I love the Loyalsock. The Loyalsock State Forest is 115,000 acres of Appalachian bliss with its gorges, waterfalls, ponds, streams, vistas, whitewater, swimming holes, big rocks, numerous trails, deep woods, and superb camping.
One of the best weekend or overnight backpack loops in Pennsylvania is the Loyalsock-Link Loop. I never get tired of this trail. Along its 17.5 miles, it packs in so much scenery. One of my favorite features are the forests. This hike offers extensive hemlocks forests with moss, ground pine, mushrooms. It is dark and mysterious with every shade of green imaginable.
I parked along Rock Run Road and began hiking the Link Trail, marked with Red Xs. The trail followed the beautiful Loyalsock Creek with its rapids and deep, clear pools. This loop is a great summertime hike with all of the swimming holes. I passed two young men heading the other way and one asked about where to camp, I told them about Alpine Falls or Mary’s Bridge and we soon parted ways.
The trail climbs up to PA 154, but I like to follow a fairly well established side trail, which is the old route of the Link Trail. It stays close to the creek and crossed the base of a cliff with springs and a wet-weather falls. Here, the Loyalsock Creek is rugged and beautiful with its boulders. This side route soon returns to the Link Trail. The base of the cliffs is slippery. Do not attempt this side route in high water or when there is ice.
The hike continued along the creek, passing more campsites and I soon reached Flat Rock, another large swimming hole. I crossed PA 154 and made a steep climb up the plateau. Miles of beautiful woodland hiking followed with extensive hemlocks. The northern hardwoods smelled sweet in the moist air. I reached Canyon Vista and explored the Rock Garden. With lighter gear, I was making good time. I followed the Link Trail along Double Run with its waterfalls, slides, and moss covered boulders.
I then saw two older women hiking with what appeared to be overnight backpacks. They asked if the trail headed back to the park office, I told them it did. One lady said they bit off more they could chew and were heading back. Regardless, they should be proud for getting out there on the trail, especially on National Trails Day.
I passed some kids fishing in the creek and one yelled hello. I soon reached the park office and took a break to have a snack. Two other backpackers were loading their gear in the car.
I pushed on with a steep climb out of the state park. The trail meandered among more hemlocks, ferns, and ground pine. I reached Alpine Falls in the dark forest. Above were some people camping. We exchanged a hello and one asked about the rain that was supposed to come tomorrow. I began to think about just hiking the whole loop in a day, but would see if any sites were available at Sones Pond.
I reached the top of the plateau and the woods were brighter. The beautiful woodland walk continued with mushrooms and wildflowers dotting the forest floor. The forests were becoming darker as I made my way under more hemlocks to Sones Pond. The pond was beautiful in the deep twilight, offering perfect reflections as frogs croaked and an owl hooted in the distance. However, all the campsites were taken. I decided to finish the hike that night.
I returned to my car in darkness surrounded by the sound of the Loyalsock Creek. A great day in the woods.
- The Loyalsock-Link Loop is a superb hike. The Loyalsock is marked red and yellow, the Link with Red Xs. The trails are well-marked and established.
- While I hiked clockwise, counterclockwise may be best since the climbs are more gradual, but the descents will be steeper.
- You can park at the park office at Worlds End State Park, or on Rock Road Road before it crosses the Loyalsock Creek located at 41.459690, -76.509617 with space for about 6 cars.
- On my hike, the bridge on Rock Run Road was closed to vehicles for repairs, but can be crossed on foot.
- Campsites are located here: Link Trail: Cold Run (small sites), Vinegar Run (small sites), Loyalsock Creek (larger sites). Loyalsock Trail: High Rock Run north of Worlds End State Park, Big Run (below the trail), Alpine Falls (both above and below the falls), Tamarack Run/Mary’s Bridge, Sones Pond.
- The loop alone is about 17.5 miles. The loop plus the out and back to the Haystacks is about 22 miles. Doing the Haystacks and the loop from US 220 (a lollipop loop) is about 25 miles.
- Don’t plan on camping at Worlds End State Park, there are no primitive, backcountry campsites and the developed campground is about a mile from the trail.
I rarely do gear reviews, but I thought I’d offer some thoughts about two pieces of gear I had. Lighter gear helps, I found myself moving faster than I normally do with less strain on my body.
- REI Flash Backpack (last year’s model). I’m gravitating towards lighter gear and I was looking for a reasonably priced lightweight pack. The Flash is light and held the load well while offering some back ventilation. It was comfortable, although some of the straps dug into me a little, maybe I had it too tight. It was roomy enough for my gear and could probably be used for up to 3-4 nights for a summertime trip. The small pouch on the shoulder strap doesn’t seem usable. I liked the mesh netting on the outside for stuffing items. The internal hydration sleeve is only attached at the top, so I found it easier getting my bladder back into the pack among the gear, although I may end up keeping the bladder on the outside of the pack anyways. Overall, I recommend this pack.
- Nevados Compass Low. I was looking for some trail runners, but didn’t want to pay $130 for a pair if I didn’t like them. “Generic” brands rarely get reviewed since they don’t pay for ads in magazines. I found them to be comfortable with excellent traction. My feet breathed well and the trail runners dried quickly. I did not have any hot spots during my hike. Toe protection is good with a rubber protected toe box; my toes were comfortable. Support was good; I didn’t roll an ankle once on the hike. Aside from typical foot fatigue, my feet felt fine at the end of the day and surely no worse than my Merrills. For a half to a third of the price of name-brand trail runners, this is a very good option. I would recommend them.