Every July, the Keystone Trails Association (KTA) hosts the Prowl the Sproul hiking weekend outside of Renovo where a variety of dayhikes are offered in and around the Sproul State Forest. I attended this year’s event, which is held at a local hunting club. Sproul is the largest of Pennsylvania’s state forests, covering over 300,000 acres. And as I would soon see, it is one of the most beautiful.
I had spent time in Sproul State Forest several years ago, hiking the Chuck Keiper Trail and parts of the Donut Hole Trail. However, I knew there was more to see. As it turns out, Sproul has some beautiful hidden gems.
I was helping the KTA by leading two of the hikes. The first was to Round Island Run and its waterfall. I had known about the falls for a few years, but never had the chance to visit since it is located in a very isolated corner of the state forest, about an hour from where we were camping. We drove through Renovo along PA 120 and turned off in the isolated hamlet of Keating. Keating is a forgotten place, yet it is in a scenic spot, surrounded by mountains as the large Sinnemahoning Creek joins the even larger West Branch Susquehanna River. The group I was leading was filled with people who were interesting, fun, and excited to explore a new place.
After parking our cars, we began by hiking down lonely Jerry Ridge Road to its end where there were two excellent vistas overlooking the canyons and steep plateaus. It was overcast, so the mist was rising, or hanging in the distant glens. It made the views spectacular. I was there the day before to scout the trail when it was sunny, so the change between the two days made it interesting.
We began the loop by hiking the unblazed Jacobs Hollow Trail. The trail was easy to follow through ferns. Along the way we passed a huge garter snake that was about 2 1/2 feet long, the longest I have ever seen. I saw that same snake the day before.
The trail reached the stream in the hollow and went down along an old grade. The hollow was very beautiful with cascades, hemlocks, and rhododendrons. Everything seemed lush, green, and covered in moss. Everyone commented on the beauty, but the best had yet to come.
We reached the bottom and ate lunch at a pool fed by a small cascade. Blooming rhododendron surrounded us. George, one of the members in the group, found a heavy, circular piece of cast iron in the water. We couldn’t figure out what it was.
Our hike took us up along Round Island Run and the beauty became incredible as we were surrounded by blooming rhododendron. White blossoms were everywhere, contrasting the deep, moist green of the forest. As I was walking, I looked down just in time to see a rattlesnake coiled up. It didn’t rattle or hiss. We tried to walk around it in the brush, but it soon slithered down the slope towards the creek.
Round Island Run was simply gorgeous. It cascaded over moss covered rocks and ledges, framed by blooming rhododendron and green hemlocks. Brook trout sprinted in the clear waters below the trail. The place almost seemed primeval, as if we were on the set of Jurassic Park.
As if things couldn’t get any better, we reached a place where the white blossoms covered the mountainside, reaching as far into the forest as the eye can see. Stunning. I had never seen anything like it.
A side trail took us down to Round Island Run Falls, which drops about 25 feet. A few of us stood behind the falls. A campsite was near the falls. It was a beautiful spot, but the whole hike was so scenic, it is hard to call the falls the highlight.
The trail continued upstream as hidden cascades tumbled in the rhododendron jungles below. We followed a trail as it climbed the steep slope, leaving the lush forests along the creek for the drier oak forests on the plateau. The trail became hard to follow, but we were able to make our way to another unblazed trail, where we turned left. The level trail meandered through meadows and ferns under hardwoods. We soon returned back to the cars.
On the drive out through Keating we saw a sign that said “Nudist Crossing”. You have to love Keating.
Despite the isolation, this trail is worth the drive. It is best to hike this loop clockwise. While the trail is not blazed, most of it is fairly easy to follow, with the exception of the southern part of the loop where the trail climbs from the stream and then turns left back to Jerry Ridge Road. This juncture is very easy to miss if hiking the loop counter-clockwise. As a point of reference, if you do hike this loop counter-clockwise and pass a wide ledge about ten feet tall, followed by thick blueberry bushes, you went too far.
I was very much impressed by the beauty of this place. While the hike is scenic all year, it is particularly so when the rhododendron is blooming in July.
My next hike in Sproul State Forest was to the Clendenin Branch/Shoemaker Ridge Loop, and it was not to be outdone.
Location of the hike.