Rides with a view: 6 great bike trails in Eastern Pennsylvania

Kelly Drive in Philadelphia

The four-mile long Kelly Drive, home to the historic Boathouse Row and annual Dad Vail Regatta, attracts bikers, runners, joggers and walkers to its trail and park, which runs along the Schuylkill River. Visitors without a bike can stop at Wheel Fun Rentals, located at the start of Boathouse Row, for specialty bike and surrey rentals.

By Kalena Thomhave

May 9, 2023

Whether you’re looking for a challenging overnight ride, or something more leisurely and scenic, the eastern part of the state features great bike trails to suit all skill levels.

Did you know that Pennsylvania has a goal to ensure there’s a trail within 10 minutes of every Pennsylvanian? The state’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources is working hard to achieve that goal. Pennsylvania currently has more than 12,000 miles of trails around the state, and more trail mileage is being added each year.

It’s difficult to highlight just a handful of trails when Pennsylvania has so many of them. But we’ve put together a list of six of our favorite bike trails in the Eastern half of the state. Some of the trails we’ve chosen are perfect for day rides, while for others you’ll likely want to choose specific sections to ride, lest you want to plan an overnight bike ride. (More power to you if so!)

Strap on your helmet and set off on one of these bike trails for a warm-weather adventure.

Northwest Lancaster County River Trail

This 14-mile, paved trail was completed in 2022, fulfilling a nearly 20-year vision to marry history and recreation with a public trail along the route of the old Pennsylvania Main Line Canal. As such, most of the Northwest Lancaster County River Trail, commonly called the Northwest River Trail, follows the Susquehanna River as it connects the river towns of Columbia, Marietta, Bainbridge, and Falmouth. Other sections of the trail run through forest or farmland, giving cyclists a number of different scenic views. Be sure to stop to check out the remnants of iron furnaces at Chickies Rock County Park.

D&L Trail

The D&L Trail, which stretches through the Delaware & Lehigh National Heritage Corridor, links the northern suburbs of Philly with the mountains of northeastern Pa. by way of old towpaths and abandoned railbeds. While the partially paved trail is 140 miles — a journey that would take multiple days — cyclists can enjoy sections of the trail without committing to the entire trek. A popular option is the Lehigh Gorge Trail, which is a 26-mile segment of the D&L that cuts through the eponymous gorge, offering spectacular views.

York County Heritage Rail Trail

A rail trail like the 21-mile York County Heritage Rail Trail is a public-use recreation trail that’s been converted from an abandoned railroad corridor. Rail trails are pretty common in Pennsylvania—no doubt because railroads historically have been pretty common in Pennsylvania.

The York County Heritage Rail Trail is an easy ride past some great York attractions. For instance, the Hanover Junction Railroad Station was a stop on the train trip to Gettysburg. During the Civil War, it hosted soldiers on this journey, as well as President Abraham Lincoln on his way to deliver his Gettysburg Address. You can also visit the Colonial Complex in downtown York, which includes a reconstruction of the courthouse where the Second Continental Congress adopted the Articles of Confederation in 1777.

Schuylkill River Trail

The Schuylkill River Trail is the design of an ambitious project to connect Philadelphia with Schuylkill County in northeastern Pa., mostly along the Schuylkill River. While the trail is not yet complete, more than 75 miles of it is currently open to the public, allowing cyclists to traverse the southeastern Pa. region while enjoying its scenery and historical importance.

In Philadelphia, you can start a bike ride on the trail near Center City, continuing northwest for some great urban views along the river. Further in the same direction, riders can jaunt off into Wissahickon Valley Park, a large, forested park that feels as far from the city as possible. That stretch features Forbidden Drive, which was converted into a trail not from an old rail line, but from an old turnpike.

Capital Area Greenbelt

Riders can circle the capital city of Harrisburg via the Capital Area Greenbelt. This 20-mile trail gives you a great overview of the city as you meander through its urban areas, but you’ll also enjoy natural scenery as you pass the Susquehanna River and the Wildwood Park nature area. And once a year, you can ride the Greenbelt in the Tour de Belt, a group ride which ends with a finish line festival. This year, the Tour de Belt is scheduled for Sunday, June 4, rain or shine.

Greater Reading Trails System

This collection of mountain biking trails in greater Reading is connected, so you have multiple paths to choose from when planning your bike ride. It’s the only trail system in the state to be designated a Ride Center by the International Mountain Bicycling Association, meaning its mountain bike trails are extensive, and feature trails for all skill levels.

One popular trail within the system is the Blue Marsh Lake Trail, a roughly 24-mile loop (though connector trails can make it longer) offering lovely views of Blue Marsh Lake. For shorter rides, there are a number of other trails within the Blue Marsh Lake project that are at most a couple miles long.


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