Ever since I discovered the abandoned turnpike three years ago (has it been that long? Really?), I’ve received a steady stream of inquiries about going there. If enough people are interested, I’d like to organize a group trip within the next few weeks. This will be a fairly simple day hike on what is more or less paved road. You don’t need any hiking or backwoods experience, but a pair of good, comfortable sneakers will be a lifesaver (PROTIP from personal experience: do not wear hiking boots).
The Pennsylvania Turnpike opened in 1940 as a 160-mile stretch between Carlisle and Irwin (just east of Pittsburgh). The twin tunnels you see today didn’t exist back then. Originally, Turnpike traffic had to be crammed through single two-lane tunnels. By 1969, the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission had opened twin tunnels for all but three tunnels — the Sideling Hill, Rays Hill, and Laurel Hill tunnels were all bypassed instead. The Laurel Hill tunnel remains privately owned and is off-limits, but in 2001, the PTC sold the 13-mile stretch containing the Sideling Hill and Rays Hill tunnels to the Southern Alleghenies Conservancy for the lofty sum of $1. The SAC has opened this segment to the public in the form of a walking / biking trail.
You can see a map of the area here. I can’t describe what, exactly, is so awesome about walking down a deserted four-lane superhighway is slowly being choked with vegetation and decay after decades of neglect. Nor can I tell you exactly why the tunnels and their rusting machinery are so appealing. But it is and they are. Being on the abandoned turnpike is a unique opportunity to anyone even remotely interested in photography, history, abandoned places, or all of the bizarre culture like this that makes up our state.
This will be an all-day event with an early-morning (no later than 8) departure from Harrisburg. Depending on the group’s interest and experience level, I’m comfortable hiking as little or as much of the trail as we see fit. I’ve done the whole 20-mile end-to-end double-double-back already, and I’ll do it all again in a second. At the very least, we’ll go out through the Sideling Hill tunnel and back, which should be roughly 5 miles round-trip.
I have room for 3 in my car, but I’m sure we can find more volunteers to carpool if the group is large enough. Barring weather complications, I’m thinking of doing this April 24th or May 1st (both Saturdays). If you’re in, drop me a line or track me down on Twitter. Note that this hike is not suitable for children; there are a number of open drainage tunnels around that would easily swallow ME, to say nothing of a 5-year-old.