PW&S Railroad Bike Trail

Forbes State Forest and adjacent state parks in Westmoreland and Somerset Counties

Forbes State Forest and the adjacent State Parks (Linn Run, Laurel Mountain, and Laurel Ridge) maintain a network of snowmobile trails and forest service roads though the second-growth forest along Laurel Hill north of the PA Turnpike (I76) and south of US30. Much of this network within Forbes State Forest serves as a mountain biking system the rest of the year. Bicycling is allowed only on the designated biking trails (plus, of course, on roads open to automobiles). Bikes are specifically prohibited on the yellow-blazed Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail, which intersects the PW&S system at several places.

Currently, the official mountain biking map shows four "moderate" and "expert" loops totaling about 34-35 miles, but some of the loops overlap and they are partly on roads. Most of the off-road trails are rough, rocky, and steep—true mountain biking trails. Most of the wide easy trails are on hilly but lightly-traveled roads, mostly dirt roads. This trail system, then, is unlike most of the other trails in this guide.

Within the PW&S network, 6.5 miles follow the route of the former Pittsburgh, Westmoreland, and Somerset Railroad. This includes 3.9 miles along Linn Run Rd, 1.8 miles along Laurel Summit Rd, and 0.8 mile closed to motor vehicles (the "Old PW&S Grade"). Here we focus on these easy trails. If you want to try out harder trails, get the map and guide to the mountain biking trail system.

Linn Run Rd follows the PW&S grade for most of the way from Linn Run State Park to the top of the hill. One place where the road deviates from the railroad is near the ranger's residence; two others are at the safety switches on the steep part of the hill. The PW&S grade along Linn Run Rd is quite steep by railway standards—up to 12%. The low point on the trail system is at the eastern edge of Linn Run State Park on Linn Run Rd. Here a quarry supplied "bluestone" to make the "Belgian blocks" (cobblestones) that paved many Pittsburgh streets. Quarry Trail emerges here after its final steep descent.

Traces of two original safety switches from the PW&S can be found about a mile southeast (uphill) from the park boundary, where Linn Run Rd crosses Linn Run (from south to north if you're going uphill). At a parking lot here, Fish Run Trail (no bikes) runs well above the road, emerging half a mile later at the lower of the two safety switches. Here Fish Run Trail crosses over to the south side of the road for half a mile and becomes a bike trail. This is the Fish Run-Water Station area; it is on the steepest part of the hill and is one of the finest segments of the original grade. The railroad grade crosses the creek four times in this half-mile, twice on original stone culverts and twice on timber replicas of railroad bridges. The remains of another safety switch and associated features can be seen on the upper end of this half-mile segment. The switches were kept in the safety position and changed manually to let trains pass. Since the train had to stop at each safety switch, these were natural places for water stops as well. Traces of the railroad pond are about 100 yards upgrade from the upper timber bridge. An interpretive area will be developed here. Bikes are permitted on Fish Run Trail only on the half-mile section on the south side of the road. When Fish Run Trail returns to Linn Run Rd, it crosses and becomes hikers-only again; bikes must remain on the road.

At Laurel Summit, the PW&S forks. The left branch goes north on Laurel Summit Rd. The right branch is gated to exclude motor vehicles; it starts gently downhill on a wide flat trail. Regrettably, there's only 0.8 miles of it. The portions of the railroad grade on roads are surfaced in dirt and gravel; automobile traffic is light and reasonably slow. The on-road portions are not terribly interesting, but the short segments on Fish Run Rd and on the old railroad grade in the woods are quite pleasant.

PW&S Railroad Hiking-Biking Trail

Location                         Forbes State Forest and adjacent state parks, Cook and Ligonier Townships,
                                                Westmoreland County; Jenner and Lincoln Township, Somerset County

Trailheads                                                                                                 Linn Run Rd, Laurel Summit Rd

Length, Surface                                              6.5 miles of 34-35 -mile network on abandoned rail line;
                                                                                                                               dirt, gravel, and single-track

Character                                                                         Uncrowded, wooded, sunny, hilly, very rugged

Usage restrictions                                                                                                    Snowmobiles permitted

Amenities                                                                                      Rest rooms, water, bike rental, camping

Driving time from Pittsburgh                                                                                        1 hour 30 minutes

Another The Rails-to-Trails Conservancy reports an additional 2.5 mile section of the PW&S roadbed open to pedestrians but not bicycles.  Part of this is the portion of Fish Run Trail on the north side of Linn Run Rd. Another 1.4 miles of the system along Laurel Summit Rd are indistinguishable from the railroad grade. 

Of the 27 or so miles of the trail system that are not on the railroad grade, 8.3 are on dirt and gravel roads that carry even less traffic than Linn Run Rd and Laurel Summit Rd. The surfaces tend to be rough, and there are several significant hills. The elevation change on Linn Run Rd from the low point on the west to the ridge is over 1000'; on the east side the elevation change is over 600'.

This leaves a little over 18 miles of serious mountain biking. It's one of the best mountain biking systems in the region, mostly "moderate" or "expert". Take a mountain bike, get a copy of the trail guide, and be prepared to take care of yourself and your bike in rugged and remote terrain.

The Laurel Summit Picnic area makes a good base of operations for excursions on the interconnected loops. It is, of course, near the top of the loops.

Local history, attractions

This entire area was clear-cut in the first decade of the 20th century to supply hardwood to a sawmill in Ligonier, then largely burned over. The Pittsburgh, Westmoreland, and Somerset RR was established to haul the timber: oak, hickory, cherry, and hemlock. It operated from 1899 to 1916. Passenger service was added in 1901 so people could visit the mountain. Later, the railroad carried bluestone from the quarry to Pittsburgh for paving streets. The main line of the railroad ran from Rector to Somerset. It's relatively steeper than most of the area's railroads, and two level "safety switches" were built along Linn Run to stop runaway cars. Remains of these can still be seen along Fish Run trail, parallel to Linn Run Rd; one is on each side of the road (only the part of the trail to the south of the road is open to bicycles). The state acquired 6000 acres of Byers-Allen Lumber Company land in 1912 for $2/acre, rehabilitated the forest, and stocked it with white-tailed deer. This was the first forest preserve in the Ohio River drainage of Pennsylvania.

Development plans

The 1994 master plan calls for a 46-mile network including five interconnected loops between the Laurel Mountain Ski area and the PA Turnpike. Four of these loops, totaling about 34-35 miles, are now available. The additional loop will be a connector to the South Penn RR in Somerset County (7 miles).

In the winter, the snowmobile trails north of the PA Turnpike connect with the snowmobile trails to the south using the Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail bridge over the Turnpike. The ranger at Linn Run State Park advises us that this bridge is not open to bicycles, so this connection is not available to cyclists.

Access points

Vicinity: Directions begin at the intersection of US30 with PA711 headed east on US30 in Ligonier. To reach this point from Pittsburgh, take the PA Turnpike and exit eastbound on US30 at Greensburg.

Linn Run trailhead: From Ligonier, continue east for 2.0 miles on US30. Turn south (right) on PA381 and go 3.0 miles to Linn Run Rd in Rector. Turn east (left) on Linn Run Rd in Rector, go 2.7 miles up Linn Run Rd to enter Linn Run State Park, and park in any lot as you go up the hill. The Quarry Trail parking lot is 4.0 miles past Rector on this road, just east of the state park boundary.

Laurel Mountain trailhead: From Ligonier, continue east for about 8 miles on US30. When US30 crests the ridge, turn south (right) on Summit Rd and go about 2 miles to the large parking area at the entrance to Laurel Mountain State Park or 0.4 miles farther to parking by the Ski Patrol warming hut.


Amenities

Rest rooms, water: In Linn Run State Park and Laurel Summit picnic area.

Bike shop, rental: Rentals at large parking lot on Laurel Summit Rd near entrance to Laurel Mountain Ski Area and in Laughlintown. Bike shops on US30 near Latrobe and near Laughlintown.

Restaurant, groceries: In Ligonier, Laughlintown, and Rector.

Camping, simple lodging: Linn Run State Park has ten rustic cabins available for weekly and half-weekly rental

Swimming, fishing: No swimming. Near the lower end of Quarry Trail at Linn Run Rd, there is a set of acid rain treatment wells operated by the Loyalhanna Watershed Association and the State Park. Linn Run is stocked with trout downstream from this treatment facility

Winter sports: Most of these trails are designated snowmobile routes. A separate system of cross-country ski trails (which are not open to bicycles) weaves between the snowmobile routes in the same area.

Wheelchair access: This is principally a mountain biking area. Trails are often rough and steep; when they're not rough they're open to motor vehicle traffic.

Trail organization
Trail development                                          Operations

Loyalhanna Watershed Association           District Forester
114 South Market St                                   Forbes State Forest
PO Box 561                                                PO Box 519
Ligonier, PA 15658-0561                            Laughlintown PA 15655
 (724) 238-7560                                           (724) 238-9533

Maps, guides, other references

Laurel Highlands Trail System Map and Guide, trail brochure with loop trails and difficulty.

Forbes State Forest Public Use Map and Laurel Highlands Snowmobile Trail System Map available from Forbes State Forest.

USGS Topographic Maps: Ligonier, Bakersville.

Version

Text version from 2002 edition. Conditions will have changed; you are responsible for your own safety.

 

Editors' notes

1/24/96: Lysle Sherwin: Marsha is Linn Run ranger; she's overstepped in telling people where they may/may not cycle.  She's actually anti-biker.  Turnpike bridge for LHHT is of Corten -- it's rusting and in poor repair.  May need to be removed or replaced.  They're looking for another way across the Turnpike.  PW&S system does not include the dead ends that are on Marsha's map -- omitted because people don't turn around at the end.