View over Little Fork Draft and Mix Run, Quehanna Wild Area, Elk State Forest
The Quehanna Wild Area is one of my favorite places, with its diverse scenery and habitats, isolation, wild elk, and numerous hiking trails. I recently spent a weekend camping in the wild area with Michael, Rick, Jodi, and her family. We base-camped along the Red Run Trail in a beautiful pine grove next to a cool spring. The wild area is not known for its vistas or waterfalls, but I suspected they were there, waiting to be discovered. So, we decided to find out. Our first hike was to explore the gorge of Little Fork Draft. This hike was completely off trail and is located in the Elk State Forest.
This gorge is located in the northern end of the wild area. We parked along Red Run Road where it crosses Little Fork Draft. While it may be tempting to hike up an old grade or forest road on the east side of the creek, it is best to head west on the road a little ways until you reach a grade blocked by rocks on the left. This grade climbs gradually and then enters an old meadow with apple trees, indicating it was once a homestead. Here, the grade faded away. We could see the tops of the mountains from the meadow.
From here, we hiked up along Little Fork Draft. We passed a small tributary on the left, which marked our return route. The draft was very beautiful with cascades and deep pools framed by mossy boulders. Tall trees rose above us, including many sizeable tulip poplar trees. We then crossed the creek below some large cascades over more giant boulders. The scenery was superb. Here, we took a break.
We made our way up the gorge, wading through nettle which was mostly withered from the end of summer. At the head of the gorge, where the two forks of Little Fork Draft meet, we took the left or east fork.
Here, the terrain became steeper. The creek bounced down large boulders. We soon entered a stunning glen of giant boulders creating an assortment of cascades and waterfalls. The tallest was about twenty feet. We even saw Cave Falls, a 12 foot falls the tumbles into a cave formed by boulders. Incredible.
We climbed our way up the glen, each of us impressed by the beauty. Cascading water surrounded us as the creek took a variety of routes between the giant boulders. House sized boulders loomed deep in the woods, often clothed in moss and ferns.
Above the glen of waterfalls was a grove of old growth trees with large maples, birches, and hemlocks. Our climb up the creek continued. The gradient eased and smaller cascades adorned the creek. We reached more large boulders and cascades and climbed out of the gorge to the top of the plateau. We headed north along the rim of the plateau. There was a marked difference between the wet hemlock and moss forest along the creek and the drier laurel and oak forest on the plateau.
We made our way through the mountain laurel, which was moderately thick. We tried to follow game and deer paths. As we proceeded north, the laurel became less thick. Our descent was marked by a nearby pipeline swath. We descended the ridge, passing large boulders including three that were stacked on each other. We descended the ridge, reaching a superb view up Little Fork Draft and its 1,000 foot deep gorge. Tiers of ridges descended into the gorge.
The descent continued and was a bit steep. We reached a second view, and the most impressive. It was a 180 degree view looking up Mix Run and a vast panorama of plateaus, gorges, and glens. Each of us were impressed. Quehanna is such a beautiful place.
Our off trail descent continued, and at times it was very steep. We switchbacked down to the tributary mentioned earlier, crossed Little Fork Draft, reached the meadow, and retraced our steps.
Little Fork Draft is a place of stunning, wild beauty. It illustrates the hidden wonders that lie within the vast Quehanna Wild Area. This is one the best hikes I’ve done, and will surely return.
Length: 6 mile loop
Difficulty: Very difficult. There are stream crossings and very steep terrain. Stinging nettle will be an issue in summer. This is an off trail hike with no blazes or signs.
Highlights: Excellent vistas, old growth trees, large boulders, cascades, waterfalls, isolation.
Parking: pull off parking at about 41.313528, -78.213757.