Several years ago, I was a bike geek. 50 to 80-mile Saturday rides were typical, and IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d race across the city Ã¢â‚¬â€œ after work Ã¢â‚¬â€œ to meet my riding buddy for a weeknight sprint of 20 miles or so. While most of those rides were on the country roads of Westmoreland County, we also spent a lot of time on the vast array of rail-trails at our disposal.
Southwestern PA is blessed in this regard. Mid-1990s initiatives gave us a jump on most areas of the country. To this day, weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re still a leader and have far more trails than any other region of the state. Abandoned railroad right-of-ways Ã¢â‚¬â€œ yet another relic of the Industrial Revolution – have been reborn into multi-use paths that have become focal points of communities long abandoned by coal, steel, glass and rail. Many of these towns Ã¢â‚¬â€œ places not typically branded progressive Ã¢â‚¬â€œ embrace these linear parks and realize their potential through bed & breakfasts, trailside ice cream and barbeque stands, repair shops, summer festivals, and charity events. In many cases, they have become focal points of the community.
A comprehensive network is congealing in Southwestern PA, the cornerstone of which is the Great Allegheny Passage – a 350-mile-plus network comprising of the Montour, Steel Valley, Three Rivers Heritage, Youghiogheny River, and Allegheny Highlands Trails. A patchwork of other trails is filling out the metro area as well. Notables include the Freeport-Butler Community, Ghost Town, Panhandle, and Armstrong Trails.
Two online resources are the best place when mapping your route. The state DCNR has an extensive site with an interactive map. You can use this to plan a trip, as well as get directions to trail heads and parking areas, and links to sites dedicated to certain trails. You can even get local weather.
The Allegheny Trail Alliance, stewards of the Great Allegheny Passage, offer a great knowledge base of trailheads, restaurants, lodging, campsites, and recreation for the Great Allegheny Passage. This site has been around for seven years, and is still one of the most comprehensive. I utilized it heavily when planning my Pgh-DC trip several years back.