Biking Tunnel Hill State Trail

for Absolute Beginners

Biking Tunnel Hill State Trail shouldn’t have to feel like it is specifically reserved for experienced and proficient athletes. When I first started biking Tunnel Hill State Trail, I hadn’t ridden a bicycle in more than 10 years and I was 100+ pounds overweight. 
My first experience of biking Tunnel Hill State Trail allowed me to fall in love with it and I found myself biking Tunnel Hill State Trail every chance I got thereafter. I care about the future of Tunnel Hill State Trail so because of that, I try to actively promote the trail. Doing so, I wanted to create a guide all about biking Tunnel Hill State Trail but focusing on absolute beginners so that everyone can be able to enjoy the trail just as much as a seasoned cyclist would. So enjoy this free guide and please share it with others if you would like to see more guides like this one published on this website.

Choose a Good Route when

Biking Tunnel Hill State Trail

As an absolute beginner, you should make sure to choose a good route before biking Tunnel Hill State Trail based on your abilities. If you’re overweight and out of shape and ride a longer route, it could end being very uncomfortable and not fun at all for you. Exercise and fitness has to be fun or it failed for most of us – trust me, I was at that point a few times. Based on your abilities and current health condition, decide on a route that will keep you happy and don’t worry about trying to challenge yourself with the most miles possible.

Focus on a route that will take your mind off of the fact that you are exercising by choosing a route with plenty to see:

The Tunnel to Breeden Trestle (5.5 Mile Round Trip): This is a fairly easy trip that starts off downhill (slight uphill grade coming back). Start off from the Tunnel Hill Trailhead and ride south. In less than an eighth of a mile, you will pass through the Tunnel which is the tunnel that gave the trail its name. Try to go through the tunnel when no one else is coming the opposite way and stay in the middle. You will get tunnel vision in most cases. If you have to, get off and push and you might consider a bike light as well. Continue through the tunnel until shortly reaching Sandburn Junction, an old general store turned into a trail store. Stop by for bike rentals, snacks, water and even ice cream. Continue on for another couple of miles enjoying the views of bluffs, hardwood forests, pine plantations and smaller trestles along the way. Eventually you will reach Breeden Trestle which is the best bridge on the whole trail. It is high up and has a wonderful view. There are three lookout decks on the bridge allowing riders to stop and view the scenery without being in the way of other trail users. After you’re done, turn around and ride back to the trailhead.

Karnak to Cache River Wetlands Center (5.5 Mile Round Trip): This is a fairly riding route, there and back with plenty to see along the way. Staring at the Karnak Trailhead, ride west along the trail towards the Barkhausen Cache River Wetlands Center! As you ride towards the center, notice the changing environment to your left and right. You will start to notice swamplands and even cross the deep Cache River before reaching the gate. Go around the gate and head towards the Wetlands Center. Get there before 4:00 PM to be able to go inside the center and look around. They have a lot to see there and even a movie you can watch. Outside of the Wetlands Center, there are a few hiking trails and an observation deck on top of an awesome looking swamp. This would be an ideal route to take kids on. Allow yourself plenty of time at the Wetlands Center because there is a lot to see. They also sell t-shirts and cool stuff like that as well. After you’re done, simply ride back the way you came.

Tunnel Hill to Parker City (9 Mile Round Trip): This is a great route with a mostly downhill ride to (uphill on the return trip) from Tunnel Hill to an actual Ghost Town! Parker City is one of the many Ghost Towns along the Tunnel Hill State Trail which was at one time, a thriving community until the decline of railroad operations turned it into nothing. Start at Tunnel Hill Trailhead and head north (away from the tunnel)! Along the way, enjoy forests and bluffs and scenic environments. At about 4.4 miles, you’ll reach the bench and sign on your left right before a bridge. That is Parker City! Around that area, you’ll see old structures associated with the former railroad, old road structures and even the foundation of a building that was once there. After you’re done, head back and enjoy the uphill exercise you will get.

Vienna to Tunnel Hill (10 Mile Round Trip): This is a longer route that is mostly uphill all the way to Tunnel Hill and downhill all the way back to Vienna. There is a lot to see along this route and is often the most favored biking route on the trail. Starting at Vienna City Park, head north on the trail and stop at the Tunnel Hill Trailhead when you’re ready to turn around and come back. The ride will be at just about 20 miles as a round trip. Along this route, you will see different forest environments, bluffs, rock formations; side trails for hiking, trestles, old farming equipment, old homesteads, signs of the railroad that use to thrive here and the tunnel. There are many benches along this route to stop at and rest as well.

Tunnel to Breeden

Karnak to Wetland Center

Tunnel to Parker City

Vienna to Tunnel Hill

Consider Riding Conditions when

Biking Tunnel Hill State Trail

Before setting out to ride the trail, consider the riding conditions of the trail for the day you plan to be biking Tunnel Hill State Trail. What kind of weather is most comfortable for you to be outside in? How about when you are doing something that is related to fitness? If for example, you choose to go riding on a really hot and humid day, exercising will only make it seem hotter. If you choose to ride on a colder day, wind created from riding might make it feel colder than what it is. You should also consider slippery conditions as well. If it has rained on the trail, the crushed limestone surface is going to be soft and harder to ride on. My perfect riding conditions are a relatively dry couple of days, mostly sunny with temperature in the high 70s to low 80s and light wind. I always consider the fact that I will likely sweat more and feel hotter than what it is like outside.

Biking Tunnel Hill State Trail

Requires the Right Bike

Now before you think I’m going to tell you to buy a $10,000.00 bicycle, don’t worry, I’m not! Don’t get me wrong, I have very expensive bicycles (not that much though!!) that are awesome bikes well worth their cost and they do a lot for my needs. However, you don’t need something super expensive in order to have a successful ride at Tunnel Hill. You do however need something that is put together correctly. I highly recommend buying a bicycle from a local bike shop because they will take care of you. Retail stores that also carry bikes are not always the best for putting the bikes together and being knowledgeable about cyclist needs. A local bike shop will also fit you for the right size of bike which is important for your health as the wrong size can lead to injuries and health issues later down the road. Most cheap bikes sold at “all in one” retailers are also very non-dependable and don’t often last very long. Consider having a budget of at least $300 to $1,200 for a good bike that will last for a very long time.
The type of bike to use is very important when biking Tunnel Hill State Trail. The trail is made up of mainly crushed limestone. Unless the trail is completely dry, using a skinny-tire road bike will prove to be a very difficult challenge and increase your chance of getting into a wreck. Most riders suggest using what is called a Hybrid or Fitness bike which is often a cross between road and mountain allowing for a good grip on the trail and the ability to use the road easily as well. I personally use a mountain bike with 29 inch tires. I have no issues with this other than the bike being heavier than other types of bikes. However, I am tall and a bigger bike fits me better. If you want to use a mountain bike, I think you would be fine using one when biking Tunnel Hill State Trail. My favorite bike shop is Carbondale Cycle located in Carbondale.

Clothing and Gear for

Biking Tunnel Hill State Trail

One lesson that I learn the first time cycling after not being on the bike for over 10 years was that my body wasn’t used to a bicycle like it was back when I was back a kid. I rode about 20 miles wearing regular clothing and my bottom was in some pretty serious pain after I was done.
The clothing had also chaffed my legs pretty good from all the friction of the material rubbing as I rode. I got smart and bought a cycling kit which consists of bike shorts and a jersey. I really recommend you do the same. A good pair of tight fitting (Spandex/Lycra) bike shorts or bib-shorts and cycling jersey will make life so much better and reduce the pain and chaffing. The shorts should include a chamois which is a pad that reduced chaffing and friction while riding. While second-skin styles are best when riding, they make a baggier option for folks who are concerned about modesty. My favorite cycling apparel companies are Bicycle Booth and Aero Tech Designs. Check them out!

Other cycling gear to consider when biking Tunnel Hill State Trail should be on your list as well. I highly recommend getting and wearing a bicycle helmet. A bump to the head can do serious damage to you. Your head and brain is worth protecting. You can always fix your hair but you can’t always fix brain damage. Some bike lights might also be good in case you are on the trail after dark or need lights to see through the tunnel. I used to could ride through the tunnel without lights but anymore, I become disorientated and have a hard time doing it so now I try to use lights. Pack a couple of water bottles and consider a hydration backpack to carry extra water, snacks and stuff like that. Add a portable air pump and a saddle bag with basic bike tools and a spare inner tube to ensure that you can fix flats and minor issues if they arise. If you can’t make these repairs, other cyclists on the trail might be able to as long as you have the tools. You might even consider getting a rack and bike bag system for carrying anything else you might need. I’ve upgraded to that myself and I like it a lot. Just don’t feel you need to pack everything on your ride because the more weight you have to carry, the harder it will be to ride!

Food/Drinks Matter when

Biking Tunnel Hill State Trail

Biking is fun and makes you feel like a kid again but it’s still exercise. Biking Tunnel Hill State Trail is a good way to get into shape but it will still work out your muscles and increase your fitness levels. You will need to eat and drink right while on the trail. You should bring food and drinks that are geared towards athletic activities. I would consider bringing sports-drinks like Gatorade or just plain water for hydration. For food, bring items that don’t need refrigeration such as jerkies, crackers and cheese, health bars, fig bars, dried fruit and trail mix. If you plan to be on the trail for more than 4 hours, consider bringing a lunch that doesn’t require cooking to fuel yourself up. There are not many restaurants along the way in the smaller communities that the trail passes through and while some trailheads have drinkable water, these systems are not always reliable or turned on. Avoid junk food like candy and soda, especially on hotter days as these items will usually have a reverse effect on hydration and fueling for athletic activities.

Take Breaks when

Biking Tunnel Hill State Trail

When biking Tunnel Hill State Trail as a beginner, the most important thing to remember is that it shouldn’t be a race. Don’t ride as hard as you can because you will only burn yourself out and potentially injure yourself. I highly recommend that you take advantage of the many benches along the trail. If you feel fatigued, stop a bench and rest for a few moments, especially if you are new to cycling. I rested at every bench I saw on the trail the first many times I went biking at Tunnel Hill and even now, I still rest from time to time and I consider myself a fairly seasoned cyclist. This is also why I recommend bringing a lunch above. Take a break and eat a lunch to refuel yourself and to simply rest up for the riding session. Don’t make it a competition until you are physically and athletically ready to compete against your previous rides. And you should eventually try to better your riding abilities but it should never be rushed.

Enjoy these Side Adventures when

Biking Tunnel Hill State Trail

Biking Tunnel Hill State Trail is great because there are many side adventures and stops you can make while enjoying the trail, especially if you plan to be one the trail all day long. There are wineries at both ends and even camping at both ends. The many small communities offer specialized mom and pop restaurants and shops that are worth looking into. There are hiking trails along the trail including Heron Pond, Little Black Slough, Boss Island and Wildcat Bluff as well as the River to River Trail. There are many parks within the communities along the trail that you will pass by. Most of these parks have shelters, playground equipment, rest rooms and drinkable water systems. Always assume the water doesn’t work though and make sure you always pack enough hydration with you. Besides biking Tunnel Hill State Trail, there is really something for everyone that is along this awesome trail. And the trail itself starts at Harrisburg and ends at Karnak allowing you to ride 45 miles in total (one way) if that is what you wanted to do. It provides a very good solution for folks who want to bikepack or even do a century ride.

Safety Information about

Biking Tunnel Hill State Trail

Biking Tunnel Hill State Trail is very safe. Using the trail during daylight hours is highly recommended. The trail supposedly is closed during night time hours but a good bike light should be installed on the bike in case you are on the trail in the dark as there are very little lights along the trail and at intersections with roads. During warmer days (even in the winter), venomous snakes including cottonmouths and copperheads may be present on the trail – please ride a safe distance around the snakes and let them be to avoid getting bit. Larger animals may cross the trail including deer, bobcat and coyotes. Where the River to River Trail crosses, riders may see equestrians and hikers – please yield to these users and share the trail. Equestrians are prohibited from using the trail besides crossing it while on the River to River Trail. Criminal activity along the trail and at trailheads is very low but you should ensure that you lock your vehicles and hide valuables before leaving it to ride. If there is an emergency – call 911 otherwise use the phone directory located on the Information Kiosks provided at most trailheads a long the trail.
Thank you for taking the time to read this guide about biking Tunnel Hill State Trail. If you have enjoyed this guide and would like to see more like it, please share this article with others, especially on social media. Consider following Hiking with Shawn on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and subscribing to the Official YouTube Channel. You can also become a Premium Member on Patreon as well as purchase official Merch to show your extended support. So thanks again for reading and until next time, I’ll see you on the trail!
Shawn J. Gossman

Shawn J. Gossman


Shawn is the founder and host of the YouTube Channel, Hiking with Shawn as well as Hiking with Shawn LLC. Shawn hikes, backpacks and visits various forested areas in the Shawnee National Forest, local state parks and other areas promoting outdoor recreational activities to obtain video to show to locals and non-locals alike. Please support Shawn’s efforts by sharing this post and leaving a comment below.
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