Ghost Town Trail: Black Lick to Heshbon

My husband and I recently shared our first mountain biking adventure on the Ghost Town Trail in Indiana County.  Spanning 36-miles in length, this crushed limestone trail is often done in sections.  We parked in Saylor Park, the western terminus and followed the trail from Black Lick to Mile Marker 8, a little beyond Heshbon.  This part of the trail is relatively flat.  Our total distance was 16-miles round-trip.

This scenic, creek-side trail weaves in and out of the forest and passes through state game lands, often providing close encounters with wildlife.  In addition to the natural beauty of the region, there are also areas of total devastation, caused by the industrialism of the past century.

The Ghost Town Trail was designated as a National Recreation Trail by the United States Department of Interior.  Each year, it attracts 75,000 visitors and brings $ 1.7 million into the local economy.  This multi-purpose trail is suitable for both bikers and hikers.

The Ghost Town Trail traces the Blacklick Creek Valley through Indiana and Cambria counties.  The trail was built over the abandoned tracks of the Ebensburg, Black Lick, and Cambria & Indiana railroads as part of a rails-to-trails conservation effort. The name of this trail was derived from the coal mining towns that once existed along the railroad corridor.  In addition to these ghost towns, remnants of the railroad and coal industry remain.

Blacklick Creek received its name from the coal outcroppings in the valley.  The rapid rise of the coal industry in the 1890s led the miners to set up towns. The early 1900s brought the decline of the coal mining industry and the populations of these towns began to dwindle.  The Great Depression led to further deterioration and the towns were abandoned.  Train passenger service ended in the 1930s. Although some mines managed to scrape by, all were extinct by the 1960s.

Some of the ghost towns along the trail are Beulah, Webster, Scott Glenn, Lackawanna #3, Dias, Amerford, Wehrum, Buffingtown, Claghorn and Bracken.  The largest of these former towns is Wehrum.  The town was developed in 1901 by Warren Delano, grandfather of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  In its heyday, the town had 230 homes, a hotel, company store, jail, bank, school, and two churches.

The abandoned coal mines created ecological disaster areas along the trail.  Amazingly, after several decades, there are still no weeds in sight.


There is no aquatic life along the trail.  The creek is inhospitable to fish or vegetation due to acidic run-off from the mines.  A cleanup is underway.

It was impossible to miss the butterflies and caterpillars along the trail.   We also had several encounters with snakes.

The Ghost Town Trail has many waterfalls.  My favorite were the falls on Auld’s Run. Auld’s Run Falls are a series of cascades that wrap around the hillside in an S-curve formation.  Acid mine drainage has turned the rocks a bright orange, giving a stunning contrast to the crisp white water and green foliage.

I heard this waterfall from the trail and made a short jaunt into the woods to get a better look.


This waterfall was visible from the main trail.

We decided to turn around shortly after this bridge.

We have plans to explore this trail further.  Additional points of interest are the Blacklick/Wheatland, Buena Vista and Eliza Furnaces.  Constructed from 1845-1846, the Eliza Furnace is one of the best-preserved hot blast iron furnaces in Pennsylvania.   It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

If you are planning an excursion on the Ghost Town Trail, you may want to take two cars and use them as a shuttle to cover a longer distance.

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