RIDING THE PINE CREEK TRAIL IN THE GRAND CANYON OF PA
BY PAT CODISPOTI
I can’t remember the exact year that my husband and I began riding mountain bikes. I do know that we were close to 50 and are much older now. We have taken many day trips on bike trails throughout New York, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, DC, and PA but the most exciting are those off road trails that require a couple days or more to complete.
Our first “overnight trip” was on the Erie Canal Trail beginning in Lockport. We rode to Rochester and picked up the Greenway trail heading south to Mt Morris where we ended this trip. Our second trip was on the Ohio Erie Canal trail from Bolivar, Ohio north to Cleveland, a three day 100 mile trip. The 184 Mile Chesapeake & Ohio Canal trail was our third adventure. We started in Cumberland, Maryland and finished our 4-day trip in Georgetown. The fourth overnight trip was the Allegheny Highlands Trail from Cumberland to just south of Pittsburg, PA (121 miles). This trail now connects to the C&O Trail but was not open the year before. We also rode the Old Erie Canal Trail from Dewitt to Rome and back, (a 72 mile round trip) and last year (2009) we rode the Greenway from Genesee Valley Park in Rochester to Cuba, approximately 90 miles on and off the uncompleted trail.
The Pine Creek Trail is our 7th multi-day biking endeavor. About 15 years ago we took a day and rode the Grand Canyon of PA Trail 20 miles south and 20 miles back beginning and ending in Darling Run. To my knowledge this was the only portion of the Pine Creek Rail Trail completed at this time. I remember the trail being incredibly scenic and cringing at the many rattlesnake warning signs along the trail! In 2001 this portion of the Pine Creek Trail was named as one of the top 10 bike trips in the WORLD by “USA Today”! I also remember being very tired after riding the 40 miles in one day…. Seems like a short trip since we just finished riding 62 miles the first day and 58 the second day on the now completed Pine Creek Rail Trail.
Our recent adventure on the now 62 mile long Pine Creek Rail Trail began in the middle at Slate Run Village. We drove to Slate Run in the morning (an adventure in itself since Slate Run is off the beaten path) and began our ride at about 9:00 AM north towards Wellsboro.
Since we would be riding back to our car, we were lightly packed with rain gear, lunch, bike necessities, and our camelbacks loaded with water. Generally we carry overnight necessities, adding weight and making the trip a little more difficult.
Although we were actually riding uphill, the grade is only about 2% and barely noticeable. The surface, hard packed crushed gravel made for easy peddling. The morning was reasonably cool. We were enjoying the scenery and stopping to read the few signs along the trail. Our first stop was at the Rattlesnake Rock Access Area and Comfort Station. There are apparently a lot of rattlesnakes in this area and it was only a little further along the trail that we saw our one! We actually rode right past a 3 footer resting along the side of the trail. We would not have seen one at all but for the fortune of meeting up with a DCNR worker who had spotted another rattlesnake up in the rocks. That snake was up too high to see well but we did get a good look at the skin he had just shed. The DCNR worker told us that we had just passed another snake along the trail and walked us back about 50 feet. And there he was… a black timber rattler. If I can believe the warnings along the trail, the timber rattler is rather docile and will not attack unless provoked. Although I did get a picture, I did not venture too close!
Once you get to Blackwell, this portion of the trail is called the Grand Canyon of PA. This is the portion that USA Today rated as one of the top 10 bike trips in the world. It must be breathtaking in the Fall. You are riding along Pine Creek with Mountains on both sides. There is NOTHING along this segment of the trail except remote campgrounds, hiking trails, and a few cabins along the side of the creek. On the way back, we did discover a bike rental in Blackwell where you could buy Gatorade and snacks but that was it!
We must have met 40 or more groups along the trail. Most were on bikes. We did see a few kayaks but in August the water level in the creek was low. We were pleased to see so many people enjoying the trail. This trail is the best constructed and maintained off-road trail that we have experienced.
The northern most terminus is at Wellsboro Junction. After Darling Run, however, the trail leaves Pine Creek and follows Marsh Creek. This portion is much less scenic so we actually turned around in the Village of Asaph (we explored Asaph but nothing and nobody was around) to begin the trip back to Slate Run. By then we had ridden 31 miles and the temperature was in the low 80’s.
We stopped at Darling Run for a late lunch and rest. Darling Run is one of the better access areas with clean comfort stations, an information hut and plenty of parking. If you were just riding for the day, I would suggest that you begin here. Between Darling Run and Blackwell there are several comfort stations but no access areas. As I stated previously, this area is isolated. There are no “real” roads coming in or out.
Cedar Run was one of several quick stops on the way back to Slate Run. The Cedar Run Inn was charming and would have also been a good option for our overnight stay. In Cedar Run, there are cabins along the creek, a beach area, a county store and the Inn. After Cedar Run it was only about 5 more miles to the Manor Hotel in Slate Run where we stayed the night. Hotel Manor is in the middle of nowhere but we had a comfortable room, a hot shower and a good meal on the deck of the restaurant overlooking Pine Creek….. All the essentials after 62 miles on a bike!
The next morning after breakfast at the Hotel Manor, we headed south to Jesery Shore. The southern portion of the trail took us through more little villages but it is still quite remote. The trail continues along Pine Creek and runs adjacent to Route 414 and 44. There are a lot of seasonal homes and cabins along the creek. Some are surprisingly high-end with tennis courts in the back yard and beach areas along the creek. Once again we met a lot of people (and dogs) enjoying the trail either on foot or bike. There are more access areas and comfort stations along the southern route but not a lot of opportunities to purchase food or water. Although we continued to search for rattlesnakes, we never saw one after the first day!
Our first major stop was at Waterville, the most populated village along the trail. We took a “coffee break” at the Waterville Tavern. The Tavern is actually a restaurant and bar but the innkeeper was kind enough to offer us coffee. We agreed to stop there on the way back for lunch. He indicated that they stay busy in the winter with snowmobilers and in the spring with fishermen as well as bikers and campers in the summer.
Once you are within about 5 miles of Jersey Shore, the trail once again leaves Pine Creek and is much less scenic but when you reach Jersey Shore, you are greeted with a state-of-the-art comfort station and other historical information on the development of Pine Creek Valley. We rested here for about 10 minutes and then began the most grueling part of the trip. By then, your seat is NOT comfortable (not that is ever is) and your legs are beginning to feel heavy.
We did stop for lunch in Waterville. We split a sandwich but honestly, neither of us was hungry. It was hot and we were getting tired! The iced tea was refreshing!
By the time we left Waterville, we were counting down the miles between comfort stations. The last 20 miles was by far the most difficult…. We were saddle sore! But we were not wet (no rain) and no breakdowns!
When we arrived at Slate Run, we went into the Hotel Manor to say good bye and hopped in the car to head for home…. Never has a car seat been as welcomed! We rode 118 miles in 2 days. We were on our bikes for over 12 hours averaging a little less than 10 miles per hour! And I would do it again! Next on our list of is a trail in West Virginia and 200 mile one in Missouri.
BIKE TRIP SYNOPSIS
- Arrived at Slate Run after a 2 ½ car ride from NYS
- Readied our bikes and began our trip at 9:15
- 1st stop was at Rattlesnake Rock Access Area
57 minutes of riding time
10:20 AM – ave. speed 9.6 mph
- Arrived at Darling Run Access Area at approximately 12:50
- Ave. speed 9.4 mph- riding time 2hr 57 min- 27.8 miles
- Continued North and turned around at the Village of Asap
- Returned to Darling Run for rest and lunch at 1:45 PM
- Ave. speed 9.3 mph-3hrs 40 min on bikes-34.24 miles
- 1st rest stop on return trip was a Tiadaghton. 42.25 miles
4 hrs 23 minutes riding time – 3:00 PM
- Stopped at Blackwell for rest and a snack at the bike shop
5 hrs 13 min on bikes- 51 miles – 4 PM
- Arrived at Manor Hotel to end our 1st day
Ave. 9.8 mph-6 hrs 22 min on bikes-5:20 pm- 62.18 miles
- Started ride South to Jersey Shore at 9:00 AM
- 1st stop at Cammal (7.1miles) 69.2 miles-10AM-7hrs 9 min on bikes
- Rest stop at Waterville-11:00 AM -8hrs 7 min on bikes-78.5 miles-(16.3 miles today)
- Restarted ride at 11:30 arrived at Jersey Shore the Southern terminus at 12:45- 90.26 miles-ave. speed 9.8 mph – 9 hrs 14 minutes on bikes – 28.8 miles today – 3 hrs 45 minutes to reach Jersey Shore.
- Started our return trip to Slate Run at 1:05 PM
- Took a rest Stop at the Venture Inn just outside Jersey Shore – and continued on at 1:45 PM
- Rest stop at Bonnell Flats comfort station-2:20 PM-on bikes for 10 hrs 3 minutes – 98.15 miles
- Arrived back to Waterville for lunch at 2:50 Pm for a 35 min break-101.9 miles- 10 hrs 27 min on bikes-back on the trail at approx. 3:30
- At 4:25 PM stopped at Cammal Comfort station- 11 hrs 22 min on bikes-110.78 total miles – ave 9.8 mph – 7.1 miles to go!!
- Arrived at Slate Run at 5:22 Pm – over the entire trip we averaged 9.8 mph – rode a total 118.29 miles and were on our bikes for 12 hours 11 min. during a two day trip that took a little over 16 hours to complete.