Experience the Trails of Pennsylvania

Thick Mountain/Swift Run Trails: Hiking in the Tall Timbers Natural Area

Located in Snyder County, between Thick and Buck Mountains is the Tall Timbers Natural Area. This Natural Area is over 500 acres in area and located within it is a 250-acre Natural Area known as Snyder-Middleswarth Natural Area. This natural area contains an old growth forest of hemlock and white pines, some of which are over 150 feet tall. This hike starts at the Snyder-Middleswarth picnic area, following Swift Run through these ancient hemlocks. Hike to the top of Thick Mountain and visit the site of a fire tower and a plane crash of some 20 years ago. The hike wraps up with a quick descent into Kettle Gap and follows Swift Run Road back to the picnic area.

Trailhead: N 40° 48.60'
W 77° 16.98'
Total Elevation: 1562'
Trail Length: 3.5 miles
Hike Time: 2.5 hours
Hike Type: Loop
Difficulty Rating: 66
Near: Tall Timbers Natural
Area by Troxelville , PA

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This hike, our first of 2007, starts at the Snyder-Middleswarth picnic area, following Swift Run through these ancient hemlocks. Hiking to the top of Thick Mountain, we visit the site of a fire tower and a plane crash of some 20 years ago. We wrap up the hike with a quick descent into Kettle Gap where we followed Swift Run Road back to the picnic area.

The trailhead for this hike is located at the Snyder-Middleswarth Picnic Area. You can reach the trailhead either from route PA45 or route US522. If traveling route PA45, either east-bound from State College or west-bound from Lewisburg, you will need to turn onto route PA235 and follow it for 8.9 miles until you reach the town of Troxelville. In Troxelville you will see a large sign along the road pointing towards Tall Timbers. Turn right here and follow this road for another 4.8 miles. While you are traveling back this road, it turns to dirt at 1.8 miles and you will need to bear left, crossing a creek (Swift Run) at 3.75 miles. Drive past the first picnic area, Rock Springs Picnic Area, and continue to the Snyder-Middleswarth Picnic Area, parking here to do this hike. If coming in on route US522, east-bound from Lewistown, or west-bound from Selinsgrove, turn onto route PA235 in Beaver Springs. Heading north, drive for 4.5 miles until you reach the town of Troxelville. Look for the Tall Timbers sign on your left, turn here and follow the road for 4.8 miles to the Snyder-Middleswarth picnic area.

When Shari and I arrived at the parking area at the picnic area we decided to have ourselves a small picnic; hiker's style. So I pulled out my backpacker's stove, filtered some water, and made some rehydrated "Parker Pass Potatoes". After a surprisingly tasty and satisfying lunch we were ready to begin our hike.

Starting on Swift Run Trail, we followed the yellow-blazed trail along the stream bank. At times the stream overran the trail, so hiking boots (waterproof preferably) are recommended. For the first half mile of hiking we were awestruck by the trees. Tall pines, dead and alive, reaching to the sky as well as stretching from one bank of the stream to the other. Some of the trees that had fallen over had been down for quite some time as indicated by the large amounts of moss growing on them. Some of the trees, standing well over 100 feet tall, were devoid of any life, and looked as if they would fall over with just a touch of your finger. I snapped many pictures on this first part of the hike, quietly thanking the powers that be that we were doing this hike on a windless, calm day; there were many widow makers lurking above and alongside the trail.

We continued along Swift Run, slowly ascending, and as we went the trees weren't quite as tall or quite as big. At 1.3 miles we came to the intersection of Swift Run Trail and the Tower Trail. Swift Run Trail continued, yellow-blazed, straight in front of us, but we turned left, heading down towards Swift Run. At this point the stream wasn't all that intimidating and we easily crossed on a fallen tree.

On the south bank of Swift Run we began our ascent up Thick Mountain. The Tower Trail use to go straight up the side of the mountain, making for a very daunting, and tiresome climb. Recently the trail was rerouted to follow switchbacks up the mountain side. I recommend following the yellow-blazed switch-back trail even though you can clearly see where the old trail climbed straight up. The switch-back is much easier to climb and you also do less damage to the environment. Soil erosion is prone to occur on trails that ascend and descend perpendicular to the ridge tops.

After an invigorating climb, which included a couple of breaks as well as two granola bars, we reached the top of Thick Mountain 1.9 miles into our hike. Just prior to reaching the summit we came across a number of stone steps set into the mountain side. Very picturesque but somewhat worthless as the steps only covered the last 75 feet of the trail and they were placed so close together that you could easily take four to five steps at a time.

Once at the top of Thick Mountain, Shari and I explored the remains of the old fire tower. An old forest road lead away directly across from the spot where the Tower Trail came up the mountain side. We followed it for a while, hoping to have a nice vista to see the valley below, but didn't find one. Retracing our steps back to the fire tower remains we headed east on the Thick Mountain Trail, hiking along the ridge top of Thick Mountain.

At 2.3 miles you'll notice a pile of rocks along the left side of the trail. Just past this pile of rocks, if you look to you right, you'll see the remains of a plane crash that occurred on November 18th, 1980, as mentioned by Mr. Thomas Thwaites, in his book 50 Hikes in Central Pennsylvania. Shari and I paused here to look over the remains, only being able to make out parts of the fuselage and what looked to be a small section of the engine.

Continuing on across the ridgetop, we began our descent at 2.75 miles into our hike.Over the next 0.6 miles we would descend over 600 feet. Even though the climb up Tower Trail was tough I am glad we hiked this circuit in a counter clockwise direction because heading in the opposite direction would have made for a killer climb.

As we began our descent we noticed the trail had been recently rerouted. This area looked like a tornado touched down as there were trees strewn everywhere. This was probably the result of one of our recent ice storms over the past three years. I could catch glimpses of the old blazes in among the tangle of trees and I realized why they rerouted the trail as it would have taken an army of chainsaw wielding trail maintainers to clear the old route.

At 3.1 miles the trail joined an old loggers path and we had an easy trek down to a small stream. The stream disappeared under ground and we could hear it flowing beneath our feet as the Thick Mountain Trail came to an end on Swift Run Road.

Our last quarter mile of hiking was road hiking. Not my favorite type of hiking, but after that steep descent off of Thick Mountain, I didn't mind finishing our hike up on this dirt road. After 2 and a half hours of hiking we found ourselves back at the trailhead, just as rains drops started to fall.

An invigorating hike of around 3.5 miles, I'd recommend this to anyone looking for some exercise and serenity. There is an alternate, and shorter hike, that is more suited to all ages, young and old alike. This hike follows Swift Run up stream for almost a half mile, then crosses the stream on a well built bridge, and climbs the ridge about 50 feet and then slowly descends back to the parking area (this trail, I believe, is called Hemlock Trail). With the picnic area located at the trailhead, you could easily make this a family outing, spending time exploring the woods as they were back before Europeans arrived, and enjoy the peacefulness and serenity of this old growth forest.

The trailhead for this hike. We would be hiking up along Swift Run Trail and coming back Thick Mountain Trail.

Old, moss-covered, dead trees lie across and above the trail all along Swift Run.

There were many tall trees in the "Tall Timbers" natural area, including this very tall, and very dead, tree still standing alongside the trail.

A picture of Swift Run. I'm sure it's much swifter in the spring.

After a long, switch-back trek up the side of Thick Mountain we encounter these nice, rock steps at the top. Too bad they couldn't have built these steps the whole way to the bottom of the mountain as it would have made the climb much easier.

Yours truly standing at the intersection of Thick Mountain Trail and Tower Trail.

Shari investigates the remains of a small plane crash from circa 1980.

Thick Mountain Trail comes to an end at Swift Run Road which we followed for another 0.25 mile back to our car.

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