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.
R.B. Winter State Park/Bald Eagle State Forest
At a touch under 54 miles with almost 6,000 feet of climbing, this route through Bald Eagle State Forest highlights the terrain of PA’s ridge and valley landscape (read: lots of uphill! And downhill!). The ride explores the area of the forest north of Raymond B. Winter State Park, home to some great camping and one of the coldest spring-fed lakes you’ll come across, making for a refreshing post-ride dip. Bring your climbing legs along and get ready for a tough but rewarding day in the saddle, full of vistas, forested creekside gravel roads, and a very remote feel for most of the day. The roads in this region are a mix of fairly smooth gravel and clay, with minimal chunk.
The ride starts from the back of the parking lot off of Sand Mountain Rd., which is referred to as the Mountain Bike Trailhead, denoted by a kiosk with a map to the trail network. Leaving the parking lot, turn right on Sand Mountain Rd. and start the gradual climb up to Cooper Mill Rd., where you’ll make a hard left and start descending. Just as you start to head downhill, the first of many vistas will open up on your right. Each vista is a great excuse to take a break and enjoy yourself!
Not too much further down the hill, stay right on Spruce Run Rd. and keep the stream to your left as you continue a gradual descent. These three miles will be an opportunity to really open up and go fast, but don’t forget to take a look around and enjoy the gorgeous, wooded stream valley. And, don’t miss your turn onto Running Gap Rd. at mile 9.2 of the ride. Another climb awaits as you start heading north towards I-80. One big switchback will tell you that you’re about halfway up the climb. There’s no sweeping vista at the top of this one, just a trailhead for Top Mountain Trail and Nittany Mountain Road, which is a “driveable trail” that heads out the mountain for a few miles before dead-ending at “Catharine’s Crown” and the eastern edge of the state forest. Immediately, you will begin descending again. The mountains are so close together here that there are no true “valleys” to speak of, just narrow steam gorges followed by these beautiful gravel roads, giving this area a very remote feeling.
The next turn will be a sharp right onto White Deer Creek Rd., which will follow White Deer Creek down to Sugar Valley Narrows Rd. and a short, but noisy section paralleling I-80. After a short stretch on Sugar Valley Narrows Rd., the route turns left and goes under I-80 on Mile Run Rd. Although there is a highway interchange here, there are no services and the road surface is gravel, so the few cars you are likely to encounter are not driving at high speeds. Mile Run Rd climbs away from I-80 steadily, leaving the noise and the bustle quickly. This is good news, because this climb provides all the suffering you’ll need, gaining about 700 feet over about a mile and half, before rolling across the top of the ridge.
The next turn is a right onto Third Gap Rd., taking you north again and descending into another valley with another great view just after the start down. Stay left onto Fourth Gap Rd. and then right onto Gap Rd., which becomes a degraded paved road for a bit. I know, these names are really original, right? At the bottom of a descent, turn left onto Cove Rd., and shortly thereafter make another left onto Walters Rd., one of the great little-used climbs in the forest. The surface is a bit rough, so pick your line going up, especially in the corners, but the trade off is the solitude. You’ll have plenty of time to yourself as you gain 800 feet in just over 2 miles, switchbacking many times along the way. At the top of Walters Rd, stay left down Yarison Rd., beginning the trek back towards R.B. Winter.
At the bottom of Yarison, the route turns right onto Fourth Gap Rd. again for a short stretch before a quick left onto Pipeline Rd. You’ll exit the forest land very briefly here and notice a few houses in the area, but the remote vibes will return very shortly. At the end of Pipeline, turn left onto Mohn Mill Rd. and continue descending. At the intersection of Mohn Mill and East Run, notice the really neat rock formations off on the left. The climb up East Run Rd. features yet another idyllic creek view, just par for the course in these parts. You’ll eventually arrive back at an intersection you saw earlier in the day. This time, turn right onto Pine Flat Rd. and continue climbing, of course. For once, this road will give you a short section of flat (relatively speaking) pedaling before beginning the next descent. It also features a more open landscape than much of the rest of this route, more reminiscent of the scenery in Moshannon State Forest (see the two PLR routes we’ve put together up there!).
Pine Flat features two different climbs, so after the first descent you will immediately begin to head uphill again, but not for long. The longest climbs of the day are over. At the bottom of Pine Flat, turn left on the paved White Deer Pike and cross over I-80 on a bridge. Just after the crossing, you will turn right onto Garden Hollow Rd., then make an immediate left onto Cooper Mill Rd. You’ll see the Mid-State Trail off to your right — it traverses all these ridges and valleys as well as it makes its way north towards the New York border. You’ll climb briefly and then descend down to White Deer Creek Rd., where you’ll turn right. At this point, if you’ve decided that you had enough, it’s not far back to R.B. Winter, but the official route turns right onto Garden Hollow Rd. again and climbs up Nittany Mountain yet another time. At the top, make a left onto Breon Rd., which undulates to McCall Dam Rd. Turn left, climb, climb, climb for a bit, stay right on Engle Rd. and you’ll hit Black Gap Vista at the top.
Stay on Engle Rd. to Tunis Rd., where you will turn left and gradually climb for about another mile. At the top of this one, you are officially done with climbs for the day! Descend Tunis Rd. to Rt. 192 and cruise some trending-downhill pavement for the last mile or so back to the park.
In The Area
Mountain bikers who are into technical, rocky terrain may want to bring two bikes and check out the trails around R.B. Winter State Park. There are also plenty of hiking opportunities, from the same multi-use trails that are open to mountain bikes to sections of the Mid-State Trail and other hiking-only paths around the state park. The Hook Natural Area is close by and a neat spot to explore on foot. If you’re looking for an easy day before or after the big ride, the Buffalo Valley Rail Trail connects Mifflinburg to Lewisburg and is a nice 9-mile (one way) jaunt. Both towns also offer food and libation options, including Rusty Rail Brewery just off the rail trail in Mifflinburg. To the north, the Pine Creek Rail Trail beginning in Jersey Shore, PA offers a longer flat riding opportunity (62 miles one way!).
Where to Stay
R.B. Winter State Park has a large campground with tent and RV sites, modern bathrooms and warm showers. There are also several cottages available for rent. Ravensburg State Park is nearby the route on the northern end and offers a smaller campground for tents-only. If you want more solitude and don’t mind primitive camping, a multitude of state forest motorized campsites are available to use for free, but you do need to reserve a permit (more info here). If camping isn’t your thing, there are lodging options in Mifflinburg and Lewisburg, about a 20-minute drive away.
Get the map!
For alternate route options and additional exploring in the area, grab the Purple Lizard Maps Bald Eagle State Forest map.