History Along the Trail
There are so many notable historic features of national and state significance found along the planned route of the Highlands Trail that illustrate how humans have settled this rich region over the past 12,000 years.
Pennsylvania Highlands history revolves around the four major rivers in the region: The Delaware River and its two largest tributaries: the Lehigh and Schuylkill Rivers; and the Susquehanna River.
The easternmost portion of the trail begins at the Delaware River – a designated National Wild and Scenic River– in Riegelsville Borough, which is a listed as on the National Register of Historic Places. The Highlands Trail follows the D&L Trail – a National Recreation Trail- through Delaware Canal State Park – a National Landmark. Following the trail north from Riegelsville leads you to the historic cities of Easton and Bethlehem where the D&L Trail is adjacent to the Lehigh River and Canal. Both cities feature numerous noteworthy historic structures and sites. In particular, the Central Bethlehem National Historic District is historically important for its Moravian cultural heritage and the south side of Bethlehem was the site of iron and steel making operations that were the heart of the American Industrial Revolution.
The historic feature that shines in this part of the Highlands is the Delaware and Lehigh National Heritage Corridor. The D&L Trail follows the towpath of the Delaware Canal and the Lehigh Canal for most of its 165 mile length. The importance of this and other early canal systems is beautifully interpreted at the National Canal Museum, which is located in Hugh Moore Park in the City of Easton.
The Highlands Trail is envisioned to cut across the historic towns and woods of Bucks and Montgomery Counties to reach the Perkiomen Trail, which passes by Mill Grove, the former home of John James Audubon. As it crosses the Schuylkill River near Valley Forge, the trail then follows the river upstream for 25 miles before climbing out of the valley on a planned trail to the Hopewell Big Woods region near the boundary of Berks and Chester Counties. The proposed trail route connects with the Horse-Shoe Trail near Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site, which showcases an early American “Iron Plantation.” Continuing with an Iron Theme that expands across the entire 13-county region, the Highlands Trail route is envisioned to co-join the Lebanon Valley Rail Trail, which passes near Cornwall Iron Furnace National Historic District. The Highlands Trail passes through the Susquehanna Gateway Heritage Area with its numerous historic towns along the big river and co-joins the Mason Dixon Trail at Wrightsville. Further south the trail runs through the South Mountain Conservation Landscape, passing through Pine Grove Furnace State Park, site of yet another historic iron making community.