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Hiking Off the Beaten Path: Lesser-Known State Forest Trails

September 16, 2020 12:00 AM

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Pennsylvania’s state forests are a source of great comfort, relaxation, and recreational fun. Now, more than ever, these lands are being utilized for quick outdoor adventures where social distancing comes more naturally.

Some popular locations are being over-visited, often resulting in crowded trailheads, parking areas, and trails.

With 2.2 million acres of state forest land to explore, there is more than enough space to find a place to connect with nature.

To help guide forest users to a place they may not have visited before, DCNR’s Bureau of Forestry has provided a few of the more obscure state forest trails.

Iron Horse and Tunnel Trails, Tuscarora State Forest

Tunnel Trail

The Iron Horse Trail in Perry County is a 10-mile, shared-use trail that forms a loop between Big Spring State Park and the historic Eby Cemetery along PA Route 274 in Tuscarora State Forest.

The trail is moderately challenging as it explores the low ridges and valley.

At Big Spring State Park, the Iron Horse Trail also provides a link to the Tunnel Trail, which features the ruins of an abandoned narrow-gauge railroad tunnel.

Yellow Arrow Trail, Rothrock State Forest

Yellow Arrow Trail

Situated northwest of Huntingdon, the Yellow Arrow Trail is only about one mile, but provides a challenging hike in Rothrock State Forest.

Ambitious hikers can opt for longer excursions by linking to the Mid State Trail, Pennsylvania’s longest hiking trail.
The uphill climb is rewarded with the panoramic view of the town of Spruce Creek at Indian Lookout.  Parking is located along Colerain Road.

North Loop Trail, Forbes State Forest

North Loop Trail sign

The 4.5-mile North Loop Trail is located within the Roaring Run Natural Area and traverses the remains of old logging railroad grades and skid trails in Forbes State Forest.

It can be accessed from McKenna Trail or Painter Rock Trail. Parking is available from County Line Road, Painter Rock Road, and the McKenna Trailhead.

Watres Loop Trail, Pinchot State Forest

Watres Trail

The Watres Loop Trail is nearly 6 miles long and found south of Scranton in the Thornhurst Tract of Pinchot State Forest.

This remote, wild corridor winds its way along Painter and Panther creeks and can only be accessed by the Pinchot Trail. Parking can be found along Pittston and Sassafras Hill roads.

Blessing Mountain Trail System, Loyalsock State Forest

Blessing Mountain

Instead of using the popular Jacoby Falls Trail, hikers should consider any of the 13 named trails within the Blessing Mountain Trail System of Loyalsock State Forest.

This network of trails is found west of Route 87 in Lycoming County. Hikers can enjoy views of towering conifers, peaceful mountain brooks, and vast seas of mountain laurel.

The trail system is appropriate for shorter day hikes or much longer journeys. Access to the trail system is found along Wallis Run, Caleb’s Creek, and Yeagle roads.

Astronomy Trail, Michaux State Forest

Moutain Laurel

In Michaux State Forest, the Astronomy Trail is found south of Cleversburg in southern Cumberland County. This 1.5-mile, ridgetop trail is dominated by upland heath species like mountain laurel and blueberry.

The trail is single-track and is moderate to challenging. Hikers can access the trail from Milesburn and Gilbert roads.

The Benefits of Staying Off the Beaten Path

Finding and navigating lesser-known state forest trails can be challenging; but doing so can be rewarding.

Not only will you learn about and see new things, you will help your fellow Pennsylvanians by spreading out recreational impact and reducing the likelihood of the spread of COVID-19.

Maps, advisorys, and other information about all of Pennsylvania’s 20 state forest districts is available on the DCNR website.

For more information on lightly traveled state forest trails, please contact the DCNR Bureau of Forestry.

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