Backpacking the Quehanna Wild Area

Sanders Draft

Sanders Draft

The Quehanna Wild Area is the largest in Pennsylvania, covering almost 50,000 acres.  There is a proposal to add 9,066 acres to the wild area, bringing it to almost 60,000 acres.  The wild area is home to a section of the Quehanna Trail, numerous side and cross-connector trails, scenic campsites, kiosks, and parking areas.  What I love about the Quehanna is its isolation, pristine streams, views, big rocks, vast meadows, and diverse forests of pine, hardwoods, hemlock, rhododendron, and spruce.   The side trails offer countless loop options and the terrain is generally mild.  It is one of my favorite places to backpack due to its diversity.  Over the course of a mile, I can hike through a variety of landscapes and habitats without punishing terrain.  The wild area is a center piece of the vast “PA Wilds”, an outdoors wonderland that is one of the best kept secrets in the East.

I had been to the wild area many times, but on this visit I had a backpacking loop in mind to include the Bridge Trail, Crawford Vista, and a bushwhack up Paige Run.   I was hoping the fall colors would be near peak, and the meadows of blueberry and ferns to be on full display.

Forest along Red Run

Forest along Red Run

I began at the parking area along Wykoff Run Road, at Laurel Draft.  Quehanna has its own lingo.  It is one of the only places to name streams and glens “drafts”, due to the movement of air through and along them.  It is a place set apart.

I was treated to clear, tumbling streams and forests of yellow and gold.  It was spectacular, as if I were stuck in a Gustav Klimt painting.  There was an understory of green hemlock, laurel, and rhododendron.  Laurel Draft completed the scene with cascades over boulders into clear pools.  The sun was brilliant.

The trail leveled off with fern meadows and towering hardwoods.  I then entered a hemlock forest that brought me to a narrow view of Little Fork Draft, now reduced due to the growing vegetation.  The forests on the distant mountains still had a lot of green, while the forests along the trail were at peak with gold, orange, and red.  A descent along gorgeous Sanders Draft followed with rhododendron tunnels, hemlocks, and cascades over moss covered boulders into crystal clear pools.  I hiked along scenic Red Brook as shade began to spread through the forest, creating a striking color contrast between the metallic trees in the shade, and the gold and orange foliage in the sunlight.

Fall foliage

Fall foliage

I reached a road and left the Quehanna Trail.  My next destination was Paige Run and Table Falls.  I soon reached both and enjoyed the endless cascading water over smooth boulders.  Table Falls is not tall at all, but in high water it creates a broad curtain of water over the edge of a flat, table-like boulder.  I bushwhacked up Paige Run- a non-stop waterfall stream, filled with car sized boulders and carpets of moss.  It was an exceptionally beautiful stream, but the jumbled boulders and jungles of rhododendron made hiking with a backpack slow.  I came upon more waterfalls, including one with three or four drops.  I then reached the Teaberry Trail, which I took to the top of the plateau to enjoy the views of the yellow foliage covering the mountains.
Paige Run waterfalls

Paige Run waterfalls

I crossed the Quehanna Highway and reached the Beaver Run Pond with its ghostly dead tree trunks standing in the water.  I kept moving.  The sun was setting and I wanted to see the meadows.  I followed the East Cross Connector Trail and the meadows soon came into view.  The fall color was past peak, and the meadows were mostly brown, surrounded by bare black cherry trees.  But the views were beautiful in the setting sun as two large bucks ran across the meadows.  I descended to Mosquito Creek with its rapids and pools.  House sized boulders loomed across the creek, topped with miniature forests of laurel and rhododendron.  I camped along Mosquito Creek, enjoying the sound of the water.  I stuck my head out in the middle of the night to see an amazing display of stars and constellations across the Milky Way.  Otherwise, I slept well and was warm despite the cold temperature.
View from the Teaberry Trail

View from the Teaberry Trail

I woke to a frigid morning with frost on my tent.  I got my bag packed up and headed on the trail to Crawford Vista.  The trail passed more meadows covered with dew and tunneled through birch forests.  I reached the view as the sun was rising, looking down into the gorge hundreds of feet below.  Tiers of mist levitated in the gorge.
Crawford Vista

Crawford Vista

I descended to Meeker Run and continued on the Meeker Trail with forests of hemlock.  Next was the David Lewis Trail with spruce trees and small meadows.  I crossed the Quehanna Highway and followed the Wykoff Trail to the Big Spring Trail, but the turn was easy to miss.  Big Spring Trail was beautiful with deep hemlock forests, rhododendron tunnels, superb campsites, and clear streams.  I passed Big Spring and sampled the clear, cold water  flowing from the ground.  It was delicious.
Meadows along the Bridge Trail

Meadows along the Bridge Trail

I returned to the Quehanna Trail and descended to another beautiful stream, Upper Jerry Run.  The hemlocks, boulders, and cascades returned in this primeval wonderland.  I saw one nice campsite.  A climb brought me to the top of the plateau with more meadows and nice fall colors. I was nearing the end of the loop as I hiked down Upper Pine Hollow.  The beautiful fall colors returned; most of the stream was dry, but water surfaced when a side stream joined the run.  A formidable wall of rhododendron appeared higher up the slope above the trail.  I crossed Wykoff Run and returned to my car.
This was an excellent hike on a perfect weekend.  It seems the ferns and blueberries in the meadows would be at peak color in late September or early October.  The fall colors were glorious and the Quehanna is famous for its beautiful streams, which did not disappoint.  I loved the crystal clear water and moss covered boulders under deep hemlocks and rhododendron jungles.  This is such a special place.
Bucktail Overlook

Bucktail Overlook

I then drove to Driftwood and the Bucktail Overlook.  This view is breathtaking from a mountaintop meadow.  Massive plateaus rose to the south as shadows spread across the ridges and hollows.  The forests were mostly green with a splash of yellow or orange.  I could see the Squaretimber Wild Area, where I hiked earlier in the year.  The Sinnemahoning Creek twisted in the narrow valley below, flooded with shade.  The skies were cobalt blue as rolling ridges and mountains faded to the north as some clouds spread across the horizon.  While mountains in the Adirondacks, Whites, or Smokies were packed with people, I had this all to myself.
Bucktail Overlook

Bucktail Overlook

From the parking area along Wykoff Run Road at Laurel Draft, my route was counterclockwise as follows:  Quehanna Trail, Red Run Road, bushwhack up Paige Run, Teaberry Trail, East Cross Connector Trail, Bridge Trail, Crawford Vista Trail, East Cross Connector Trail, Meeker Trail, Red Run Trail, David Lewis Trail, Wykoff Trail, Big Spring Trail, Three Runs Road, back to Quehanna Trail.
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2 thoughts on “Backpacking the Quehanna Wild Area

  1. The Quehanna Trail is one of the best trails in Pennsylvania. My wife and I have done the entire loop 3 times. The first time was right after a hurricane that destroyed part of the trail. There has since been a trail relocation for the part that was damaged. You never know what to expect on the trail. We have come upon washed out bridges and had to wade through major streams and seen entire herds of elk on the hillsides. That’s what makes it a wilderness! There has been a lot of maintenance on the trail since our first thru hike. There are bridges over the major streams now and the trail is well maintained. My hat is off to the volunteers that work on the trail. They do a great job of keeping the trail accessible to outdoor lovers.

    • I’m glad you’ve enjoyed the trail so many times. Quehanna Wild Area is one of my favorite backpacks in the entire Northeast, few places can compare to its isolation, diversity, and scenery- not to mention the vast network of trails.

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