Best Pennsylvania State Parks for Hiking

 

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Tank Hollow Vista, Lehigh Gorge State Park

 

I love living in Pennsylvania.  It has millions of acres of public land to explore, thousands of miles of trails (including the most expansive system of backpacking trails in the east), and over 120 state parks.  For those of you who like to hike, these are the best Pennsylvania state parks.

1. Worlds End State Park

While other parks have taller waterfalls, deeper gorges, and wider vistas, no other state park can rival the sheer number of high quality hiking trails that Worlds End has to offer.  Trails here feature waterfalls, creeks, gorges, vistas, whitewater, huge boulders, and rock mazes.  The diversity is amazing.  Quality trails expand across the park, creating countless loop options, from a few hundred yards, to many miles.  New trails are being added, increasing the variety of hiking.

Be sure to hike Double Run and the Canyon Vista Trails.  The new Cold Run Trail, a loop that connects to the east end of the Canyon Vista Trail, is a joy to hike.  A new yellow trail connects the Butternut Trail to the Loyalsock Trail at High Rock Run.  The famed Loyalsock Trail, a 60 mile route, meanders through the park.

Worlds End is simply a beautiful place that should be on any hikers list.  The deep gorge, roar of the Loyalsock Creek, and hemlock shaded glens give this park a special feel.

Worlds End is also perfect as a basecamp to explore the large Loyalsock State Forest.  Many of the park’s trails also connect to trails in the state forest, creating countless hiking options.  Be sure to see the Haystacks, Ketchum Run Gorge, Scar Run Gorge, High Knob Overlook, Dutters Run, Kettle Creek Gorge, Angel Falls, Rock Run, McIntyre Wild Area, Smith’s Knob, Jacoby Falls, and the Rough Hill Trail.

Worlds End and the Loyalsock State Forest is a hiking wonderland.

2. Ohiopyle State Park

One of PA’s crown jewels, Ohiopyle is second due to its incredible natural features, from the deep Youghiogheny River Gorge, Cucumber Falls, Ohiopyle Falls, Ferncliff Peninsula, Meadow Run waterslides, several other waterfalls, and its famous whitewater rapids.  The hiking trail system could be more expansive considering the size of the park.  Ohiopyle surrounds a scenic village of the same name, and is also the southern trailhead of the famous Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail.

Ohiopyle is also a good basecamp to hike the trails at Bear Run Preserve, Quebec Wild Area, or the Forbes State Forest.

3.  Ricketts Glen State Park

This famous park is home to the incredible, and very popular, Falls Trail with its numerous waterfalls.  Also be sure to hike the Little Cherry Run Trail as it explores a gorge with rapids and smaller falls, a place of true beauty.  Like Ohiopyle, Ricketts Glen is a large park that should have more hiking options.  The east side of the park has gorges and stunning views from cliffs, but no trails lead to them.  The northern part of the park is a wilderness with wetlands and deep forests of hemlocks, but again, there are few trails.  The western side of the park had cliffs, escarpments, and vistas.  Experienced hikers can explore the surrounding game lands with unofficial trails that lead to vistas, lakes, gorges, and waterfalls.  West of the park is the stunning Waterfall Wonderland in SGL 13, a watershed filled with waterfalls.

4.  Cook Forest and Clear Creek State Parks

These parks are near each other and feature incredible old growth forests with some of the tallest trees in the east.  Be sure to hike the Forest Cathedral and any trail along the gorgeous Clarion River.  The North Country Trail goes through Cook Forest.  Clear Creek has beautiful creeks shaded with rhododendrons and trails that lead to nearby massive boulders and a view.  Both parks are also ideal basecamps to explore the southern Allegheny National Forest.

5.  Leonard Harrison and Colton Point State Parks

These parks face each other across the Pine Creek Gorge.  Trails lead to impressive vistas of the canyon and waterfalls.  Colton Point has more hiking options.  You can hike the West Rim Trail, and do not miss the Barbour Rock Trail.  Intrepid hikers should go off trail up Fourmile Run to see a stunning gorge with four waterfalls.  Waterfalls also exist on Bear Run.  Numerous other hikes are available in the surrounding Tioga State Forest.

6.  Hickory Run and Lehigh Gorge State Parks

This large park features mild terrain and many miles of trails.  Be sure to see Hawk Falls, the impressive Boulder Fields, and the Shades of Death Trail.  Many other parks and preserves are nearby, including the Darling Preserve, Bear Run Preserve, and Austin Blakeslee Preserve.

Lehigh Gorge is impressive, but hiking is limited.  Glen Onoko is stunning with its steep, rugged gorge and many waterfalls, but its very popular.  Do not miss the view of the gorge from Tank Hollow, it is an easy hike.

7. McConnells Mill and Moraine State Parks

These beautiful parks feature a wide variety of trails.  McConnells Mills protects a rugged gorge carved by glacial meltwater.  It features a historic mill, waterfalls, cliffs, rapids, and a view.  Slippery Rock Creek is truly beautiful and the Slippery Rock Gorge Trail is the most rugged, longest, and premier trail in the park.  Hells Hollow Trail is a must and Alpha Falls is very scenic.  Also explore Cleland Rock for a view of the gorge, and Breakneck Bridge, where there is a rugged gorge of cliffs, boulders, and cascades.

Moraine has a huge lake and the premier trail is the North Country Trail; this trail also goes through McConnells Mill.  It has hilly terrain with streams, bridges, and shelter.  The nearby Jennings Environmental Education Center has a prairie with rare wildflowers.

8.  Laurel Ridge State Park/Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail (LHHT)

The park and trail are often considered to be the same.  The LHHT is 70 miles long and is southwest PA’s premier long distance hiking trail with its shelters, forests, boulders, views, and streams.  The LHHT passes near several beautiful places such as Beam Rocks, Spruce Flat, Painter Rocks, Cole Run Falls, Blue Hole, and Wolf Rocks.  The views at the southern end of the LHHT in Ohiopyle State Park are famous.

9.  Trough Creek State Park

Hidden in a gorge next to Raystown Lake, this is a great park for hiking.  This park has cliffs, waterfalls, and geologic features like Balanced Rock, Copperas Rock, and the ice mine.  Be sure to hike the Ledges Trail with its fine views.  The park also has historical features like old stone furnaces.

10.  Greenwood Furnace State Park

This little known park has a lot of great trails and many historical features.  Hike the Standing Stone Trail to great views from Stone Mountain.  Hike along a small lake, past an old church, and iron making stone furnaces.  Trails also lead to the Greenwood Mountain fire tower.  Nearby are the Rocky Ridge, Alan Seeger, Bear Meadows, and Detweiler Run Natural Areas- all of them should be experienced.

11.  Little Pine State Park

This is a great hiking park with views of the mountains from the lake and trails along ridges with unique rock outcrops.  Hike the Panther Run Trail.  This park is a great basecamp to explore the vast trails in the Tiadaghton State Forest.  If you want a long, challenging, and beautiful loop, hike the Mid State and Tiadaghton Trails.

12. Pine Grove Furnace State Park

The world famous Appalachian Trail goes through this park, where its museum is also located.  The park has several historical features.  Enjoy the lakes and the views from Pole Steeple and Sunset Rocks.  The surrounding Michaux State Forest has a wide array of trails to rock outcrops, vistas, and streams.

13. Blue Knob State Park

Home to PA’s second highest mountain, this park features beautiful mountain scenery that reminds me of Shenandoah National Park.  My favorite trails are the Chappells Field, Lookout Loop, and Mountain View Trails.  The park is also the eastern trailhead of the Lost Turkey Trail.  The John P. Saylor Trail is nearby and offers more great hiking.

14. Salt Springs State Park

Enjoy the ancient hemlock forests, gorge, and waterfalls in this beautiful park.  Fall Brook, Gorge, Hemlock, and Woodland Trails are the most scenic.  Other trails explore streams, forests, and meadows.  There is a surprisingly wide network of trails and the park has camping as well.  If you like beer, Endless Brewing is within walking distance of the park.

15. Hyner Run State Park

This beautiful, serene park is best as a basecamp to explore the vast Sproul State Forest, the largest of PA’s state forests at over 300,000 acres in size.  Hyner View is a must, but also check out the views on the Donut Hole Trail, Chuck Keiper Trail, Clendenin Branch, Round Island Run, and Paddys Falls.

16. Oil Creek State Park

Oil Creek offers great opportunities for hiking along trails that explore a shallow gorge with glens and waterfalls.  There are 52 miles of trails and the premier trail is the Gerard Hiking Trail, a 36 mile loop with shelters.  Cross connectors for this loop create shorter loop options.  Being the first place where oil was commercially discovered, the park also has several historical points of interest.

17. Raccoon Creek State Park

A popular place to hike in western PA, Raccoon Creek has over 40 miles of trails, including a backpacking loop with shelters.  The trails explore hilly terrain with scenic forests, streams, and beautiful Raccoon Lake.  Be sure to see the Frankfort Mineral Springs and the incredibly diverse Wildflower Reserve.

18. Presque Isle State Park

PA’s most popular state park is home to habitats, scenery, and wildlife found nowhere else in the state. The recurving sand spit is home to wetlands, ponds, and stunning beaches.  Hike the Ridge, Marsh, Fox, Dead Pond, and Sidewalk Trails.  Do not miss hiking the Gulf Point Trail.

19.  Black Moshannon State Park

The diverse trails here explore wetlands, diverse forests, and beautiful streams.  Trails also connect to the Allegheny Front Trail, a 42 mile loop that encircles the park, and offer several nice views.

20.  Promised Land State Park

The trails here lead to lakes, streams, and gorge with rapids and pools.  Hike the Little Falls Trail.  An extensive trail system goes into the surrounding Delaware State Forest; do not miss Egypt Meadow and Bruce Lakes.  Bruce Lake is particularly beautiful.

 

 

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Kettle Creek Gorge Exploration-Loyalsock State Forest

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Falls and deep pool in the upper Kettle Creek Gorge, off of Ryan’s Trail

A few months ago I returned to the Kettle Creek Gorge in the Loyalsock State Forest to try to find an off-trail falls.  On this hike, I used the Loyalsock Trail from Dry Run Road and hiked south to the gorge.

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I hiked down the trail and soon reached Mary’s Window,  a nice view of Dry Run Gorge that was inundated with mist.  The trail dropped to Dutters Run and I began to follow it upstream with many stream crossings in a scenic gorge.  Dutters Run has several waterfalls, making the hiking very enjoyable.

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The trail climbed out of the gorge and soon intersected the abandoned McCarty Road, which I followed south to Kettle Creek.   This old road was a great hike down a glen with towering hardwoods.  I then reached the Loyalsock Trail again, this time at Kettle Creek.

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Kettle Creek Gorge is one of my favorite places.  I hiked up the creek with its rapids and pools.  The Loyalsock Trail climbed away to the left, but I continued straight to where a trail crossed Kettle Creek.  I did not cross the creek, but instead turned left and followed an old red blazed trail, the Ryan’s Trail.  It had been many years since I last hiked it.

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This was a beautiful trail as it crossed a rocky slope above a red rock grotto with deep pools and rapids.  The trail passed a meadow as it headed upstream along Kettle Creek.

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The trail moved away from the creek and before it made a steep climb, I veered right off trail back to the creek where I soon reached a five foot falls over a broad ledge into a deep pool.  This was the falls I was looking for; while not tall, it was very scenic.  In high water, the falls would be about 20-30 feet wide.

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I retraced my steps and turned right onto the Loyalsock Trail as it climbed steeply out of the gorge.  I then entered an impressive forest of towering tulip poplar trees, the tallest hardwoods in the eastern forests.  Decades from now this will be a forest of huge trees.

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I returned to McCarty Road, on which I turned right and hiked out to Dry Run Road and my car.

I then was off to see Dry Run Falls and Andrea Falls.  I love the Loyalsock.

More photos.

Flat Top, Spruce Ledge, Bartlett Mtn Balds-SGL 57

 

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Preacher’s Rock, Spruce Ledge, SGL 57

 

In October I led a grand hike to some of SGL 57’s most scenic places, including Flat Top, Spruce Ledge, and the Bartlett Mountain Balds.  Since I’ve described these places before, this description will be abbreviated.  The total hike was about 12-13 miles, and three quarters of it was on a trail of some kind.  The remainder was off trail hiking.

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We began by parking along Windy Valley Road at White Brook, crossed the meadow, and hiked up on an old grade.  We turned left onto another well established grade which meandered up to Flat Top.  A side trail through laurel brought us to the fine vista looking up the Mehoopany Creek to Red Rock.  Beautiful fall colors were already covering the higher elevations.

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Our off trail hike began to the west to reach Spruce Ledge.  Along the way we passed large boulders, caves, rock shelters, and chasms.  The forest became thick as we neared the ledge with spruce.  After fighting through, we reached the ledges with great views over the wilderness of SGL 57.  The fall colors were excellent.  The high elevations of this hike always seem to have superb fall colors.  We took a long break at the ledge in the warm sunshine.

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We continued along the ledges, enjoying views along the way.  Upon reaching a fern meadow, we followed an old ATV trail that passed near more ledges, offering even better views as we looked down the gorges.  The old trail was a little hard to follow in places, but it was a beautiful walk.  The hike took us across bedrock balds, deep hemlock forests, and down to the headwaters of White Brook.

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Next, our hike continued north on a jeep trail to the Bartlett Mountain Balds.  At a wet area, the hike turned left on an old ATV trail which took us near the base of the balds.  An off trail hike through thick brush brought us to the balds, which still had great color and nice views.  It’s always a pleasure to hike to the balds.

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We retraced our steps back to White Brook, and then made the steep descent back to the cars, tired after our long, beautiful journey through SGL 57.

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More photos.

Approximate route:

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Mythical Falls, Boulder Maze, Rockfall Cave, and Creveling Pond-SGL 57

 

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Mythical Falls, Mehoopany Creek, SGL 57

I returned to SGL 57 to explore around Mythical Falls. It had been a while since I was last at the falls, so I was looking forward to the hike. Google Earth also showed some unique rock features south of the falls that I was excited to explore.

 

I parked in a lot on Mountain Springs Road, off of PA 487 and began by hiking down gated Southbrook Road, passing some game commission buildings and scenic Wild Fowl Pond. I walked this road for about 4-5 miles as it descended along Bellas Brook. I then turned off the road and bushwhacked down to where Bellas Brook met Mehoopany Creek. From here, it was an off trail hike up Mehoopany Creek.

The creek is very beautiful due to its isolation, cascades, rapids, and pools. In places, the creek slid and tumbled over bedrock. Due to the low water, I was able to hike right along the creek or rock hop when necessary. Avoid this hike in high water as the Mehoopany Creek becomes a powerful and dangerous whitewater river.

After a mile and a half, I reached beautiful Black Bear Falls. While only 6-7 feet tall, it is a hidden gem with its grotto of ledges and deep dark pools.

I continued up another half mile to Mythical Falls. To my surprise, I saw a large group of hikers trekking to the falls. I’m sure they were equally surprised to see me. They had hiked in from nearby private property. The falls were beautiful as always, surrounded by cliffs and feeding a pool. I’ve always wanted to see this falls in high water when it becomes a stunning, broad sheet of falling water (and creates a tremendous amount of natural foam). The group of hikers eventually left and I had the falls to myself, deep in the wilderness, with no noises or traffic.

I pried myself from the falls to venture into unknown territory. I ascended the bank south of the falls and reached the cliffs and ledges at the edge of the plateau. From there I headed east, passing impressive overhangs, boulders, and ledges. I then reached a boulder maze, where house sized boulders separated, creating passageways. It was impressive. Next to it, were interesting square boulders and a formation that seemed to defy gravity.

I reached taller cliffs with more fractured rock. I climbed to the top of one of the cliffs to find a view, although it wasn’t very impressive. I returned to the bottom, marveling at all the huge rocks. I turned around to see a gaping hole in the cliffs, a tall cave I called Rockfall Cave since it looked to be barely held together with random, angled rocks.

I continued along the cliffs with more overhangs and boulders. I passed a rock with a spring at its base and worn earth for two feet-a watering hole for bears and other animals. They must come there often. I left the cliffs and descended through beautiful, stately hardwood forests with ferns. I reached Bellas Brook, crossed it, and climbed back to Southbrook Road, retracing my s

As I neared the game commission buildings, I followed a grassy road to beautiful Creveling Pond, its still waters reflecting the clouds of the evening sky, and the trees on the shore. Such a peaceful place. I then returned to my car.

Another beautiful spot in SGL 57.

More photos.

 

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Route of hike

 

 

 

 

 

Hiking the New Re-routes of the Pinchot Trail-South Loop

 

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New Pinchot Trail re-route along Choke Creek

The south loop of the Pinchot Trail has been re-routed in four places.  The trail has been removed from all roads and the scenic beauty has been greatly improved.  The south loop is now one of the most scenic, easy backpacking trails in the mid-atlantic.  It features incredibly diverse forests of hemlock, pine, spruce, laurel, hardwoods, and rhododendrons.  There are waterfalls and cascades, beautiful streams, beaver dams, and views of vast meadows and wetlands.  The terrain is forgiving, although rocky in places.

SR 2016/Tannery Rd. Re-route

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The first re-route is where Tannery Road meets Bear Lake Road/SR 2016.  Hiking the loop clockwise (south) from the parking area, the new route passes through spruce forests, fern meadows, blueberry bushes, a small stream, rhododendron, and mountain laurel before turning left on the pre-existing route.  If hiking counterclockwise, this turn can be easy to miss.  The old trail route along Tannery Road has been abandoned and the blazes have been painted brown.

Phelps Rd. Re-route

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The second re-route avoids a roadwalk on Phelps Road.  Hiking clockwise, cross Phelps Road and enter the woods, hiking along rhododendrons, laurel, and passing near a bubbling sand spring.  Cross a scenic, small stream with more rhododendrons and then reach the pre-existing trail route.  The old route has been abandoned and the blazes painted brown.

Tannery Rd. Re-route

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The third re-route is the second longest and avoids the prior tedious roadwalk on Tannery Road.  Hiking clockwise (west) the new route leaves the pre-existing route of the trail and meanders through beautiful forests of pine, hemlock, spruce, laurel, and rhododendron.  These forests are very diverse, stay green even in winter, and have some old growth trees.  The new route turns into a hardwood forest with blueberry bushes and ferns.  Turn right and cross a gated dirt road.  The new route continues under beech trees, meanders through ferns with occasional spruce, passes an open area with rocks, and then veers left along a deer fence.  Leave the deer fence and enter another beautiful spruce and hemlock forest with a stream.  Cross another small stream and reach a fine view of a large wetland.  The new route then follows the state forest boundary to the pre-existing route of the trail.  The old route along Tannery Road has been abandoned.  The old Pinchot Trail south of the Choke Creek Nature Trail parking area along Tannery Road is now blazed yellow to allow for a dayhiking loop.

Choke Creek Re-route

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The fourth re-route along Choke Creek is the longest, most scenic, and the wildest.  Hiking clockwise (west) from Butler Run, the new route goes through a beautiful hemlock forest, meadow along Butler Run, and reaches a jeep road at a log bridge.  Cross the bridge and turn left on a well-established trail to gorgeous Choke Creek Falls.  The new route now goes upstream along beautiful Choke Creek, going through forests of spruce, pine, hemlock, and hardwoods.  There are blueberries bushes and meadows.  Enjoy some cascades and slides along Choke Creek.  Hike above a beaver dam and swamp and then reach a superb view of a large meadow with Choke Creek meandering through.  Leave Choke Creek and cross rocky areas with a diverse forest.  The new route then follows a scenic, small stream under a grove of hemlocks.  Return to the hardwoods with some rocky areas and fern meadows.  Descend back to Choke Creek with beautiful meadows and meandering streams.  Continue up along the creek with beautiful scenery, diverse forests, and cascades.  A spruce grove with a cascade is a particularly beautiful spot.  Huge pine trees rise over the trail.  Reach another cascade and slide with a pool.  The new route passes another fine view of a wetland under hemlocks, a beautiful spot.  Continue up along the creek with fine scenery.  The new route moves away from Choke Creek, goes through a spruce forest, and reaches the pre-existing route of the trail.  This re-route is very beautiful, well-blazed, and large brush has been removed, but low brush remains in places.  Over time a tread will be established as more people hike it.  The old route of the Pinchot Trail is blazed yellow, creating an excellent dayhiking loop.

Enjoy these new re-routes!

Photos of maps and scenery of the re-routes.

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Lost Mine, Boulder Caves, and the “Model T”- SGL 57

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Boulder Caves, SGL 57

Last month we returned to do a hike to the Lost Mine and the Boulder Caves in SGL 57.  In order to protect these places, I will not reveal their specific location.

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We parked at the parking area for the well-known mine and hiked an old grade over Red Brook, a mere trickle.  We followed a series of old trails and jeep roads into a hemlock forest where we turned left to look for the rumored remains on a Model T.  We hiked this trail out through beautiful, and at times wet, forests.  We reached a trail to the right so we hiked down that for a bit as it passed near a wetland with spruce and snowgrass.  It felt like wilderness.

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We retraced our steps and as we did we saw the “Model T”.  I’m not sure if that is what it actually was, but it was an old car of some type with some rusted metal decaying in the woods and a surprisingly small engine block.

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We then made our way to the Lost Mine, embedded among ledges and cliffs.  It almost appears to be a natural cave.  It is possible to go back into the cave, but the low ceiling will require you to stoop, and then crawl.  We didn’t venture very far back in.  Hopefully the bats are getting good use of it.

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Our hike continued along the escarpment to the east, passing chasms, huge boulders, and boulder cities.  A gradual climb brought us to the impressive Boulder Caves, where 40-50 foot boulders have separated created chasms, caves, and passageways.  It is a unique, wild place.  Moss and ferns draped over the rocks under a forest of hemlock and spruce.  After enjoying nature for a different perspective, from within the ground, surrounded by rock, we retraced our steps back to the car.

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More photos.

 

Wolf Run, Bowman Creek, Bean Run Loop-SGL 57

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View from Coyote Rocks over Bowman Creek

This 5ish mile loop in SGL 57 is a great hike that follows trails that are fairly well established.  The terrain is gradual, with some stream crossings that will be difficult in high water.  The trails do not have signs or blazes.  This isolated loop features superb streamside hiking, diverse forests, fern meadows, big rocks, and a great view.

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Begin at the parking area near Wolf Run, located at 41.352937, -76.194498. It is about 10.2 miles from Noxen.  Look across the road for a trail that goes into the woods; follow it.  It crosses Wolf Run and then proceeds upstream along Bowman Creek.  The scenery is excellent with pools, hemlocks, and rhododendrons.  Cross Bean Run and enter a deep hemlock forest.  Look for some metal bars across Bowman Creek; turn right here and leave the creek, following an old grade along a meadow with stone foundations.  Turn left on the next grade, and then right on another.  Climb up and this will bring you to the road.

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Follow the road to the right and hike it for .4 mile to Bean Run.  Do not cross the run.  Look for a trail on the left that enters the woods on a grade.  Follow it.  It goes up the grade above Bean Run for about .5 mile.  Turn right (if you continue straight, you will cross a creek and go too far).  The trail descends and crosses Bean Run.  The trail along Bean Run is very scenic as it enters a gorge lined with ledges and large angular boulders with some spruce trees.

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The trail curves right and ascends from Bean Run, meandering through the forest, a red marked trail joins from the left, but I’ve never hiked it.  Hike along scenic fern meadows and descend to near another stream, Wolf Run.  If you want to see the view, turn left at a small cairn and cross Wolf Run (if you begin to descend along Wolf Run, you went too far).  The side trail is about .5 mile and leads to a rock outcrop known as Coyote Rocks with views of Bowman Creek valley.  It is a fine view that feels isolated; it is also a great place to see the sunset.  Retrace your steps.

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Descend along Wolf Run which features some boulders.  The grade stays above the creek and descends to a meadow with pickers.  Work your way through and reach the road.  Turn left, cross Wolf Run, and reach your car.

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Much of this route is described in the White Gold Circuit hike in “Hiking the Endless Mountains”.

More photos.

Location of hike area on Google maps.

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