Highlands Trail History

Many historic resources of national and state significance found along the planned route of the Highlands Trail in Pennsylvania illustrate how humans have settled the 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. In the past, these rivers supported transpotration and industry, and were essential to the establishment of the historic towns and cites along the Highlands Trail.

The Delaware: A Wild and Scenic River

The eastern end of the trail begins at the Delaware River, a designated National Wild and Scenic River, in Riegelsville Borough, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Highlands Trail follows the D&L Trail, a National Heritage Corridor, through Delaware Canal State Park, a National Landmark. Following the trail north from Riegelsville leads to the historic cities of Easton and Bethlehem. In this area, the D&L Trail is adjacent to the Lehigh River and Canal. Both cities feature numerous historic structures and sites. In particular, the Central Bethlehem National Historic District is significant 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.

National Heritage Corridors along the Highlands Trail

The Highlands Trail passes through several national heritage areas along its 300 mile route. From the east, the first is the Delaware and Lehigh National Heritage Corridor. The Highlands Trail follows the D&L Trail for 25 miles of its 165 mile length, in Bucks and Northampton Counties. 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.

After passing through historic towns in Lehigh and Bucks Counties, the Highlands Trail enters Montgomery County and heads south along the Perkiomen Trail, a rail-trail, entering the Schuylkill River National Heritage Area. The Highlands Trail crosses the Schuylkill River near Valley Forge and  follows the Schuylkill River Trail northwest for 25 miles, before climbing out of the valley to the Hopewell Big Woods region near in Berks County. The proposed trail route connects with the Horse-Shoe Trail near Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site, an early American Iron Plantation. Continuing with an iron theme that spans the 13-county Highladns Region, the Highlands Trail is planned to co-align with the Lebanon Valley Rail Trail, a National Recreation Trail which passes near Cornwall Iron Furnace National Historic District. The Highlands Trail passes through the Susquehanna National Heritage Area with its numerous historic towns along the big river and co-aligns with the Mason Dixon Trail at Wrightsville. Further south, the Highlands Trail runs through the South Mountain Conservation Landscape, passing through Pine Grove Furnace State Park, site of another historic iron making community.