Complete Guide to Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site in Pennsylvania including things to do, where to stay, how to get to the park, and so much more.
Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site
Allegheny Portage Railroad NHS protects and shares the history of the first railroad to circumvent the Allegheny Mountains.
It was also the finishing pieces of the Pennsylvania Main Line Canal which created the first direct route between Philadelphia and Pittsburg. It opened in 1834.
Is Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site worth visiting?
Yes, The site is really interesting. We learned a ton while visiting the park and really enjoyed the walk down to the historic displays.
The Fall leaves were amazing.
History of Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site
The Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site protects the remains of the first railroad to be built through the Allegheny mountains.
The Allegheny Portage Railroad played a pivotal role in the industrialization of Pennsylvania. The railroad included the first railroad tunnel to be built in the United States called Staple Bend Tunnel.
Construction on the railroad began in 1831. The railroad totaled 36 miles that connected the Hollidaysburg canal basin with the Johnstown canal basin. The line operated from 1834 until 1854 and formed part of the Pennsylvania Main Line Canal.
Why Was the Allegheny Portage Railroad Built?
Before the Allegheny Portage Railroad was built, the only way to travel was on dirt roads using covered wagons, or Conestoga wagons. The travel time from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia took roughly 23 days depending on the weather conditions.
In the 1820s, the state of New York revolutionized its transportation system by building a series of canals that allowed for more efficient trade and reduced the cost of travel considerably.
The newly built Erie Canal connected the Hudson River with Lake Erie and drastically reduced travel time.
Trade in Philadelphia declined as a result of the canal. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania introduced legislation detailing the Main Line of Public Works in 1826 in response to New York's canal system.
The legislation outlined the building of a canal system to connect Philadelphia to Pittsburgh. Construction of the canals began in 1826.
The Main Line Canal system was an ambitious transportation system that included over 390 miles of canals and two railroads. One of the main issues with the planned canal system was the question of how to pass through or over the 1,400-foot Allegheny mountains.
The Allegheny Portage Railroad Design
First, the idea was put forward to continue the canal system by building a tunnel through the mountains. Eventually, it was decided that a railroad system, based on a system that had been successfully used in the United Kingdom, would be built to complete the transportation system.
The Allegheny Portage Railroad was constructed using ten inclined planes, divided equally on either side of the mountain. The system consisted of eleven stationary steam-powered engines situated in stone stations housed at the top of each of the inclined planes.
Train engines in the 1800s were not strong enough to pull heavy railcars up an incline as steep as the Allegheny mountains. To get the railcars up the incline, the static steam engines pulled the railcars up and down the mountain using an intricate system of ropes and pulleys.
An example of a stone engine house has been preserved at the Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site, with the remains of Engine House No.06.
Despite taking the railroad over the Allegheny mountains, a tunnel still needed to be built. Construction on the Staple Bend Tunnel began in 1831.
It took almost a year for builders to chisel and blast their way through over 900 ft of rock. The tunnel was completed in 1833 and was the first of its kind. The tunnel was the third tunnel to be built in the United States.
Pennsylvania's Economic Boom
The railroad opened on March 18th, 1833, and was used to transport people, raw materials, and manufactured goods from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia.
The new transportation system boosted trade in Pennsylvania and the economy of small rural towns along the route began to boom. The newly completed Public Works system was particularly beneficial because of the producers of raw materials.
Before the introduction of canals and railroads, the only way to transport raw materials such as iron was in wagons or on the backs of mules. The weight of both methods of transportation was extremely limited and the routes taken over the mountains were extremely arduous, which drove up the price of iron.
The new system meant that canal boats and railcars could be loaded with materials, and they would reach their destination much sooner than before. The complex transportation system reduced the travel time between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh from 23 days to 4. Manufacturers and tradesmen were not the only people to benefit from the system.
On the east side of the mountain, business was booming thanks to the passengers using the Allegheny Portage Railroad. In 1834, Samuel Lemon finished building a large double-story stone house where he and his family lived. The Lemons operated a tavern from the home which faced the train tracks.
The Allegheny Portage Railroad operated until 1857 when the Pennsylvania Railroad was completed rendering the canal system obsolete.
Things to know before your visit to Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site
$0.00 - There is no entrance fee to visit the park.
Planning a National Park vacation? America the Beautiful/National Park Pass covers entrance fees for an entire year to all US National Park Sites and over 2,000 Federal Recreation Fee Sites.
The park pass covers everyone in the car for per vehicle sites and for up to 4 adults for per-person sites.
Buy on REI.com and REI will donate 10% of pass proceeds to the National Forest Foundation, National Park Foundation, and the U.S. Endowment for Forestry & Communities.
Learn more about National Park Passes for parks that have an entrance fee.
Free Entrance Days -Mark your calendars with the five free entrance days the National Park Service offers annually.
Eastern Time Zone
Pets are allowed in the park but there are a few restrictions. Pets are not allowed in any public buildings or offices. They must be on leashes 6 feet or less at all times.
We had great cell service while visiting the park.
Open 9 am to 5 pm
Closed on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Year's Day.
Insect repellent is always a great idea when outdoors, especially if you are around any body of water.
We use Permethrin Spray on our clothes before our park trips.
Make sure to bring your own water bottle and plenty of water with you. Plastic water bottles are not sold in the park.
There is a large parking lot near the visitor center that provides access to the hiking trails and visitor center.
There are no restaurants within the park.
There are no gas stations within the park.
Drones are not permitted within National Park Sites.
National Park Passport Stamps
National Park Passport stamps can be found in the visitor center.
Allegheny Portage Railroad NHS is part of the 1994 Passport Stamp Set.
Electric Vehicle Charging
There are at least 9 EV Charging Stations within 10 miles of Gallitzin, PA
Details about Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site
Size - 1,249 acres
Check out how the park compares to other National Parks by Size.
August 31, 1964
In 2021, Allegheny Portage Railroad NHS had 187,919 park visitors.
In 2020, Allegheny Portage Railroad NHS had 136,029 park visitors.
In 2019, Allegheny Portage Railroad NHS had 189,189 park visitors.
National Park Address
110 Federal Park Road
Gallitzin, PA 16641
National Park Map
Where is Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site?
The park is located in Eastern Pennsylvania in Gallitzin
Estimated distance from major cities nearby
Pittsburgh, PA - 83 miles
Baltimore, MD - 182 miles
Washington DC - 180 miles
Akron, OK - 189 miles
Buffalo, NY - 221 miles
Cleveland, OH - 212 miles
Philadelphia, PA - 238 miles
Rochester, NY - 276 miles
Estimated Distance from nearby National Park
Cuyahoga Valley National Park - 189 miles
Indiana Dunes National Park - 495 miles
Acadia National Park - 764 miles
Gateway Arch National Park - 687 miles
Mammoth Cave National Park - 563 miles
Where is the National Park Visitor Center?
Summit Level Visitor Center - Located immediately off of US Route 22 at the Gallitzin Exit
Getting to Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site
Altoona-Blair County Airport (AOO)
John Murtha Johnstown-Cambria County Airport (JST)
Philadelphia International Airport
Pittsburg International Airport
Arnold Palmer Regional Airport (LBE)
University Park Airport (SCE)
The park is located just off U.S. Route 22 approximately 12 miles west of Altoona and 10 miles east of Ebensburg.
Take the Gallitzin Exit and turn right, following the signs.
Visitors prior to 1992 accessed the park in other ways, but the GALLITZIN EXIT of US Route 22 is now the way to access the visitor center and historic area.
Best time to visit Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site
The best time to visit the park is spring through fall when there is no snow or winter restrictions.
Weather and Seasons
Gallatzin, Pennsylvania has warm summers and freezing snowy winters
The warmest weather is from May 25 to September 17th with an average daily temperature above 69 degrees.
The coldest weather is from December 1st to March 6th with an average daily temperature below 41 degrees.
The coldest month is January with an average low of 20 degrees and a high of 32.
The snowiest weather is from October 28th to April 19th with an average of at least 1 inch.
Best Things to do in Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site
Summit Level Visitor Center
The visitor center is the perfect place to start your visit. The park film is shown in the indoor auditorium upon request.
Exhibits include a full-size replica of a canal boat and the locomotive Lafayette.
Make sure to pick up a junior ranger program at the visitor center to learn more about the park.
The Junior Ranger program can be completed while exploring the visitor center, and checking out the movie. There were a couple pages from the Engine House and Lemon House.
Engine House 6 Exhibit
The exhibit shelter can be reached by walking a ⅓-mile trail downhill from the visitor center! The trail is a boardwalk with benches along the way.
Please remember that if you walk down you will need to be able to make it back up ⅓ of a mile.
There is no parking at the Engine House.
The Engine House contains a reproduction of machinery that would have been used in the Engine House.
The building was built to look like the original engine house but was built larger to protect historic foundations.
The Lemon House can be reached via the same ⅓ mile downhill path from the visitor center. There is no parking at the Lemon House.
The first floor is open to explore when the building is open.
The Lemon House Tavern served travelers on the Allegheny Portage Railroad. They could grab a drink, something to eat or relax while their trains were being prepared for the rest of the journey.
Costumed rangers offer a variety of interpretive programs during the year.
Living History Day
An all-day family-friendly living history event that includes demonstrations, programs, and more.
Demonstrations include rope making, stone cutting, natural dyes, spinning, traveling trunks, kids games, and more.
Hiking in Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site
Always carry the 10 essentials for outdoor survival when exploring.
Trails within the park follow sections of the original route of the Allegheny Portage Railroad.
There are over 15 miles of trails in different areas of the park. On Sundays, during the summer months, rangers lead guided Heritage Hikes.
Skew Arch Bridge Trail
Distance - ⅓ mile each way
The Skew Arch Bridge Trail is accessed by a trail at the end of the boardwalk. One thing to know is this trail is uphill on the way back.
6 to 10 Trail System
Distance - 8 miles from start to finish, if you include loop trails 12 miles
This trail follows the route of the Allegheny Portage Railroad of the 19th century.
Trailheads can be found at the visitor center and along Dry Run Road.
Summit Level Trail
Distance - 1 mile to the park boundary
This trail starts at the head of Inclined Plane 6 at Engine House 6.
Picnic Area Trail
Distance - ⅓ mile
Trail to the left of the railroad trace to the picnic area.
Nature Loop Trail
Distance - 1 mile
The Nature Loop Trail starts in the woods to the right of the railroad track on the Summit Level.
This trail contains steep climbs as it travels to one of the higher points in the park.
Staple Bend Tunnel Trail
Distance - 2 miles each way
This trail is not near the visitor center. It is located near the town of Mineral Point which is 5 miles from Johnstown.
It is 2 miles each way to reach the Staple Bend Tunnel.
How to beat the crowds in Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site?
We did not experience any crowds while visiting the park. It is easy to walk around if there are any crowds.
Where to stay when visiting Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site
There are no National Park Lodges within the park.
Nearby lodging can be found within 10 miles of the park.
Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott Altoona - A free breakfast buffet, a terrace, and dry cleaning/laundry services are just a few of the amenities provided at Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott Altoona. Stay connected with free in-room Wi-Fi, and guests can find other amenities such as a 24-hour gym and a business center.
Hampton Inn Altoona - look forward to free continental breakfast, dry cleaning/laundry services, and a fireplace in the lobby. For some rest and relaxation, visit the hot tub. Free in-room Wi-Fi is available to all guests, along with a 24-hour gym and a business center.
Comfort Inn Duncansville - Altoona - Take advantage of a free breakfast buffet, dry cleaning/laundry services, and a business center at Comfort Inn Duncansville - Altoona. Stay connected with free in-room Wi-Fi.
Holiday Inn Express & Suites Altoona - Consider a stay at Holiday Inn Express & Suites Altoona, an IHG Hotel and take advantage of a free breakfast buffet, dry cleaning/laundry services, and a 24-hour gym. Stay connected with free in-room Wi-Fi, and guests can find other amenities such as a 24-hour business center.
Courtyard by Marriott Altoona - look forward to 18 holes of golf, a terrace, and a garden. Stay connected with free in-room Wi-Fi, and guests can find other amenities such as a library and dry cleaning/laundry services.
Click on the map below for additional vacation rentals and lodging near the park.
There are no National Park Campgrounds within the park.
For a fun adventure check out Escape Campervans. These campervans have built-in beds, a kitchen area with refrigerators, and more. You can have them fully set up with kitchen supplies, bedding, and other fun extras. They are painted with epic designs you can't miss!
Escape Campervans has offices in Vancouver, Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Salt Lake City, Denver, Chicago, New York, and Orlando
National Park Sites Near Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site
Check out all of the Pennsylvania National Parks along with National Parks in West Virginia, National Parks in Ohio, National Parks in New York, New Jersey National Parks, Maryland National Parks, and Delaware National Parks