The Montour Trail: the Nation’s Longest Suburban Rail-Trail!
The scenic Montour Trail is a multi-use non-motorized recreational rail-trail near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and will ultimately traverse 46 miles from Moon Township near Coraopolis to Clairton. The main line extends between those two towns, and branch trails extend into Bethel Park and Westland. The Trail is complete from Mile 0.0 near Coraopolis to Library, near the T station around MM 36. We are working to close several short gaps in the the South Park Township/Gill Hall portion of the trail. The all-volunteer Montour Trail Council (MTC) adds new sections each year as it works to complete the route.
The rail-trail is paved with a relatively smooth surface of crushed limestone, which makes it ideal for all forms of non-motorized use: bicycling, walking, running, cross-country skiing, dog-walking and nature appreciation. In certain sections, horseback riding is permitted, but not on the improved Trail surface.
The converted railway bed is steeped in history: It began life as the coal-carrying Montour Railroad (MTR) in 1877. In its heyday, MTR trains served 27 mines and carried 7 million tons of coal per year. Coal fired the steel mills of the Pittsburgh area, and steel built our nation and saw us through two world wars.
Dotted with refurbished railroad truss bridges, replacement spans that are engineering marvels, and lengthy tunnels that eliminate steep grades, the Trail offers views of beautiful rural landscapes, wooded corridors, flora and fauna. The suburban towns along the route provide many opportunities for refreshment and diversion.
You can access the Trail via 25+ trailheads, conveniently located every few miles. These gateways offer parking (including handicapped), water fountains (in season), benches, picnic shelters and portable toilets (mostly in season). In addition, the Trail hosts a number of campsites for through-travelers bicycling to the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) and C&O Canal routes to Washington, DC.
Several branches in the south corridor provide access beyond the main line. The Westland Branch extends from Venice to Westland, a 4.1-mile stretch that offers rural beauty and solitude. It runs parallel to an active railroad line. The Bethel Park Branch runs 2.8 miles through forested and residential neighborhoods.
A portion of the Trail within Peters Township is called the Arrowhead Trail, owned and maintained by that township. When it was built in 1985, the township planted 500 trees along the 4-mile route, providing a suburban wooded corridor that links Peters neighborhoods with parks.
The Montour Trail connects in McDonald (MP 17.3) to the Panhandle Trail that stretches 29 miles between Carnegie, Pennsylvania, and Weirton, West Virginia. The original train corridor once connected Pittsburgh to Cincinnati, Chicago and St. Louis.
At the Montour’s southeastern terminus in Clairton, you can take the Clairton Connector route (urban, on-road) about 5 miles to McKeesport, which links to the the Great Allegheny Passage: Turn north at this junction and you can travel about 15 miles to downtown Pittsburgh along the Monongahela River; turn south to follow the Youghiougheny River to the Allegheny Mountains and beyond.
The Montour Trail connects Pittsburgh International Airport to the GAP and the C&O Canal Towpath, a trail system that stretches 300+ miles from Pittsburgh to Washington, DC. The Airport Connector is a combination trail/on-road link that runs about 6 relatively flat miles, from Enlow (MP 7.8) to the airport parking lot. Inside the airport, baggage claim hosts an area where bicyclists can disassemble/reassemble their bikes pre-/post-flight.
Survey Says … What Our Users Think
More than 400,000 people use the Montour Trail each year. From time to time, MTC conducts a survey to learn what they think of this great resource. We leverage the results to make Trail improvements that help draw in new people from all over.
Survey results do make a difference: For example, based on user comments from 2016, we added more year-round portable toilets, directional/distance signage along the Trail, and water fountains. We added questions about etiquette to the 2018 survey, and the responses reinforced the fact that we can all make improvements in this area. Comments focused on bicyclists’ passing and speed, pet-leash enforcement, and walking/running two-to-three abreast. As a result, we developed safety and etiquette guidelines that encourage respectful behavior. You can review the latest survey results here.
Awards & Interesting Facts
- The first public meeting to discuss creating a rail-trail was held in 1989. A core group of 15 committed people attended, and some of them are still active volunteers with the MTC. In 1991, the MTC purchased the Montour Railroad right-of-way. This year, 2019, marks our 30th anniversary, celebrating three decades of hiking, biking and recreation.
- The first of many MTC volunteer “trail-blazing” work sessions was held in 1992 to clear out brush, trash, and railroad ties. The first section opened that year was a 4-mile stretch near Cecil. A 5-mile stretch near Moon/Robinson opened for use in 1993. MTC members at that time believed that it would take three years to complete the trail.
- In 1992, the Trail was awarded the Teddy Roosevelt Conservation Award.
- The Montour Trail received a Three Rivers Environmental Award in 1994 in the category of Community-Social Organization. That same year, the MTC obtained two 100-foot-long truss bridges to replace Montour Railroad structures lost to unwanted removals.
- In 2000, the Quicksilver Bridge was installed, an incredible achievement undertaken by Trail volunteers.
- Trail improvements in 2003 included the 970-foot-long McDonald Viaduct — a $1.8 million outlay.
- The first Annual Tour the Montour bike ride was staged in 2003. Today, it is the MTC’s largest fundraising event.
- In 2004, the Montour Trail was designated a National Recreational Trail, an honor bestowed on existing trails that connect people to local resources and improve quality of life.
- MTC completed and opened the connector between the Montour and Panhandle trails in 2007. It built three bridges in the highly prized Cecil section and asphalt-paved the rough National Tunnel floor the following year. Lighting was installed inside that tunnel — the Trail’s longest — in 2012.
- The Rails-to-Trails Conservancy named the Montour Trail its Trail of the Month in March 2015.
- In 2017, the Montour Trail was named Pennsylvania’s Trail of the Year, citing its quality, benefits to the region, and strong volunteer network and partnerships. That same year, the Montour Trail was named a part of U.S. Bicycle Route 50, which runs east-west and, when completed, will span the country.
- In 2019, readers of Pittsburgh Magazine named the Montour Trail Best in the ‘Burgh in the hiking/biking category.
- Today, the MTC continues to complete the Trail as it gains new right of way or where replacement structures are required — at a cost of $12,000 in materials to resurface a mile of existing trail, as much as $2 million to renovate a viaduct.
See more about the MTC’s efforts to build the rail-trail
Read about the MTC’s founding fathers
The Trail is maintained and managed by an extensive network of volunteers that includes a governing board, members, Friends, and donors. Collectively they log as much as 20,000 volunteer man-hours each year! And yet, that is never enough — we can always use a few more hands to help us accomplish our annual goals. Join us and become a “they.”
The Montour Trail Council (MTC) is a non-profit, all-volunteer group that builds, operates and maintains the Trail. It is a registered 501(c)(3) not-for-profit corporation, relying on corporate, foundation and government grants as well as private donations for funding.