Each month, the Northeast PA chapter will share a Trail of the Month to explore. Log miles on the D&H Rail-Trail this September for a chance to win a $50 REI gift card. Share your photos on Facebook or Instagram with the hashtag #NEPA165 to enter.
This Historic, Scenic Trail Offers Fun for All Seasons
September is Pennsylvania Trails Month, so we’re exploring the D&H Rail-Trail, named 2021’s Trail of the Year by the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources! Spanning 38 miles across three counties, the D&H Rail-Trail follows the Delaware & Hudson Railway corridor that transported anthracite coal in the second half of the 19th century. Connecting historic towns, lakes, rivers and farms from the Lackawanna Valley to the Endless Mountains, the trail offers four seasons of enjoyment, enticing hikers, bikers, equestrians and snowmobilers.
The D&H Rail-Trail meets the Lackawanna River Heritage Trail at its southern terminus, Morse Avenue Trailhead in Simpson, to form a 70-mile greenway passing through 30 communities. Running in a northerly direction, the D&H Rail-Trail takes you through Forest City, Union Dale, Thompson, Starrucca and Lanesboro—all the way up to the New York border. Trail-goers experience pastoral views and spectacular industrial infrastructure, such as the Starrucca Viaduct, or “Bridge of Stone.” Listed on the National Register of Historic Places and designated as a Historic Civil Engineering Landmark, this 1848 viaduct still carries an active railroad across its 17 arches of bluestone, making it the oldest railroad bridge in Pennsylvania in operation.
The trail extends just one block west of Forest City’s Main Street. This “Mile of Hospitality” is the perfect pit stop. Just follow the bike stencils from Erie Street Trailhead to Main Street! Zazzera’s Supermarket is located in a historic theater once owned by Samuel “Roxy” Rothafell, who brought the Rockettes to Radio City Music Hall. This store has everything you need with daily soup, sandwich and dinner specials.
Beloved by bikers, these first 20 miles of improved trail to Ararat and back to Carbondale make a pleasant ride through a beautiful rural area. Since Ararat is the D&H’s highest elevation, many cyclists prefer to bike the “upgrade” first and then enjoy the “downgrade” back for a 40-mile roundtrip. Beginners often plan shorter roundtrips to Ararat and back, opting to start at Forest City or Union Dale. Choose your own adventure!
The D&H Trail runs right along Main Street in Union Dale. Trailside favorite Cable’s General Store welcomes trail-goers with hearty meals, healthy snacks and strong coffee. Next door, pop into the Rail-Trail Council of Northeastern Pennsylvania’s office and get to know the friendly faces of the D&H at 948 Main Street. You can download the D&H Trail Guide and check out RTC’s latest newsletter online or pick up hard copies in person. Adjacent to RTC’s office, the Union Dale Trailhead has plenty of seating to take a break and a selfie with the recently restored antique D&H Pusher Caboose.
For a hiking or mountain biking excursion, trek north of Ararat, where the trail, though graded, looks very much like it did when the Delaware & Hudson Railway operated. Navigating the rugged terrain rewards you with the beauty of the switchbacks of Starrucca. A 500-foot railroad bridge once crossed the ravine, and you can access switchback trails on both sides. From Main Street/PA-171 in Thompson, hike 3.5 miles in. From Little Ireland Road in Starrucca, hike one mile in. Relax under the hemlocks by the stream at the bottom of the ravine and listen to the water cascading down to Buck’s Falls.
As you journey farther north, the trail parallels Starrucca Creek and passes under the “Bridge of Stone,” eventually meeting the Susquehanna River to the west. Take Lanesboro’s Main Street into Susquehanna Depot for a coffee at Erie & Main, ice cream at Susquehanna Scoops or a craft beer at Iron Horse Brewing Company. Future plans for this area include trailheads at Luciana Park and Stevens Point, as well as a pedestrian bridge. Improvements are underway on the northernmost eight miles of trail from Stevens Point to the New York border, to be completed in spring 2022.
Celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, the Rail-Trail Council (RTC) started as a grassroots community effort to study the feasibility of transforming the region’s railbeds into recreational trails. With a mission to renew historic pathways into recreational trails for all to enjoy, RTC identified the D&H rail alignment as its first project, since a single landowner possessed a mostly intact length of 38 miles. Today, RTC’s board and small but mighty staff manage the D&H Rail-Trail, O&W Road Trail and Endless Mountains Trail with the support of over 1,200 members.
RTC offers popular events on the D&H year-round. There’s something for everyone with trail yoga, full moon hikes, bike rides, historical tours, naturalist guided walks and more! In February, Get Your Tail on the Trail participants had a blast at this year’s Winter Challenge Kick-Off with free snowshoe loans through Get Outdoors PA. Throughout winter, RTC partners with NEP Sno-Trails, the local snowmobile club whose members groom the trail and lay tracks for cross-country ski clinics. This May, Get Your Tail on the Trail kicked off the 165-Mile Challenge with a Bike to Farm/Table event. Cyclists started at different trailheads and met at Camp Bluestone for local music and a buffet from Red Rock BBQ. Keep an eye on RTC’s website for event updates, as the calendar changes monthly, and pop-up events are added weather-permitting.
During Pennsylvania Trails Month, RTC is holding its annual fundraiser—the D&H Distance Run on September 12th. This certified half marathon and 5K route is relatively flat, heading out-and-back from the Forest City Trailhead with a turn-around past Union Dale. Register online to join the race! Interested in volunteering? Email [email protected] to pitch in.
During the entire month of September, participate in numerous D&H Virtual Challenges to earn a Trail of the Year shirt! Choose to bike 10, 20 or 40 miles or walk any distance along the trail. Register online. And yes, those same miles can count towards Get Your Tail on the Trail’s Trail of the Month giveaway and 165-Mile Challenge. Just be sure to also log your miles at tailonthetrail.org!
Counties: Lackawanna, Susquehanna, Wayne
Length: 38 miles
Surface: Stone dust resurfaced (from Carbondale to Ararat), graded original rail bed (Ararat to Stevens Point)
Accessibility: All ages/skill levels and wheelchairs (from Carbondale to Ararat), intermediate hiking and mountain biking (Ararat to Stevens Point)
Regional trail connections: Lackawanna River Heritage Trail, O&W Road Trail
Follow the Rail-Trail Council on Facebook and Instagram. During wintertime, make sure you follow RTC’s special “Winter on the D&H Trail” page on Facebook for cross-country skiing clinics, free snowshoeing pop-up events and more!