Backpacking the Loyalsock Trail

Canyon Vista, Worlds End State Park

The Loyalsock Trail (LT) is one of the finest backpacking trails in the Mid Atlantic, if not the northeast. It is a classic Pennsylvania backpacking trail. The LT was first established in 1951, making it one of the older backpacking trails in the country. The trail is known for its challenging terrain and diverse scenery, with many waterfalls, scenic streams, views, gorges, large rocks, hemlock forests, a pond, historic features, and great campsites. Thruhiking the LT will be an experience you won’t forget and is a perfect prep hike for longer trails, like the Long Trail or Appalachian Trail.

Smiths Knob

Length: 59.2 mile linear trail

Maintained and managed by: Alpine Club of Williamsport

Trail guide and maps: available for sale from the Alpine Club of Williamsport

Permits: None for parking or backpack camping if staying at a site for only a night. Large backpacking groups may need a permit, contact the Loyalsock State Forest. It can be a good idea to let the Loyalsock State Forest know where you are parked at, the state forest does have patrolling rangers.

Cell service: Spotty, service can sometimes be found on high ridges.

Campfires: Are not permitted at the Haystack Rapids and can be restricted along the entire trail at other times of the year. Contact the Loyalsock State Forest.

Blazes: Yellow with a red “LT”. Old paint blazes are being replaced with small disks.

Days to hike: 3-7 days.

Difficulty: The LT is known as a difficult trail with many climbs, steep terrain, and streams without bridges.

Loyalsock Creek

Direction of hiking: Most hikers go from west to east. I went the opposite. I think the trail is a little easier that way and saves some of the best views for the end of the hike. If you prefer steep climbs, hike east. If you prefer steep descents, hike west.

Eastern trailhead: There is a large parking area on Mead Road. 41.447717, -76.453478

Western trailhead: There is a small pull off parking area along PA 87. 41.361361, -76.877028

Other trailheads: Worlds End State Park office: 41.471771, -76.581766

Rock Run Road: 41.459713, -76.509704

Worlds End Road: 41.451092, -76.601897

Dry Run Road: 41.438049, -76.655404

Little Bear Creek Road: 41.355636, -76.859320

Brunnerdale Road: 41.385229, -76.668259

Shuttle information: this is shuttle information from the Alpine Club of Williamsport

Shelters: None.

Water: Generally plentiful. Trail can be dry between Ogdonia Creek and Hessler Branch or Grandad Run. The western part of the trail, from PA 87 to Brunnerdale Road is generally drier.

Dutters Run Falls

Resupply: There are no readily available places to resupply on the trail. There is a seasonal snack bar open in Worlds End State Park. Highland Lake Manor is along the trail and is a restaurant for a private club, I do not know if it is open to the public. An ideal place to cache food is along Dry Run Road.

Amenities: Worlds End State Park office has a modern restroom and running water.

Side hikes not to be missed: High Knob Overlook, Angel Falls, Dutchman Falls.

Ideal time to hike: Fall colors are usually peak in mid October. Mountain laurel is common along the trail and blooms in mid to late June.

Stream crossings: Outside of Worlds End State Park, there are no bridges across streams. In high water, this is a problem. The largest stream crossing is Kettle Creek, about 20-30 feet across.

Other issues: Stinging nettle is an issue on sections of the trail in summer.

Trail running: The LT and connecting trails host a couple of trail run races every year. These trail races are very popular. It is worth checking when those races are scheduled as you’re planning your hike.

Highlights: Dutchman Falls, Haystacks Rapids, Sones Pond, Alpine Falls, Worlds End State Park, Canyon Vista, Mineral Springs Falls, Alpine Vista, Lower Alpine Vista, Ketchum Run, Rode Falls, Lee’s Falls, Split Rock, Dutters Run, Kettle Creek Gorge, Angel Falls, historic structures near Highland Lake, Smith’s Knob, Allegheny Front.

Other websites: Loyalsock State Forest, Worlds End State Park

Rode Falls, Ketchum Run

Map legend: C= campsite or potential camping. P= parking. V= vista. Black dots are large rocks. Blue dots are waterfalls or cascades.

Map 1- Eastern Terminus (Mead Road) to Worlds End State Park Office (13 miles)

This description is east to west. From the Mead Road trailhead, the LT makes a rocky descent to an old railroad grade and turns left on the grade. A blue side trail to the right descends to the bottom of Dutchman Falls. The LT follows the grade, then makes a somewhat discreet right turn off of it. Descend to the Loyalsock Creek for some beautiful hiking. The creek is beautiful. Reach the stunning Haystacks Rapids with several superb campsites. Fires are not permitted here. The rapids are ideal for swimming in summer and can be busy on weekends.

The LT climbs steeply back to the grade at a seasonal waterfall. Follow the grade and then leave it, descending to Rock Run Road. At the road, the Link Trail joins; there is good camping a short distance down the Link Trail. Cross the bridge and follow the road. The LT turns to the right and climbs up a glen with some rock outcrops. Reach the top with large boulders and ledges. Cross a forest road and reach beautiful Sones Pond with excellent camping. Hike through beautiful hemlock forests.

Pass a rock outcrop known as Porky’s Den due to the porcupines that live there. Cross Tamarack Run. Rolling terrain through scenic forests of hemlocks and northern hardwoods follow. Descend to Big Run and take the short side trail to Alpine Falls in a grotto of cliffs. Camping is downstream. Climb out of Big Run and follow an old grade, camping is available well below the trail near the creek. Pass through hemlocks and continue through the woods, sections of this trail can be wet. Begin the descent of High Rock Run with small cascades. Pass a fine campsite above a waterfall. Enter Worlds End State Park (backpack camping is not allowed in the state park) and reach High Rock Vista. Climb from the vista and then make a very steep, rocky descent to High Rock Run; High Rock Falls is below. Hike to the park office.

Map 2- Worlds End State Park Office to Ketchum Run (13 miles)

Cross PA 154 and begin a long climb. Reach another view of Worlds End and turn left onto Pioneer Road, a historic road and the first built through the Loyalsock Canyon. Descend to Double Run with cascades; upstream on Double Run Trail is Cottonwood Falls, a worthy side trip. Cross both branches of Double Run and begin a climb among boulders. The trail levels, but then makes a more gradual climb, passing rock outcrops. Reach the top and hike among giant boulders. Reach stunning Canyon Vista. The trail is rolling to Mineral Spring Falls. Descend and then climb again, passing some giant rocks. The climb continues, and then begins a descent to the west branch of Double Run with camping and hemlocks.

Cross Worlds End Road and continue a climb near a spruce forest. Enjoy beautiful hemlock forests. Reach Alpine Vista with a dry campsite, a steep descent brings you to the equally beautiful Lower Alpine Vista. The views are excellent. Descend to a highlight of the trail, gorgeous Ketchum Run. Reach Rode Falls and climb the ladder next to the falls. Climb to the rim of the gorge and then descend to Lee’s Falls. Hike into a stunning mini-gorge with cascades. Continue up Ketchum Run with fine camping.

Map 3- Ketchum Run to Brunnerdale Road (12 miles)

Cross Ketchum Run (two more falls are upstream, off trail) and climb to Split Rock, which are giant boulders. Descend to Cape Run with cascades and falls. Climb again and cross the loop road to High Knob Overlook, a worthy side hike.

Descend steeply and hike rolling terrain which can often be wet. Pass a campsite and cross Dry Run Road. The trail passes Mary’s View and then descends to Dutters Run with several falls and stream crossings. The gorge is very scenic. Pass a fine campsite and then climb out of the gorge through large hardwood trees, particularly tulip poplar. Descend steeply to Kettle Creek, another highlight. I love Kettle Creek, it is the most isolated area of the LT with cascades and some great camping. Cross the creek, the largest stream crossing on the trail.

Climb to Kettle Creek Gorge Vista, a beautiful view. Climb out of the gorge and then descend to Falls Run with possible camping. Don’t miss the blue side trail to Angel Falls, the tallest on the LT at about 70 feet tall. If flowing well, it is impressive. Downstream is Gipson Falls. The LT descends to and crosses Brunnderdale Run and then crosses Brunnerdale Road. A long gradual climb follows.

Map 4- Brunnerdale Road to Western Terminus (PA 87) (22 miles)

The LT enters private land, camping is not permitted for over six miles and there is about a 5 mile roadwalk. Follow an old forest road and then a dirt road with many fields and meadows. It reminded me of the Appalachian Trail in Virginia. An old cemetery is just off trail. Pass historic buildings from when this area was a resort. The Wind Whistle Inn was the casino of a nearby hotel, now gone. Through this area the LT follows roads, but leaves, following old grades, and then rejoins the roads. The LT passes the Highlands Manor restaurant. Descend on the road. The trail leaves the road to the right, climbs, then enters a glen with a small stream. Climb steeply, the trail levels, crosses a road, and then climbs again to return to the Loyalsock State Forest. Reach the top and then hike along scenic meadows with pine trees. Reach Hessler Branch with camping and water.

Important: the trail can be dry between Ogdonia Creek and Hessler Branch. This is also the road walk section. There is no camping on this section for over six miles, and there can be almost nine miles between water sources, depending on conditions.

From Hessler Branch, the LT climbs and descends between drainages. The creeks have pine and hemlocks, while the ridges in between have hardwoods, oaks, and mountain laurel. The LT passes Shingle Run and then a steep descent and ascent through Snake Run. Descend gradually along Little Painter Run and then climb up to another LT highlight, Smiths Knob. Enjoy three views, the best looks east up the Loyalsock Creek with dry camping. The trail is steep, levels and passes Helen’s Window, another great view. A steep descent continues to a parking area on Little Bear Creek Road.

Now climb up Pete’s Hollow with cascades and rocky terrain. Climb to the Allegheny Front, with one superb view. This area of the trail will be impacted by a pipeline and may be rerouted. Hike along the ridge and then descend. The trail levels with hemlocks and small streams. Hike among laurel and then make the final, challenging and very steep descent over rocks and boulders. Pass Sock Rock and a final view. The trail becomes even steeper as you descend a ledge. The LT levels and then drops down to PA 87 and the western terminus.

More photos:


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