Located just north of Cammal Pennsylvania, on route PA414, is the challenging Golden Eagle Trail. Tom Thwaites in his book 50 Hikes of Central Pennsylvania called the Golden Eagle "the most beautiful day hike in Pennsylvania". After hiking this trail, I think you'll agree with this assessment. With two breathtaking vistas, two pristine mountain streams, and a challenging climb, the Golden Eagle Trail has a lot to offer for the day hiker.
|Trailhead:||N 41° 26.35'
W 77° 30.60'
|Trail Length:||9.2 miles|
|Hike Time:||5.5 hours|
|Near:||On PA414 north of
Cammal and south
of Slate Run.
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The trailhead for the Golden Eagle Trail is located on route PA414. It can be reached, coming from the south, by taking route PA44 north at the intersection of US220 in Jersey Shore. Just past Waterville, you will take a right off of PA44 onto route PA414. Once you turn onto route PA414 set your odometer and drive for 11.2 miles. You will see a parking area on your left, directly after passing over a small bridge that spans Bonnell Run. If coming from the north, once you enter the town of Slate Run, travel for an additional 2.9 miles and you will see the parking area on your right.
The start of this trail in on the northern side of PA414, across from the parking area. Before you start off on your journey, make sure you have adequate supplies. There are many sources of water (Wolf and Bonnell Run) along the trail, but remember to bring a water filtration device or iodine tablet as most streams in Pennsylvania require some degree of water purification before drinking. Also, there is no camping permitted along the GET as it winds through State Game Lands, so make sure you have adequate daylight to complete this hike before the sun sets. The hike can typically be completed in under 5 hours.
There were three of us doing this hike. John and I last did this hike together over 3 years ago. That was the last time either of us had been on this trail. For Wendy, it had been even longer, pushing 4 years. I was looking forward to doing this hike again, now with it being a little later in the year, and with leaves on all the trees. I do believe a hike on the GET in the fall, when the leaves are changing color, is on my short list of future hikes that I'll want to do.
The Golden Eagle Trail is blazed orange its entire length. We began the hike by slowly ascending along Bonnell Run. We came upon the trail register for this hike at 0.2 miles. It is strongly recommended that you sign in when you start your hike and sign back out when you are finished. After signing in and indicating our direction of our hike, we were soon back walking the trail looking down on Bonnell Run to our left.
At 0.38 miles into the hike we came across the main loop of the trail. From here you can continue straight (slightly to your left) and follow the banks of Bonnell Run, or you can turn right and soon find yourself climbing steeply to the vistas, including the Ravenshorn, some 1000 feet above. We opted to turn right at the intersection to get the climb out of the way while we still had plenty of energy.
The climb was as I had remembered it from three years ago. Steep and strenuous, with many breaks taken during the ascent to catch my breath and grab a drink of water. Prior to the climb, and about 0.5 miles into the hike the trail emerges from the woods and follows, for a short distance, along the edge of a grassy meadow. We enjoyed this level hiking while we could as the climb began on an old grassy Jeep trail around 0.7 miles into the hike. At 0.8 miles the trail leaves this former quarry road and traverses the side of the mountain on a dug trail. Finally after another 0.5 miles we reached the top and all of us rested a minute before heading towards the Ravenshorn.
On the way to the Ravenshorn, as we began a gentle descent along the ridgetop, there is a vista to the east and looking across Wolf Run. This is located about 1.5 miles into the hike. After another tenth of a mile we came across the Ravenshorn. We stopped here to take in the breath taking views both up and down Pine Creek as well as looking up the Wolf Run hollow below.
We enjoyed the views at Ravenshorn and rested for about 15 minutes before we continued our descent along the the ridgeline. All along this section of the trail are a number of exposed sandstone rocks that tower over your heads. The hike down the ridge back breaks off to your left at about 1.9 miles into the hike. At this point you begin a steep descent on a switch back trail to Wolf Run below.
At 2.1 miles into the hike we reached the bottom of our ascent along the banks of Wolf Run. Turning right here you can follow Wolf Run 0.3 miles back to route PA414, and follow the rails-to-trails back to the parking area of the trailhead. This would be an option if you were looking for a shorter hike. We turned left, following the orange blazed GET as we began our leisurely stroll along Wolf Run. The grade here is very gradual, and though the climb was steady, it wasn't all that bad. Depending on the water levels at the time of your hike, you may get your feet wet. The trail makes many stream crossings, but all are manageable and if you are equipped with a good pair of water proof hiking boots, your feet will stay nice and dry. When making the stream crossings you need to be wary of moss covered rocks. You will also see many small waterfalls on this part of the hike.
The gradual ascent along Wolf Run made for a nice walk on a beautiful today. On this section of our hike we did come across a nice little patch of Morel mushrooms. We took a few moments to gather all we could find. Wendy was determined to have these mushrooms and she carried them carefully for the remainder of our hike. At 2.7 miles into the hike we came across piles of flagstone stacked along the stream to our left. This area use to be quarried for flagstone, and this pile is left over from those times long ago. At almost 4 miles into the hike we came across another piece of history. Just off the trail were remains of an old stove, probably from a former logging camp. The trail enters a stand of White Pines and Hemlocks as we continue our gradual ascent.
We soon left Wolf Run behind and had an opportunity to enjoy a vista looking back over where we just came. This vista, about 4.9 miles into our hike, looks out across the Wolf Run drainage area. We paused only shortly here before continuing on our hike. We were now on top of the ridge and our ascent became very gradual to non-existent as the trail made its way across the ridge top.
About 5.2 miles from the trailhead the Golden Eagle Trail turns right joining with a Game Commission Access Trail. This wide grassy trail made for pleasurable hiking where we could all hike together on a wide, level, and padded trail. Soon we came across yet another vista on the hike. This one is known as the Beulah Land Vista. At 5.5 miles, this vista looks towards the east, in the direction of Oregon Hill. In the distance you can see a large cleared area in the middle of the forest. This was once a farm and is known as Beulah Land, thus the name for this vista. We stopped here for about 15 minutes and ate a small lunch. We would have stayed longer, but the winds were blowing and it was quite chilly.
We left the Beulah Land vista behind us and continued hiking along the Game Commission Access Trail. At 5.9 miles the GET bears to the left off of the grassy road. To your right is the Hillborn Run Trail, marked by a sign. The GET is also marked with a sign to your left, but keep a keen eye open for this intersection as there are no double orange blazes marking this turn.
At 6.1 miles the trail turns to the right and begins a steep descent into the hollow to follow Bonnell Run. For John and I, this was probably the hardest part of the hike. The steep and straight descent is hard on the knees and I could feel a little tightening around my right knee once we finally reached the bottom of this steep descent.
The remainder of the hike follows Bonnell Run back to the trailhead. There are many, many stream crossings, and during times of high water, could make for an arduous and slow hike. I would strongly recommend the use of water proof boots for this section of the trail. Luckily for us the water, though running swiftly, wasn't so high that we didn't run into any major difficulties. As we were about finished with our hike we stopped back at the trail register to sign out.
After 4 hours and about 45 minutes we found ourselves back at the trailhead. The hike was a total of 9.2 miles with over 4000 feet of elevation traversed. It was nice to hike the GET again and I will make sure it isn't another 3 years before I visit it once more. At the very least I will be back up here next spring to see if we can find that patch of Morel mushrooms again. And of course, a hike on the Golden Eagle Trail is always a good excuse to stop in at the Waterville hotel afterwards for a Mountain Burger and a beer.
Trail register, which is in a ziplock bag in an ammo box attached to a tree, is a mess – an assortment of unbound pages going back to 2021 (or earlier!) in no order. How hard could it possibly be to provide a bound logbook similar to what are used in AT shelters? Trail along Bonnell Run in the section where it is close to the creek bed has deteriorated due to trail erosion and blowdowns to the point where maintainers (who are they?) should seriously consider rerouting uphill from the creek and constructing something that will last longer.