Off the Beaten Track

Helena Kotala, Mapping Coordinator

This September, cyclists will gather at Black Moshannon State Park for the first Public Lands Ride, presented by the Pennsylvania Environmental Council. The ride is a non-competitive event, and two different distances offer options to a variety of abilities and experience levels.

Its purpose is to draw attention to some of the Commonwealth’s fantastic public lands, especially those that may be less familiar to cyclists. In the central part of the state, Rothrock State Forest is well-known for its many popular mountain bike and trail running races, and its proximity to the booming university town of State College make it an easy escape to the woods. Moshannon State Forest is a lesser-known gem.

Grassy snowmobile trails near the end of the long course mix up the scenery and terrain. (photo: Helena Kotala)

While the Black Moshannon State Park lake and beach area draw crowds in the summer, and miles of snowmobile trails and a slightly colder climate than surrounding areas draw winter enthusiasts, the majority of the forest as a whole is a less-explored public resource. We hope to change that by introducing riders to a few of the forest’s most attractive features.

Gravel is Great

Miles of gravel roads in particular are excellent for bike riding, with mostly gradual (though sometimes long) climbs and a varied landscape. In the non-winter months, the snowmobile trails double as excellent bike trails. These are grassy with a few rocks here and there, but are not technical and offer some varied terrain to gravel bike riders or beginner mountain bikers. The Public Lands Ride will show off all of these assets with a mix of both gravel roads and snowmobile trails.

The fast and swoopy descent down Casanova Road is sure to elicit childlike grins of delight…

The 26-mile route features more gravel, with just a small taste of the rougher, grassy trails at the end, while the 58-mile option gets a bit more adventurous on a variety of surfaces.

A fast descent down Casanova Road is one of the only paved sections of the course.

Both courses share the first 26 miles, which starts out on a flat gravel road along Benner Run before starting a brief but fairly steep climb. This will give riders a chance to spread out before a short thrill ride down Casanova Road, one of the only paved sections of the course. The fast and swoopy descent is sure to elicit childlike grins of delight as the road drops to the course’s lowest point of the day around 1,350 feet.

Well-Earned Views

What goes down must go up, of course, but the climb up Six Mile Run is mellow as climbs go, and great scenery keeps the mind occupied as the legs are spinning. The gradual grade follows a small stream amidst hemlock groves, past the historical remnants of Old Plumbe Forge and several CCC camps, and through Wolf Rocks, an interesting rock outcropping next to the road.

Beaver Meadow Trail around mile 20 opens up into a wildflower-filled field. (photo: Evan Gross)

Riders can refuel around mile 14 before the steepest part of the climb, which is rewarded with views from the top of the plateau as the rolling Strawband Beaver Road begins the loop back towards the park. But those 26 miles aren’t over yet! The wildflowers on Beaver Meadow Trail are sure to delight, and there’s another short climb to be had before a grassy descent back to the beach. Here, 26-mile riders will finish, while 58-milers can grab refreshments at the second aid station before heading back out.

Going the Extra Mile(s)

The first mile or so of the second loop are the same as the very beginning of the ride, but this time, there’s a longer climb to be had, all the way up to the highest point of the course at almost 2500 feet. Not to worry, though: your efforts will be rewarded with a fantastic 7-mile descent down Tram Road, including a spectacular vista midway down.

A long, gradual descent down Tram Road is sure to be a highlight of the 58-mile course. (photo: Evan Gross)

The final aid station of the day at mile 40 will be situated at the bottom of the descent near the Red Moshannon River, just in time to fuel riders up before — you guessed it — another climb. Meyers Run Road will bring folks back to a familiar spot on the course as it overlaps with a section from the first loop, but it soon splits onto the longest chunk of snowmobile trail for the day. For about 5 miles, the going will be slow and tough, so embrace it, take a look around, and enjoy the varied terrain.

There’s no shame in walking!

A couple of fairly short but very steep climbs will test even the hardiest of riders (there’s no shame in walking!), but once this section is over, the rest of the ride is mellow and smooth sailing, including a home stretch on pavement with gorgeous views of the lake and bog. At the finish, celebrate with your friends and enjoy a hard-earned meal!

We hope you’ll join us on September 28 to celebrate Pennsylvania’s Public Lands and enjoy a day cycling through Black Moshannon State Park and Moshannon State Forest!

More details can be found here.