Lehigh Valley Ride: The Ironton Rail Trail

This is the first in a series of posts as I find and share good Trikke trails and roads in the Lehigh Valley.  Anyone living here knows that it’s a beautiful but hilly area, so Trikking here is particularly challenging when you’re a beginner. With that in mind, there are still some great flat trails and roads, and as I Trikke them I will review them here.

I most frequently ride the Ironton Rail Trail in Coplay, PA. The full trail consists of a paved 5 mile loop, and a 2.5 mile gravel spur, but only a portion of the loop is well-suited for the Trikke:

Click here for my Trikke Ride Map.

There’s a small gravel parking lot in the southeast corner of the loop off of Water Street that is the ideal starting spot for this ride.  (Be aware that at the moment, the driveway leading to the lot has some large ruts in it, so be cautious if you have a low-to-the-ground car.)  Heading west on the bottom portion of the loop, then north will take you to the northwest corner. It is a slight and steady climb, but close enough to flat that it is easy enough for a beginning Trikker.

The bridge over Lehigh Street offers a slight climb in both directions.  When I was new at Trikking, I would have to walk it to the top of the bridge, but after a few rides I was able to get over it with ease.  On the west side of the loop, there are road-level crossings at Center Street and East Columbia Street. Use caution here as there is a decent amount of car traffic at each crossing.

Once you reach the northwest corner, you’ll likely want to turn around because beyond that point is a long steep hill that is challenging even on a bicycle (but someday, I’m going to Trikke up it, someday….).  By this time, you’re Trikked 2.5 miles, and there are two benches you can sit on and take a well-earned break. The Trikke ride back to the parking lot will be slightly downgrade and is very smooth and enjoyable.

If you’re just starting out, this 5-mile round trip may be as much Trikking as you can handle for the moment.  I rode this route many times, before extending my ride to the full 8 miles.  If you wish to do the same, simply continue past the parking lot heading north along the east side of the loop.  You can ride almost a mile and a half north before you hit the gravel portion, which is the northeast corner of the loop. Some of this is getting to be a steeper climb than the other sides (I’m estimating it’s a 2% or 3% grade), and then it’s of course easier on the return trip. This side of the trail often has less joggers and walkers, because its access from the neighborhood is more difficult. There is a lot of tree cover here, so you do have to be careful of fallen branches and such on the trail surface.  The return ride to the parking lot brings the entire ride to 8 miles, and covers as much of the Trikke-friendly portion possible without repeating a section.

I have not yet Trikked the northern side of the trail, for the simple reason that it’s all a steep hill that still challenges me on my bicycle.  The climb from the northwest corner to the street-crossing at West Coplay Road is very steep, and if I can ever climb this I know I will have truly mastered the Trikke.  The climb from the northeast corner (park at Saylor Park, near the old kilns) to West Coplay Road is longer but more gradual.  I’m not ready to attempt this stretch yet, but will likely try it in the fall when the weather is cooler and the trail traffic less.

For those who may have difficulty with ruts in the Water Street parking lot, parking at Saylor Park off of Coplay Road is a decent alternative.  If you’re looking for the flat part of the trail, head past the kilns and around the corner towards the eastern side of the loop.  You’ll only be able to go a short distance before the trail turns to gravel.  Luckily it is only gravel for about ¼ mile, so just walk your Trikke through that short stretch.  From there, you’ll have smooth and nearly level pavement all the way to the northwest corner and back.  This will get you the full 8 mile ride I described, plus a little extra.

I have been riding this trail regularly and am finding it to be great for Trikking. You do have to be mindful that it is a popular trail that encircles a large neighborhood, so there will be lots of bikers, walkers and joggers on it at certain times.  You also have to be looking out for cyclists coming up from behind, which can happen fairly quickly given the unusual curvature of this rail trail.  I use a mirror mounted on my helmet that helps to warn me of their approach.  The locals in this neighborhood are generally very nice, and I get a lot of smiles and comments such as, “That looks fun!” while I ride there.  Do take care to practice good riding etiquette here as you will be faster than the walkers and (most) joggers, yet slower than the bicyclists.  Most people there are not yet familiar with Trikkes, and I would hate for their first impression of us to be a negative one.

As with any trail, too many disruptions to your momentum will make this a tedious ride, so I do advise you to pick times and days when the trail is less crowded.  In general if you avoid rides during afternoons and early evenings during the week, and mid-mornings to evenings on the weekends, you’ll be riding this trail at its best.  I’m also fond of riding in the colder weather, which does tend to keep the trail clear at most times.  On quieter days, you’ll likely see deer in the fields along the southern portion of the loop.  Take caution as they do sometimes venture onto the trail, but also enjoy getting an up-close view of them as you ride by.

Overall, the Ironton loop one of the best local trails for both biking and Trikking as it is flat, scenic and has minimal road crossings.  If you have ridden this trail, I’d love to hear your impressions of it as well.

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