Armstrong_Trail

Armstrong Trail

Along Allegheny River from Upper Hillville to Rosston in Clarion and Armstrong Counties

The main stem of the Armstrong Trail runs along the east side of the Allegheny River from Upper Hillville to Rosston, along the route of the former Allegheny Valley RR, primarily in Armstrong County and partly in Clarion County. Spur trails run westward from the Brady Tunnel to East Brady and eastward along Redbank and Cowanshannock Cks. The Brady Tunnel is closed, so for now we treat the spur to East Brady as the beginning of the main trail, because the most accessible trailhead is in East Brady. The trail originally extended from Rosston south to Schenley, but the route is railbanked and this 9-mile section was restored to railroad use. This trail is part of the Erie to Pittsburgh Trail (page NE-15).

Armstrong Trail

Location East Brady to Rosston, Armstrong and Clarion Counties

Trailheads Catfish, Bradys Bend, East Brady, Phillipston, Redbank, Rimer, Templeton,
Lock & Dam 8, Cowanshannock Junction, Kittanning, Ford City, Rosston

Length, Surface 43 miles total (24.0 crushed limestone, 4.0 paved,1.0 on road,
5.0 unfinished-North of Brady Tunnel, 9.0 closed indefinitely)

Character Uncrowded, mixed urban, rural, and wooded, mixed sun and shade, flat

Usage restrictions No horses, no motorized vehicles, no snowmobiles

Amenities Rest rooms, water, food, lodging

Driving time from Pittsburgh 50 minutes to 1 hour 30 minutes northeast

A portion of the trail is railbanked, and the litigation that once impeded trail development has been resolved in favor of the trail. The entire Armstrong Trail from Upper Hillville to East Brady and Rosston in Armstrong and Clarion Counties, with the exception of the Brady Tunnel, is now open for non-motorized use. However, the section north of the Brady Tunnel is unfinished and has no reasonable connection to the rest.

Early development of the trail was opportunistic, with lots of short sections and gaps. As a result, the trail surface changes often, especially in towns. In Kittanning and Ford City it is mostly asphalt, elsewhere it is mostly crushed limestone. A number of older asphalt sections are beginning to get bumps from tree roots.

Some of original stone railroad mileposts remain, though most have been removed. The numbering starts in Freeport at MP0 and ends in Oil City at MP130. Mileposts installed by the trail volunteers preserve the original numbering. The developed portion of this trail starts at MP68.1 and extends southward to MP38.9.

In East Brady, the trail begins at Sixth St and Purdum St near MP68. There is limited on-street parking here, so it is best to actually begin either at the East Brady Trailhead a quarter-mile down the trail or across the Allegheny River at the Bradys Bend Boat Launch. From Sixth and Purdum a paved trail runs for a quarter-mile along Rex-Hide Dr. At a ball field, the surface changes to crushed limestone. A short spur trail leads from behind the sewer plant to East Brady Riverfront Park with parking, picnic tables, and a canoe/kayak launch area.

The railroad turntable at Phillipston is being restored

The trailhead parking is on the Vernor St side of the sewer plant. The route from the parking lot to the trail goes uphill to Vernor St and turns right/south on the gravel road. Vernor St turns into Shady Shore Dr and then Hidden Trail Rd. Both of the latter are private roads for the homes that lie between the road and the river. They are open to the public for bicycling and walking, but they are closed to cars. There is about 0.7 miles of these gravel roads before the start of crushed limestone surface. In 2018 the roads were resurfaced in gravel and they are unpleasant to ride or walk on. The trail group is in discussions with the owner about how to make it rideable.

The crushed limestone surface begins at MP67.2, where the trail splits off from Hidden Valley Trail Rd. This shady trail continues along the bank of the Allegheny River to the small town of Phillipston (MP66.3) where, because of a missing bridge, the trail jogs out to the road and back again. The trail arrives at the Phillipston trailhead parking area (MP65.9) at the south end of town.

The next two and a half miles include three major structural features of the trail.

Just past the gate at the Phillipston parking lot, 100 feet off of the trail, a largely intact railroad turntable has been cleared of debris and is being prepared for restoration (MP65.8). The stones of a simular turntable can be seen along the Redbank Trail (see page NE-122). A quarter-mile farther (MP65.6), a bench faces a lovely grotto with a waterfall.

The portal to the East Brady Tunnel is visible at MP64.7. This tunnel is closed because it is in poor repair and it is dangerous to enter. On a hot summer day, a cool breeze emanating from the tunnel announces its location. A bench and an interpretive sign are nearby. The main line of the trail will eventually go through this tunnel and continue to Upper Hillville. On the north end of the closed tunnel, about 5 miles of very rough trail is unfinished but open. It is reported to be suitable for mountain bikes, accessible from a parking area at the mouth of Catfish Run. It is not connected to the rest of the trail. We have not personally visited the trail north of the tunnel.

Continuing along the Allegheny River from the tunnel a tall cement structure looms over the trail at MP63.7. This was a coal loading tower. Small coal cars from the mine were unloaded in the low building on the left. Coal was conveyed upward and stored in the taller tower on the right. Open hopper railroad cars would then pass under the tower and be filled with coal. Just 0.2 miles farther, at MP63.5, the trail splits. The left fork is the beginning of the 51-mile Redbank Valley Trail (page NE-118) that travels up Redbank Ck to Brookville.

The right fork at the split takes the Armstrong Trail on down the Allegheny River. It immediately crosses over Redbank Ck (MP63.4) to the Redbank Creek Trailhead. From here it enters a long sunny stretch to Lock and Dam #9 (MP61.6).

The river community of Rimer runs from MP61.0 to MP59.4. There is an out-of-the-way trailhead at south end of Rimer.

From Rimer the trail continues besides the river, passing through the grassy hillside of the settlement of Hook Station (MP57), where a barrier once blocked the trail. Although the lawsuit over access is settled, there may be lingering sensitivity in this area, so please observe trail etiquette (everywhere, of course, but especially here).

The former village of Grays Eddy (MP55.5) has a historical marker, but no buildings remain. A stone arch bridge passes under the trail here. This shady spot is a pleasant place to rest. After Gray’s Eddy the trail crosses under a railroad bridge (MP54.9) that serviced a now-closed generating station across the Allegheny River. The trail then crosses the mouth of Mahoning Ck (MP54.8).

At the Fish and Boat Commission boat ramp in Templeton (MP53.8) the trail continues past the parking area. The trail previously used the streets, but construction completed in 2017 eliminated the detour. When the trail ends at 3rd St (MP53.5), jog left to the road and go down the hill. At the bottom, jog right then left to pick up the trail as it climbs to the ballfield. The dip at the bottom appears to collect debris from run-off flooding.

The trail passes the remains of the Harbison-Walker Brick Plant (MP53.4), which made firebrick for the steel industry but closed about 1987. All that remains is a long one story shed.

A Little Free Library beside the trail at MP52.7 and an adjacent path leads to a shady bench in the woods. This library focuses in children’s books. Feel free to take one or leave one.

Lock and Dam #8 (MP51.5) offers trail parking at the end of a minor road. From MP50.8 to MP49.8 there are occasional houses on the left side of the trail and lots of trailers below the trail on the river side of the trail. The trail crosses a gravel road and Pine Ck at MP49.7. From MP49.6 to MP49.2 the trail is on the edge of a another trailer park. The stone structure at MP47.9 is the remains of the Monticello Iron Furnace.

At Cowanshannock Junction (MP47.3), the trail passes the Bernard C. Snyder Picnic area of the Canfield-Holmes Sanctuary and a PA Fish and Boat Commission boat ramp on Cowanshannock Ck. Cowanshannock Trail, a spur trail to Buttermilk Falls, heads up the creek along the edge of the hill behind the parking lot. Immediately after this trailhead, the trail crosses Cowanshannock Ck (MP47.4).

At Lemon Way, at the jog in the trail (MP46), the trail enters Kittanning, changing from crushed limestone to asphalt. The trail goes through the middle of Kittanning as a separated path beside the road, principally through residential neighborhoods and a few areas of light industry. There are lots of cross streets, so be careful at each intersection, as drivers may fall to notice activity in the bike lane.

At the south end of town, the trail goes through the parking lot of the King’s Lanes bowling alley (MP44) and passes under Water St. Just before entering the woods (MP43.7), a pedestrian/bicycle ramp leads up to the Edgewood Park-and-Ride lot beside old PA66 (now Hill St). Here the trail surface changes from asphalt to crushed limestone, and the trail is delightfully shady and surprisingly isolated along the river for most of a mile.

As the trail passes an electric substation, it goes downhill. Eventually there will be a bridge here to carry the trail across the road and behind the houses on the far side. For now (2018), at the bottom of the ramp, there is a sharp U-turn onto the road towards the river, followed quickly by a turn on to a ramp and then a sharp left turn that leads back up to the railroad grade. This is another area of the trail where courts had to settle trail ownership, so stay on the trail.

After crossing McKean St the trail is adjacent to a ballfield. It enters Ford City at 17th St, continuing on a berm above the adjacent streets. There are a repair station and a gazebo at 14th St (MP41.45), and the trail surface turns from crushed limestone to asphalt. This very popular section runs through Ford City’s commercial, industrial, and residential area. The trail is slightly elevated above the street level and has several small gazebos with hexagonal picnic tables. There are rest rooms at 9th St.

After crossing PA128 the trail is asphalt for another quarter-mile, to the mouth of Tub Mill Run, where it changes to crushed limestone for the last mile to the PA Fish and Boat Commission boat launch and parking area in Rosston (MP39.1). Just beyond the parking area the trail crosses Crooked Ck on a deteriorating wooden bridge that is now (2018) closed. That is okay, because the only things on the other side are MP39 and a fence at MP38.8.

Kiski Junction RR has reclaimed the 9-mile stretch between Crooked Ck (MP38.8) and Schenley (MP30) under the railbanking regulations in order to transport coal from a mine near Crooked Ck to the existing railroad at Schenley. The rails were laid in such a way that having a rail-with-trail is not physically possible. Therefore, this section of the trail is closed, so it is not described here. No road detour has been established (2018).

Local history, attractions

This trail has, for most of its length, a view of the river. It passes through several small towns and past two locks and dams.

The railroad was most recently part of the Conrail system. Prior to that the tracks belonged to the Penn Central RR, which had absorbed the Allegheny Valley RR in 1910. The first attempt to develop a railroad here was the 1838 Pittsburgh, Kittanning, and Warren RR. This project failed, and so the first actual railroad was the Allegheny Valley RR, which opened the line from the Kiskiminetas River at Schenley to Crooked Ck south of Ford City in 1856. The discovery of oil in Titusville in 1863 stimulated interest in extending the route, and new construction reached East Brady in 1867, then Oil City by 1870. Much of the former railbed beyond Hillville is now the Allegheny River Trail (page NE-78).

River navigation was initiated here by the construction of the Kittanning Feeder of the Pennsylvania Main Line Canal in the early 19th century. This 14-mile extension connected Kittanning with the main stem of the canal at Freeport. There is still a system of locks and dams for commercial and recreational navigation on the Allegheny River from Pittsburgh to East Brady. In 2018, Lock #8 and #9 were operating only on weekends and holidays for recreational use from noon to 8:00 PM. Current schedules can be found at alleghenyriverdevelopment.org

For modern boating access, several of the trailhead parking lots have river access. These include Rosston, Cowanshannock Junction, Templeton, and Brady’s Bend.

Extensions of the ride

The next segment to the north along the Erie to Pittsburgh Trail is the Allegheny River Trail (page NE-78) at Parker Landing. The route has not yet been established. Making the connection requires rehabilitation of the Brady Tunnel on the Armstrong Trail, completion of trail from the tunnel to Upper Hillville, and acquisition of trail right of way between Upper Hillville and the current (2018) end of the trail. There is no practical road detour.

The next segment to the south along the Erie to Pittsburgh Trail is the Three Rivers Heritage trail (page NE-104). The route is not yet established so the length is uncertain.

The 5 miles of trail north of the Brady Tunnel are open but undeveloped. This section is reported to be rideable by mountain bikes. We have no firsthand knowledge of this section.

The Redbank Valley Trail (page NE-118) goes east from a junction just north of the mouth of Redbank Ck (MP63.3). As of spring 2018, the trail group has finished surfacing the entire trail from MP0 to Brookville (MP41) and the 0.8 miles of the Depot Spur to the middle of Brookville. In Jan 2018 a construction project has closed 0.6 miles of trail around MP21.5 to resolve an acid mine drainage issue adjacent to the trail. Best guess for completion is mid to late 2018.

A lovely trail goes east up Cowanshannock Ck for a mile through the Canfield-Holmes Sanctuary (MP47.3) from the Snyder picnic area. It ends at Buttermilk Falls.

The Ford City Riverfront Trail is a 0.7-mile paved trail along a high retaining wall at the rivers edge. There is no access to the river, but the river and its boating activity are visible. This trail can be accessed from the main trail by following side trails toward the river at 6th St (MP40.5) and at 2nd St (MP40.1).

Development plans

The turntable at Phillipston has been cleaned out and is being restored. There is discussion of making it semi-operational. Picnic facilitates are being developed (2018).

The Brady tunnel is a very expensive project and at present (2018), the trail organization is seeking fund for the restoration. We all hope that as more of the Erie to Pittsburgh Trail is completed and this becomes one of the last remaining sections, funds will become available.

There is discussion about developing and surfacing the 5 miles from the north end of the Brady Tunnel (MP65.2) to Upper Hillville, but there are no definite plans at this time (2018).

Originally the Armstrong Trail continued south from Rosston to Schenley. This 9 miles of trail was unrailbanked for use as a railroad to serve a coal mine just south of Rosston. As of 2018 the mining company was unwilling to allow construction of a trail parallel to the new railroad. As a result, the trail is closed from Rosston to Schenley. At Schenley, the trail would also have to cross the Kiskiminetas River to connect to the Tredway Riverfront Trail.

Access points

Vicinity North: Directions begin at the intersection of PA268 and Kittanning Hollow Rd. To reach this point from Pittsburgh, go northeast on PA28. At the PA28/US422 interchange, follow US422 west in the direction of W. Kittanning. After looping around the interchange, take the exit for PA268. Follow PA268 north for about 12 miles to Kittanning Hollow Rd. Turn right/north on Kittanning Hollow Rd.

Catfish (access to northern unconnected segment) trailhead: 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 2.8 miles, across the Allegheny River, into East Brady. PA68 is called Kellys Way and turns left/southeast as Third St in East Brady. After the left turn on 3rd St, continue following PA68 for 3.8 miles, climbing the knob around which Bradys Bend bends, to Sarah Furnace Rd/SR3006. Turn left/west on Sarah Furnace Rd and descend almost 2 miles. Where the road reaches the river, and makes a right turn to follow the river upstream, park on the left. From the parking area follow the road to the left/southeast about 1000 feet down to the old railroad grade. From here the closed tunnel entrance is another 0.9 miles to the left (downstream); a sharp right (upstream) provides about 4 miles of rough trail.

Bradys Bend (northern) trailhead: 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 1.9 miles to Seyertown Rd, just before the Allegheny River bridge. Turn left/northeast on Sebertown Rd, then right/southeast into the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission access area. From here bike across the Allegheny River and immediately turn right/southwest on Water St. When it ends turn left/southeast on 4th St. Go 2 blocks to Purdum St and turn right/southwest. Go 2 blocks to the start of the trail.

Monticello Iron Furnace

East Brady trailhead: 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.

Phillipston and Redbank Junction trailhead: It’s probably faster to park at East Brady and cycle to Phillipston (1.8 miles) and Redbank Junction (4.3 miles) than it is to drive up and down the mountain. To get to these access points you have to really want to get there. Take a GPS and a good map.

Vicinity South: Directions begin at the interchange of PA28 and US422, headed east on US422. To reach this point from Pittsburgh, go northeast on PA28.

Rimer trailhead: It’s probably faster to park at Templeton and cycle to Rimer (5.5 miles) than it is to drive up and down the mountain. To get to this access points you have to really want to get there. Take a GPS and a good map.

Templeton trailhead: From vicinity south (the interchange of PA28 and US422) continue on PA28/US422 and cross the Allegheny River and follow PA28. Go 5.5 miles from the river and at Rayburn turn left/north on Sloan Hill Rd/T576. Go 2.4 miles and turn right/north on SR1032. Go 0.4 miles and turn left/north on PA1031. Go 3.0 miles to 1st St in Templeton. Turn left/west on 1st St, then right/north on Allegheny Av. The entrance to the PA Fish and Boat Commission parking lot is half a block farther on the left.

Lock and Dam #8 trailhead: From vicinity south (the interchange of PA28 and US422) continue on PA28/US422 and cross the Allegheny River. Follow signs to Kittanning via Business US422. The ramp swings north and as the freeway transitions to a local road it becomes Water St. Go about a mile and turn right/northeast on Montieth St. Go to the “T” and turn left/northwest on Johnston Av. Go 4.4 miles and at the “T” intersection turn left/northwest continuing on SR1033, following signs to Lock and Dam 8. Go 1.9 miles, staying next to the river through a development of trailer homes, to the parking area next to the lock and dam. The last mile is one lane wide with only one place to pass, so be prepared to back up if someone is coming the other way.

Cowanshannock Junction/Gosford trailhead: From vicinity south (the interchange of PA28 and US422) continue on PA28/US422 and cross the Allegheny River. Follow signs to Kittanning via Business US422. The ramp swings north and becomes Water St at a stoplight as the freeway transitions to a local road. At the stoplight, continue north on South Water St. Go 0.6 miles (about 4 blocks past the end of Kittanning Riverfront Park) and turn right/northeast on Chestnut St. Go 4 or 5 blocks to the “T” intersection with Johnston Av/SR1033.and turn left/northwest on Johnston Av. Go about 2.5 miles to the mouth of Cowanshannock Ck (this is Gosford). The Canfield-Holmes Sanctuary is on the right, labeled Bernard C Snyder Picnic area. There are good picnicking and a Fish and Boat Commission boat ramp here. This parking lot is also the western trailhead for the Cowanshannock Trail (page NE-97).

Coal company built houses in Templeton

Kittanning trailhead: From vicinity south (the interchange of PA28 and US422) continue on PA28/US422 and cross the Allegheny River. Follow signs to Kittanning via Business US422. The ramp swings north and becomes Water St at a stoplight as the freeway transitions to a local road. At the stoplight, continue north on South Water St for a quarter-mile, turn right/northeast into the parking lot for Kings Lanes bowling. The trail runs across the back of the lot; park near the trail.

Ford City trailhead: From vicinity south (the interchange of PA28 and US422) continue on PA28/US422 and cross the Allegheny River. Follow signs to PA66 south to Ford City. A mile after the end of the ramp, take the PA128 ramp right/southwest. Continue in PA128 to just after the last house on the right and before crossing the Allegheny River, there is a trail parking lot on the right.

Rosston (southern) trailhead: From vicinity south (the interchange of PA28 and US422) continue on PA28/US422 and cross the Allegheny River. Follow signs to PA66 south to Ford City. A mile after the end of the ramp, take the PA128 ramp right/southwest. Continue in PA128 to just before crossing the Allegheny River, go straight on Ross Av between the trail and the river. Continue 1 mile to the PA Fish and Boat Commission boat launching area just after Rosston and just before the trail crosses Crooked Ck.

Amenities

Rest rooms, water: Rest rooms in riverside park in Kittanning and Ford City. Portajohns at Templeton, Phillipston, Lock #8. Vault toilet at Snyder Picnic Area in the Canfield-Holmes Sanctuary.

Bike shop, rental: none.

Restaurant, groceries: Restaurants and groceries in Kittanning, Ford City, East Brady.

Camping, simple lodging: Lodging in East Brady and Kittanning. Campgrounds in Templeton and across Allegheny River from East Brady. Primitive camping along the trail by permit only; contact the Allegheny Valley Land Trust for locations and permits.

Swimming, fishing: The trail follows the Allegheny River. Swimming is unsupervised. Be especially careful when the water is high. Do not trespass to get to the river.

Winter sports: Cross-country skiing. No snowmobiles.

Wheelchair access: Some gates north of mile 49 are too narrow for wheelchairs.

Trail organization

Armstrong Rails to Trails Association
PO Box 777
Kittanning, PA 16201
724-543-4478
armstrongrailstotrails.org

Maps, guides, other references

Trail brochure, Armstrong Trail—Map and User Guide, by Armstrong Trail Association.

USGS Topographic Maps: Rimersburg, East Brady, Templeton, Mosgrove, Kittanning, Leechburg.

Version

Text version of 20 Jun 2018 based on personal observation while bicycling East Brady (MP68.8) to Redbank Trail 9/2017, Redbank Trail to Cowanshannock Junction (MP47.3) 6/2018, Cowanshannock Junction to Rosston (MP38.8) 7/2016. No first-hand information on section north of closed Brady tunnel. Conditions may have changed; you are responsible for your own safety. Oldest segment check 7/2016.

Coal Loading Tower