Pictured above: Overlooking Pine Creek Gorge from Leonard Harrison State Park
Trails of all kinds are near and dear to our hearts here at the Pennsylvania Environmental Council. So what better way to celebrate Trails Month this September than with trail recommendations from our own staff? Pennsylvania is known for its diversity of landscapes and endless outdoor recreation opportunities. The trails we’re highlighting this month illustrate that diversity, from paths through urban parks to remote trails in state forests. No matter where you are or what kind of outdoor activity you enjoy, hopefully these recommendations will inspire you to try out a new trail!
If you’re looking for even more ways to enjoy our public lands in Pennsylvania, join us on September 17th for the 2022 Public Lands Ride, a non-competitive gravel riding event in Black Moshannon State Park.
Warren Zevon summed it all up when he said ‘Enjoy every sandwich.’ I do my best to apply this perspective to just about everything, so when I was asked to name my favorite trail, I knew I’d have a Dickens of time…and I have. It wasn’t easy, but here’s my candidate for favorite trail:
All of the 30+ miles of the Trails at Jakes Rocks are great. The trail system is perched above the Allegheny Reservoir in the Allegheny National Forest. Just driving up to the trailhead is a memorable experience as you catch slivers of the reservoir through pockets of trees. The Trails are designed specifically for mountain biking. Riders of all skill levels find themselves constantly engaged and enveloped in the landscape as they flow by verdant ferns and pronounced boulders. Out of all the Trails at Jakes Rocks, Ursus is my favorite. It’s a fast, 1.1-mile descent full of drops and rollers, tight squeezes, and big ol’ grins. It’s also incredibly well marked, so you know exactly where you are at every turn. The trails are close to the Warren, where riders can find lodging, plenty of spots to refuel, and gear from Allegheny Outfitters.
The Quebec Run Wild Area is a quiet spot in the southern segment of Forbes State Forest with a network of trails that you can put together for a short day hike or a nice overnight backpack. Getting to the Mill Run Trail, which follows Quebec Run for a while, requires a good bit of rocky downhill (and uphill to get back out) no matter what length of hike you choose, but there are plenty of places to rest by the stream that make this a lovely spot. I did a backpacking overnight on the 11-mile “Outer Loop” which picks up pieces of 4 different trails, and I loved it despite a significant downpour. A mid-summer jaunt through this place will bring you plenty of the PA nature you love – no shortage of mushrooms, wildflowers, and red efts (juvenile Eastern Newts).
My favorite trails are in Philadelphia’s Wissahickon Valley Park. Easily accessible by car or by bike, the Wissahickon offers a much-needed escape from the sights, sounds, and smells of the city all year long. From the gravel of Forbidden Drive to the roots and stones of the Orange, Yellow, and White trails to the smooth asphalt of the Wissahickon Bikeway, the Wissahickon has it all.
Right now, my favorite trail where PEC is working is the Chester Waterfront Trail (aka Riverfront Trail) in Chester, PA (Delaware County). It runs alongside the river and past Subaru Stadium, where the Philadelphia Union soccer team plays. It’s immediately adjacent to the water; when you’re there you just feel so close to the river – it’s so accessible. There’s even a little beach where you can walk right up to the water (when the tide is out), which feels like it’s too good to be true. It feels like a space that would be fenced off by a city for fear of liability, but it’s not! That makes it feel extra special.
One of my favorite local trails is probably the Bear Creek Preserve. The network of trails is super expansive and there’s a lot of opportunities for exploration. There’s something especially beautiful about every season there: the autumn brings changing leaves and plenty of colorful mushrooms, the streams, river, and waterfalls enable visitors to capture the beauty of snow and ice in winter, the rhododendrons bloom in the spring, and cool, shaded trails are relaxing to hike on even the hottest days. Great spot!
This 6-mile trail climbs the Allegheny Front from Bellwood, PA (between Tyrone and Altoona) and offers a bit more adventure than your average rail-trail. It starts out smooth for the first couple miles and then turns into a grassy and sometimes rocky path. It climbs steadily for its length, gaining almost 1,000 feet, but it’s a nice gradual climb, and coming back down is lots of fun! If you’re hungry for more, you can connect to gravel roads in State Game Lands 158 and 108 on top of the mountain. I love this trail because it offers a lot of variety and options for other loops off of it to explore. Check out the Bells Gap Trail and other Trans Alleghenies Trails here.
There’s no better way to experience the “Pennsylvania Grand Canyon” than a ride on the Pine Creek Rail Trail in north central PA. Flanked by state park and forest lands, the thousand-foot-deep Pine Creek Gorge is the unmistakable highlight of the route as it winds from Wellsboro, Tioga County, to Jersey Shore and the West Branch Susquehanna River. As a longer-distance bike ride, Pine Creek is right up there with the GAP and the D&L when it comes to scenic views and an idyllic natural setting, and comparably accessible to families and riders of all abilities. But unlike those deservedly popular (and sometimes crowded) destination trails, the landscape the PCRT traverses is wilder and less densely populated — and at 62 flat-to-gently-sloping miles, it’s an easy single day’s ride. Just plan to bring food and water, as modern conveniences may be few and far between.