. Go 27.4 miles to Macadam Rd and turn right/east. Go 1.4 miles and turn left /northwest on Strausser Rd. Go 0.4 miles and turn right/east to stay on Strausser Rd. Go 1.3 Miles, cross the creek and park on the right.
Summerville trailhead: From the interchange of PA28 and US422, take the PA28/PA66 exit. Go 31.2 miles to just past the brick plant to Carrier St in Summerville. Turn right/south on Carrier St. Go 0.2 miles to the bridge where the street name becomes State St. Continue 0.2 miles on State St to trail parking on the left, just before the trail.
Moore Rd trailhead: From the interchange of PA28 and US422, go east on US422/PA28 for 4 miles and take the PA28/PA66 exit. Go 32.8 miles to Moore Rd at the top of a hill. Turn right/south on Moore Rd and go 0.2 miles to the trail.
Brookville, Depot St (eastern) trailhead: From the interchange of PA28 and US422, go east on US422/PA28 for 4 miles and take the PA28/PA66 exit. Go 37.4 miles to S Main street and turn right/east. Go 0.8 miles to Madison Av, just before the junction with US322, and turn right/east. Go one long block (0.2 miles) and turn right/south on PA36/S White St. Go 200 feet and just before crossing the creek turn right/west. Go another 200 feet and turn left/southwest into parking behind Brookville Lumber.
Rest rooms, water: Seasonal chemical toilet in Long Point, Lawsonham, Hawthorn, Summerville, and Brookville. Cyclists are welcome to use the flush toilets at the Subway Sub and Library in New Bethlehem.
Bike shop, rentals: None.
Restaurant, groceries: In New Bethlehem, Hawthorn, Summerville and Brookville.
Camping, simple lodging: Brookville.
Swimming, fishing: None. Kayak access at Climax, New Bethlehem, Hawthorn, Moore Rd, and at the junction with the Allegheny River.
Winter sports: Cross-country skiing.
Wheelchair access: Okay except for the rough sections.
Redbank Valley Trails Association
Maps, guides, other references
USGS Topographic Maps: East Brady, Templeton, Sligo, Distant, New Bethlehem, Summerville, Corsica, Brookville.
Text version of 24 Aug 2018 based on personal observation while bicycling: Main Stem: Allegheny River (MP0.0) to Lawsonham (MP6.2) 9/2017, Lawsonham to MP11 10/2016, MP11 to Climax Tunnel (MP17) 8/2018, Climax Tunnel to New Bethlehem (MP20.2) 8/2018, New Bethlehem to MP31 5/2017, MP31 to Summerville (MP34) 9/2015, Summerville to Brookville tunnel (MP41) 7/2018. Brookville tunnel (Depot Spur) to Giant Eagle 1/2018; Sligo Spur MP0 to MP1.0 9/2017, MP1 to end of spur not ridden; trail group information 7/2018. Conditions may have changed, they are building trail even as we write this. Conditions may have changed; you are responsible for your own safety. Oldest segment check 9/2015.