Backpacking the Square Timber Wild Area, Elk State Forest

Morning along Big Run

Morning along Big Run

I recently traveled to the Square Timber Wild Area in the Elk State Forest for a quick overnight backpack.  It covers almost 9,000 acres.  I’d known of the wild area for a few years, but after seeing a trail map, it became a goal to hike it this year.   I really didn’t know what to expect.  My hope was to find one of the black dashed trails in the northern area of the wild area, as indicated on the maps, to make a longer loop.

This area of Pennsylvania is very beautiful and isolated, with deep canyons and gorges, meandering streams, and towering plateaus.  The wild area is located north of Driftwood, a tiny, sleepy village that could be a hiking hotspot, with the Quehanna to the south, the Fred Woods and Elk Trails to the west, the Bucktail Path to the north, and the Donut Hole Trail to the east.

I reached the parking area and followed the yellow blazed path along Big Run, which wasn’t all that big.  It was a pristine stream, clothed in moss.  Large springs bubbled from the ground and joined the creek.  The trail entered a deep glen with hemlock on one side and hardwoods on the other.  There were several large white pine, and the red trillium was blooming.  There were even some sycamore trees along the creek.

As I hiked up the glen, the scenery and isolation improved.  Big Run also became dry, it appeared to be absorbed into the ground, only to reemerge as the springs I saw previously.  The trail hugged narrow sidehill above the creek.  I reached a trail sign and turned right up the Right Fork Big Run.  The glen closed in, there was water in the creek, and several stream crossings. The trail was minimally maintained, with faded blazes and several blowdowns.  A steep hike out of the glen brought me to the Bucktail Path.

View from the Bucktail Path

View from the Bucktail Path

The Bucktail Path was an enjoyable hike as I crossed a meadow with many nice views.  An old quarry followed with a fine view to the south.  The trail was well graded and the hiking was easy.  I soon reached the yellow Square Timber Trail to the left, but I decided to continue north on the Bucktail with the hope of finding a trail in the northern area of the wild area to make a larger loop.  The Bucktail continued to be a nice walk as I climbed to a firetower and small cabin.  The trail descended to scenic Brooks Run with large hemlock and pine, and one nice campsite.  I hiked away from the stream and reached Ridge Road, however, I was unable to find the unofficial trail as depicted on the maps.  I decided to head south on Ridge Road, see the two vistas, and then retrace my steps to the Square Tinber Trail I passed earlier.

The Square Timber Trail followed eroded sidehill through thick mountain laurel.  The trail was very brushy with faded blazes, including some old blue blazes.  I heard a turkey gobbling in the glen below.  I hiked up a rolling ridge, passing a mysterious campsite with perfectly cut firewood and a square bed of fresh hemlock branches.  The rolling ridge continued with more thick laurel.  I soon reached an intersection and turned left for the very steep descent into the Left Fork Big Run.  The terrain eased a little bit as I hiked into a very steep glen, with the small creek embedded in what looked like a mini-gorge.  The hiking was enjoyable with increasingly more hemlock and side springs.  The creek was pristine and there was an incredible sense of isolation being so far down in the glen, with no noises.  I was getting dark, so I found a place to camp and was soon in my sleeping bag.  Vivid moonlight crept down the glen as countless stars shone overhead.
Sky above my campsite

Sky above my campsite

I awoke the next morning and was soon on the trail.  The sun repeated the process of the moon, as its light slowly moved down into the glen.  The trail followed the creek, at times dry, only to reappear.  The scenery was beautiful with large pine, hemlock, and moss.  What was most surprising was the bird song, it was incredible.  All these birds were singing and calling, echoing up and down the glen.  It felt primeval.  I really enjoyed hiking down the Left Fork Big Run.
Red trillium in bloom

Red trillium in bloom

I completed the loop and retraced my steps in the warm spring sun.  I returned to my car and drove out along the beautiful Ridge Road, which featured several vistas.  The Logue Run Vista was particularly beautiful.  I stopped by small, secluded Sizerville State Park, and then continued my journey to the ruins of the Austin Dam…
Logue Run Vista

Logue Run Vista

Trail map of the wild area.
More pictures.
Location of the trailhead.

3 thoughts on “Backpacking the Square Timber Wild Area, Elk State Forest

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