Explore Pennsylvania’s 2021 Trail of the Year
The D&H Rail-Trail starts in Simpson and stretches 38 miles to the New York State line. The trail is managed by the Rail-Trail Council of NEPA, and thanks to their hard work, the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) named the D&H as Pennsylvania’s 2021 Trail of the Year. With the rich history, untamed natural beauty and friendly trail towns, it certainly lives up to the title.
The quiet, uninterrupted miles are excellent for hiking, biking and running, but there are plenty of other ways to explore. When the snow falls, the old railroad grade is prime for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. Some sections are even open for horseback riding and snowmobiling. But no matter how you hit the trail, there’s loads of sightseeing around every bend.
Simpson to Forest City
The Lackawanna River Valley is a gateway to NEPA’s rail-trail systems.
The D&H Rail-Trail begins at the Morse Avenue trailhead in Simpson and follows the Lackawanna River. This historic route once connected the Delaware & Hudson Railway and the Erie Railroad, creating a shorter, faster way to ship coal to the north. From here on out, you’ll spot many relics and ruins from the railroading days.
The lower portion of the trail is well-developed with wide, smooth pathways. You can easily take a short out-and-back trip, or link up with some of the surrounding trail systems. One of the most notable is the Lackawanna River Heritage Trail, which merges with the D&H Rail-Trail at Morse Avenue. Combined, these two trails stretch over 70 miles.
You can also create a loop with the O&W Rail-Trail. Both trails begin in Simpson and connect at miles one, two and seven. The O&W is a bit more rugged, so come prepared with a mountain bike.
Forest City to Union Dale
Welcome to the heart of NEPA’s trail towns.
Walkers, runners and bikers love this section of the trail because it’s convenient, scenic and smooth. The trail takes you past the borough of Forest City, where you can make a pitstop at one of the diners, cafes or shops along Main Street. This community is so proud of their history that they host an annual Trail Town Festival every August with a footrace, guided bike rides, historic programs and more.
As you leave Forest City and approach Union Dale, you’ll catch views of rocky cliffs and peaceful ponds. Take a moment to admire Stillwater Lake, a reservoir where people have often spotted bald eagles.
Union Dale to Thompson
Escape into the countryside of Susquehanna County.
The Union Dale trailhead is a bit of a hub. The Rail-Trail Council’s office is right alongside the trail, and they often host events like guided walks, yoga hikes, cross-country skiing sessions, snowshoeing clinics, an annual half-marathon and more. They’re currently holding socially distant programs, so watch their Facebook page for the latest announcements.
Cable’s General Store—another local landmark— is right next door to the office. Stop in and refuel with fresh salads, hearty grain bowls, deli sandwiches and homemade desserts. In the warmer months, you can grab a snack and relax at the picnic area near the trailhead.
North of Union Dale, the trail can be a bit more challenging. Some parts follow the original grade, and the surface may be grassy or earthen. However, a mountain bike should do the trick. You’ll reach the top of Ararat Summit, the highest elevation on the trail, then head downhill into the Thompson Curve, a mile-long horseshoe bend that was originally built to keep the railroad grade level. Along the way, the Lackawanna River gives way to quiet wetlands and pristine lakes outside of Thompson.
Thompson to Lanesboro
Towering forests and soaring bridges capture the spirit of the Endless Mountains.
This portion of the trail embodies the beauty of rural NEPA. One moment, you’ll pass dairy farms and grazing herds. The next, you’re following the winding creeks and spotting waterfalls through the trees.
For an extra adventure, take a side trip to the Florence Shelly Preserve, a 400-acre nature preserve just outside of Thompson. You’ll discover several hiking trails, a glacial pond, an unspoiled creek, stately evergreen forests and diverse wildlife. You can reach it by taking a short ride up Main Street/Route 171 or Little Ireland Road.
Another must-see stop is the Starrucca Viaduct, a historic stone bridge near Lanesboro. Built in 1848, it’s the oldest railroad bridge in Pennsylvania that’s still in use. The D&H Rail-Trail will take you right past its base at Luciana Park, where you can get awe-inspiring views of the massive stone arches.
By now, you’re almost at the end. The last three miles of the trail join the North Branch of the Susquehanna River and eventually end at the New York State border.
Hit the Trail
This award-winning trail is practically in our own backyards.
Whether you take a short walk or ride the rails all the way to the state line, you’ll find endless opportunities on the D&H Rail-Trail. We covered a few of the highlights, but there’s still so much more to explore. For more trail resources, make sure to visit Rail-Trail Council’s website. They have a downloadable trail guide with maps, trailhead locations, points of interest and more.