The rail trail follows the same route as the former Panhandle Division of the Pennsylvania Railroad that connected Pittsburgh to St. Louis and gives the trail its name. It is part of the government funded “Rails to Trails” project. The first mile of the trail officially opened on October 29, 2000. About five months later on March 15, 2001 a group of volunteers was chosen to serve as the Panhandle Trail Association. Their purpose was to establish and manage the passage that would eventually link the Panhandle Trail to the larger Montour Trail. In January 2007 the connector was completed. Though the entire trail is accessible, the trail becomes rough for about eight miles from Burgettstown, Pennsylvania to the Pennsylvania/West Virginia state line. Because the trail is constantly under development there is no official completion date.
The Collier Friends of the Panhandle Trail is an organization that manages a 2.4 miles (3.9 km) portion of the trail beginning at Walkers Mill. Another organization is the Montour Trail Council, who is in charge of a 6.8 miles (10.9 km) section in Allegheny County.
The Panhandle Trail runs 29 miles (47 km) beginning at the Walkers Mill station in Walker’s Mill, Pennsylvania and ending in an area near Weirton, West Virginia. It passes many towns beginning in Harmon Creek and including Colliers, Hanlin, Dinsmore, Burgetstown, Joffre, Bulger, Midway, McDonald, Sturgeon, Noblestown, Oakdale, Rennerdale, and finally Walkers Mill. At the 8.62 miles (13.87 km) mark near McDonald, a one-mile connector links the Panhandle to the larger Montour trail.
The relatively flat trail is covered with crushed limestone which makes the trail suitable for walking, running, biking, horseback riding, and cross country skiing; however, motorized vehicles are prohibited. Thanks to local geocachers, several caches are available along the trail as well. The Collier Friends of the Panhandle Trail host special events such as the annual Night Walk in October and "Rock the Quarry" which is a two-day festival in the fall that includes music, food, and games. You can even contact The Collier Friends and host your own event at the trail. Event calendars and contact information are located on their website.
There are stations and special areas that serve as access points and provide parking places and also features like permanent restrooms, portable restrooms, shelter houses, picnic tables, vending machines, water fountains, maps, bike racks, and bulletin boards that provide event notifications and maps. In between these areas, many benches as well as a few portable restrooms and picnic tables have been placed along the trail. Nearly every mile has at least four benches (one at every quarter mile) and some have even more. The access points are located at the following places:
Walkers Mill Station - Found in Walkers Mill, Pennsylvania this station is the beginning of the trail and provides parking, a picnic shelter, benches, a water fountain, a bulletin board and a portable restroom.
Rennerdale Station - About .6 miles (0.97 km) into the trail in Rennerdale, Pennsylvania the station has parking, a picnic shelter and a bulletin board.
Gregg Station - Located at the 2.4 miles (3.9 km) mark in Oakdale, Pennsylvania the station also has parking, a picnic shelter, portables restrooms, and a bulletin board.
Settler's Cabin Park connector - This partially complete (in 2015) trail connects to the nearby Settler's Cabin Park. Nearby roads may be used to connect from the complete section of the connector trail to the Panhandle trail at Gregg station.
Oakdale Station - Also in Oakdale at mile 3.75, the station offers parking, picnic tables, a bike rack and a water fountain.
Sturgeon - At the 5.75 miles (9.25 km) mark in Sturgeon, Pennsylvania there is an area with available parking, permanent restrooms, vending machines, a shelter house and a bulletin board.
McDonald Trail Station - This station in McDonald, Pennsylvania at mile 7.25 is special because it is near the intersection of the Montour and Panhandle trails. The station offers parking, restrooms, an information center, trails maps, vending machines, a large map of the trail and McDonald and picnic tables.
Village of Primrose - Located at mile 8.75 in Primrose, Pennsylvania there is an area with a parking lot, portable restroom, bulletin board and trail map.
Midway - Around mile ten in Midway, Pennsylvania there is a parking area and bulletin board.
Dinsmore Road - In Burgettstown, Pennsylvania where Dinsmore Road crosses the trail around the 19th mile, parking is available as well as a bulletin board.
Colliers West Virginia - At mile 22.25 in Colliers, West Virginia parking, benches, a picnic table and a bulletin board are available.
Harmon Creek - The final access point is at the 28.5-mile (45.9 km) mark in Harmon Creek, West Virginia where there is a parking lot, some benches, a picnic table a bulletin board.