The Abandoned Pennsylvania Turnpike is THE MOST apocalyptic hiking / biking trail in the Keystone State!
Thirteen miles of abandoned superhighway, last open to normal vehicle traffic in 1968.
Two eerily dark tunnels along the route, both roughly a mile long.
Relics of the nation’s first superhighway, now a desolate hiking / biking trail in Bedford and Fulton counties.
If all of this sounds appealing to you, follow along as I explain exactly how to find the Abandoned Pennsylvania Turnpike, and what to expect when you visit.
Abandoned Pennsylvania Turnpike FAQs
There are two main access points. One is just outside of Breezewood in Bedford County, while the other is less than a mile from the Sideling Hill rest stop along the present-day PA Turnpike in Fulton County.
Yes – use GPS Coordinates 39.999862, -78.228380
The parking area is along Tannery Road.
Yes – use GPS coordinates 40.048790, -78.095869
The parking area is just off of Pump Station Road.
Ground was broken for the Pennsylvania Turnpike in October 1938, and it opened to traffic in October 1940.
Because the two 2-lane tunnels along this stretch of the turnpike caused severe traffic back-ups as vehicles on the 4-lane highway had to merge to pass through them.
Information below from PA Turnpike exhibit at the State Museum in Harrisburg.
A bypass around the tunnels and up over the mountains was opened in 1968.
Information below from PA Turnpike exhibit at the State Museum in Harrisburg.
Yes – this section of road is slated to someday become the Pike 2 Bike Trail. Until then it is simply a non-maintained, use at your own risk trail.
Yes it was – the Pennsylvania Turnpike was built on top of the started-but-never-completed South Pennsylvania Railroad, which was a joint partnership between famous businessmen of the day William Vanderbilt, Andrew Carnegie (pictured below in front of the Rays Hill Tunnel in 1884), Henry Clay Frick, and J.P. Morgan.
Yes – the 2009 post-apocalyptic survival flick “The Road” was filmed at several locations along the abandoned PA Turnpike, including the Rays Hill Tunnel.
Exploring the Abandoned Pennsylvania Turnpike
Your exploration of the 13-mile-long abandoned PA Turnpike can take place on bike or by foot (no motorized vehicles allowed).
If you want to see the entire thing, it really makes no difference which end you start at.
For the purposes of this write-up, I’m going to describe starting from the Breezewood parking area in the west.
But you could just as easily start at the Sideling Hill parking area in the east.
Locating the Breezewood Parking Area on the Abandoned PA Turnpike
As mentioned previously, you can easily navigate to the Breezewood parking area using GPS coordinates 39.999862, -78.228380.
The dirt parking lot (pictured below) is located at the intersection of Route 30 and Tannery Road.
Follow the gravel path uphill from the parking area to the abandoned PA Turnpike.
Getting to the Rays Hill Tunnel
By foot or by bike, the Rays Hill Tunnel is 1.5 miles from the Breezewood parking area.
The trip is relatively flat and easy to traverse.
Just before reaching the Rays Hill Tunnel, you’ll cross over Mountain Chapel Road via the short bridge pictured below.
Once across the bridge, Rays Hill Tunnel comes into view.
Exploring the Rays Hill Tunnel
At 0.67 miles long, the Rays Hill Tunnel was the shortest of the 7 original Pennsylvania Turnpike Tunnels.
You enter the Rays Hill Tunnel from Bedford County in the west, and emerge in Fulton County to the east.
The image below, from the State Museum in Harrisburg, is what drivers would have seen approaching the tunnel from Breezewood in the 1940s.
Fast forward to today, and here’s what you can expect.
You’ll notice some of the asphalt and paint looks much fresher around the tunnel entrance.
Years after the Turnpike abandoned this section of highway, PennDOT used this road for training employees on paving techniques, line painting, rumble strip installation, and for testing new road reflectors.
So don’t be surprised to see some of those features in this area around the tunnel.
Entering the Tunnel
Before you enter the Rays Hill Tunnel, let me give you a few tips.
Tip #1 – there is LOTS of graffiti!
Some of it tame, some very graphic and anatomically impossible in nature.
So if you have little kids with you, be prepared for some awkward questions and answers!
Tip #2 – it’s chilly in there!
Even in the summer you may want a hoodie or light jacket if you get cold easily.
Tip #3 – it’s dark in there!
While the rays Hill Tunnel is the shorter of the two abandoned tunnels on this trail, it’s still more than half a mile long.
So bring a flashlight or headlamp – you’re cellphone light won’t cut it.
Office at the Western Portal
There are small offices at the eastern and western portals of both tunnels along this trail.
The office at the western portal of the Rays Hill Tunnel is open to easy entry, but there isn’t a whole lot to see.
Other than tons of graffiti and trash.
Still, if you’re an “urban explorer”, you’ll want to check this series of small rooms out.
Inside the Tunnel
There is no artificial light inside the Rays Hill Tunnel, but you can see one end from the other.
The photo above is illuminated by the glow of a red headlamp (easier on the eyes in dark environments).
As you make your way through and reach the eastern side (and Fulton County), you see the wide-open office entrance at that portal.
The office window here makes for a great photo-op.
More graffiti dominates the walls here as well.
Looking towards the east, you can see Sideling Hill in the distance, home of the second tunnel on tis excursion.
An easy scramble to the top of the Rays Hill Tunnel gives you a more birds-eye view of the abandoned PA Turnpike.
One interesting feature of the eastern portal of the Rays Hill Tunnel is that it is the only portal on any of the original Turnpike tunnels that does not have a ventilation fan on top of it.
Here’s how the same view shortly after the completion of the Pennsylvania Turnpike in 1940.
At this point you’ve traveled 2 miles along the abandoned PA Turnpike.
If you’re choose to continue eastward, you can expect to be at the Sideling Hill Tunnel in another 9 miles.
Not bad if you’re on a bike, but a pretty good hoof if you’re on foot.
On this particular excursion I was on foot, so I opted to reverse course and retrace my steps back to the parking area along Tannery Road.
From there it’s an easy 15 minute drive to the opposite end of the abandoned PA Turnpike (near the current-day Sideling Hill Service Plaza), followed by a short 1.1 mile walk to the abandoned Sideling Hill Tunnel.
Locating the Sideling Hill Parking Area on the Abandoned PA Turnpike
As mentioned previously, you can navigate to the Sideling Hill parking area at GPS coordinates 40.048790, -78.095869.
The parking area is located just off of Pump House Road, at the end of what looks like a dirt driveway.
The parking lot itself is actually part of the abandoned Turnpike.
Getting to the Sideling Hill Tunnel
The trip from the parking area to the Sideling Hill Tunnel is roughly 1.1 miles, with an ever-so-slight-uphill grade to it.
Along the way you will pass the former Cove Valley Service Plaza, now just a large paved area that was used for a time after the closure of this section of the Turnpike as a State Police shooting range.
The old buildings and gas pumps at Cove Valley are now being swallowed up by the Earth.
Approximately 0.5 miles past the old travel plaza you will catch your first glance of the Sideling Hill Tunnel.
Exploring the Sideling Hill Tunnel
The Sideling Hill Tunnel was the longest of the original seven Turnpike tunnels, at 1.3 miles in length.
Because of the tunnel’s length and the slight arc in the tunnel (to allow for proper drainage and prevent ponding water in the center), it is impossible to see one end from the other.
That means that the Sideling Hill Tunnel is VERY dark inside, the closer you get to the center.
It does, however, make for some fantastic backlit photo-ops, if you bring your own spotlights.
As with the Rays Hill Tunnel, the walls of the Sideling Hill Tunnel are a virtual museum of graffiti, ranging from the mild to the wild to the downright profane.
If you’re easily offended, you might want to keep your light focused on the road at your feet and ignore the tunnel walls.
After what seems like forever, you’ll emerge from the western end of the Sideling Hill Tunnel.
The Western Portal of the Sideling Hill Tunnel
The western portal is heavily graffitied and features an office you can easily enter.
The office doors on this side of the tunnel offer up another great photo-op.
Looking back towards the east, the darkness inside the tunnel is complete.
Making your way back through the Sideling Hill Tunnel to the eastern portal, one more adventure awaits on top of the tunnel itself.
The Ventilation Room
An obvious trail up the left side of the tunnel leads to the entrance of the ventilation room on top.
Massive fans on top of the tunnels helped force fresh air in and exhaust fumes out.
As with the tunnel walls, the ventilation room is heavily graffitied and quite popular with urban explorers looking to leave their mark.
Just off to the side of the ventilation room is the old control room.
From here operators monitored the carbon monoxide levels in the tunnel and adjusted the airflow and fans accordingly.
Holes in the roof mean that even indoors, the floor can be quite muddy.
A stairway behind the fans leads to the ventilation shafts above the tunnel.
These fans have been silent for more than 50 years, but the roar must have been deafening up close.
As with everything in the tunnels and along the entire length of the abandoned PA Turnpike, enter at your own risk and use extreme caution.
Final Thoughts on the Abandoned PA Turnpike
The abandoned Pennsylvania Turnpike lives up to the hype!
It is arguably the most famous abandoned attraction in Pennsylvania, and certainly the largest at 13 miles long.
The only thing that comes close to this, in my experience, is the Abandoned Trolley Graveyard in neighboring Somerset County.
Unlike the trolley graveyard, the abandoned PA Turnpike is easy to legally access and safer to explore.
Graffiti is omnipresent, and some of it is pretty graphic (and not pictured in this write-up).
So if inquisitive kids are part of your crew, be ready to answer some awkward questions.
Someday this may indeed become an “official” rail trail, with lighted tunnels and regular maintenance.
Personally, I have my doubts.
The amount of money and labor needed to make these tunnels “safe” enough to insure would be enormous.
And honestly, I think the “wow” factor would be diminished.
We have plenty of “maintained” hiking / biking paths and tunnels in the state.
The Big Savage Tunnel on the nearby Great Allegheny Passage being one of them.
I’m all for enjoying the Abandoned Pennsylvania Turnpike just the way it is.
And now you know everything you need to know to do the same!
Looking for more abandoned sites in Pennsylvania?
The abandoned nuclear jet engine bunkers in the Quehanna Wild Area are a Cold War-era piece of history tucked away in Cameron County.
The Abandoned Trolley Graveyard in Somerset County is a privately-owned, invitation-only scene right out of a sci-fi movie!
The abandoned Kunes Camp is an easy 2 mile out-and-back hike to the ruins of a hunting camp built BETWEEN massive boulders on the Quehanna plateau.
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