The goal of the 2020 Pennsylvania Environmental Council Virtual Public Lands Ride is 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.
Reeds Gap State Park/Bald Eagle State Forest
Nestled smack dab in the middle of the Ridges and Valleys region of central Pennsylvania, Bald Eagle State Forest offers up no shortage of climbing over its many northeast-southwest-running mountains. This route boasts five major climbs, all rewarded with sweeping vistas showcasing the layers of mountains characteristic of this area. The riding surface ranges from a couple longer stretches of pavement to chunky “driveable trail,” and the scenery from lush, dense forests to farmland and mountain tops to creekside. Bald Eagle never disappoints us, and we’re confident you’ll feel the same!
The route begins on pavement from Reeds Gap State Park on the eastern edge of the State Forest. The first few miles are rolling through rural “neighborhoods” and farmland. Keep staying right at each intersection as you loop around Thick Mountain and you’ll soon end up on gravel on Treaster Valley Rd., beginning a gradual climb. The true first climb begins after making a left onto Strongs Improvement Rd. around mile 10. Stay strong (get it?), keep those pedals turning, and you’ll soon be coasting down the other side into Havice Valley, where you’ll exit the forest again very briefly before beginning the single biggest climb of the day up Siglerville-Millheim Pike (or “S-M Pike” as it is known locally). This one is a doozy, gaining over 1,200 feet over three miles, but Big Valley Vista at the top is worth it, we promise. From this vantage point, you can see the classic central Pennsylvania dichotomy between the forested ridges to the northeast and the farmlands and in the distance, the town of Milroy, to the southwest.
The other side of this monster climb is a bit more gradual. Stay right at the intersection with Sand Mountain Rd. and then again onto the paved Poe Valley Rd. You’ll pass Poe Valley State Park and its lake and swimming area, then stay left onto Pine Swamp Rd. Partway up this climb, Chocolate Drop Vista will call to you from your right. Take a moment to appreciate the view of uninterrupted mountains and the one round knob in the center — the “chocolate drop.” Farther up the climb, the dirt road turns a reddish orange color, which stands out in stark contrast with the deep green of pine trees lining the road.
At the intersection with Poe Paddy Dr., a sign promising “views” doesn’t lie, as a mile or so down the road, Penns View offers up yet another gorgeous scene, and they just keep coming. Ingleby View and Raven’s Knob are both worth stops as well. Just past Raven’s Knob, the road turns very chunky and washed out, a delight for those who relish a bit of mountain biking with their gravel. For those that aren’t into the chunk, just take it slow and know that it doesn’t last that long.
At the bottom of the descent, Poe Paddy State Park offers a mid-ride water stop in the form of a spigot behind the restroom. Take a moment to refill bottles if you need and then head out on Tunnel Spur Rd. After just under a mile, you’ll make a right onto the Penns Creek Rail Trail, cross Penns Creek, and go through a tunnel. The tunnel has been improved from years past, when the trail surface inside was bumpy and rough. Now, it’s all paved with concrete so it’s smooth rolling. The tunnel itself is slightly curved so it can be disorienting, but it’s not long and you can always see a light at the other end.
The rail trail parallels the stream for a few miles, then turns into Winter Rd. You’ll stay straight as the road turns from gravel into pavement and provides a relatively-flat respite from climbing until you enter the village of Weikert. Take this time to snack, drink and spin those legs out before the impending climbs.
In Weikert, turn right onto White Mountain Rd. and in about another mile, make another right onto Weikert Run Rd. The climb is very gradual until a left turn onto Hoofnagle Rd., when it gets increasingly steeper throughout its ascent. In this section of the forests, the mountains are layered so closely together that there aren’t many vistas — there’s just more mountains. The reward for the Hoofnagle climb is a gradual descent down Hunter Rd. through a cool deciduous forest. At the intersection with Short Mountain Rd., make a right for a quick climb to the top of Short Mountain, then another descent along a moss-lined stream to Snyder-Middleswarth Natural Area.
A right turn on Swift Run Rd. begins the last big climb of the day. Snyder-Middleswarth Natural Area has several picnic areas and hiking trails, so you’re likely to see others out enjoying the day. There is also a spring on the left side of the road across from one of the picnic areas if you need to fill up on water again. Settle in for about three miles of climbing and enjoy the streamside views. At the top, you’ll stay straight on Knob Ridge Rd. as it turns from gravel into a chunky dirt road. Some sections tend to be perpetually wet, so you might get some late ride mud splatter. A quick climb brings you out to Red Ridge Rd. for the final descent and then a 6-mile, trending-downhill flat stretch of pavement to bring you home to Reeds Gap.
In The Area
Mountain bikers may want to bring two bikes (or the one to rule them all!) and check out trails from the Sand Mountain Trailhead in the southwestern corner of Bald Eagle or the Coopers Gap section of Rothrock State Forest, both of which are only a short drive from Reeds Gap. Great hiking can be found at Snyder-Middleswarth Natural Area or sections of the Mid-State that pass through Poe Valley and Poe Paddy, but for the most part, longer hiking loops utilize the plethora of gravel roads for connectivity. Poe Valley State Park offers swimming and non-motorized boating opportunities. Burham and Lewistown are a short drive away from Reeds Gap for any grocery needs, as well as additional food and beverage options. For outdoor creekside beers and occasional socially-distanced live music events, check out Elk Creek Cafe in Millheim.
Where to Stay
Reeds Gap State Park offers tent-only camping and a bathroom, but no showers. Also along the route, Poe Valley State Park has both tent and RV sites, with modern bathrooms and warm showers, as well as camping cottages. Poe Paddy State Park, just down the road, offers tent and RV camping as well as two Adirondack-style lean-tos available for rent. For a more primitive and remote experience, check out a number of the State Forest Motorized Campsites that are along the route (more info and a map here). If camping isn’t for you, there are a number of Airbnbs in the Millheim area, just a quick drive from the forest.
Get the map!
For alternate route options and additional exploring in the area, grab the Purple Lizard Maps Bald Eagle State Forest map.