Public Lands Rides: Gorge Yourself in 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.

Parker Dam State Park/Moshannon State Forest

This 53-mile route begins and ends at Parker Dam State Park, which offers camping, a lake and beach area, boat rentals, opportunities to hike and mountain bike, and historical landmarks within its 968 acres. The route takes riders into the northwestern corner of Moshannon State Forest in northern Clearfield and Elk counties and offers myriad landscapes, from boulder-filled, rhododendron-lined gorges forged by rushing streams to upland bogs surrounded by evergreens that give the landscape a northern feel. Most of the roads are fairly smooth, packed gravel, with the exception of a few miles of grassy doubletrack and a mile or two of pavement.

Rolling, smooth gravel is typical for most of this ride.

Route Description
Leave the eastern end of the park on the gated Fairview Rd., climbing gradually to the top of the plateau, where short rolling hills dominate the terrain for the first half of the ride. Around mile 7.5, you’ll come across the Wallace Sphagnum Bog, which, despite its name, is not a true sphagnum bog but instead a wetland that has been altered over time by humans and animals. Logging activity and a railroad that was formerly used to remove lumber from the region, and well as the natural habits of beavers, have raised the water levels, killing many of the trees that used to inhabit the wetland. But the snags now provide habitat for many bird species, and this bog is a popular spot for birdwatching enthusiasts.

This section of pines on McGeorge Road is “McGorgeous!”

Ames Rd. and Merrill Rd. provide a couple short descents and climbs into and out of small stream valleys before reaching the high point of the ride at the top of Wilson Switch Rd. After turning right onto Ginger Whiskey Rd., take note of the curious, somewhat amusing sign. Most of Ginger Whiskey is on State Game Lands and is a grassy doubletrack that trends in a rolling downward direction to Jack Dent Rd. After a fast descent on the Quehanna Highway (despite its name, it’s not a busy road), make a hard left at the bottom on Medix Run Rd. and begin a gradual climb that follows a babbling brook nestled in a cool, shady gorge. There are a number of campsites along the road here, a good spot to file in the memory bank for a future bikepacking trip.

Towards the end of Medix Run, the grade becomes a little steeper, especially after a sharp right onto Shaggers Inn Rd., which will bring you back to the top of the plateau. Take a quick detour and a break at Shaggers Inn Dam, a lake that provides one of the only nesting locations for osprey in the central part of the state. Keep your eyes peeled for these raptors — you may even get to see one catch a fish!

From Shaggers Inn Dam, a few miles on Caledonia Pike headed northward provides more rolling plateau landscapes before beginning a grin-inducing descent down Saunders Rd., through another gorge full of boulders and rhododendrons. You’ll pass into Elk County briefly and, as the name suggests, this area of Moshannon State Forest is within the range of the Pennsylvania elk herd.

A quick dip into Elk County at the northernmost section of this ride.

After crossing a bridge over Laurel Run, Saunders Rd. turns into Blackwell Rd. and begins to climb again, undulating through a few quick punchy climbs and descents on its way to Moose Grade Rd. for one final gradual climb of the day. You’ll finish with a mile of pavement on Mud Run Rd. that trends downhill back to Parker Dam.

Rhododendrons and big boulders make for a scenic descent down Saunders Rd.

In The Area
You’ll likely notice the Quehanna Trail crossing the road many times throughout this route. This 75-mile, very rugged and remote hiking path loops through the northwestern section of Moshannon State Forest and into Quehanna Wild Area, officially beginning and ending at Parker Dam State Park.

Just to the east of this route is Quehanna Wild Area, the largest wild area in Pennsylvania. You may notice on maps that it looks like a perfect circle. The 16-sided polygon that is now the border of the Wild Area used to be fenced in, and in the center, jet engines were strapped down and left to run for hours, even days. The engineers testing the engines figured that if one “got away,” it wouldn’t be able to escape this polygon. Inside the Wild Area, a rich and unusual history abounds, and it’s worth a side trip to explore on bike or foot if you have extra time while in the region. Highlights to check out include Kunes Camp, the bat bunkers and the site of a former nuclear reactor, all within a relatively short hike’s distance from the Quehanna Highway.

To the north, Benezette offers several elk viewing areas as well as a gas station, cafe, small shops and the Elk Country Visitor Center.

The closest major town is Dubois, which offers grocery stores and plenty of places to eat and drink.

Red Eft

Where to Stay
Parker Dam State Park offers both tent and RV camping and rustic cabins. Just down the road, Simon B. Elliott State Park has 25 campsites as well. For a more remote and isolated experience, there are also the primitive campsites along Medix Run Rd., which need to be reserved in advance by calling the district office but are free. There are also a number of hotels in Dubois.

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 Parker Dam State Park.