6 to 10 trail Cambria County

June 24 & 25, 2022

My friend and frequent hiking partner, Cathy, has a pet peeve about incorrect mileage listings for hiking trails and Pennsylvania seems to have no shortage of trails where the mileage varies from source to source. One such trail is the 6 to 10 trail in Cambria county and, contrary to the name of this website, this is a trail that could actually stand a few more footprints as a little more traffic would help hikers by keeping weeds from reclaiming the trail.

If you’re looking for relative solitude and are at all a history buff, read on…

The 6 to 10 trail is part of the Allegheny Portage Railroad (APRR) National Historic Site in Gallitzin, PA and the name of the trail comes from the inclines that lifted the canal boats up and over the mountain. Incline #6 was the last on the eastern side and, while the trail extends across the level at the summit until it reaches PA route 22, it seems that most people start the trail at the APRR visitor’s center or at Lemon house along old route 22.

Cathy and I decided to do the trail downhill (from incline 6 to incline 10) so we dropped her car off at the Duncansville trailhead on Dry Run Road (GPS Coordinates: 40.4082394- 78.4602878) and we arrived at the visitor’s center a little before 8am.

The picnic area north of the Lemon House can be reached from old 22 but the visitor’s center requires getting on “new” route 22 at the Summit exit and going one exit east to the Gallitzin exit. One could easily walk to the visitor’s center from the parking area on old 22 and I would recommend it at this time as the ramp from old 22 to new 22 is currently closed and it’s faster to walk across the park than to take the detour.

(Side note and something that we found interesting is that there are no trash cans anywhere at the site. Even at the picnic area, all garbage is to be packed out.)

The visitor’s center doesn’t open until 9 but maps are available in the breezeway so we grabbed one and took the boardwalk to the observation deck and engine house #6

There are many interpretive signs in this area to show what the Portage RR was and how it worked but the signage for the start of the hiking trail required a bit of guesswork. The trail leaves the area through the “Log Hewing” area to the left of the observation deck and proceeds downhill parallel to incline #6.

This trail comes out on old rte 22 at the Skew Arch bridge and it seems easier to walk the old incline than to follow this piece of the trail (admittedly, it might be more easily followed if more people hiked it). At that point, you’ll need to cross old route 22 and, although it’s not extremely busy these days, it IS still a 55 mph speed limit and care should be taken.

The Skew Arch bridge (and lots more educational signage) sits between the eastbound and westbound lanes of old route 22 and is, in itself, an interesting piece of history. The wagon trail over the mountain would be bisected by the portage railroad so a bridge had to be built to accommodate the wagon traffic. Because a 90 degree turn is tough for a wagon to negotiate, the bridge was skewed so that it crossed the tracks at a better angle for the wagons. It is also noteworthy that the old route 22 was built in a way that preserved this unique structure.

Signage throughout this trail is less than ideal but from here you’ll want to travel uphill on the left berm to about the end of the guardrail.The trail is very overgrown but there are signs here and there to help assure you that you’re still on the right track. Notable exceptions to this are detailed below and we did struggle at times to find turns, etc.

One nice, but slightly confusing, feature of the trail is that there are mile markers every ½ mile (at least after mile 1… we didn’t see the .5 marker but it may be there).

I say it’s confusing because the APRR says the “trail network” is about 11 miles, there are 6 to 10 trail signs on a couple of different trails around the visitor’s center but the 1 mile sign seems to be about a mile downhill from the observation platform. On the map they give you, it appears that the trail extends beyond that platform to the current state route 22 and another map that Cathy found had the trail extending beyond 22… (but, more about this later)

As the trail enters the woods, it becomes more defined and signage is adequate as you make your way along the mountainside and across some sketchy-looking but seemingly sound wooden bridges.

The first real issue that we had following the trail occurred at GPS Coordinates 40.450871 -78.541362.

Someone has built a rock cairn (the first of these that we saw if I remember correctly) and there were some very faded arrows painted on a tree but we had to look carefully and, finally, Cathy suggested that a few rotted logs might have been intended as a barrier and, as they seemed consistent with the (barely visible) arrows, we decided to just take a chance and wander a bit until we found the next trail marker. (Hey Park Service, painted blazes would be nice and they don’t leave nails in the trees)

The trail then begins a rather steep decline down the mountainside,

through a forest of stinging nettles (long pants might be in order through this section) and winds up on the “level” (it’s relative) between the #7 and #8 inclines.

For reference, the trail came down from the right in the next picture and Cathy is resting at the bottom of it. I was off the trail slightly on a spur that led nowhere when I took the picture

The map shows the #7 incline was used for the eastbound lanes of old 22 and I’m surprised that more of the portage route did not suffer this same fate.

We continued east across the level and soon crossed our first historic culvert which was marked by a sign in the weeds above it but, at least in my opinion, was not worth the bushwhack through the weeds to get a look at it from below. (don’t worry, they get better further down the trail)

The remains of engine house #8 (basically a big hole in the trail) were next and the marker there indicated that there are stakes to show the locations of some of the structures. We didn’t see any of these on our trip but the grass was about waist high so they may be visible during the winter or early spring.

In actuality, the site looks like this in late June:

Another culvert and retaining wall were along incline #8 and we then arrived at Muleshoe bridge. This bridge was actually part of the New Portage railroad which replaced the inclines. The bridge and most of its right of way are open to bike traffic and it is at this point that the 6 to 10 trail can go 2 routes. The bike route is your typical rail trail… mostly packed gravel, probably wide enough for 2 cars to pass and it seems the majority of the people who use the trail opt for this route.

Alternatively, there are footpath side trails that will keep you on the original APRR route. We elected to remain on the hiking trail which, in our case, cost us another hour on the trail.

From Muleshoe bridge, there is a sign that directs hikers down a steep grade toward “lower incline #8 and historic culvert 1532”.

We’d both much rather walk a footpath than a rail trail, so down over the embankment we went. The trail went along a stream and seemed easy to follow until we reached another, larger stream coming in from the right.

There was no bridge and no trail markers so, as no other stream crossing to this point (even the intermittent streams) had been a wet-foot crossing, we thought that we’d somehow missed a turn. We wandered around in this bottom for awhile and, although we found some interesting stonework,

We did not find a bridge. Looking at the map, the path of the APRR is marked in yellow, the hiking trail is a dotted line and the bike trail is shown as dashes.

Note that, in this area, the yellow has no dotted line? Yeah, we didn’t until we’d searched in vain for the trail, returned up the embankment, followed the bike trail to the other end of the lower incline #8 where the hiking trail meets the bike trail and ventured back toward the intersection of the two streams.

Sure enough, the trail picks up right at the intersection of the two streams so it is possible to do a wet foot crossing and avoid the rail trail past the reservoir.

Either way, I’d suggest taking the time to leave the bike trail here (from the lower end if you want to avoid the wet foot crossing) as culvert 1532 is very visible and (like all that we saw) it is still in great shape.

(note: Cathy added to the wildlife count, which previously had only included chipmunks and birds, by finding a small snake near the culvert. As Cathy felt she was the intruder, she left the area fairly quickly. For all we know, the snake may have done the same)

We returned to the bike trail where we saw our first (and only) people of the day… 2 walkers and 2 bikers before reaching incline #9

It appears that the lower section of this trail sees even less foot traffic than the piece above muleshoe bridge and, while the trail wasn’t extremely difficult to follow, there were more obstructions

And another missing bridge (although we found this one slightly downstream and the crossing wasn’t difficult without it)

On the east side of the missing bridge, the trail passed through several meadows and it was mowed (but still not signed very well)

The area alongside the trail was marshy but, surprisingly, not buggy as we followed the mowed path across culvert # 1624 and then spotted what, from a distance, I initially thought might be a baby bear and Cathy thought was someone taking a potty break mid-trail. Turns out it was just a root ball from a fallen tree but we did spend a little time wondering why we each saw what we saw.

A few minutes later, the trail climbed and crossed Valley Forge road (there is a gravel access road that parallels the bike trail from Valley Forge road and leads to both a Game Commission parking area and a handicapped parking access for the rail trail). Again, use caution as this is a 55 mph speed limit and, while visibility wasn’t terrible, the couple of cars that we saw didn’t appear to be watching for hikers.

We found an extra culvert (#1666) that was signed from the trail (although the marker was laying down) but isn’t shown on the map and then we immediately ran into a fence that crossed the old rail grade. It was equipped with a ladder (that Cathy tells me is called a stile) but it seemed a little sketchy for a National Park that probably didn’t want people calling personal injury lawyers from the trail.

We looked around a little, decided the trail must go uphill and this was confirmed by a sign at the top (where the footpath rejoined the rail trail) that directed people to culvert 1666.

From here it was more rail trail although, this time, with some really interesting flower arrangements and benches.

The sign for “historic culvert #1692 is right by one of those benches and I may have to do some more research on this culvert. All of the others were entirely cut stone and the rail grade wasn’t far above the top.

This one, however, seemed to have been built and then rebuilt higher by someone else as the stonework was undeniably different. I suspect that the New Portage RR used the APRR grade and simply built it higher to eliminate a minor dip in the line.

We next turned left onto incline #10 and left the benches, the gravel and the hot sun behind.

With the exception of one downed tree, this section was uneventful although we did miss the turn at the bottom of the incline where it joins the Foot of 10 trail. We were certainly not the first to do this, however, as the trail alongside of the final culvert (#1733) was much more heavily traveled than the actual trail.

The area around the culvert is mowed and it provides an excellent opportunity to inspect a culvert closely without wading through weeds.

From there we had a bit of adventure as we struggled to find the start of the Foot of 10 trail, had to backtrack to find a dropped cell phone and waded through a very large patch of poison ivy.

We finally did find the start of the trail but you’ll have to watch closely as it is not at all well marked and we walked right past it twice (although, in our defense, the second time, we were concentrating on the ground and looking for a phone)

It’s actually a little more visible if you walk past it, turn around at the road and come back (note: if you do this, the first trail to your left goes through a sea of poison ivy and dead-ends at a gas well. Which, of course, means more poison ivy on the way back… do yourself a favor and take the second left… the one with this… poison ivy covered… sign)

Once on the Foot of 10 trail, it was reasonably easy to follow

Although it could stand a little more foot traffic as well. This area was a lot more “buggy” but it did provide trailside snacking.

We soon reached another mowed area followed by the rail trail coming in from the other direction and the parking lot complete with composting toilets, more educational signage and a couple picnic tables.

All told, we spent 6 ½ hours on this trail but, looking at the time stamps of the pictures and the tracking on my inReach, we spent about 2 hours of that time looking for trail markers. I suspect that others may have this issue as well so allow yourself some time. (plus, you’ll want to read signs and bushwhack to get below some of the culverts, right?)

I can’t imagine anything would be hurt by painting some blazes on trees to better mark the trail but we both felt it was worth doing and we may do it again someday with the mile or so between engine house #6 and Route 22 which we went back and did the following day.

If interested in that, read on…

In all, the 6 to 10 trail was enjoyable but, as the trail was shown going past engine house #6, we were curious about the remainder of the trail. In addition, one of the maps that Cathy had picked up also showed the trail going beyond route 22 and I couldn’t figure out where or how it might cross the 5 lane, 65 mph, heavily traveled racetrack that route 22 is in that area so, in order to solve the mysteries and feel like we’d completed the trail, we made a return trip on Saturday, June 25th.

We once again parked at the visitor’s center and took the boardwalk to engine house #6 but we turned right this time. We found a 6 to 10 trail sign at the stone cutting display and another on the nature trail but, surprisingly, none on the old railroad grade which was mowed grass at this point but soon reverted to more of a footpath/dirt road kind of deal.

We never did find any 6 to 10 trail signs along this section but it was a pleasant hike and the trail actually does extend beyond the park boundaries and crosses under route 22 where it quickly becomes state route 2019

There is parking for a car or two where the road ends and the trail begins as well as some room along the road by the cemetery. It’s certainly possible to drop a car here and one at the Duncansville trailhead and do the whole trail from there (still wouldn’t get you anywhere near the 11 miles that the park service says so we assumed it was total mileage… hiking trail, bike sections and probably the nature trail as well).

Here’s a map w/ street address:

If you prefer GPS coordinates, use 40.459449,-78.569217

This section is the “summit level” and, as the name implies, there is very little slope at all here. It also appears to be more heavily used but we still only saw 2 other people which didn’t seem bad for a Saturday.

We took the time to tour the visitor’s center, the Lemon house and engine house #6 while we were there and all were informative and nicely done. All are, in my opinion, worth a look but one could easily park at the cemetery, tour all 3 buildings and still hike to the Duncansville trailhead in a day (provided that you don’t spend TOO much time wandering in the woods looking for non-existent trail signs).

Buildings are open 9am to 5pm except for Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. The trails and grounds are open from sunrise to sunset.