Iron Horse Trail

Description: This is a moderate 9.5 mile circuit beginning at Big Spring SP/Picnic Area. The main treadway is composed old railroad grades. On the east side of PA Rt 274 is the Perry Lumber Railroad. On the west side of the road is the Path Valley Railroad. The grades themselves decrease and increase in elevation quite gradually. At times however, you are forced to surrender the grade to avoid some eroded conditions or private in-holdings. Some steep but short climbs are involved to accomplish this. A fair portion of the Perry Lumber RR grade still has the ballast and, as such, is a bit rocky. You cross and parallel several streams and Sherman Creek along this segment of the hike. All stream crossings are bridged. Most of the ballast had been removed from the Path Valley grade after it was closed. Short sections of the trail closely parallel the road on either side. One such section between the Epy's cemetery and the turn around point is overgrown with thorns. There are also 2 small clear cut areas you have to hike by. Despite these detractions this is still a pretty nice walk in the woods.
There is a short 1 mile loop to a failed tunnel should you want to lengthen your trip.

Google Custom Directions

Almost immediately after turning onto Hemlock Road turn left into the signed trailhead for the Iron Horse and Tunnel trails. If Hemlock Rd is snow covered continue a few yards north on PA Rt 274 and turn right into the Big Spring SP Picnic Area.



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GPS Text File for Non-TOPO! Users


Trail Notes: From the kiosk head north-east on the dual blazed Tunnel/Iron Horse Tr (red and blue). It is lined in stones. In a short distance the red return leg of the Iron Horse Trail comes in from the left. Continue to the right. In 0.28 miles the trail goes around a large picnic pavilion and then passes an old water fountain. In another 0.15 miles the blue blazed tunnel trail leaves to the right. Continue straight on the red blazed Iron Horse Tr and cross Big Spring Run.

 In 0.66 miles cross Big Spring Run again and leave the RR grade on a footpath to the right. Climb gradually and in another 0.27 miles cross an old woods road. In another 0.51 miles descend and cross Hemlock Run. Follow Hemlock Run and rejoin the RR grade at its confluence with Big Spring Run to form Sherman Creek. There's a few spots where the trail leaves the RR grade because of erosion so keep an eye out for logs blocking the grade and detours marked with red blazes.

At 0.85 miles from crossing Hemlock Run pass a hunters cabin on the right. Please stay on the trail. In another 0.14 miles cross a gravel road. In another 0.53 miles cross over 2 pipeline swaths and in another 0.53 miles turn left onto a gravel/dirt road, following it almost to PA Rt 274. Just before reaching the road the trail turns right onto a footpath. In 0.1 miles cross the road and visit the Epy cemetery. The trail continues to the right of the grave yard. The first couple hundred yards are quite thorny but soon clears up when you reach a pine grove.

Turn left onto a gravel road. soon pass a clear cut on the right and a very large hunter's cabin on the left. In 0.2 miles from turning onto the road turn left onto a footpath (the Path Valley RR grade). This is just before a left hand bend in the gravel road. In 0.7 miles turn right off of the RR grade and climb steeply to the top of a ridge. Note the Private Property postings and white blazes marking the boundary to the left of the trail. At the top (0.23 miles from leaving the RR grade) turn left onto a gravel road and climb gradually to the high point of the ridge. Here you will pass to the right of a second clear cut area.

In 0.6 miles from where you turned onto the gravel road reach a pipeline swath. Turn left onto it but in less than 0.1 miles turn right to regain the RR grade. In 0.14 miles cross a small stream and a driveway to a cabin on your right. Climb again to regain the RR grade. There is an unmarked trail that goes off to the right once you reach the top but I don't know where it leads. The next 2 miles are almost entirely on the RR grade. You'll cross a snowmobile/woods road near the halfway point (0.92 miles). In another 0.97 miles you'll join an old woods road but only for a few yards before turning left and picking up the grade again. For the next 0.92 miles the trail closely parallels the road. The last 200 yards of the trail are so close to the road that I recommend crossing the road And walking through the picnic area. The last few yards of the trail are lined with rocks as it passes through a pavilion area.


Printable/Downloadable Directions and Trail Notes

Critique This Outing!



Name: Karen                                                                                                                  Hike: Iron Horse Trail, PA
Date: 03/04/2012                                                                                                        Rating: 4

Critique: Do not go into the woods at the Eby Cemetery. It is nothing but brambles. Instead, stay on the paved road (same side of the road as the cemetery) and turn in at the dirt road that has the large hunting camp on it (mentioned in the directions). This means you stay on the paved road about 1/3-1/2 mile. This avoids all the brambles. Also, toward the end, you will again be very near SR 274 (on your left). The trail makes a sharp right to go onto the mountain and it is very rocky. If you want to avoid this, stay on the trail by the road and it turns into a dirt road. Then you can cross 274, facing traffic and walk about 1/3-1/2 mile the end. Because this is "Rocksylvania" - it will avoid going over another rock field at mile 9.5. All in all, a nice hike - it snowed a lot but nothing stuck. Always nice to be outside - my 3 dogs (2 Labs, Shepherd) loved it - lots of fresh water.


Name: Alia                                                                                                                      Hike: Ironhorse Trail
Date: 30 August 2008                                                                                                  Rating: 3

Critique: The hike is better done clockwise than anti-clockwise: clockwise means the return trip is easier and very flat and pleasant.

2 comments from hiking the trail anti-clockwise: 2 main areas need better trail markings: where the trail continues after Epy's cemetery as well as as the section of the trail that goes on the dirt road where it seemed part of the old trail has become private property. It looked like the trail has been maintained as we did not have problem with overgrown bushes.


Name: Barry Wolfe                                                                                                       Hike: Iron Horse Trail
Date: Many between 1977 and 1983                                                                        Rating: 5

Critique: Iron Horse Trail was laid out and constructed between 1977 and 1980 by two crews of United States Conservation Corps (YCC) led by Charlie Krout and John Sanderson. The crews worked out of the Bryner Ranger Station, Tuscarora State Forest and I was their Project Director. It was an interesting project as it involved research into the two railroads. The Path Valley Railroad came first and was to include the tunnel but trains never operated on the line. Later, the Perry Lumber Company ran their railroad on the Path Valley grade from New Germantown to the Briner Farm (now the Ranger Station) where it left the Path Valley Grade and followed Shermans Creek to what is now Big Spring State Park. The YCC crews were comprised of local high school students whose names were drawn from a hat. Each crew had four boys and four girls and worked for eight weeks each summer. It was a great project for them. Until I left the area in 1983, Iron Horse Trail, along with the Tunnel Trail, was one of the favorite hikes for family and friends when they came to visit us at our home at the Bryner Ranger Station. Barry, Kathy, and Jenny Wolfe.


Name: Terri G.                                                                                                               Hike: Iron Horse Trail 
Date: 01/20/08                                                                                                            Rating: 4

This is a great winter hike. The length is right for short days and all but the last few miles of the drive are on highways. The trail does need a little maintenance. A short stretch of trail parallel to the road immediately after leaving Eby cemetery is impassable. It is best to take the road for a few minutes and regain the trail when the thorns thin out or at a clearing 5-10 minutes up the road. On the return leg, the blazing is unclear when you get to the snowmobile trail. There are some tape flags which are not the trail. Turn right at the snow mobile trail intersection and continue uphill for 5 minutes or so until the iron horse trail splits off to the left. The neat old cemetery with headstones from the 1860's is definitely a bonus. Thanks again, Mike.


Name: Matt Culbertson                                                                                               Hike: Iron Horse Trail
Date: 6/10/2007                                                                                                          Rating: 2

Critique: We followed the trail from the parking area, with the detour to the old tunnel, which was really interesting.  However, this proved to be the high point...

The trail is very muddy in many more places than indicated, despite the fact that it hadn't rained in a number of days.  It is also very overgrown, and quite poorly blazed.  Sometimes three blazes are visible, and at other times, none for a very long distance.

At the halfway point, at the Eby cemetery, we tried to regain the trail.  We walked past it a number of times, and eventually spotted the remnants of a footpath, and a dim red blaze.  The trail here was extremely overgrown, and after a few dozen yards became largely impassable.

The trail needs extensive maintenance, but would be a much better hike when all of the foliage has retired for the winter.  Otherwise, watch out for extensive amounts of ticks!


Name: PP                                                                                                                        Hike: Iron Horse Trail
Date: 03/20/2010                                                                                                        Rating: 4

Critique: We started at near the Epy's cemetery and hiked to Big Springs and back, near Epy's there were a lot of downed trees and it was sloppy wet but otherwise the trail is well marked, we did lose the blazes in Big Springs when we had to cross the road, also watch close in the clear cut area where it leaves the logging road. We had a great day and a good hike. We are looking forward to logging more miles in the Tuscarora State Forest area.


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