Allegheny National Forest offers many opportunities for bicycling. These areas are more rugged than most of the trails in this guide. The Buzzard Swamp area offers a 9.6-mile network of rolling grassy trails with good opportunities to see wildlife. It offers an easy step from developed rail-trails to off-road cycling.
In the early 1960’s the US Forest Service and the PA Game Commission created a chain of 15 ponds for wildlife habitat. Now the dams and meadows around these ponds offer hiking and mountain biking. For the most part, the trail surface is wide and smooth. About half of the trails are small gravel and dirt; the other half are firm base with grass. If you’re there soon after a trail is mowed, it’s like riding on the lawn. If the grass is high, it’s a meadow experience you won’t forget. The southern loop, around the propagation area and the largest lakes, is a 10’ wide gravel road (double-track), a bit firmer than most. However, the east edge of the interpretive trail and north from there is tricky single-track with stream crossings, logs, rocks, and soft spots that can be muddy after a rain. The interpretive trail is single-track; we recommend against riding this on a bike because of possible interference with walkers.
Location Southeast of Marienville, Jenks Township, Forest County
Trailheads East of Marienville, south of Marienville
Length, Surface 9.6-mile network; dirt to gravel
Character Little-used, forest, sunny, rolling
Usage restrictions No motorized vehicles; no snowmobiles; no horses
Amenities Rest rooms, fishing
Driving time from Pittsburgh 2 hours 45 minutes northeast
Most of the trails are on closed roads. These aren’t blazed except at points of possible confusion, but they’re easy to follow. Trail signs that formerly named the trails have disappeared, but most intersections have copies of the trail map with a you-are-here indicator. The National Forest brochure will help you stay oriented.
[[needs to be updated]] About half the system is mowed grass, half on gravel roads. In 2000 some of the trails were rough as a result of some construction. In particular, 0.8 mile of the trail connecting the northern and southern loops (between ponds 5 and 8) has a chunky surface. The trail from the western (FR157) trailhead is a little rough as well. The National Forest hopes to remedy these problems in 2002.
The area is a special management area that balances wildlife management and recreational opportunities. Fishing in the ponds is encouraged. Entry to the small (40 acre) wildlife propagation area is strictly prohibited, but there are views from the bordering trails. Buzzard Swamp is an important link in the Atlantic flyway, so it’s a great place to see birds during seasonal migrations. Spring migration brings 20-25 species of waterfowl. There may also be non-migratory birds, mammals, and reptiles.
Buzzard Swamp itself lies on the southern edge of the area. The higher ground is not swampy, and we found most of the trails firm. However, mosquitoes thrive here, and they get denser close to the swamp. Combined with the lack of tree cover to provide shade, that makes this a better spring or fall trip than a summer trip.
Extensions of the ride
Allegheny National Forest has an extensive network of forest service roads. For the most part, they’re gravel, and they carry little traffic. Get the National Forest map and pick out your own routes. These roads can be very hilly.
A number of traffic-free trails in Allegheny National Forest are open to bicycles. Several of them incorporate sections of former railroad grades, but many of them are more rugged. They are dispersed through the forest. The closest to Buzzard Swamp 7101) is the 7.1-mile trail system at Beaver Meadows, about 4 miles north of Marienville on FR128 (N Forest St). Get more detailed information from the Forest Service or Rails to Trails.
Vicinity: Directions begin at the 7-way junction in Marienville, where PA66 (Chestnut St) intersects forest service route FR130 and several other streets. To reach this point from Pittsburgh, go north on I79, then east on I80, then northeast on PA66 near Clarion. Marienville is around 20 miles northeast of I80.
West trailhead: At the 7-way junction in Marienville, go south on the road to Loleta (S Forest St, also labeled SR2005) for 1.3 mile. Turn left (east) on FR157 at the sign for Buzzard Swamp and go 2.3 miles to parking at the trailhead.
Rest rooms, water: Rest room at west trailhead
Bike shop, rentals: None
Restaurant, groceries: In Marienville
Camping, simple lodging: Allegheny National Forest campgrounds at Loleta, Kelly Pines, Beaver Meadows. Check with the ranger about dispersed camping in Allegheny National Forest. Commercial campground south of Marienville.
Swimming, fishing: No swimming. All the ponds in the area have small and largemouth bass, perch, catfish, crappie, and bluegill.
Winter sports: Cross-country skiing encouraged. Snowmobiles prohibited.
Wheelchair access: Dams are level but mostly grass-covered. Best surfaces are near west trailhead. Paths around gates permit wheelchair passage.
Allegheny National Forest
Maps, guides, other references
Buzzard Swamp Wildlife Viewing & Hiking Area. Trail brochure from Allegheny National Forest.
USGS Topographic Maps: Marienville East.
Text version of 3 Jan 2011 based on personal observation while bicycling prior to 2000. Conditions may have changed; you are responsible for your own safety. Oldest segment check 1/2002.