The Buffalo Valley Rail Trail is one of my all-time favorite rail trails. At only ten miles, it’s a short ride that even a beginner can knock down in less than two hours. It winds through some beautiful landscapes in Union County, offering some amazing photo opportunities. And it’s anchored by brewpubs and bike shops on both ends. What’s not to love?
The trail follows the path of the former Lewisburg & Tyrone Railroad Co., which originally ran from Montandon (just across the river from the trail’s eastern terminus in Lewisburg) to Bellefonte. The line ran from the 1850s until 1982, when declining rail utilization forced it to shut down. Construction on the rail trail started in 2009. Nearly three decades after the line went dead, the rail trail opened to the public in 2011. Future plans call for the trail to be extended across the original rail bridge into Montandon. Technically the trail extends into downtown Lewisburg, but you have to cross a “no trespassing” sign and Route 15. It’s odd.
Before I get into it, let me brag about my car. This picture is half the reason I chose my Forester over the Grand Cherokee and 4Runner. Not only is the Forester roomier, but I get outstanding fuel economy. This is after driving up 15 from Harrisburg. Despite idling my way through stop-and-go gridlock on the Selinsgrove strip, I still got awesome fuel economy.
Anyway, back to bikes:
I started my ride at the Miller Center parking lot just off Route 15. I’ve never had a problem grabbing a space here, even on the busiest weekends. The lot is very narrow, so be careful for kids and people loading and unloading. From this point you’re about a half mile from the eastern terminus.
The eastern terminus of the Buffalo Valley Rail Trail is just past the end of the parking lot. You’ve got surprisingly clean restrooms, a Giant for any last-minute supplies, a handful of eateries, and a state store. You know, for motivation. You can actually ride the trail all the way up to Route 15 but there’s not much to do until you get downtown.
The first mile or two in each direction is paved, after which the trail becomes a mixture of packed dirt and fine gravel. Heading west, the trail begins by winding through some residential neighborhoods. The trail is almost entirely on dedicated bike paths except for the very beginning and very end. When it does cross a road, it’s usually a low-traffic road with excellent visibility. Crossing points are very well marked.
The view along the trail ranges from wide open rolling fields to impossibly picturesque bridges and trees. As the trail crosses through active farmland (complete with “do not yell at the animals” signs), the landscape will be dotted with cows. It’s not uncommon to run into a farm cat hanging out on the trail, greeting passerby.
I’m not gonna lie. This is THE main reason to ride the Buffalo Valley RT: the Amish food stand! It’s located a little past the midway point, just west of the Vicksburg trailhead. Homemade root beer, lemonade, and baked goods ensure that however many calories you burn on this ride, you’re going to put at least double back on.
The nearby Vicksburg trailhead marks roughly the halfway point on the trail. If you’re riding with very young children, or aren’t sure if you can make the full 20-mile round trip, make this your starting point. From here, it’s five miles to either end of the trail.
The western terminus isn’t as well developed as the eastern. It pretty much dead ends in an industrial zone just past Rusty Rail. It’s easy to see how the trail can be extended to the west, but evidently easements haven’t yet been obtained.
Even though it’s a relatively short trail at 20 miles round trip, this has become one of my favorite rail trails. It’s never crowded, even on weekends and holidays. It’s almost entirely flat, and even the “roughest” parts of the trail are fine for road bikes. And the wide-open rolling farmlands are unlike anything you’ll see on other rail trails.
If you go, I suggest starting from the eastern terminus and riding west. Stop at one or both breweries for luck and a pick-me-up, then consider making the trek into downtown Lewisburg for their boutique shops.