Freeport to Pittsburgh in Allegheny County
The Erie to Pittsburgh Trail will enter Allegheny County on the southern edge of Freeport, near the west end of the Freeport Bridge. Plans call for going down the north side of the Allegheny River, traversing 17 municipalities in 38.5 miles on the way to Pittsburgh. A feasibility study completed in 2010 identified possible routes for the trail from the county line at Freeport to Millvale, and segments of the route are under active development. Allegheny County trails are described in the Near Pittsburgh Volume of this guide, so the full description of the Allegheny County trails will appear there. Here we describe only the part of the Three Rivers Heritage Trail that takes the Erie to Pittsburgh Trail (page NE-15) and the IHTC Pittsburgh to Harrisburg Corridor (page NE-166) to the Point in Point State Park, Pittsburgh.
Three Rivers Heritage Trail
Location Freeport to Pittsburgh, Allegheny County
Trailheads Millvale, River Av
Length, Surface 38.5 miles planned (3.6 paved in Pittsburgh,
Character Busy to crowded, urban, mixed sun and shade, mostly flat
Usage restrictions No motorized vehicles, no horses
Amenities Rest rooms, water, bike rental, food, lodging, fishing
Driving time from Pittsburgh Ends at the Point in Pittsburgh
The first ~29 miles of this route, from the county line at Freeport to the Point in Pittsburgh, are the subject of a 2010 trail feasibility study, the Community Trails Initiative. The study covers the route through the 17 municipalities of Freeport, Harrison Township, Brackenridge, Tarentum, East Deer, Springdale Township, Springdale Boro, Cheswick, Harmer, Blawnox, O’Hara Township, Aspinwall, Sharpsburg, Etna, Shaler, Millvale, and Pittsburgh. The study identified both “preferred” and “practical” routes and began design discussions with key stakeholders and the public.
The trail is now (2018) complete for about 4.4 miles from Millvale to the Point in downtown Pittsburgh. Several of the other 15 communities are also actively working to make their connections. This is beginning to bear fruit with completed, but not yet connected, segments of 0.2 miles of trail in the Aspinwall Riverfront Parks, 1.2 miles shared roads in Blawnox and O’Hare, and 1.4 miles in Tarentum.
The longest completed section of trail begins in Millvale on crushed limestone, roughly at the border with Shaler but currently (2018) a dead end. The first access is at Millvale Riverfront Park, which offers non-motorized boat launches, picnic pavilion, and a rowing club. The trail goes the length of the park, then passes between the Three Rivers Rowing boathouses and the river where the surface becomes pavement. As the trail approaches the boathouses, it parallels Washington’s Landing, an island that was originally a meat packing yard but is now home to a rowing club, numerous offices of environmental organizations, a marina, and an upscale condo complex.
Just after passing the parking lot for long rowing-scull trailers, the trail descends a short 5-foot hill. The trail then goes onto a concrete structure elevated over the steep slope of the river bank. This structure was required because the railroad and highway occupy essentially all the level space between the river and the cliff. The trail then crosses under the 31th and 30st St bridge as a crushed limestone path. As the end of the island comes into view, a switchback ramp makes the connection to the island on a former railroad bridge.
After the switchback ramp, the trail continues past the former Heinz plant (ketchup and “57 varieties”). It passes a condo complex, the Alcoa headquarters, and a sculpture garden while going under the nearly-identical “Three Sisters” (9th, 7th, and 6th St) Bridges. After zigging under the 6th St bridge past the kayak rental with tight corners, poor sight lines, and stray kayakers, the trail joins the wide esplanade beside the baseball stadium. After passing the “watersteps” fountain and several wide lawns, it goes under the Ft Duquesne Bridge. Continuing down the esplanade, soon after the fishing pier, the route of the Erie to Pittsburgh Trail makes a sharp right on a wide paved path that climbs northeast past the Vietnam Veteran’s Monument to the upper level of the park, where restaurants offer al fresco seating. At the top of this ramp the trail goes between the building and the Ft Duquesne Bridge to a switchback ramp that climbs to the bicycle/pedestrian ramp cantilevered off the Ft Duquesne Bridge. This ramp enters Point Park and ends at a plaza near the Ft Pitt Museum. A U-turn to the right/northwest takes the route back to the Allegheny River, where the route turns left/east and continues to the fountain at the Point.
Extensions of the ride
The next segment to the north of the Erie to Pittsburgh Trail is the Armstrong Trail (page NE-90) at Rosston. The route is not yet established, so the length is uncertain.
Point State Park in Pittsburgh is the southern end of the Erie to Pittsburgh Trail, so that trail has no continuation to the south. The Point is the current and future connection to several other trails:
Freeport, at the northern end of the Three Rivers Heritage trail, also seems destined to become a major trail hub. The PA386 bridge across the Allegheny River has a protected bike/pedestrian lane, and it is the only Allegheny River crossing within miles. See “Future Trail Hub at Freeport” page NE-9.
The Community Trails Initiative has identified possible routes for the trail between Freeport and Millvale. The next steps in the study involves consulting with key stakeholders to review the plan; there have been a series of public meetings to gather additional input and support and a few local segments have been developed. Friends of the Riverfront have hired a planner to focus on making the connections happen on the north side of the Allegheny River. Eventually, we hope that the trail will connect Freeport to Pittsburgh on both sides of the Allegheny River.
Part of the Community Trail Initiative is to provide better connections between the trail and the adjacent towns. Millville, Etna, and Blawnox are currently working to do this.
Vicinity: Directions begin headed northeast on PA28 from the Pittsburgh North Shore.
Millvale trailhead: Take the Millvale (Exit 3B) from PA 28. After passing under PA28, take the left/southwest turn onto E Ohio St. One short block later bend left and continue straight across the intersection. Move to the left lane as the road bends right, turn left/southeast to pass under PA28 again. Continue across the railroad tracks and under another set of tracks. Turn right/southwest into Millvale Riverfront Park. There are several parking areas here.
River Avenue trailheads: From PA28, E Ohio St, jog right to River Av (for example, on Heinz St, just upstream from the 16th St Bridge). Head northeast on River Av. There are several parking areas along the street.
Aspinwall Marina trailhead: This is a short (0.2 mile) trail. From PA28 on the northside go about 7 miles and take Exit 6, the Highland Park Bridge exit. Go 100 feet and follow the signs to Sharpsburg. At the bottom of the ramp turn right/southeast onto Freeport Rd. Go 0.6 miles and turn right/south on River Av, passing under the railroad tracks. Go 300 feet to the parking lot.
Blawnox trailhead: This is a short (1.2 miles) trail. From PA28 on the northside go about 1 miles and take Exit 9, the Blawnox exit and merge onto Freeport Rd. Go about 0.3 miles and turn right/south. Go one block and turn left/east onto 8th or Pine St which is the route of the on-road trail in Blawnox.
Tarentum trailhead: This is a short (1.4 miles) trail. From PA28 on the northside go about 20 miles and take Exit 14, the Tarentum/New Kensington exit and at the bottom of the ramp take the right fork to follow PA366 East. Go 0.6 miles and just before the bridge to New Kensington take the First Av exit. Go 1 long block and follow 1st Av as it bends left and passes under the PA366 bridge. Go four blocks to Riverview Park. Park along the street, the trail is in the park between the road and the river.
Rest rooms, water: Flush toilets at Millvale Riverside Park and Point Park.
Bike shop, rentals: Several in Pittsburgh. Closest to the trail is Golden Triangle Bike. Pittsburgh has a bike share program with over 50 rental stations and 500 bikes (2017) with expansion planned for summer 2018.
Restaurant, groceries: Several restaurants near the trail in Pittsburgh, especially near the 6th St and Ft Duquesne Bridges. Food trucks park on weekends in Millvale park (2018).
Camping, simple lodging: Hotels in Pittsburgh.
Swimming, fishing: People fish in the Allegheny. They swim, too, but the currents are tricky and there are lots of power boats.
Winter sports: There is rarely enough snow near Pittsburgh.
Wheelchair access: Okay.
Friends of the Riverfront
12 Freeport St
Etna, PA 15223
Maps, guides, other references
Trail brochure: The Three Rivers Heritage Trail.
Trail brochure: Pittsburgh Bike Map.
USGS Topographic Maps: Freeport, New Kensington East, New Kensington West, Braddock, Pittsburgh East, Pittsburgh West.
Text version of 10 Aug 2018 based bicycling Millvale to Point Park 8/2018, report of Community Initiative 2017, Information from the trail organization 1/2018. We have not bicycled the Aspinwall, Blawnox, or Tarentum segments. Conditions may have changed; you are responsible for your own safety. Oldest segment check 5/2018.