Buried deep in the forest just off of route 76 in Pennsylvania, is an abandoned stretch of highway that has been receding back into woods for over 50 years.
Let’s dive into the history of the abandoned PA turnpike, and see what’s left to explore.
Pennsylvania Turnpike History
So what could possibly cause 13 miles of turnpike to be left completely abandoned? The answer is, a better turnpike.
The highway was built back in the 1940s and played a crucial role in connecting Breezewood to smaller towns like Hustontown that were located further east. The road was state of the art at it’s time, and allowed for a straight shot through the hilly mountains of western Pennsylvania.
But soon this humble road’s popularity would be it’s downfall. By 1950 traffic had completely jammed up it’s only two lanes, and pushed the turnpike to it’s limits.
The traffic jams didn’t go unnoticed, and the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission stepped in to assess the congestion. After studying the traffic patterns, it was determined that an entirely new bypass would need to be built.
$21 million dollars was set aside to expand the Allegheny Mountain Tunnel and create a four lane bypass at Laurel Hill. The project as completed in two short years.
Shortly after, the Sideling Hill and Rays Hill tunnels were also bypassed. This created a new route that completely cut off access to the Cove Valley Travel Plaza. Instead, the new Sideling Hill Travel Plaza was built to serve traffic in both directions.
With the new construction in place, there was no need for the old two lane highway anymore. By 1968, access was cut off to the 13 mile stretch of highway, and all traffic was diverted to the new roadways. The turnpike was left mostly forgotten, until being sold to the Southern Alleghenies Conservancy in 2001 for a whopping $1.
The property is now maintained by Pike To Bike, which aims to reuse the highway as a hiking and bike path. The trail is ‘ use at your own risk’, and spans nearly the entire length of the highway.
Rules Of The Abandoned Turnpike
There aren’t many rules on the turnpike. There is nothing that I can see that prohibits camping, and that is something I would like to do this fall. Below are the few rules that are listed:
- Officially, the turnpike is not open. You travel at your own risk.
- Wear a helmet when entering the tunnels.
- No motor vehicles are allowed on the turnpike.
- Use lights in the tunnel.
- Don’t disturb or vandalize anything.
Abandoned Turnpike Entrances
Starting off in the west, you can enter the abandoned turnpike from the town of Breezewood just off of route 30.
If you’re looking for a place to park you can try the Mt Zion Lutheran Church or the Quality Inn Breeze Manor nearby. If you plan on spending the night, or a long time there I would advise parking somewhere other than the trailhead.
It’s important to note that motor vehicles aren’t allowed on the turnpike.
You can also explore the turnpike from Oregon Road. If you can’t walk the highway, or simply don’t want to you can drive along Oregon Road and reach certain parts of the tunnel from below.
The road runs adjacent to the turnpike and allows you to reach certain parts of the road via car.
You can also drive right up to the old Cove Valley Service Plaza without walking the entirety of the turnpike. Take Pump Station Road (Route 428) towards the abandoned turnpike overpass and you’ll come a spit in the road.
You can use these exact coordinates to help you find the Pump Station Road entrance way.
However for the full experience I’d highly recommend starting from the entrance and biking/hiking the turnpike.
Abandoned Turnpike Tunnel Locations
There are a total of two tunnels across the 13 mile stretch of road. Despite the tunnels being abandoned and unmaintained, they are still in great structural condition.
With the absence of traffic, the tunnels have provided a new home for migratory bats who stay in tunnels from October to April. If you do visit during this time, try not shine lights on them or disturb them.
There are two main tunnels along the highway. The first is Rays Hill Tunnel which is about 1.5 miles from the start of the freeway. This is a simple bike ride or a short hike to the base of the tunnel.
Rays Tunnel is the shorter of the two tunnels at about 3500 feet long. Make sure to bring a flashlight, and a helmet wouldn’t hurt in case anything falls from the ceiling of the tunnel.
The second tunnel you’ll come across is Sideling Hill. This tunnel is 1.25 miles long, and gets dark fast. If you’re biking through here watch out for debris. A strong headlamp will be your best friend in here.
As you exit Sideling Hill tunnel, you’ll come to the flat concrete remains of the Cove Valley Travel Plaza. Although it seems like there’s not much left, keen hikers will find the remnants of old gas pumps and street lamps from the 1950s.
In the final leg of your journey, you’ll continue east for about two miles. You’ll slowly leave the quite of the forest and begin to hear bustling cars and semi trucks. You’ll reach the very end of the old turnpike at the foot of it’s replacement, PA Turnpike 76.
Times To Visit
The turnpike is open all season, but I believe is best explored during the fall and the summer. In the fall you’re surrounded by the orange and yellow leaves that fall on the turnpike.
In the summer the highway becomes thick and densely overgrown. Greenery surrounds the road in a way that makes you feel truly isolated from the rest of the world. You can also use the tunnels to shield you from the summers heat.
Places To Stay
If you’re not looking to camp but still want to spend the night, I’d highly recommend the Quality Inn Breeze Manor. It’s a 2 minute walk from the trailhead and has a 4.5 star rating at the time of this article.
Alternatively, there’s a Holiday Inn that is also located in Breezewood with a 4.5 star rating. The Holiday Inn is still close to the turnpike and a solid second option.
If you love empty forgotten places surrounded by nature, you’ll love the Top 19 Ghost Towns In The USA.