Public Lands Rides: a Return to Moshannon State Forest

The 2020 Pennsylvania Environmental Council Public Lands Ride seeks to showcase state parks and forests across the greater central region of the state. Throughout the month of September, cyclists are encouraged to ride as many of the suggested routes as possible and share their experiences on social media for a chance to win swag from one of our partners. You can find more details about this virtual event here, and stay tuned for more route descriptions to be published throughout the summer. 

Black Moshannon State Park/Moshannon State Forest


Site of the inaugural Public Lands Ride event in 2019, the section of Moshannon State Forest surrounding Black Moshannon State Parks offers rolling terrain and a more open plateau landscape that is a contrast to the ridge and valley terrain just to its east. This route combines scenic gravel forest roads with a taste of the rugged Snow Shoe Rail Trail and paved rural back roads for a variety of surfaces and experiences throughout its length. The word “Moshannon” was derived from the Seneca word “Mosse-Hanne,” meaning “moose stream.”


The gorgeous, big lake at Black Moshannon is just one of many highlights of the area.


Route Description

The ride begins at Black Moshannon State Park, where the beach area offers water and restrooms for pre-and-post-ride needs. You’ll start out on pavement, heading across Rt. 504 and traveling southeast on Beaver Rd. along the lake. Notice the tea-colored water — this is caused by the tannins in sphagnum moss and other wetland plants and is the origin of the “black” portion of the area’s name.

The first few flat miles offer a nice and easy warm up spin. You’ll go across a bridge with sprawling views of the lake and a plethora of water plants, and pass several trailheads, picnic areas and the group camping area before making a right hand turn onto Strawband Beaver Rd. Stay left again on Shirks Rd. as you gradually climb, then descend towards Clay Mine Rd. Though you won’t be able to see it from the road, not too far off to your right is the Mid-State Regional Airport, which used to run commuter flights but is now only used for private planes and as a forest fire attack base for DCNR. A mix of woods and open areas turns into a coniferous forest on Clay Mine Rd., where you will turn right yet again and continue downhill. 

Head left across the bridge at the end of Clay Mine Rd., crossing Six Mile Run and intersecting with its namesake road. The entirety of Six Mile is a gorgeous, gradual climb up the stream valley. You’ll only do the top three quarters of it on this route as bridge construction this fall prevents access to the bottom of the road from the park, but will still hit highlights such as Wolf Rocks. This rock outcropping is just off the road to your left, in a sharp right hand turn and just after passing a camp with the name Wolf Rocks (the sign will be obvious). Use the Allegheny Front Trail (just past the rocks to the left) to hike up and check them out if you’d like. One of the most curious things about this natural feature is the huge piles of animal droppings at the entrances to little caves below the rocks. Don’t stick your head in the holes!

Wolf Rocks, and the piles of animal scat surrounding them.


Shortly after passing Wolf Rocks, you’ll come to an intersection. Stay straight as Six Mile Run Rd. turns into Nason Rd., and the climb becomes a little steeper. You’ll emerge from the dense forest into an open plateau landscape near the top, where you’ll make a left onto Strawband Beaver Rd. Strawband Beaver undulates all the way back to Beaver Rd., where this little loop began. But before reaching the pavement, the route heads right up Beaver Meadow Rd. 

Beaver Meadow Rd. serves as an access for a couple of camps before the “road” portion peters out into a grassy snowmobile trail that crosses the paved Beaver Rd. Here, you can either cross the road and keep following the snowmobile trail just a little farther until you get to an intersection, where you’ll turn right to end up on Underwood Rd. Alternatively, you can make a right on Beaver Rd. and pedal the pavement a very short distance to the large parking lot at the gravel road entrance. Underwood Rd. undulates for about three miles, trending upwards towards the ride’s high point at 2,400 feet — the top of Rt. 504. From here you’ll make a right on the paved road and head downhill for just over a mile. 


Fields of wildflowers on Beaver Meadow Rd.


Before Rt. 504 truly drops off the plateau, you’ll want to turn left onto Governer’s Rd., labeled on some maps (including RideWithGPS) as Snow Shoe Rd. This road is a true gem, with nearly nine miles of trending-downhill terrain at the very edge of the Allegheny Front. The edge of the plateau drops steeply to the right, but the forest cover softens the terrain and eliminates the exposure factor. Relax and enjoy some easy pedaling for a bit.

Governor’s Rd. dumps out on Rt. 144. Turn left and you’ll almost immediately cross over Rt. 80. You’ll be on Rt. 144 for just over two miles before a right hand turn onto Fountain Rd. A series of rural back roads will lead you into the small town of Clarence, where you’ll make a quick right then left off of Pancake Rd. to hop on the Snow Shoe Rail Trail. 

The Snow Shoe isn’t necessarily what you picture when you think of a typical rail trail. It’s largely unimproved, with the rail ballast still intact in some sections, making for a chunky ride. But a lot of the trail has been packed down by use, much of which is by ATVs and UTVs (which are completely legal to ride on this trail). You’ll snake along the rail trail for about 9 miles, past rocky outcroppings and along small streams, before hopping off at the Gorton Trailhead. The road here is chunky and crosses a small stream without a bridge, so depending on water levels your feet might get a little wet. In the summer and fall it is usually pretty dry, unless there have been lots of recent big rains. 


You might get your feet a little wet at this stream crossing on Gorton Rd.


You’ll pass under I-80 next to Black Moshannon Creek, then stay left as the road splits and begin climbing up Tram Rd. This is the biggest climb of the day. It starts out pretty steep for the first mile, then becomes more gradual and rolling, but the entirety of the climb is 7 miles long. Don’t be fooled by the short downhill respite in the middle! Settle in and spin along, taking time to admire the scenery — a vista overlooking the small towns to the northwest, fields of ferns, and a cool forested creek valley. 


This vista on Tram Rd. offers a nice excuse to take a break from climbing.


Just before reaching Rt. 504, you’ll make a right onto a snowmobile trail called Ridge Trail. It’s grassy doubletrack, and will climb steeply for the first couple hundred feet but then level out. There are a couple steeper rollers as it makes its way back towards the park, but nothing too long. You’ll continue to have some nice views of lower parts of the plateau off to your right, so take your time and just enjoy the ride. At Benner Run Rd., you’ll turn right and begin descending. There’s a little kicker in the middle of the descent, but once you reach the top of that, it’s all down, down, down. At the bottom, stay left and cruise the last two miles of flat gravel back to the parking lot.


Ferns abound on this stretch of Tram Rd.


In The Area

Black Moshannon State Park has numerous opportunities for outdoor activities. The “double-fingered,” 250-acre lake is interesting to explore by canoe, kayak or paddleboard as it is rife with aquatic flora. There’s a beach at the park for swimming as well. There are plenty of hiking options ranging from quick two-mile loops to the 42-mile Allegheny Front Trail (AFT), which circumnavigates the park and lake in a big loop and is a popular backpacking destination. Side trails allow for shorter loops for day hikes using sections of the AFT.

The closest town is Philipsburg, about 9 miles west on Rt. 504. It has some food and drink options as well as a grocery store and all basic amenities. The larger town of State College is about a half hour away to the southeast and Clearfield is about the same distance to the northwest. 


Where to Stay

Black Moshannon State Park offers a multitude of camping options, from tent and RV sites to rustic cabins to modern cabins and deluxe cottages. The campground has electric hookups and modern bathrooms with hot showers. The modern cabins have their own bathrooms, while the rustic cabins and cottages have a shared bathroom and showers. There is also an organized group tenting area available for rent featuring a pavilion and its own bathroom (flush toilets but no showers). There are also a number of hotels in Philipsburg, Clearfield and State College, as well as Airbnbs in the area. 


The Route:

Get the map! 

For alternate route options and additional exploring in the area, grab the Purple Lizard Maps Moshannon/Quehanna Map!


Support the Parks: While there is no registration fee to go ride, we do encourage donations to the Friends of Black Moshannon