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Mid State Trail - State College: Woodward Gap Road to Route PA45

About 2 years ago I ventured into Woodward Gap to explore the trails and do a hike on the Mid State Trail. This was in December, and with snow and ice on the ground, that hike was cut short and I promised to come back at a later date to continue my exploring. On a relatively mild, late October day, I managed to get back to Woodward Gap to visit a section of the Mid State Trail.

Trailhead:  N 40° 53.58'
W 77° 19.95'
Total Elevation:  1457'
Trail Length:  6.5 miles
Hike Time:  3.5 hours
Hike Type:  Loop
Difficulty Rating:  94
Near:  Woodward, PA.


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When I researched this hike, I expected it to be an out-and-back hike, following the Mid State Trail from Woodward Gap to Hairy John and back again. However, as I discovered during my hike, I was able to make this into a loop hike, utilizing some old forest roads for my return trek. My personal preference is to do a loop hike, when given the opportunity, as opposed to an out-and-back hike.

To reach the trailhead for this hike, you will need to make your way to route PA45 and the town of Woodward. If heading east from State College, the town of Woodward is located at the far end of Penns Valley, just before you leave the farmlands behind and enter the woods of Bald Eagle State Forest. Coming from the east, you will encounter Woodward as the first farming village of Penns Valley as your descent levels out on the valley floor. You will want to keep your eyes open for the dirt road called Woodward Gap Road. Heading east, this road is located on your right, just as you pass through Woodward proper. Heading west, the road will be located on your left. Once you get on Woodward Gap Road, continue for exactly 1.5 miles. At this point you will see a gated, old forest road on your left, as well as the tell-tale orange blazes of the Mid State Trail. Park your car here, but don't block the gated access road, and get read to start this hike.

A fellow coworker and I had finished a hike on the Mid State Trail at Woodward Gap Road this past August. We had hiked from Poe Paddy State Park to this point, and I had wanted to continue this hike on to Hairy Johns and route PA45.

I suppose before I go into detail about my hike I should explain exactly what Hairy John is and how it got its name. Hairy John is a state forest picnic area located along route PA45. A state forest picnic area is similar to a roadside rest stop, accept it is governed by Pennsylvania DCNR instead of PennDOT. Overnight use of picnic areas is prohibited, so you can not set up camp at one. Hairy John picnic area got its name from a resident, John Voneida, that use to live in the area. He lived a hermit's life in a small cabin located here in the early 1800s. Living a hermit's life, he was unkempt and never shaved or cut his hair. When he ventured into town, the locals would call him "Hairy John" and the name stuck with him. You can learn more about Hairy John and the folklore about him at the Pennsylvania Jack website.

From the trailhead, I hiked back the gated road, following the orange blazed Mid State Trail. The gate was open at the time of my hike. You will find a number of gated forest roads open to the public for use by hunters. They are typically opened from early October to the first week of January.

After a tenth of a mile, the trail splits, with the road bearing off to the left. The Mid State Trail continues straight on a wide, well maintained path. For the next half mile, the trail gradually ascended as it meandered through the forest. The week before there was an early, heavy snowfall that brought down a number of tree limbs. Some of these were found on the trail and had to be removed (if small enough) or maneuvered around.

At 0.6 miles the trail began a long, gradual descent. As I mentioned earlier, the trail was wide, I'd say about 4 feet, and very well maintained. With a lack of rocks on the footpath, the trail was a pleasure to hike and I was able to enjoy my surroundings.

At about 1.8 miles I came across a trail junction. To the right was the Bear Gap Trail. The sign also stated that campsites could be found to the right and I assume that water could be found there as well. After pausing a moment to get a drink of water, I continued straight on the Mid State Trail. Over the next two tenths of the mile the trail climbed slightly but it soon continued its gradual descent.

The trail began to descent more sharply at about 2.3 miles into the hike. It leveled off about a half mile later where I came across a trail register. I stopped to sign in and took a few minutes to look back through some of the previous entries.

Just past the trail register the Mid State began the steepest climb of the hike so far. It was also the rockiest section of the hike. After a tenth of a mile and one hundred feet of elevation gain, the trail crossed an old forest road. I paused here to enjoy a vista to the south-east. I was not expecting any views on this hike and was delighted to find this one. Less than a tenth of a mile after crossing the forest road, the trail merged with it, turning left, and following it down to route PA45.

At 3.3 miles into the hike, I reached my destination: route PA45 and the Hairy John Picnic Area. I rested a bit and rehydrated myself before I turned around and retraced my steps. At the top of Sand Mountain where I came across the surprising vista, I decided to deviate from my original plans of hiking back the Mid State Trail. Instead I turned right to follow the old forest road. I could not find the road marked on any of my maps, but my guess was that it would come out back at the trailhead.

The return hike on the old road was quite easy, with only a few descents and climbs. I did happen to come across an older gentleman that was hunting on the road. I knew that it was archery season, but I was surprised to see this gentleman standing in front of me, decked out in orange, and brandishing a rifle. He informed me that hunters sixty-five and older were allowed to shoot doe with a rifle for three days, one of which being the day I was doing this hike. I spent over 20 minutes conversing with him about his hunting experience so far today, along with many other topics related to the woods and hunting. We said our goodbyes and I continued west on the dirt road.

The road, which must have been a logging access road, passed through a number of clearings. At abut 5.5 miles the road entered a clearing and I had trouble finding where it exited. After a minutes of searching I found it, and the rest of the hike back to the trailhead was on a much more primitive road. My guess would be that this road only see traffic during the winter months when it is used by snow mobilers.

At 6.3 miles I came across a spring which is less than a tenth of a mile from the Mid State Trail, which I would soon be rejoining. After jumping across the small, spring fed stream, I hiked about 600 feet and then turned right on the MST. A tenth of a mile later I found myself back at the trailhead and at the end of another hike.

Even though this hike was six and a half mile in length, the wide, well maintained trail, and little elevation change would make it a good hike for hikers of all skill levels. The lack of rocks on the footpath make it a great hike where you can enjoy nature. Perhaps a trip back here in the spring or summer is do so that I can enjoy the wildlife which seemed to be lacking on this trip. I also learned something during this trip: make sure you are aware of ALL hunting seasons and to dress appropriately (ie: wear lots of orange).

{vsig_c}0|ms21_01.jpg||The trailhead for this hike is located on Woodward Gap Road, at the point where the Mid State Trail crosses.{/vsig_c} {vsig_c}0|ms21_02.jpg||This sign, just a short distance from the trailhead, gives you a general sense of direction that you are hiking as well as letting you know that you'll be hiking kilometers today, not miles.{/vsig_c} {vsig_c}0|ms21_03.jpg||Even though it was well past its peak, there was still some fall foliage to be enjoyed.{/vsig_c} {vsig_c}0|ms21_04.jpg||The only rocky section and climb on the entire hike.{/vsig_c} {vsig_c}0|ms21_05.jpg||This sign is located along route PA45, just across from the Hairy Johns picnic area.{/vsig_c} {vsig_c}0|ms21_06.jpg||Making my way back to the trailhead, this old forest road passed through a few clearings that afforded some nice views of the distant mountains.{/vsig_c}

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