There are plenty of rail-trails in and around the Lehigh Valley. All are popular for walking, running, biking and dog walking. They usually give access to waterways and fishing areas and many intersect with other trails. Their place in local history is significant, though many of its users are unaware of this. These trails are fairly easy, being mostly level and offering plenty of scenery and wildlife.
Locally the D&L Trail is definitely tops. 3 of the 4 top bike rides are on sections of the D&L. Here are the top 4 rides: 1. D&L Trail – Bethlehem Township/Freemansburg border to the Forks of the Rivers in Easton; 2. D&L Trail – Cementon to the East Penn Boat Launch in Carbon County; 3. Plainfield Township Trail in Northampton County; 4. D&L Trail – Canal Park in Allentown to Sand Island in Bethlehem. All of these trails have multiple trailhead areas.
The D&L Trail (Delaware, Lehigh and Wyoming Valley Trail) is a 165-mile long pathway which stretches from the coal-rich, forested mountains of Wilkes-Barre, Luzerne County to Bristol, Bucks County. It is the path that anthracite coal took from mine to market. Coal is the reason many area towns sprouted up and the reason Bethlehem Steel became an international industrial force and the reason the Lehigh and Delaware Canals made such a huge impact on our region’s development. In 1988, because of anthracite’s historical importance and its rich and distinctive impact on both cultural and natural resources, Congress designated the Delaware & Lehigh National Heritage Corridor.
1. The top ride, an approximate 17-mile round trip starts in Freemansburg at Lock #44 where efforts have taken place to restore the area. Heading east into Bethlehem Township, the cindered and packed earthen trail which parallels the Lehigh River is mostly remote and tree lined. After the Bethlehem Boat Club the trail becomes narrow, approaching the Route 33 Bridge overhead and a PFBC boat launch. The path continues into Palmer Township where it is paved and passes by the Chain Dam and PFBC fish ladder to Riverside Park, which offers a playground and lighted baseball fields. Here the trail continues by turning right and down through the parking lot and then turning left and exiting the park for a short distance on Lehigh Drive along the river until crossing the green colored Glendon River Bridge into Hugh Moore Park. (An addition to the trail from the upper entrance at Riverside Park is nearly complete and will soon eliminate riding on Lehigh Drive, only crossing it at the bridge entering into Hugh Moore Park.) A picnic area, playground, mule-pulled canal boat ride and the Emerick Technology Center are located here. Turn left after crossing the bridge, go through the parking lot and follow the path which again parallels a water filled canal into Easton and the Forks of the Delaware and Lehigh Rivers.
Here you could turn south on the Delaware Canal Towpath which extends from Easton to Bristol, a 60-mile ride. There have been plenty of damages to the towpath and the canal from flooding over the past two decades and sections of the trail may be closed for repairs. Check the Delaware Canal State Park website for further information on the Delaware Canal; and click on advisories for latest updates.
(Note: the section through Freemansburg heading west to Sand Island in Bethlehem is in need of many repairs; both in the canal and the towpath. The trail usually remains muddy for long periods after a substantial rainfall. Unfortunately, it is a several mile link between ride 1 and ride 4.)
2. The D&L Trail – Cementon to the East Penn Boat Launch is a 15-mile continuous section of cindered trail from a trailhead off Route 329 in Whitehall Township in Lehigh County to the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission East Penn Boat Launch in Carbon County just south of Bowmanstown. The trail passes by homes, meadows, woods and rock cliffs with restroom facilities and eateries in Slatington. This section was built on a former Lehigh Valley Railroad bed and parallels the Lehigh River. There are nearly constant views of the river with many access areas for fishing.
At Lehigh Gap, the D&L Trail passes through the Lehigh Gap Nature Center which offers some terrific scenery of the Kittatinny Ridge, gives access to the Appalachian Trail and a canoe/kayak launch on the Lehigh River. A recently opened 2.5-mile section of the D&L extends from the Marvin Gardens in West Bowmans to Lehighton. The small Marvin Gardens Park is about a mile north of the East Penn Boat Launch. (The 9.2 mile Ironton Rail Trail is located nearby the Cementon Trailhead and the 3.3 mile Slate Heritage Trail, a trail built on a former extension of the Lehigh Valley Railroad can be accessed in Slatington.)
3. The Plainfield Township Recreational Trail which could also be called Chipmunk Lane due to the little critters’ constant presence on the trail is an easy and relatively flat 7 mile trail to bike or walk. It is mostly tree-lined and runs parallel to the Little Bushkill Creek which it crosses several times. The trail is a relatively quiet and peaceful place but does have several rural road crossings.
From 1880 into the 20th century, the Bangor and Portland Railway steam locomotives travelled this corridor and others in the region, providing essential transportation services for the nearby quarries. Conrail bought the Plainfield Township Trail line in 1976, only to close it five years later. Plainfield Township then bought the corridor and built the rail-trail.
Access from the southern end is on Route 191 N, just north of Stockertown. Turn right into a parking area immediately after the Sawmill Golf Course entrance and a power substation. At the northern end in Pen Argyl, from Route 512 N turn right after the Lessig Oil and Propane station onto Buss Street. Parking lot and trailhead are on the left.
The first 5.5 miles of the trail are paved and most is covered with a top coat of crushed red stones. On this excellently maintained section of the trail you will pass by houses, old buildings, farms, horses and go over several bridges. The majority of the trail is adjacent to woods and fields teamed with plenty of wildlife. Keep an eye out for hawks, songbirds, squirrels, rabbits and of course the chipmunks.
You can turn around at the Grand Central Road crossing, or take the final 1.5 miles on a coarse crushed stone path, which is a little difficult to ride or walk on, and becomes a beaten earthen uphill trail as you approach the northern end.
4. D&L Trail – Canal Park in Allentown to Sand Island in Bethlehem is an approximate 8-mile round-trip. This section of the trail is fairly well maintained and is covered with surfaces of crushed stone, packed earth, macadam and a few grassy sections. The Allentown section is a little better maintained than the Bethlehem section. This is a very popular section for bikers, runners, walkers and fishermen. Bass, carp, sunnies, pickerels and stocked trout are found in the canal. It is best to stay on the trail as poison ivy is abundant which was planted long ago by the canal company to keep people out of the canals and limit access to the Lehigh River.
Begin in Allentown at Lehigh Canal Park and Lock #40, located off of Hanover Avenue. Turn onto Albert Street and go 0.2 mile to the stop sign. Turn right at the stop sign (crossing the railroad tracks) and go 0.4 mile (traveling along the canal which is on your right). After passing under a small train trestle, turn right crossing the bridge over the canal into the park. Located here is a pavilion and picnic area, a boat launch for the Lehigh River and a boathouse which houses canoe and pedal boats.
Head east towards Bethlehem, to the left are train cars and the Norfolk Southern’s Hump Switching Yard. After about 2 miles you enter Bethlehem and pass by Lock #41 on your way to Sand Island Park. Sand Island offers tennis courts, lighted basketball courts, playground, picnic area and a boat launch. Also located here is Lock #42 and aqueduct carrying the canal over the Monocacy Creek which flows into the Lehigh River.
Leaving Sand Island to the right are the defunct blast furnaces of the Bethlehem Steel and the Sands Casino across the river. Nearing the Minsi Trail Bridge, the canal is usually dry and the trail becomes sloppy. You can continue into Freemansburg and beyond or return back to Allentown.
Allentown has planned to extend the D&L Trail for 1.5-miles from Canal Park to the Kimmetts Lock Access PFBC boat launch.
Locktender’s House in Freemansburg
The Locktender’s House in Freemansburg at Lock #44. Made of stone and built in 1829, the building is in an area where restoration efforts have taken place.
Bethlehem Township on the D&L
The towpath trail (D&L) seen here in Bethlehem Township by Lock #45 and the remains of the Locktender’s House. There is a nice spot here with 2 benches overlooking the Lehigh River.
Palmer section of D&L Trail
The paved section of the D&L Trail in Palmer Township. It is also known as the Palmer Bike Trail. The trail leads from the the PFBC Route 33 launch to Riverside Park in Easton.
D&L Trail in Hugh Moore Park
A paved section of the D&L Trail in Hugh Moore Park in Easton paralleling the Lehigh Canal. The trail sits high above the Lehigh River. There is much to do at Hugh Moore Park including mule-led canal boat rides in the canal.
Cementon section of the D&L Trail
From the trailhead area in Cementon, Whitehall Township the D&L Trail heads north to Slatington and the Lehigh Gap Nature Center. This is a beautiful section of flat-cindered trail.
The very wooded and mostly-shaded Plainfield Township Recreational Trail is a quiet, peaceful and beautiful place for a bike ride. Watch out though for the many chipmunks who scurry across the trail.