Quehanna Trail: Part One- Parker Dam State Park to Mosquito Creek

Taking a break in a meadow

The Quehanna Trail is one of Pennsylvania’s finest.  It is a loop over 70 miles long, with over 30 miles of cross-connector and side trails.  These trails are located in the Moshannon and Elk State Forests, near Clearfield.  What makes the Quehanna so unique is its isolation and wilderness qualities, a great diversity of plants and animals, including elk, and a wide spectrum of scenery- from bogs, to large meadows, huge boulders, and cascading streams in hemlock gorges with jungles of rhododendron.  What I love about the Quehanna is its water.  It teems with water, and its streams are crystal clear, cold, and deep as they meander through meadows.  Often, the streams have a bed of white sand.
 
This past weekend I was able to hike 54 miles of this trail system over two and a half days with some friends from Ohio. 
 
I pulled into the parking lot at Parker Dam at around 9 p.m. on Thanksgiving night.  Amanda and Kevin had also arrived and I saw their headlamps in the woods.  We greeted each other as I got my things together and soon we were off, as our headlamps tunnelled through the night, only offering a glimpse of what was in front of us.  The roar of creeks echoed through the woods.  We reached a clearing and turned off our handlamps; there was an incredible panorama of stars and constellations across the sky. 
 
The trail was wet in many places and we had to negotiate a few stream crossings.  Soon we reached the campsite along Little Laurel Run where a fire was going thanks to two other members of our group.  I set up my tarp, my first time using one while backpacking, and soon I was asleep.
 
We got up the next morning and were on the trail by 7:30 a.m.; we had a big day.  The trail was beautiful as we climbed in and out of stream drainages with meadows, forests of hardwoods, spruce, pine, and hemlock, and gorgeous crystal clear streams with small cascades and deep pools.  The trail even crossed a bog over a boardwalk.  Alex Branch was a wonderful hike with rhododendrons, as was the climb to a meadow with some nice views in the hazy sun.  I then descended to Trout Run, a stunning stream in a valley with large boulders and another clear mountain creek filled with rapids and cascades.
 

Beautiful Trout Run on the Quehanna Trail

The trail followed up another creek with a forest floor covered with ground pine.  Rick (aka Handlebar) caught up to me and we hiked together, in and out of valleys with streams and views of meadows and beaver ponds.  The one unique thing about the Quehanna are all its different trail bridges- some are planks, a group of branches, logs sawed in half, or grand affairs with steel girders and arches.
 
We hiked along Gifford Run, one of the larger streams with more rapids and big boulders.  Huge cliffs were off to the left, but we decided to skip the side trail that led to a view. 
 
We reached the forest road and hiked down to Mosquito Creek. We followed Meeker Run and took another trail to Crawford Vista, with a fantastic view of Mosquito Creek’s deep gorge from a meadow.  The sun had set and the clouds grew yellow and red.  We began to hike in the dark and turned our headlamps on.  The trail crossed an impossibly boggy section as we jumped from tussocks of grass over water and then we hiked back down to Mosquito Creek between boulders in the darkness.  We reached camp; there was a fire and it was cold with frost already covering the ferns and teaberry.  It was a superb campsite next to Mosquito Creek.  I set up the tarp and ate some food.  I was really sore- it was a 23 mile day with a full pack.
 
I crawled into my sleeping bag and went to sleep to the sounds of the creek.
 

Sunset from Crawford Vista, overlooking Mosquito Creek Gorge

 
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