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Ending at the Beginning -- Loop Trails

September 07, 2022 12:00 AM

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With more than 12,000 miles of trails of all types in the commonwealth, in September we celebrate that bounty and call it Pennsylvania Trails Month!

Here in the commonwealth, you can find long or short hikes, trails to paddle or ride, treks that used to be used by trains, and also, loop trails.

What are Loop Trails?

A footpath extends into a shaded forest lined with young pine trees.

A loop trail is any path that takes you forward, all the way back to the beginning. Some benefits:

  • Short loops can be family-friendly and a great way to explore
  • Little loops can help you get out while recovering from an injury or illness
  • Less planning is involved because you don't need to shuttle a car to the end point
  • You won't repeat scenery or discoveries

We asked mapmaker and founder Mike Hermann of Purple Lizard Maps located in State College to answer a few questions about loop trails.

Insight on Loop Trails from Purple Lizard Maps

A person walks along a rudgged forest stream under tall trees with a large, long-haired dog behind them.
Purple Lizard Maps founder Mike Hermann hikes in Loyalsock State Forest. 

What's the attraction/benefit of loop trails?

Loop trails provide a continuous trail through new terrain, without having to backtrack on the same trail or set up a car shuttle. Loop trails can be easier to follow, and multiple loop options allow people to choose longer, or shorter, distances from a single trailhead parking area.

How does Pennsylvania compare with other states/destinations on the amount and quality of loop trails?

Pennsylvania has many excellent loop trails that utilize the ridge and valley topography of the central region, as well as the Allegheny Plateau topography of the western part of the state. Trails that follow ridges, valleys, streams or rivers for long distances are beautiful to explore, but without a loop option the only way to see them is by turning around and returning on the same trail.

Should we build more loop trails?

Loop trail design should always be considered in planning new trail systems. Identifying options to make loops within existing trail systems will make the area more accessible to a variety of user groups.

Wide vista view of mountians covered in trees that are changing colors in the fall.

Where is your favorite loop trail? 

One of my favorite short loops is the 4.5-mile Fred Woods Trail in Elk State Forest. This hike has very little elevation gain and it offers unique rock formations as well as great vistas. 

For a longer hike, the 9-mile loop on the Golden Eagle Trail in Wolf Run Wild Area, in Tiadaghton State Forest along Pine Creek, is considered one of the best day hikes in Pennsylvania.

For a short backpacking trip, the Old Loggers Path in Loyalsock State Forest is a 27-mile loop trail that takes you along beautiful streams and up to mountaintop vistas. 

Large boulders sit next to a foot path in the woods.

More adventurous backpackers can hike the Quehanna Trail in Moshannon State Forest, which is a 73-mile loop trail that takes you through some of the most remote landscapes in Pennsylvania. Both of the longer backpacking trails also offer shorter loops which allow day hikes to explore smaller sections.

DCNR's Grants for Loop Trails in Communities

As Mike noted, loop trails make an area more accessible to a variety of user groups.

Under the Recreation for All priority in the statewide outdoor recreation plan is an action item that says: Develop and promote easy trail loops in community and state parks.

In the DCNR grants for conservation and recreation just announced this week there are 32 new loop trails in communities across Pennsylvania. DCNR also is providing a $1 million grant for the Ghost Town Trail in Indiana and Cambria counties to help complete a 32-mile loop rail trail – the first loop rail trail in the eastern U.S.

Loop Trails in Pennsylvania State Parks

Trees shade the banks of a lake, with sun hitting the other side.

Pennsylvania state forests offer some premier longer loop trail experiences that cover a variety of terrain and difficulty levels. State parks offer some great shorter options.

An asphalt path leads downhill towards a metal bridge in the woods.

On the DCNR website, each state park has a hiking page that includes a variety of information about trails in the park, including whether they are loops. Some to consider:

With fresh views at every step, none of your time or energy is wasted on a loop trail. Give one a try during Trails Month!

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