The Enigmatic Abandoned Coburn Tunnel of Centre County

A wall of rock with a train tunnel, in black, with just a faint point of the other side, in the middle. Moss covers some of the rocks.

The Coburn Tunnel, alternatively known as the Beaver Dam Tunnel, epitomizes the bold railroad endeavors of the late 19th century. Located along Tunnel Road near Coburn PA, this tunnel avoids the horseshoe bend of Penns Creek, offering a straighter path carved through solid stone. Today, the tunnel is abandoned and deteriorating. Bold visitors can carefully walk through it, if they dare!

A visit to the abandoned Coburn Tunnel would make a good daytrip pairing with a visit to the five Scenic Views of Bald Eagle State Park.

The Tunnel’s History

In the 1870s, rather than meandering along the natural curves of Penns Creek, railroad engineers chose the daunting task of tunneling through the mountain. About 200 workers, including many Irish immigrants, diligently carved out this 260-foot passage between 1872 and 1877. By 1877, the first locomotives thundered through the Beaver Dam and the nearby Paddy Mountain tunnels.

Before the railroad’s establishment, the area was known as “the Forks” due to the confluence of Elk and Pine creeks with Penns Creek. Railroads often hugged watersheds for the easiest path, but in the Seven Mountains region, tunneling became unavoidable as many of the curves were too tight for trains to thunder through. Attorney and railroad director Colonel James Potter Coburn, from whom Coburn got its name, was instrumental in channeling the railroad through “the Forks.”

Originally built as a part of the Lewisburg, Centre and Spruce Creek Railroad in the 1870s, the tunnel’s ownership shifted over the decades. The railroad fell into financial difficulties. By 1879, the Pennsylvania Railroad acquired it at a sheriff’s sale. However, in 1970, the tunnel was abandoned by the Penn Central Railroad.

The Tunnel Today

Today, although forsaken by trains, the tunnel is still accessible to those curious enough to walk through it. Approaching the tunnel reveals its interesting construction: one side rough-cut, the other lined with square-cut stones. Inside, it’s a straight shot from one end to the other, but you’ll want to carry a strong flashlight. The floor, once lined with tracks, is now a mix of dirt, fallen rocks and pools of water. Its current state underscores the lack of maintenance and the inherent risks of such an old structure.

Opposite the tunnel’s eastern portal, a bridge stretches over Penns Creek. Once a part of the railroad line, the bridge now serves as a section of the Penns Creek Trail. The trail continues through the countryside for about 2 1/2 miles, where it abruptly ends in a washed out bridge. It makes for a nice easy out-and-back hike.

For those with an appreciation for history and a love for abandoned wonders, the Coburn Tunnel is a interesting destination that has the added bonus of a hike along part of the Penns Creek Trail. However, it’s essential to remember that walking through the tunnel is definitely a visit-at-your-own-risk site. It’s clear that many rocks have fallen from the walls and ceiling and could do so at any time.

Know Before You Go

The remains of this abandoned railroad tunnel are located along Tunnel Road, on a peninsula formed by a horseshoe bend in Penns Creek, a mile south of Coburn.

Getting there: Surprisingly, you can GPS it, almost. Both Google Maps and Waze found it when I searched on “Tunnel Road, Coburn PA.” Once you’re on Tunnel Road, continue along the road as it curves along the horseshoe. You’ll see the west side first, but there’s not much parking there. Go around the horseshoe to the parking lot for the rail trail on the east side of the tunnel. Note: When I typed in “Coburn Train Tunnel” and then hit “more results for coburn train tunnel,” both apps came up with “Tunnel at Cherry Run Road, Millmont/Coburn PA, another tunnel in the area.

There’s so much to see and do in Centre County and Happy Valley. Check out the articles below for more ideas!