Experience the Trails of Pennsylvania

Mid State Trail - State College: Winter Hiking in Muttersbaugh Gap and Ben Jacobs Trail

An event that typically occurs every year that I always look forward to is the January thaw. This is a day or more where the temperatures climb above freezing and offer a glimpse of the upcoming spring and a break from the cold weather. During the January thaws I try to get out a do a day hike. In January of 2007 I hiked in the Shingletown Gap area. During the thaw of January 2008 I hiked a small section of the Standing Stone Trail. Then in January of 2009 I didn't hike. We did not have a January thaw this year. I was getting tired of the cold weather and could have really appreciated a nice outing. However, all hope was not lost as our January thaw did arrive, albeit a little late. During the early part of the second week of February we received our January thaw in Central Pennsylvania. When the temperatures were forecasted to reach sixty during the middle of the week, I decided that I had to take some vacation time from work and go out and get in my annual January thaw hike.

Trailhead:  N 40° 43.97'
W 77° 38.19'
Total Elevation:  2488'
Trail Length:  5.8 miles
Hike Time:  3.5 hours
Hike Type:  Loop
Difficulty Rating:  108
Near:  Off route US322 north of Milroy, PA.


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I was able to convince a fellow co-worker to leave work early and do this hike with me. I decided on something close and not too long, a hike somewhere within 10 miles of State College and no longer than 7 miles in length. We decided on doing a loop hike that would incorporate a moderate climb and a short section of the Mid State Trail.

This hike was a loop hike, starting and finishing at Muttersbaugh Gap, just off route US322 near the Laurel Creek Reservoir. You can reach the trailhead from State College by following route US322 south toward Lewistown. As the road begins its descent from the Seven Mountains, Laurel Creek Reservoir will be on your left. As you near the bottom of the descent, the road bears to your left. On the curve, Stone Creek Road approaches from your right just past the run-a-way truck ramp. There is plenty of room to park here and this is where we parked our cars to start our hike.

After Tim and I were all geared up with trekking poles in hand, we headed down Stone Creek Road. Stone Creek Road is paved and runs through Rothrock State Forest to meet up with route PA26 in Huntingdon County. Even though the road is paved, it does not have winter maintenance, and the road was slushy and icy today. We hike about 0.15 miles and made a sharp right, still following Stone Creek Road. After another 0.2 miles we came upon a gated dirt road on our right. We turned off Stone Creek Road and followed the gated dirt road.

After a half mile we came upon an old cabin and the end of the dirt road. We looked around and spied what looked like a trail leading north, away from the cabin, and towards a small stream. It turns out this is Muttersbaugh Trail. The trail is not blazed. It is quite easy to follow in some places, but other times it isn't. After 0.9 miles of hiking the trail seemed to disappear. However, since we were in the gap, with steep rock-strewn mountainsides to our left and right, we just continued to follow the small stream.

At 1 mile into or hike we came across what we later learned to be Ben Jacobs Trail. This is actually an old camp access road. The road forded the small stream at this point to a white cabin just on the other side. There was also a metal bridge that Tim and I used to cross the stream. We hiked around the northern side of the cabin where we were able to pick up the Muttersbaugh Trail again.

As the Muttersbaugh Trail ascended to the top of Bald Mountain, the trail became very difficult to follow at times. During the summer I would think that this trail would be near impossible to follow. Again, the trail was not blazed and if it weren't for the snow on the ground, outlining where the trail went, I think we would have had difficulties following it.

After a half mile of hiking and a 400 foot ascent, we emerged on the orange blazed, and well maintained, Mid State Trail. We paused for a moment to catch our breath and quench our thirst before continuing on. We had the hardest part of the hike behind us, the climb, and looked forward to a nice leisurely stroll across the ridge top.

We came upon our first vista about 2.2 miles into the hike. The view was towards the north and we could see Boal Gap in the foreground with Penns Valley and Mount Nittany beyond that. The sky was a bit hazy and had a bit of a blue tint to it. It reminded me of the Smoky Mountains in a way.

Our second vista was in another 0.2 miles. This one looked a little more towards the north where the first was towards the north-west. Both Tim and I snapped some pictures and took some time to enjoy the view. After a few minutes we were back on the trail.

At 2.8 miles we began our descent from the top of Bald Mountain. The going was a little slow as there was still snow and ice on the ground and some of the rocks were still quite slippery. After 2 switch backs and a quarter mile we were back on leveler ground. The trail made a sharp right at 3.1 miles, at the border of the state forest land, and after another 0.1 miles we were back on flat trail.

We came across the dirt road known as Ben Jacobs Trail at 3.3 miles into our hike. The Mid State Trail continued straight ahead but we turned to our right. Ben Jacobs Trail was clear of obstacles however there was a slick layer of ice under an inch or so of snow and slush. Hiking along the flat road was difficult at times as both Tim and I often slid off the center crown. For the next 1.5 miles we hiked, slipped and slid as we followed Ben Jacobs Trail back to Muttersbaugh Gap.

After 4.8 miles of hiking we were back on Muttersbaugh Trail where Ben Jacobs Trail crosses the stream to the white cabin. We turned left here and retraced our steps. Heading back down the gap was more difficult then hiking up it. The slippery conditions that we encountered during our hike up were much worse as we hiked back down. With a little patience and time we finally made it back to Stone Creek Road. A quick little jaunt and we were back at the trailhead and our cars.

With temperatures nearing sixty, this was a much needed outdoor escape. The trail conditions weren't ideal, what with the ice under the top layer of snow and slush. I should have been better prepared for these types of conditions. None the less, I really did enjoy doing this hike. I was glad to be able to do my annual "January Thaw" hike, even if it did come in February.

{vsig_c}0|ms18_01.jpg||The trailhead for this hike, just off route US322, near Laurel Creek Reservoir.{/vsig_c} {vsig_c}0|ms18_02.jpg||We could just barely make out the Muttersbaugh Trail as we head up through the gap. We did not encounter a blazed trail until we reached the Mid State Trail.{/vsig_c} {vsig_c}0|ms18_03.jpg||On the Mid State Trail on top of Bald Mountain, Tim waits for me to catch up.{/vsig_c} {vsig_c}0|ms18_04.jpg|Even with a couple days of very warm temperatures, there were still areas on the mountain that were deep in snow.{/vsig_c} {vsig_c}0|ms18_05.jpg||The second of two vistas that we enjoyed on this hike.{/vsig_c} {vsig_c}0|ms18_06.jpg||Here we stand at the the intersection of Ben Jacobs Trail and the Mid State Trail after our descent from Bald Mountain. {/vsig_c} {vsig_c}0|ms18_07.jpg||We followed the snow covered, and in spots icy, Ben Jacobs Trail back to Muttersbaugh Gap to finish up our hike.{/vsig_c}

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