Over the years, I’ve experienced many fun things to do in Venango County, Pennsylvania, but I hadn’t really ever spent much time along the Allegheny River until I had a chance to bike the Samuel Justus Recreation Trail.
The Samuel Justus Recreation Trail is a seven-mile rail trail that runs from Franklin to Oil City along the southeastern banks of the Allegheny River. This flat trail features incredible scenery and some interesting history, making it one of my favorite rail trails in Pennsylvania.
While this trail is only seven miles in length, it connects seamlessly with the Allegheny River Trail, a nearly 30-mile rail trail that runs to downstream to Emlenton and beyond. While I haven’t ever biked this trail, I have been to several spots near it, including the fantastic Rockland Tunnel and Freedom Falls.
The separation between the Samuel Justus Recreation Trail and the Allegheny River Trail happens at the parking area just outside of downtown Franklin, PA. This lot can be found along Route 322 at the following address: 4514 US-322, Franklin, PA 16323. (You can also use these coordinates: 41.387306, -79.817498.)
While you could just as easily pick up this trail in Oil City, I like starting in Franklin because the almost unnoticeable uphill portion of the trail is on the first leg of the trip which leaves the slight downhill for the trip back.
Once you are ready to go, start biking upstream along the river, which will take you almost immediately under the Route 322 bridge over the Allegheny. There is a slip dip and uphill in the trail at this point to take you under the bridge.
From here, the trail is a fairly simple seven-mile ride along the wide and flat Samuel Justus Recreation Trail. Along the way, you’ll see markers for the Erie to Pittsburgh Trail, a proposed rail trail running between these two cities.
As you are biking the trail, you’ll also see incredible views of the Allegheny River as well as oil pumps. This area was where the worldwide oil industry got its start in the late 1800s and there is still oil drilled in this area.
If you’ve never had a chance to see an oil pump up close, take a moment to have a look at one, but make sure that you don’t get too close to them as many are still in operation.
A little over two miles into the trail, you’ll come to the one specific highlight along the trail: the ruins of the gate to River Ridge Farm. This home is one of many that were owned by people who found their fortune drilling for oil in the region, with this one being owned by US Senator Joseph P. Sibley.
This gate is definitely worth a quick stop as it’s quite ornate and still retains a lot of beauty.
The trail continues past the gate with the views of the Allegheny River getting better and better as you head towards Oil City. Along the way, there are spots where there are large breaks in the trees and even benches and picnic tables where you can take a break along the trail.
For much of the trail, a gravel trail runs alongside the paved trail, but sticking to the asphalt gave me a smooth and easy ride.
As you reach the outskirts of Oil City, you’ll leave the woods and enter the town at the water treatment plant. If I was biking this trail again, I might consider turning around at this point, 5.7 miles from the parking area in Franklin. However, I pressed on to the end of the trail.
After passing the water treatment plant, the trail goes through an industrial area. The trail makes a small turn here so make sure to keep a lookout for that. It then heads through a residential area, past a small campground, before officially ending at the Oil City Marina seven miles from Franklin.
While you could ride through the streets of Oil City and pick up the McClintock Trail on the other side of town and take that up to Oil Creek State Park and beyond, I opted to just ride the Samuel Justus Recreation Trail and turn around at the marina. For reference, this marina can be found adjacent to this address: 721 W Front St, Oil City, PA 16301.
From the marina, you simply retrace your route back along the rail trail for the seven-mile journey back to your vehicle (14 total miles roundtrip).
Overall, while the Samuel Justus Recreation Trail might not feature a ton of specific highlights (like you’ll find at the nearby Armstrong Trail), it is a very nice bike ride or walk that offers the chance for fantastic views along the Allegheny River and the chance to see some remnants of the area’s oil industry up close.
And, while, if I were biking it again, I would probably turn around once I reached the edge of Oil Creek for a ride of 11.5 miles, this is definitely a fun bike ride for those looking for something fun to do in the Great Lakes Region of PA.
[Click here for information on how to use the coordinates in this article to find your destination.]