Millions of people travel along the Pennsylvania Turnpike through Bedford and Fulton Counties each year. However, few realize that just a few hundred yards away from them is one of the state’s oddest attractions: The Abandoned PA Turnpike.
The Abandoned PA Turnpike was created by the rerouting of the highway in 1968. When it was originally built, the Pennsylvania Turnpike was a four-lane highway, but only had one-lane tunnels. Eventually, this created backups that had to be resolved.In many areas, larger tunnels were dug next to the existing tunnels. However, for a stretch of the turnpike in Bedford and Fulton Counties, the turnpike was rerouted. Instead of going through the mountains, it went over them.
This rerouting created a 13-mile stretch of road that was no longer in use. Over the years, this section of abandoned turnpike in Pennsylvania had a variety of uses, including turnpike worker training and military training exercises. It was even featured prominently in the 2009 movie, “The Road”, starring Viggo Mortensen because it looked so post-apocalyptic.
In 2001, this 13-mile stretch of abandoned PA Turnpike was given to Southern Alleghenies Conservancy by the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission. Run by an organization called Pike2Bike, the ultimate goal is to turn the abandoned turnpike into an official biking and walking trail, which would make it one of the best rail trails in Pennsylvania.
Today, however, nearly 15 years after the transfer, little has been done to make this a reality.
In fact, the Abandoned Pennsylvania Turnpike is officially closed to visitors, as signs at the entrance tell you. However, the language on the signs lets you know that it’s not a no trespassing area, simply an area where you proceed at your own risk.
If you do opt to visit, use common sense and be respectful of the area, so that there is no reason to actually restrict access to the area.
From the parking area in Breezewood, Pennsylvania, it’s 1.5 miles to Rays Hill tunnel. The hardest section of the hike is a steep hill right at the beginning. Once at the top, it’s a level walk or bike ride along the road all the way to the tunnel.
The road has concrete barriers in place near the beginning, wide enough for a bike or stroller, to prevent motorized vehicles from accessing the abandoned turnpike. While the rest of the road is relatively wheelchair friendly, I’m not sure if one could fit through the barriers.
In many ways, the walk along the abandoned PA Turnpike to Rays Hill Tunnel reminded me of the abandoned Route 61 in Centralia, Pennsylvania.
Fortunately, though, the abandoned turnpike has a surprising lack of graffiti on the road itself, and most of what’s there is relatively tame compared to Centralia’s Graffiti Highway. Sadly, the graffiti seems to grow with each passing year.
After about 30 minutes of walking, you’ll come to Rays Hill Tunnel, shortly after crossing the bridge over Mountain Chapel Road. The view of the tunnel from the turnpike is quite impressive, and it really does make you feel like you have survived some cataclysmic event that destroyed humanity.
The tunnel itself is heavily covered in graffiti, which does take away some of the beauty. Fortunately, though, the graffiti is relatively tame, though there are still some areas that are not family-friendly, especially the further inside the tunnel you go.
Until a few years ago, it was possible to go inside Rays Hill Tunnel. Access is now blocked by large metal doors. However, it is possible to still see inside the first floor rooms, which feel very much like the set of a horror movie.
Construction began on Rays Hill Tunnel in 1881 for its use as a railroad tunnel. However, it was never used for that purpose and it was updated in 1938, opening to traffic along the Pennsylvania Turnpike in 1940. The tunnel is 3,532-feet long, making it the shortest of the original turnpike tunnels.
When walking up to the tunnel, you can actually see a sliver of light from the far end. This might make you think that it’s not that far away. However, once inside the tunnel, it seems like you walk forever and the far opening is still just as far away.
I should note here that the interiors of the tunnels are very, very dark.
While there is some ambient light from the entrance, it only lights up the first hundred yards or so. After that, you’ll definitely want to have a good flashlight or two with you.
Along the way, notice the old sewer openings, the only real points of interest in the middle of the tunnels.
Once a few hundred yards into the tunnels, make sure to give a shout.
The echoes in the tunnels of the Abandoned Pennsylvania Turnpike are awesome! I couldn’t believe how long my voice echoed, as it made its way through the tunnel. Really, it’s worth visiting the tunnels just for the echoes.
Once you are done checking out Rays Hill Tunnel, you have three options if you want to visit Sideling Hill Tunnel. The first is to walk through Rays Hill Tunnel and continue walking along the abandoned turnpike for another 3.8 miles until you reach the other tunnel.
Conversely, you can do what I did, and drive to the other end for either a half-mile walk or a 1.2-mile walk to the tunnel.
If you opt for this second route, walk the 1.5 miles back to your car in Breezewood, and drive 20 minutes to the other end of the abandoned turnpike.
There are actually two different parking areas to check out the Sideling Hill Tunnel.
The most popular is located at the end of the abandoned section of the road while the other is located in the middle between the two tunnels, though it’s much closer to the Sideling Hill Tunnel end.
I’ll talk first about the most popular area at the end of the turnpike.
Unlike the parking area in Breezewood, this side of the abandoned turnpike is in a very rural area of Fulton County. Despite this end being located in the town of Waterfall, Pennsylvania, there don’t appear to be any nearby waterfalls.
It’s pretty obvious that the 1.2 mile stretch of Abandoned PA turnpike between the parking area and Sideling Hill Tunnel is less frequented and less cared for than the section in Breezewood.
The road here is a bit more overgrown, a bit more dilapidated, and there is a bit more trash. However, the walk along the abandoned turnpike is quite pleasant, even if it is uphill most of the way to the tunnel.
Along the way to Sideling Hill Tunnel, you’ll pass a long concrete area that used to be home to the Cove Valley Travel Plaza until the turnpike’s abandonment. While it’s interesting to see the open expanse, there’s nothing remaining of the plaza except a few manhole covers.
The eastern end of Sideling Hill Tunnel is located just downhill from the current Pennsylvania Turnpike, with the tunnel running directly under the road. Like Rays Hill Tunnel, it was originally built in 1881 for trains, opened to vehicular traffic in 1940, and was bypassed in 1968.
This tunnel’s more off-the-beaten-path setting means there isn’t as much graffiti here, and it was still possible to enter the ground level rooms on the tunnel’s western end, though entering any of the buildings is not recommended as they are very unsafe from what I’ve been told.
At 6,800-feet long, Sideling Hill Tunnel is significantly longer than Rays Hill Tunnel. From inside the tunnel, it is nearly impossible to make out any light at the other end.
Should you decide to venture in more than a hundred yards or so, use extreme caution and bring a couple of flashlights with you. Of course, you might decide to turn back, as the inside of these tunnels have a very, very creepy quality to them.
The third parking area is actually the fastest route to one of the tunnel entrances. This parking area is located in Buchanan State Forest along Oregon Road, near the ruins of an abandoned World War 2 POW camp. This is also the same parking area to use to hike the Railroad Arch Trail to an abandoned aqueduct.
This dirt road is well maintained and passes within close proximity to several areas of the abandoned turnpike. In fact, for the last mile or two of the drive to the parking area, you’ll be able to see the abandoned roadway just off to your left (if coming from Breezewood).
What makes this parking area so great, other than being the closest access point to a tunnel, is that since it is between the two tunnels, there is a lot fewer people and a lot less trash and graffiti on this portion of the roadway.
Even visiting on a busy Saturday afternoon, there were never more than a couple of people within sight until I got right up to the tunnel (and even then it was fewer than 10 people despite the other parking areas being quite full).
If I only had time to visit one spot on the Abandoned PA Turnpike, I think I’d pick this third option for those reasons.
Overall, a visit to the Abandoned PA Turnpike is a fascinating look into history and one of the oddest places you’ll find in Pennsylvania. I definitely recommend taking the time to visit this amazing destination.
How to Get to the Abandoned PA Turnpike
There are two primary access points for the Abandoned PA Turnpike, as well as a third lesser-known spot to park. The first, is less than a mile from the center of Breezewood, at the intersection of Interstate 70 and the Pennsylvania Turnpike.
To get there, head out of town going east, past the Quality Inn. As soon as you leave town, you’ll go down a big hill. Here, Tannery Road will fork off to your left, while Route 30 continues to the right. In between, there is a large, triangular-shaped area.
This is the parking area for Rays Hill Tunnel and the southern end of the Abandoned PA Turnpike. The coordinates for this parking area are 39.999881, -78.228380.
After parking, head up the hill along the dirt path. At the top, you will see the abandoned turnpike.
Many who visit ride their bikes along the roughly 8.5 miles of road between Breezewood and Waterfall, PA. (Note: There is not a waterfall in Waterfall, PA. Go figure.) This stretch of abandoned turnpike takes you through the two tunnels and along the old road in Bedford County and Fulton County.
However, if you are walking, I recommend not hiking the 4.5 miles to Sideling Hill Tunnel from the western side of Rays Hill Tunnel. Instead, return to your car and drive 10 miles to the northwestern end of the road. From here, it’s only 1.2 miles to Sideling Hill Tunnel.
Here, parking is on the abandoned turnpike itself, accessed via a short road. The road does seem a bit like a private drive, but about 100 yards up is a parking area and access to the path.
The parking area is located at the following coordinates: 40.048683, -78.095839.
To access this parking area, do not take the marked road that says it is for emergency vehicles. Instead, you take another road that is about 100 yards further down the road.
There is also a little-known third parking area along a dirt road in Buchanan State Forest that shortens your hike to the western end of Sideling Hill Tunnel to only half a mile one-way.
Parking is located in a dirt lot on Oregon Road just before you pass through a tunnel under the abandoned turnpike at the following coordinates: 40.047373, -78.153258.
You can ascend the hillside to the roadway from either side of the tunnel, but the far side of the tunnel is a bit easier. It’s worth noting that both of these access points would be quite difficult with a bike, so I don’t recommend them unless you are on foot.
When you get up to the roadway, head east (to the right if your back is to your car). It’s about a half-mile flat walk to the western end of the Sideling Hill Tunnel.
While both sections of the abandoned Pennsylvania Turnpike are worth visiting, if you only have time to visit one area, check out Rays Hill Tunnel in Breezewood. The walk is a few minutes longer, but this tunnel is easier to reach, the old roadway is in better shape, and the tunnel itself is cooler in my opinion.
On the other hand, if it is a busy day and you want to see the turnpike in a bit more peaceful setting or you simply want to fastest route to the tunnels, park in the third area mentioned here.
Either way, if you have the time, I highly recommend visiting both tunnels along the Abandoned PA Turnpike.
Here are a few frequently asked questions that might be helpful on your journey to the Abandoned PA Turnpike.
The Abandoned PA Turnpike is located in Bedford and Fulton Counties. One end is just east of Breezewood, PA while the other end is near Waterfall, PA.
In 1968, the PA Turnpike was rerouted around these tunnels to improve traffic flow due to the increased usage of the highway. Instead of expanding the tunnels, the highway was rerouted along a different route through the mountains.
Yes. There are hopes of turning it into an official rail trail at some point, but for now, it’s hike or bike at your own risk. Note that while you can go through the main tunnel passageway, the other structures of the tunnel are off-limits.
The Abandoned PA Turnpike is 13 miles long and features two historic tunnels.
From the eastern end near Breezewood, the hike to the first tunnel is about 1.5 miles one-way. From the western end, the hike to Sideling Hill Tunnel is 1.2 miles or 0.5 miles one-way.
The western end by Breezewood is not handicapped accessible. To access the roadway, you have to walk up a short, but steep dirt hill before reaching the paved roadway.
From the eastern end, it may be as the parking area and the roadway are paved. However, note that some wheelchairs might not be able to get through the barricades set up to keep motorized vehicles off of the roadway.
There is a third tunnel several miles west of this section of the highway. That tunnel is off-limits to visitors. Last I heard, it was being used for testing the aerodynamics of race cars.
If you are planning to go into the tunnels, I recommend bringing a very powerful flashlight (your phone isn’t strong enough). If you are biking, I recommend a light for your bicycle for inside the tunnel and a flat repair kit due to the large amount of glass.
Make sure to take all of your trash with you and consider bringing a bag to pick up trash carelessly left by others.
Need a hotel near the Abandoned Turnpike? Here are a few great options:
Interested in more abandoned places in Pennsylvania? Check out this Abandoned Trolley Graveyard and the abandoned Cresson Tuberculosis Sanatorium. Interested in spending more time near the abandoned PA Turnpike? Visit the Bedford County Covered Bridges and Bedford County’s Gravity Hill.
[Click here for information on how to use the coordinates in this article to find your destination.]