911 National Memorial Trail: Harrisburg Loop

911 National Memorial Trail: Harrisburg – Gettysburg – Harrisburg Loop

The September 11 National Memorial Trail has a loop that starts and ends at Harrisburg, bringing Gettysburg into our official route. The trails and quiet back roads on this section of the route, mostly in the Cumberland Valley, offer some of the most popular biking in central Pennsylvania.

Harrisburg is the State Capitol of Pennsylvania, and home of the Capital Area Greenbelt a 20-mile ring of parks and trails. Many tourist opportunities and lodging options are available in the city.

City Island is a popular multi-use recreational destination in the middle of the Susquehanna River, which connects to the city via the Walnut Street bridge (only available to bikes and pedestrians, thanks to 1972's Hurricane Agnes which made the bridge unsuitable for vehicular traffic. The eastern segment of the bridge has been reopened to pedestrians and is well worth a visit. City Island is the unique home to Harrisburg's minor league baseball team, and home port of paddlewheel boat during the summer months.

South of Harrisburg, the 9-11 trail goes through Steelton and High Spire, an interesting ride through once thriving steel towns that have adapted to changes as the economy has evolved in recent years.

 

The Northwest Lancaster County River Trail is a recent 14-mile addition to the ever-increasing network of outstanding trails in central Pennsylvania.

The trail follows the route of the historic Pennsylvania Mainline Canal and uses some of the original towpath that remains along the corridor. This provides ample opportunities to interpret the numerous industrial archaeological remains such as abandoned canal locks; the iron furnaces at Chickies Rock; and the old quarry operation at Billmeyer. The trail also connects the historic river towns and villages of Columbia, Marietta, Bainbridge, and Falmouth, and by-passes what until recently were some difficult climbs for bikers on busy roads. The Columbia-Wrightsville bridge may be the best crossing of the Susquehanna River for bikers, with wide and safe shoulders on both sides, in addition to a sidewalk. The Columbia Crossing River Trails Center in Columbia is near the base of the bridge that crosses the Susquehanna River, has clean bathrooms, plenty of parking, and serves as a good base for learning the history of this region.

The Historic Lincoln Highway, the first road to cross the US, intersects with the 9-11 trail first on the old road between Wrightsville and York. With the busier highway taking car traffic north of this route, many of the old historic structures can be seen with historic representation on the gentle grade that leads into the city of York. Justly famous for its many factory tours (including Harley Davidson), York offers a wide range of lodging and tourist options, increasingly focused on their connection to outdoor trails.

The Heritage Rail Trail in York county, extends for 21 miles south to the Maryland border (more miles are being added north of York) to connect with the Torrey C. Brown trail, which adds another 20 miles of off road trail, ending just north of Baltimore.

 

After sampling some of the Heritage Rail Trail, the 9-11 trail heads back on some quiet roads towards Gettysburg. There is no better way to see the Gettysburg National Park than by bike. If you prefer, you can bike on your own (maps available at the visitor’s center) or use one of the multiple bike tour groups that rent bikes and provide guides (Link to maps and cue sheets are available). Multiple lodging and camping options exist in and near the town.

The same thing that led to Gettysburg becoming a focal point of the battle that presaged the winner and the eventual end of the civil war, is also what makes Gettysburg such a popular bicycling destination today. Seven different roads radiate out from Gettysburg in all directions, and onto a variety of landscapes and road sizes. 

After leaving Gettysburg, perhaps the most scenic section of the Old Lincoln Highway climbs quietly past Cashtown to the crest of South Mountain, where the 9-11 trail intersects, again, with the Appalachian Trail at Caledonia State Park. Restrooms and camping are available. 

In the valley west of South Mountain is the town of Chambersburg, the county seat of Franklin County. A town filled with history, and the farthest western point of this 9-11 trail loop before turning back towards Harrisburg via many quiet roads and past small farms. The Shippen Place hotel in downtown Shippensburg is a bike friendly lodging, often used by bike tour companies for over-nights, as well as a meeting location for local riders.

Carlisle, home to Dickinson College, has a detailed bike map and bicycle plan.

The entire Cumberland Valley is filled with fine biking; many loops and smaller rides are listed.

Boiling Springs is a charming small town, home to the Appalachian Trail's regional office, and a frequent lunch stop for bikers from Harrisburg.

Trail map

Locate Me
Get Directions
Back

275.81 km / 171.38 mi

Total Distance

1,192 m / 3,909 ft

Total Ascent

1,196 m / 3,925 ft

Total Descent

411 m / 1,349 ft

Highest Point

Loading comments...