Experience the Trails of Pennsylvania

Rock Run Trails North Loop: Finishing the Rock Run Trails

Using a number of forest roads and side trails, the AFT lends it self to circuit hikes that can be done as a day hike. One such circuit hike is the Rock Run Trail. This trail is located along the northeast section of the AFT and is arranged in a figure eight double loop. With a number of options for different trailheads and the two loops, day hikes can range anywhere from five miles to thirteen miles in length. Having previously done the south loop, my goal for this hike was to finish the Rock Run trails by hiking the north loop.

Trailhead: N 40° 57.66'
W 78° 00.17'
Total Elevation: 993'
Trail Length: 5.4 miles
Hike Time: 3.5 hours
Hike Type: Loop
Difficulty Rating: 74
Near: Off route PA504 near
Black Moshannon State Park.

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The trailhead for this hike is definitely off of the beaten path. You will need to make your way to route PA504, also known as Rattlesnake Pike, which is off of alternate route US220. If you live locally, you can probably find your way to PA504. If you don't live locally, the best way to get here is to get on route I80. Regardless if you are traveling east or west on route I80, you will want to get off at exit 158. Once you exit, head south on alternate route US220/PA150. Route PA150 will leave to your right as the road then merges with route PA144. Continue on, heading south, and in a short while route PA144 will leave to your right as well. Keep on driving straight until you have traveled 6.8 miles since you exit I80 and bear right onto route PA504. Continue on PA504 for another 7.2 miles (14 miles from I80) and you will see a dirt parking area with an Allegheny Front Trail sign posted here. At the back of the parking area you will see a dirt forest road heading back into the woods. This road is called Tram Road and get's pretty rough after you cross Benner Run. If you venture down this road in the winter or after a heavy rain, I strongly recommend a four wheel drive vehicle. Drive down Tram Road for 3.8 miles where the Allegheny Front Trail crosses the road, marked by orange blazes and a trail sign post. There is an area where you can pull of the road and park you vehicle about 100 feet past the trail intersection.

Even though it was only September 11th, it definitely felt like fall. On the way up to the trailhead it was spitting rain and with the overcast skies, it just wasn't all that cheerful; gave me second thoughts as to why I was even heading out to do this hike. However, once I got on the trail, got my blood flowing, I quickly warmed up and was glad to be in the quiet, serene woods.

One of the purposes for this hike, aside for just wanting to enjoy the outdoors, was to scout some of our campsites for our hike of the entire AFT at the end of September. One of the campsites was to be along Rock Run. However, during a previous hike I found that there wasn't a campsite where Ridge Trail met up with the Junction Trail. I did see on a topographical map that there may be a place for a campsite at the intersection of the AFT and Ridge Trail, near the headwaters of the West Branch of Rock Run.

From my car I hiked back the AFT and came upon the intersection with the trails of Rock Run at about 0.3 miles. There was a small fire ring here, but I didn't recall crossing a stream. There was one section that looked like water had flown down the trail because the leaves were washed away. But that must have happened after a downpour because now there wasn't any water flowing.

At this intersection I turned left and traveled the blue blazed Ridge Trail. At 0.8 miles into my hike, about a half mile from the intersection with the AFT, I came upon the West Branch of Rock Run. At this point is was flowing swiftly, and was about 3 feet wide. I made a waypoint on my GPS for this location, because it did look like a nice place to build a campsite.

For the next 1.2 miles I followed the West Branch of Rock Run, make a gradual descent on an old railroad grade, staying on its west bank. Since this is a hilly area, and I was on a railroad grade, I did come across some switchbacks on this section of the trail. The first switchback was encountered at about 1.3 miles. The next switchback, if you want to call it that, was encountered at 1.75 miles. When I got to this second switchback, I realized that this trail was blazed for cross country skiers. This switchback was so gentle that I hiked parallel to the switchback, only 10 feet or so to my right, for about 0.1 miles. I could have easily taken a short cut of about 25 feet and a descent of only 10 feet or so and shaved a quarter mile off of my hike.

At 2 miles into the hike I crossed the West Branch of Rock Run and continued on a flat railroad grade. On this section of the trail the railroad grade was built up in places with piles of rocks. Unlike the rock railroad grades that I had encountered in Detweiler Run area, this railroad bed was level and smooth on top.

I crossed Rock Run proper at 2.4 miles. I'm not sure where the Ridge Trail changes its name to the Valley Trail, but I think it is safe to assume that once I crossed Rock Run I was now on the Valley Trail. I hiked along this trail, keeping to the east of Rock Run, for about 1.7 miles. At 3.9 miles into the hike I met up with the Junction Trail that made the connector for the figure eight loops of Rock Run. I had hiked this trail twice before and soon found myself back on the west bank of Rock Run at the intersection of Junction Trail, Ridge Trail, and the Headwater Trail. It was at this junction that we are planning on setting up camp during our AFT hike, even though there isn't an existing campsite here now.

Now being 4.1 miles into the hike, I beared right on Ridge Trail, also part of the AFT, and began my first real ascent of the hike. I had a gradual climb when I was hiking the Valley Trail, but it wasn't noticeable. Though it wasn't a killer climb by any means, the ascent was about 200 feet in a half mile. Not too bad for being on top of a plateau.

As I approached the intersection where the AFT leaves the Rock Run trails and heads back to my car, I encountered two deer. One took off to my left, through the woods, but the other continued straight, running down the trail. I slowed my pace and pulled out my camera, hoping to get a good picture of him. I found that it is very difficult to sneak up on a deer and every time I got close he took off. I was able to get within 300 feet of him and tried to take his picture. After reviewing the picture when I got home I realized that I need a better camera with a good telephoto lens if I want to take pictures of wildlife on my hikes.

Turning left at 5.1 miles I was off of the Rock Run trails and in another 0.3 miles I was back at my car. The total hike was 5.4 miles and made for a nice opportunity to get out and enjoy the trail. With this hike I finished up the trails at Rock Run. As for scouting for a campsite for our hike in September, I think we'll be making our own along Rock Run, where the Ridge, Junction, and Headwater trails meet. These trails around Rock Run are very easy to hike and I think I'll try them this winter, with snow shoes on my feet, and maybe I'll even give cross country skiing a try as well.

The trailhead for this hike. The road looks very muddy, and it was.

After hiking back the AFT for about a quarter mile, this is the intersection with the Rock Run Trails. The Ridge Trail and the AFT head off to the right but I turned left and followed the trail as it descended along the Rock Run West Branch.

A picture looking up the Rock Run West Branch. I followed this stream for almost 2 miles, crossing its headwaters about 0.2 miles into the hike.

Another skinny bridge that crosses over Rock Run.

The Rock Run Trails, particularly on the north loop, follow old railroad grades.

On the Junction Trail, this a sample of the meadows found all along Rock Run.

Sorry for the blurry picture, I'll get a good telephoto lens someday, but if you look closely, you'll see one of the deer that I encountered on this hike.

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