Ray's Hill Tunnel
West portal of the tunnel
1 October 1940|
(Opening of the Turnpike)
26 November 1968|
(Closing of the Abandoned Turnpike)
|South Penn Railroad|
|Planned Length||3,534 ft|
|Heading Completed||2,495 ft|
Ray's Hill Tunnel (often written without the apostrophe as Rays Hill, including on the tunnel's original lettering) is one of the Lost Tunnels of Septempontia. It was bypassed along with Sideling Hill Tunnel and Cove Valley Service Plaza in 1968.
Ray's Hill was the shortest of the seven original tunnels on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. It is so short that one can see the light at the end from either entrance, and only one end (the west) was equipped with ventilation machinery, as that was sufficient.
The tunnel closed on 26 November 1968 when the new alignment of the Turnpike opened, bypassing it and Sideling Hill Tunnel. The tunnel formed part of the STAR Facility. Ray's Hill was used for the testing of unleaded gasoline owing to its short length, which made ventilation less difficult. Additionally, the road leading out of the western portal is scored with rumble strips, which were also tested there.
In 2001, the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission sold most of the abandoned Turnpike to the Southern Alleghenies Conservancy for $1, and the Tunnel became open to hikers and bicyclists.
The first recorded visit to the Tunnel by a Septempontian took place on 30 July 2004 by Shawn Knight, who stopped there briefly to take a photograph as United States Army soldiers were training for deployment in Iraq. The commanding officer present asked a few troops to step aside for a moment so Shawn could get a souvenir picture; the exercises were known to the public in general (but not to Shawn in particular).
A few days later, on 7 August, knowing that military exercises were not happening, a party of explorers (Shawn Knight, Alan Caum, Gracie Gollinger, and Jackie Cipa) visited the Abandoned Turnpike again. After rediscovering and reclaiming Sideling Hill Tunnel earlier that day, the group walked through Ray's Hill Tunnel from its western portal to its eastern one. Ray's Hill thus became the first of the Lost Tunnels to be traversed by Septempontians since the founding of the Empire.
A route to the eastern portal was discovered by Gracie Gollinger on 21 November 2015 during a solo expedition.
Visiting Ray's Hill
Visiting Ray's Hill is very safe and completely legal, thanks to the purchase of the abandoned Turnpike by the Southern Alleghenies Conservancy.
The western portal
Take the Turnpike to Breezewood (Exit 161). Take the right fork when following the spur road from the interchange, to head towards US-30 East, signed for Chambersburg and Gettysburg. You will pass the site of the former Ramada Inn, which kindly permitted visitors to the Tunnels to use their parking lot and restrooms. As the ramp puts you onto US-30 East, the Ramada site will be on your right, the Quality Inn and then Mt. Zion Lutheran Church and its cemetery will be on your left.
Just past the church, you will see the fork where Tannery Road starts to the left. Between US-30 and Tannery Road, at the fork, is a dirt/gravel patch which can accommodate a number of parked cars, from which a small dirt footpath leads up the hill. Park there and climb the footpath to the surface of the Abandoned Turnpike.
Although the condition of this section has varied over the years since the Conservancies acquired it, generally there will be "Pike 2 Bike" or similar signs indicating that bicycles and hikers are welcome but not motor vehicles, and jersey barriers arranged to ensure cars cannot get through.
From here, the Tunnel is about 20 minutes away on foot. Simply follow the old Turnpike (there are a number of curves, but the road is unmistakable) until you reach it. Do not venture off the narrow shoulder of the road to either side; you will be trespassing on private property (and some of the local residents are not as friendly as others on this subject).
The eastern portal
Follow the directions for reaching the western portal of Sideling Hill until the four-way intersection where PA-915 meets US-30. The left turn of this intersection is a gravel road. Turn onto it.
You will pass under the modern Turnpike and then come to a T-intersection. Do not take the left turn. It can be used to reach the portal, but it goes through aggressively posted private property. Take the right turn. This is Oregon Road. Two small parking areas exist along Oregon Road about two miles from this intersection and provide simple access to a trail. "Red Bank Trail", which is signed and blazed red, extends from atop the large hill, crossing Oregon Road, and terminates directly onto the Abandoned Turnpike. The path follows a downhill slope from Oregon Road to a former service grade, just above the road, where a gate in the old fence has been established. From that point, however, it is a steep, gravely slope of approximately 30 feet between the edge of the grade and the berm of the Turnpike.
This ingress is approximately 1.3 miles from the Eastern portal of Rays Hill Tunnel. The westbound portion of the road is in reasonable condition for walking. The eastbound portion is moderately overgrown. Between the trailhead and the Turnpike, several well-kept houses just below the road grade are heavily posted as "Private Property". While two points of egress exist between the road and these properties, no expeditions should progress along these paths.
Via the Abandoned Turnpike
One could go to either end of Sideling Hill Tunnel (the western portal near Oregon Camp would be closer) and travel on the Abandoned Turnpike itself. The trip is approximately five miles, though, so plan accordingly. Remember that bicycles are permitted on the Abandoned Turnpike, but cars and motorcycles are not.
Walking through the Tunnel
Walking through Ray's Hill is much quicker and less "scary" than walking through Sideling Hill since it is much shorter. In any decent daylight, the light at the opposite end of the tunnel can be seen before you enter one end. Other than being cautious about watching your step (you never know where there might be broken glass or rusty metal) there should be nothing particularly difficult about the trip.
On one visit to Ray's Hill in the middle of winter it was noticed that a pretty strong and cold wind blew through the tunnel from west to east, making the return trip a bit unpleasant. Dress warmly. It was invigorating, though.