Along Little Buffalo Ck from Butler in Butler County to Freeport in Armstrong County
The Butler-Freeport Trail follows 20 miles of the former Butler Branch line of Conrail from Father Marinaro Park in Butler along Little Buffalo and Buffalo Cks to its junction with the active railroad line along the Allegheny River near the Laneville section of Freeport. It passes through wooded areas, open farmland, small villages, and deep valleys. Benches are liberally sprinkled along the trail, especially between Cabot and Bear Creek Rd. The trail was resurfaced in 2017 from Monroe to Laneville and from Herman to Marwood.
Butler-Freeport Community Trail
Location Butler to Laneville in Butler County and Armstrong County
Trailheads Father Marinaro Park, Bonniebrook, Dittmer Rd, Sheetz Dr,
Length, Surface 21.3 miles total (19.8 crushed limestone, 1.5 paved)
Character Uncrowded to busy, wooded, shady, steady gentle grade
Usage restrictions No horses, no motorized vehicles
Amenities Seasonal chemical toilets, food
Driving time from Pittsburgh 30 minutes to 1 hour northeast
The trail has had several mileage numbering systems over the years. As of 2018, these have been made consistent. Two sets of posts mark miles and half-miles. The number facing the direction of travel is the distance to the end of the trail in the direction the trail is headed (Butler or Freeport). The opposite side shows the distance behind to the other end, the two numbers sum to 21. Mile zero in Butler is where a railroad spur ended at S Monroe St, and mile zero in Laneville is where the railroad joined the main line along the Allegheny River. The southern half of the trail has an additional set of mileposts labeled BCHM for the annual Buffalo Creek Half Marathon held in the late fall; these are offset by about a tenth of a mile. For this write-up, we will use the miles from Butler counting down toward Freeport.
The trail is a rail-trail, but as rail-trails go the typical gradient of about 1% is somewhat more noticeable than usual. The general trend of the gradient is uphill from each end of the trail to the middle. Cyclists wanting to ride uphill first, then downhill on the return, can do this by starting at either end.
With the opening of a new bridge in 2015, the entire trail from Father Marinaro Park in Butler to Laneville is open. The trail is finished in crushed limestone with mowed grass edges. Many the road crossings have less-than-ideal sight lines and high-speed traffic, so use caution when crossing.
The trail begins on Kaufman Dr just at the edge of Father Marinaro Park (MP20.5). There is parking for a few cars here, and there is more parking on the other side of the park by the ballfield. The trail begins by crossing a bridge over Coal Run. The first three quarters of a mile are sunny. Then the trail becomes narrower (4 to 6 feet) and mostly shaded, with occasional sunny stretches, running on a bank above Herman road with occasional crossings of minor roads and driveways. Many of these crossings have soft edges or small ditches where they cross the trail.
From about MP18 to MP17.5, the trail is on a high embankment above a shooting range. The area is well marked, but trail users should stay on the trail. The trail continues, mostly wooded, to the Bonniebrook Rd crossing (MP16.5). Of all the road crossings this seems to have the most and fastest traffic.
After Bonniebrook the trail widens to 10 to 12 feet wide and the woods give way to farms and the trail passes through several small cuts. A large school building appears below on the right (MP15.7). This is St. Fidelis School. It was founded in 1877 and is now (2018) the Summit Academy for delinquent youth. Just past the school the trail crosses over Herman Rd and emerges in the small community of Herman. The community’s general store, post office, and ticket station still stands in Herman (MP15.6), and new owners have rehabilitated the building for the Derailleur Bike Shop Cafe. A detailed interpretive sign explains the history of the store and its previous owners.
The trail then goes past a couple of farms, through some cuts, along an embankment between two lakes, and through the Bonniebrook Golf course (MP15.0) with a clubhouse/restaurant at the top of the hill. The restaurant welcomes bicyclists, but it is uphill about a quarter-mile from the trail.
From the golf course to a cut near MP13.6 the trail continues on cuts and fills on top of the ridge. The power line crossing at the south end of the cut at MP13.5 marks the end of the climb from Butler. From Great Belt (MP14.2) to Cabot (MP9.4), there are more signs of development, with small towns, parallel roads, businesses, and farms. The power substation 0.8 miles south of Great Belt was the site of the world’s then-largest oil storage facility; a historical sign provides some information.
Near MP11.5 there are traces of an old industrial site on the west side of the trail. This is the first, and the most conspicuous, of several such ruins. They are part of the processing plants for the Franklin Glass and Ford Glass quarries. Foundations and walls appear on both sides of the trail for the next half-mile or so, and the remnants of two stone or concrete dams are visible in the creek on the northeast side.
The crossing of Winfield Rd in Cabot (MP9.4) is guarded by flashing lights. Just south of Cabot, on the east side of the trail, carbon black was mined for automobile tires. From here to Laneville the trail is mostly in woods with occasional road crossings. Either Little Buffalo Ck or Buffalo Ck is almost always within view or at least within hearing—the trail crosses the Little Buffalo six times between Cabot and Sarver (MP7.3), and as a bonus it also crosses a small unnamed creek. Beaver dams are sometimes visible on the creek. Near MP6.8 the trail passes a lovely home set on a small lake. From Bear Creek Rd (MP5.6) to Monroe Rd (MP4.3) it runs on a bench between the cliff and Little Buffalo Ck. The trail was resurfaced here in 2017.
South of Monroe the trail is on a paved road that was constructed as part of a sewer plant project. This limited access road only goes to the sewer plant and typically does not have any traffic. Not far south of the Monroe trailhead is Winfield Junction (MP4.0), where Little Buffalo Ck joins Buffalo Ck. The junction is named for the railroad junction, as there is no town or road access here. Shortly after the junction but before the sewer plant (MP3.2), the undersides of overhanging rocks show fossils, as well as drill holes left over from railroad construction. Immediately after the sewer plant the trail passes under the high PA28 bridge and the trail surface returns to crushed limestone.
A half-mile past the sewer plant and bridge is a large area of industrial ruins which lie in the flats on the west side of the trail. This is the remnant of the Harbison Brick Co brickworks; it’s private property. Five domed brick kilns baked bricks at a temperature of 2000°; their foundations may be visible from the trail when the leaves are off the trees. Shortly after this area is a handsome dressed-brick culvert. The area once supported numerous clay mines and the area is littered with specialty bricks.
The trail enters Laneville at MP0.8, crosses the gravel parking lot, and picks up as paved trail as it crosses Old Mill Rd. The trail travels through back yards of Laneville, which is the section of Freeport west of Buffalo Ck.
At the entry to the second Laneville parking lot, the trail makes a U-turn to the right/northwest and continues up a steep hill on the road. It travels 350 feet on Main St and takes a sharper U-turn to the left/southwest towards SR356 on Old Pike Rd for 450 feet. At the top of the hill just before PA356 the trail turns left/south on a bike-pedestrian path. At the Laneville-Freeport bridge the trail splits—the left branch goes across Buffalo Ck to Freeport and the straight -ahead branch continues across the Allegheny River to the Tredway Trail (described in the Near Pittsburgh Volume of this guide).
To get to the main part of Freeport, the route crosses the Laneville-Freeport bridge on 2nd St and then turns left/north on Buffalo Av. In about 0.3 miles it enters the main business district and changes its name to Fifth St. Freeport is adding bike lanes and sharrows (shared lane markings) to make bicyclists feel welcome and to become a Trail Town
To get to the Tredway Trail, the route continues straight across 2nd St and goes under the PA356 bridge. After passing under the bridge, the path loops uphill to the right and joins the 8-foot sidewalk on the PA356 bridge across the Allegheny River. Once across the bridge, the trail makes a U-turn to the right/north on River Landing Dr and heads steeply down to the Allegheny River and the Tredway Trail.
Local history, attractions
The trail follows the right-of-way of the former Butler Branch line of the Western Pennsylvania RR. This was the first railroad built in Butler County. It was completed in 1871 to provide freight and passenger service to Butler. The villages along the trail were built to serve the railroad, which ran as many as six passenger trains a day.
Eighty-plus geocaches are hidden near the trail, of which twenty are trail sponsored at historic locations along the trail and only accessible from the trail. The trail organization offers a passport for logging visits to these caches and a trackable geocoin for finding all twenty. The caches, with BFTHGT in their name, have extensive historical documentation at geocaching.com
There have been four train derailments along the trail. A train truck from a derailment in the 60’s will be raised from its muddy home and placed along the trail with historical information. Three of the derailments (north of Laneville, Dittmer Rd, and near Vogleyville Rd) spilled a glittery black powder, Venezuelan Iron Ore, which was one of the main loads for this train. The fourth was a passenger train with several fatalities, on the north side of the first bridge north of Sarver Rd.
Both Buffalo Ck and Little Buffalo Ck are included in the Buffalo Creek Valley Important Bird Area. Extensive areas of hemlock, deciduous forest, and sycamores provide great habitat for birds, and this area has been identified as a mixing zone between southern (Yellow-throated Warbler, Cerulean Warbler, Yellow-throated Vireo, Arcadia Flycatcher) and northern (Magnolia Warbler, Brown Creeper, Purple Finch) fauna.
For more bird watching, Todd Sanctuary is a few miles past the Monroe trailhead. From that trailhead, continue east (away from PA356) for half a mile, bear right on Kepple Rd at the fork, and go 1.8 miles to the sanctuary, marked by a sign on the right. An Audubon Society Nature Park will start construction in spring of 2018. Including programing, restrooms and parking
Cooper Cabin, a restored log cabin built in 1820 is now furnished with family heirlooms and memorabilia. It is 0.3 miles west of Cabot at 199 Cooper Rd; follow the signs. Tours are sometimes available, check with the Butler Historical Society for times at 724-283-8116.
Historic Saxonburg, 2 miles west of Cabot, is an old German settler village with shops, restaurants, and a museum.
Extensions of the ride
The southern end of the trail connects to the Tredway Riverfront Trail (described in the Near Pittsburgh Volume of this guide). After the trail crosses the Allegheny River on the shared path side of the jersey barriers, it curves into the entry to the River Forest Country Club. An immediate right-hand turn leads downhill. At the end of the road, under the bridge, a left/west down a short gravel two-track leads to the paved River Forest Dr, which connects to the Tredway trail towards Braeburn and eventually Pittsburgh. A right/northeast turn through the gate about 50 feet past the gravel two track leads to the Kiskiminetas River and eventually Erie or Harrisburg.
There is also a trail connection into Freeport. Instead of continuing across Laneville-Freeport bridge intersection, the route turns left/southeast on to the bridge sidewalk. At the end of the bridge, turns in either direction lead to the streets of Freeport.
The Baker Trail (a hiking trail) rachelcarsontrails.org/bt is also across the Allegheny river from Freeport. After crossing the river the route continues uphill on PA356 for 0.3 miles to the woods line on the left. There are signs here for the start of the Baker Hiking Trail.
The southern end of the Butler-Freeport Trail is a major trail intersection. Nine trails will eventually meet at this spot. See Future Trail Hub at Freeport page NE-9.
Trail developers in cooperation with the Southwest Pennsylvania Commission have developed suitability and compatibility maps for road riding in Butler County and have identified an on-road route west from Butler that will connect to the Moraine State Park (Lake Arthur) Trail (page NE-160). They are considering extending this to reach Youngstown via the Stavich Trail (described in the West and South Volume of this guide).
Several passenger stations once adjoined the trail. The trail council hopes to rebuild one or two of them.
Vicinity: Directions begin at end of the exit ramp from PA28 Exit 17 (marked “Butler-Freeport” where it tees into PA356. To reach this point from Pittsburgh, go northeast on PA28 to Exit 17 (the second Freeport exit). This is about 20 miles northeast of the Highland Park Bridge interchange on PA 28.
Butler Father Marinaro Park (northern) trailhead: Turn right/north on PA356 and go 14.5 miles from PA28 to a “Y”. Turn right/north on Center Rd to stay on PA356. Go 0.8 miles and just before the church turn sharp right/east on Ziegler Av. Go 0.3 miles to the second right and turn right/north on Kaufman Dr. Go 500 feet to trailhead parking on the right, by the bridge. If the lot is full go another 0.3 miles to the baseball parking lot on the left.
Bonniebrook trailhead: Turn right/north on PA356 and go 8.5 miles to Bonniebrook Rd. Bear right/north on Bonniebrook Rd. The trail crosses this road 3.8 miles later. Trailhead parking is on the right, near (but not blocking) the gravel pile.
Dittmer Rd trailhead: Turn right/north on PA356 and go 8.5 miles to Bonniebrook Rd. Bear right/north on Bonniebrook Rd. Continue 3.4 miles and turn right/east on Herman Rd. Go 0.5 miles, cross under the trail and turn right/south on Dittmer Rd. Go 0.1 miles to trail parking on the right and the Derailleur Bike Shop Café on the left.
Sheetz Dr trailhead: Turn right/north on PA356 and go 8.5 miles to Bonniebrook Rd. Bear right/north on Bonniebrook Rd. Continue 2.2 miles and turn right/east on the Sheetz Dr. Go 0.3 miles to the trail.
Great Belt Rd trailhead: Turn right/north on PA356 and go 8.5 miles to Bonniebrook Rd. Bear right/north on Bonniebrook Rd. Continue 1.6 miles and turn right/east on the Great Belt Rd. Go 0.2 miles to the trail parking on the right
Marwood trailhead: Turn right/north on PA356 and go 7.3 miles to Marwood Rd. Turn right/northeast on Marwood Rd (SR2010). The trail crosses this road 1.1 miles later. Trailhead parking is on the right.
Cabot trailhead: Turn right/north on PA356 and go 6.5 miles to the traffic light at Winfield-Cabot Rd. Turn right/northeast on Winfield-Cabot Rd (SR2010). The trail crosses this road almost a mile later. After crossing the creek and the trail, turn left/northwest on Helmbold Av and then in 500 feet turn left/southwest on Center Av. Trailhead parking is just ahead on the right.
Sarver trailhead: Turn right/north on PA356 and go 3.7 miles to Sarver. Turn right/northeast on Sarver Rd (SR2018) toward Sarver. Go down the hill and along the creek for 0.8 miles. Just after crossing the creek and passing the volunteer fire department, turn left/north into the parking area alongside the trail.
Bear Creek trailhead: Turn right/north on PA356 and go 1.4 miles to Bear Creek Rd. Turn right/northeast on Bear Creek Rd (SR2023); this corner is marked for the Buffalo Township Municipal Building. In 0.4 miles bear right/north to descend the hill 0.4 miles toward Little Buffalo Ck. The road crosses the trail just before the bridge over the creek. There is parking for 6–8 cars near the trail gate.
Monroe trailhead: Turn right/north on PA356 and go about a mile to the traffic light at Monroe Rd. Turn right/east at on Monroe Rd and go 0.8 miles to the bottom of the hill, where it crosses Little Buffalo Ck. After crossing the bridge and passing a driveway, turn right/east into a small parking area. Do not block access to the service road.
Laneville trailhead at Old Mill Rd: Turn left/south on PA356 and go 1.4 miles to the bottom of the hill. At the bottom of the hill, before the 2nd Av Bridge to Freeport, turn left/east on Old Pike Rd and descend. In 350 feet, continue to descend by bearing right/northeast on Main. Continue on Main St for a quarter-mile, then bear right/northeast on Old Mill Rd. Just after the street bends right, cross the trail and park on the left.
Laneville (southern) trailhead under Freeport-Laneville bridge: Turn left/south on PA356 and go 1.4 miles to the bottom of the hill. At the bottom of the hill, before the 2nd Av Bridge which goes into Freeport, turn left/east on Old Pike Rd and descend. In 100 feet, make a sharp U-Turn to the right/south. Continue 400 feet to parking.
Rest rooms, water: Seasonal chemical toilets at various trailheads.
Bike shop, rental: Derailleur Bike Shop/Café at Herman. Rapp’s Bicycle Center in Butler, bike fix-it station at Sarver.
Restaurant, groceries: Restaurants in Butler, Derailleur Bike Shop/Café at Herman, Bonniebrook Club House a mile south of Herman, and on PA356 parallel to the trail.
Camping, simple lodging: Smith Grove Campground 1.5 miles east of trail at Herman. Lodging in Saxonburg 3 miles west of trail, at Cabot, and several in Butler.
Swimming, fishing: In the creeks.
Winter sports: The trail is protected from the sun, so XC skiing is good. No snowmobiles.
Wheelchair access: Okay. The gates on the northern end of the trail are tight.
Butler-Freeport Community. Buffalo Township
Maps, guides, other references
Brochure/Map published by the Trail Council.
USGS Topographic Maps: , Butler, Saxonburg, Curtisville, Freeport.
Text version of 18 Jul 2018 based on personal observation while bicycling Butler to Cabot 7/2018, Cabot to Sarver Rd 8/2017, Sarver Rd to Laneville 7/2018, Laneville to Tredway Riverfront Trail 9/2017. Trail group information 2/2018. Conditions may have changed; you are responsible for your own safety. Oldest segment check 9/2017.
1 Sharrows or Shared Lane Markings. A street marking painted in the travel lane consisting of a bicycle with chevrons above it, to indicate where people should preferably cycle.
2 Sharrows or Shared Lane Markings. A street marking painted in the travel lane consisting of a bicycle with chevrons above it, to indicate where people should preferably cycle.