Back on the Rail Trails: Freeland MD to York PA Rail Trail Out and Back

I do mostly road riding and some touring, but over the years I’ve done lots of miles on local rail trails in the Baltimore Washington area – especially during the years when my now adult kids were growing up. As far as serenity, scenery and surface, my all-time favorite has been what used to be called the North Central Rail Trail that runs about 45 miles from Ashland MD just north of York Pa.

The Torrey Brown (MD) and York Heritage (P) Rail Trails

The route follows part of the old North Central Rail Road line – its claim to fame is having carried President Lincoln to Gettysburg to give the Gettysburg address and also carried President Lincoln’s body part of the way back from Washington DC to his burial in Springfield IL after his assassination. There are many restored train stations and buildings along the route and many scenic stream/river crossings – which were the downfall of the rail line since they often flooded. The Maryland section is now called the Torrey C. Brown rail trail, named after a Maryland politician and head of the Department of Natural Resources who really pushed for the construction and improvement of the trail. The Pennsylvania section is called the York County Heritage trail.

46 mile out and back

I had gotten a long road ride in on Saturday and was originally planning on hiking on Sunday – both days had beautiful low humidity, mostly sunny weather here. But, my hiking friend and then my wife both backed out of hiking. I still had a hankering to be in the woods and decided to do the NCRR ride, which requires a 30-40 mile drive from my house.

I started at the northern-most parking area in MD at Freeland, just a few miles south of the PennMar state line – which as an added bonus had a working restroom. I got going a little later than planned at 9am or so – the trails are getting extra crowded these days, especially on Sunday mornings. The lot was about 1/3 full, the trail had plenty of walkers and bikers but was not crowded.

Trains couldn’t really go up inclines much higher than a 3% grade, so by definition this ride was pretty flat. But, there is about a 400 foot rise in elevation from where I started in Freeland to New Freedom PA, the high point overall, where there is a nice museum, luncheonette and restored trains.

The surface is Maryland is mostly crushed limestone but a bit bumpy. For the vast majority of the length in PA, the trail is finely packed crushed stone with occasional random paved stretches. You go through one short tunnel that has a kind of sketchy surface, but mostly it is like buttah. The weather had been dry for several days beforehand – good for mud avoidance but very dusty!

I just pedalled away non-stop the 22 miles to York, enjoying the scenery and the weather. On Saturdays, pre-pandemic, an old indoor commerce building in York hosts an indoor market with numerous local restaurants, food trucks, bakers, craftspeople etc. Nearby there are a few breweries and many bars that have opened again. But, unfortunately the overall economy and then the pandemic have not been kind to York – without the market it is not a very inviting stop.

I circled through York and got back on the trail heading south. I stopped to eat a few fig bars and take a picture of the dusty Jamis Renegade in front of a spot of color. A lot more people were out on the trail on the way back – I hope some of those families getting out on bikes now keep it up. After the oil embargoes of the 70s drove “civilians” to cycling, we did making some lasting gains.

I kind of wanted to do 50 miles but the bike computer said 46 as I reached the parking lot, so rather than add a few miles out and back, I called it a morning. Those two trails and gawgeous weather are hard to beat.

Avid cyclist, sometimes touring cyclist. My main road bike is a Trek Domane SL6, my touring/unpaved riding bike is now a Jamis Renegade. I'm located in Maryland, about midway between Baltimore and Washington DC.

4 response to "Back on the Rail Trails: Freeland MD to York PA Rail Trail Out and Back"

  1. By: gregblood Posted: June 16, 2020

    Sounds like a fine trail. I noticed on your map that the trail crosses the Mason-Dixon line at the MD/PA border. Is the location marked with any historic signage or other information?

    • By: jpescatore Posted: June 17, 2020

      Just south of the MD/PA state line, there is a on-trail information exhibit and picnic table kind of rest stop. There is some info but it has been years since I stopped there.

      In general, the Mason Dixon line isn’t really kept up or highlighted in Maryland, other than on the Great Allegheny Passage Trail. There are some road rides I do around Hagerstown where you randomly run across a stone marker with a small sign or protective fence!

      This site has a lot of pictures of the Torrey Brown trail (https://www.traillink.com/trail-gallery/torrey-c-brown-rail-trail/) with a partial picture of the Mason Dixon info here: https://cloudfront.traillink.com/photos/torrey-c-brown-rail-trail_3646_sc.jpg

      I’m terrible at taking photos on rides – my favorite part of tours or rides is the part where you are on the bike and pedaling, so I tend to see something really picturesque and I start debating myself about stopping to take a picture but when the “you should stop” side wins it has usually been such a long debate that I’m well past the scenic spot…

  2. By: The Navigator Posted: June 17, 2020

    Sounds like a great trail with interesting history and scenery. I am familiar with York, PA though I’ve never been there. Back in the late 1980s and early 90s, when I was very big into freestyle BMX bikes, there was a group out of York called the “Plywood Hoods” that really pushed the boundaries in that sport and came up with lots of rolling tricks that no one else was doing. They made some of the first ride videos… back in the days of VHS and everyone trying to learn tricks by watching videos. This article describes it all quite well: https://www.ydr.com/story/news/local/2016/04/21/dorkin-york-citys-freestyle-bmx-history/83245668/

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