After years of hiking in countless destinations, sometimes I feel a little jaded on the trail, as if experiencing something new becomes more and more rare. What was so great about hiking in the Sproul State Forest was that I realized there is still so much to see, so much that remains hidden.
On my second hike in the Sproul, I led a larger group to the Clendenin Branch/Shoemaker Ridge Loop. After the exceptional hike to Round Island Run the day before, I didn’t think this one could top it. It proved to be equally beautiful. This loop is about 6 miles in length.
This area of the Sproul is isolated, located at the eastern end of Shoemaker Ridge Road. The Chuck Keiper Trail passes a couple miles to the west. Here, numerous streams have carved gorges and glens down through the plateau as they flow to the West Branch Susquehanna River. The beauty of the Sproul is its streams, which are often pristine and feature spectacular forests of hemlock, rhododendron, and laurel. They felt primeval. These forests have cool, moist micro-climates and are home to great biodiversity. On this hike alone we passed many different kinds of mushrooms.
Starting this loop was a little confusing but we soon found our way, following an old forest road through a scenic and diverse forest of pine and hardwoods with an understory of blueberry. This trail was also unblazed, but the route was obvious. The trail followed a narrow ridge under a nice pine forest. It was interesting to see both sides of the ridge fall away through the forest. The trail led to the end of the ridge with a view from a powerline swath.
We backtracked to another obvious grade, now on our right. The grade descended into a beautiful gorge with lots of rhododendron. We soon reached Clendenin Branch at a campsite. The air was moist, cool, and had a sweet smell. What a beautiful place. The trail turns upstream, following an old grade along this gorgeous stream. There were many stream crossings, and some large pine and hemlock trees. We passed through a short section with stinging nettle, but they were not much of a problem. Soon thereafter was a patch of bright red bee balm.
As we followed the creek, the scenery became even more beautiful as rhododendron crowded the trail with bright white blooms. These blooms covered the hillside.
At Benjamin Branch there was another campsite in a stunning location, surrounded by streams, hemlocks, and more rhododendron. The trail continued upstream with multiple stream crossings. The gorge narrowed with larger moss covered boulders and cascades. The narrow trail threaded its way around boulders and logs in a jungle of green. In places, the trail hugged the side of the gorge above the rushing creek. We reached a small waterfall with a deep pool. The trail only got better as it entered a jungle of rhododendron passing a large boulder the size of a small house and a secret pool fed by a cascade.
Clendenin Branch was simply stunning with its sublime scenery. We followed the trail up a steep climb away from the creek and reached the top of the plateau where we completed the loop. I will not soon forget this hidden gem deep in the Sproul State Forest.
This trail is unblazed but is relatively easy to follow since it uses old forest grades. Keep in mind there are several stream crossings without bridges. I highly recommend hiking this loop counter-clockwise. A hike in early to mid July offers amazing rhododendron blooms. There are also two very nice campsites if you are looking for a short overnight backpack. Snakes are a common sight on the trail, although we did not see any on our hike. Stinging nettle was not a problem on this hike.
Description from PAHikes.com.