Backpacking the Allegheny Front Trail

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The Allegheny Front Trail (AFT) is a 42 mile loop in the Moshannon State Forest, west of State College.  The trail basically encircles the beautiful Black Moshannon State Park.  The AFT had been on my list for a return hike; it had been many years since I last hiked the trail.

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I finally found a weekend to go.  I parked at the eastern trailhead, where the loop crosses PA 504.  Several other cars were already there.  I then began to hike the trail clockwise.  I noticed how the trail was well established as compared to my prior hike.  Over the course of my trip, I would see many other hikers and backpackers.

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The AFT began by traversing the ridge of its namesake.  At times rocky, but the views made up for it.  I really enjoyed the views due to the variety of terrain it showed-deep valleys, rolling ridges, foothills with fields, and distant ridges extending to the horizon.  It reminded me of views I’ve seen in West Virginia.

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The trail then crossed the top of the plateau, with flat and rolling terrain through thickets of laurel.  It was a pleasure to hike the forgiving tread.  I then reached a tributary of Smays Run where I saw backpackers and some great campsites.  I soon reached Black Moshannon State Park with its extensive boardwalks through forests of pine, hemlock, and rhododendron.  It was a beautiful trail that at times felt as if it were in a rainforest.

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The AFT is known for its diverse forests.  I hiked through open hardwoods, along wetlands, pine plantations, rhododendron jungles, and hemlock groves.  Some areas of the trail were wet.  I hiked through meadows and glades of ferns.  A variety of wildflowers were along the trail, including hundreds of pink lady slippers.  There were also violets, columbine, and pink azaleas.  The mountain laurel was just about to bloom.

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I began to follow more streams as my hike proceeded.  The AFT has so much streamside hiking, a highlight of the trail.  These streams are pristine, tumbling into pools, and often shaded by hemlocks and rhododendron.  Beautiful campsites are often along these streams.

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I descended to Wolf Rocks with its porcupine dens and droppings and crossed a road, followed by Sixmile Run.  I found a place to camp as darkness descended.  After getting a bite to eat and washing off, I was soon asleep thanks to the babbling sound of the creek.

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I woke up early the next morning and was on the trail as a mist threaded through the forest.  I was now at the southwest corner of the loop.  I hiked through a clearcut area, but soon returned to the woods with majestic hardwoods and ferns.

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The following section along Sixmile Run was a highlight of the trail.  The AFT went through a large pine plantation, and then into a stunning forest of spruce and moss.  I hiked down a beautiful glen with some of the most scenic forests I’ve ever hiked.  Sixmile Run soon came into view with its pools and rapids.  The trail followed the creek and entered extensive rhododendron tunnels, going up and down hills, or staying close to the creek.  I passed several sublime campsites.  At times I felt as if I were hiking in a rainforest.

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The next section along Moshannon Creek was also beautiful with similar scenery, although the trail spent less time close to this large stream, colored orange from acid mine drainage.  A climb up a ridge revealed a nice view of the creek and its gorge.  As the AFT continued, it was closer to Moshannon Creek and featured more hemlocks and rhododendron.  There was a nice 5 foot falls on Potter Run, below the trail.

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The biggest climb of the trail followed as it climbed about 500 vertical feet and crossed the top of the plateau along meadows and logged areas on an old forest road.  A steep descent followed down to Black Moshannon Creek with more rhododendrons and hemlocks and beautiful streamside hiking.  A long footbridge crossed the creek at a cabin.

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Benner Creek is another highlight, a pristine stream with rhododendron tunnels and hemlocks.  It felt isolated and the forest was like a jungle.  There was one superb campsite.  The AFT left Benner Run and entered areas of laurel and vast blueberry meadows.  I hiked down into and back out of a small stream and then reached Rock Run with its meadows, campsites, cascades, hemlocks, and rhododendron.  Another scenic spot along the trail.  Open hardwoods and glades of ferns followed with views deep into the woods from low ridges.  I passed some large springs and another small stream.  A meadow with a grove of spruce followed, and then a small climb to a meadow with pickers.  After entering the woods, I soon reached my car.

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It was great to be back on the AFT.

More photos.

Trip reports from Mid Atlantic Hikes, which shows campsites:  East Loop and West Loop.

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The AFT is an enjoyable loop that I recommend.  If you don’t want to hike the whole loop, you can divide it via trails through Black Moshannon State Park; this creates an east and west loop.

Highlights:  Diverse forests and habitats, extensive streamside hiking, great campsites, meadows, views, rhododendron tunnels, laurel, wildflowers, wetlands, boardwalks.  Trail is fairly isolated.

Negatives:  The only not too scenic areas were the southwest and northwest corners of the loop where there are logged areas.  Most of the loop is very scenic.

Water:  Plentiful

Terrain:  Hilly and rolling, rocky in a few areas, particularly along the Allegheny Front and its vistas.  Climbs reach 500 vertical feet along Moshannon Creek.

Campsites:  The trail has some beautiful campsites.  Most streams have at least one campsite.

Blazes:  Trail is blazed yellow.  Trail signs are fairly common.

Difficulty:  Moderate

Trail conditions:  Trail is well blazed and has several signs.  Trail is generally well-established but can be brushy in areas, particularly in summer.  Several wet areas and small stream crossings without bridges.

Ticks:  I only saw one on me, no bites.

Maps:  Moshannon State Forest has free maps.

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