If you've been mostly biking around the city or the North Hills, and are looking for other places you can explore on a bicycle, give the Mon Valley a try. Below I sketch out some ideas for various open-ended rides in that area, with some help from Richard Cohn, who posted his own route description in 1986. I'll start the ride description fairly close to Pittsburgh, for the benefit of people who are biking all the way, but many people with cars prefer driving to south of the Yellow Belt (such as to Elizabeth) to start the ride.
To start out, get yourself to McKeesport. The simplest way to do this on a bike is to get onto route 837 via either the Homestead or the Rankin Bridge. (See the "Bridges" file if you're uncertain how to do this) Then ride 837 south past Kennywood and Duquesne until you reach the McKeesport Bridge. This bridge was recently improved, and is now a nice wide two-lane structure with good shoulders. Cross the bridge, and turn right to go into McKeesport, following the Yellow Belt southwest.
Some people don't like the stretch on 837 between the Rankin Bridge and the McKeesport Bridge. If you'd like to try something different, here are a couple of suggestions from Richard Cohn, one for going out, one for coming back:
To avoid the stretch by Kennywood (a busy road even when Kennywood is not open), you should [turn south on Braddock Avenue on the east side of the Rankin Bridge.] This takes you thru Braddock and by the Edgar Thompson Works. Just when the road becomes a divided highway, take a turn-off on the right into E. Pittsburgh. Follow this road until you hit the Yellow Belt (in Turtle Creek). Take the Yellow Belt up, then down, a long hill until you get into McKeesport. At this point you're along the river.A mile or so after McKeesport, the Yellow Belt crosses the river to head toward the Century III mall. Do not follow it; instead, continue to follow the road on your side of the river. (At this point, you will lose a lot of the traffic you've had up to this point.) You'll see signs marked "Twin Rivers Scenic Road" every now and then, which will help keep you on course for a long way up the river. Follow the signs (and the riverside road) south. You'll reach Elizabeth after a few miles, after passing through Glassport, and the still-operating US Steel Clairton Works on the opposite side of the river.
To return a different way from McKeesport, branch off the Yellow Belt at the McKeesport bridge, continuing along the river instead of up the big hill. Eventually (after a short cobblestone stretch) you'll reach McKeesport-E. Pittsburgh Blvd. (It's not a very busy road on Sundays.) Stay on this road and follow the signs for Braddock. You'll have to go a short distance on Route 30, but it's not too bad. You'll end up by the Edgar Thompson Works again [and eventually at the Rankin Bridge].
In the middle of Elizabeth, you may see one of those "Twin Rivers" signs pointing off to a small street down the right. This simply runs a few blocks to a small "riverfront park", which unfortunately looks like it could use a bit more attention and greening. But it does give you a view of the river. Return to the main road you were on to continue south, and follow the Scenic Road signs as appropriate. Don't miss the dam-and-lock setup at the end of a short up-and-down segment south of Elizabeth.
Continue to follow the road south as far as you like. South of Elizabeth, you pass through quite thinly settled areas, punctuated by the occasional smokestack on the other side of the river. After several miles, you'll reach the first bridge (route 136). You can cross here to go to Monongahela, or continue south and cross the Monessen or Donora Bridges, each a few miles further down the road. Richard Cohn and I both like the Donora Bridge. Once across the river, follow 837 north.
You might enjoy planning to have lunch around Monongahela. If you like getting food along the way, there's an Eat and Park at the north edge of town which has an all-you-can-eat brunch buffet until about 1:30 on Sundays. They haven't yet gotten smart and raised the price for calorie-hungry bikers. If you prefer packing your own lunch and enjoying it in the middle of nature, try going over to Mingo Creek Park, just a few miles out of town on route 136 or 88. I'll give more details below.
The obvious route back from here is just to follow 837 north. It has a little more traffic than you'll find on the other side of the river, but not a whole lot, and it's a nice change of scenery. For a more pronounced (and somewhat longer) change of scenery, you can try following route 88 north when 88 and 837 split off. This will take you (quite gently) up a streambed with a few visible mine entrances along the way. (Note also a historical plaque a few miles up commemorating a mining disaster.)
After going some distance up 88, you'll see a sign for Mingo Creek on a road going off to the left. If you feel like detouring a couple of miles, this is worth it (even if you're not planning on eating lunch.) Turn left, then right to follow the creek after passing under the high railroad bridge. The entrance to Mingo Creek Park comes up on the left a little over a mile down the road. Pedal down the creekside road as long as you like. There are plenty of scenic places along the way to watch the brook, or eat lunch. I returned the way I came; there may be some short loops one can try in this area, but I haven't tried them yet.
Continuing north along 88, the road climbs gently, but gets steeper as it reaches the top of the ridge. After that, though, it's smooth sailing into Finleyville, and beyond it past the Trax farm and into Library.
Once you're back inside Allegheny County, 88 starts to get busier, and you won't want to be on it by the time it reaches the Pittsburgh city limits. You can turn right onto Brownsville Road in Library, or onto Baptist Rd. just past the west entrance to South Park, and then follow those back home instead. (Both of these roads are used in the "south-park" ride.)
There are a number of possibilities I haven't discussed yet, but the above should be enough to get you going. I do suggest consulting a map before setting out, in order to get familiar with the general routes I'm describing. Have fun!
Last updated 19-Mar-91 by John Ockerbloom (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Thanks to Richard Cohn for his contributions.