The Pennsylvania Mid State Trail is longest and wildest footpath in the state. The newest section of this 265 mile trail was recently added over the past two years, which extended the trail from Blackwell, PA to its current terminus along route PA287. Nine miles of this newest stretch of the Mid State Trail was scouted by Jeff Mitchell, author of two hiking books, Hiking the Endless Mountains: Exploring the Wilderness of Northeast Pennsylvania and Backpacking Pennsylvania: 37 Great Hikes. When Jeff extended an offer to lead a hike on this section of the trail, I was happy to except. On the weekend of August 5th and 6th, four hikers, myself included, met with Jeff and had an opportunity to experience this latest addition to the Mid State Trail.
|Trailhead:||N 41° 38.32'
W 77° 18.03'
|Trail Length:||15.7 miles|
|Hike Time:||11 hours|
|Hike Type:||Point to Point|
|Near:||From Antrim, PA to Blackwell, PA, near Morris, PA.|
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We opted to hike this section of the trail north to south: from route PA287 to Blackwell, PA. In order to reach the trailhead for this hike, you will need to make your way to route PA287. The easiest way to get to PA287 is via route PA414 from route US15. After exiting route US15 at the PA414 exit, continue west on route PA414 for 9.8 miles. You will enter the town of Morris, PA, and will continue straight at the intersection, continuing on route PA287. After 3.3 miles from Morris you will see Anna S. Mine Road to your left with the parking area for the trailhead just off the road to your right. Route PA287 can be rather busy at times, so please use extreme caution when you cross PA287 from the parking area to Anna S. Mine Road, which is where are trek begins.
Hikers Harry, Rob, Ken, Jeff and myself started our hike by following the gradual ascent of Anna S. Mine Road as it climbed away from Wilson Creek. The road walking on this section of the trail was nice as our climb was barely noticeable and not at all strenuous. At 0.7 miles into our hike the Anna S. Mine Road switchback to our right as the trail continued straight on a gated road.
Exactly one mile into our hike we were greeted with our first vista. The vista is about 200 feet off of the trail, but it's one you definitely don't want to miss. The vista is called Anna S Mine Haunted Vista. From here you have an excellent view of the Wilson Creek valley below, as well as the town of Antrim located on the mountain top across the valley. The vista is said to be haunted by coal miners that lost their lives here. During the late 1800s, there was a cable car setup for hauling coal across to Antrim. On occasions, coal miners would get into the coal gondolas to take a shorter ride across the valley as opposed to hiking down to the valley floor and then back up to their houses. Many times, unbeknownst to the operators of the cable cars, these gondolas would be shut down with people perched high above the valley below. On cold, winter nights these stranded miners would perish and their souls are said to haunt this area.
After we spent a few moments enjoying the view from the haunted vista, we continued on with our hike. Once you leave the vista it is strongly recommended to keep a keen eye open for the orange blazes. The trail makes it way across a large clearing area, with dirt roads heading in many directions, and there were a couple times that we lost the trail and had to explore to find the trail again. I would hope that this area gets blazed a little better in the near future. My suggestion would be to try to stay to the south-east side of the clearings, on your left if hiking north to south, and you should be able to see the blazes and follow the trail.
At about 1.4 miles into our hike we saw one of the ubiquitous "Mid State Trail" signs posted along the trail. However, this sign also stated a warning: "Watch your step!". I've hike on sections of the trail where this could also apply, such as the rocky areas on Tussey Mountain, so I initially thought this was an obvious statement for hiking on the Mid State. I soon found out why they posted this warning. As we hiked along, across the flat tops of large rocks, the ground would open up beneath you with very deep crevices. Some of these crevices were up to eight feet deep in places. This would be a dangerous place to hike in the winter as the crevices could easily ice over and you would not know their locations. For the next half mile we encountered these crevices in the trail, and I strongly recommend taking your time when hiking on this section of the trail.
At 1.9 miles we started our first descent of the hike, dropping about 200 feet, to where we crossed Basswood run at 2.2 miles. The climb from out of Basswood Run was steep at times, but we were soon back on level ground. We continued on for another 0.5 miles crossing Rattler Run and Rattler Mine Road at 2.9 miles.
At 3.5 miles into our hike we had the opportunity to view some of the history of the region. The remnants of a large stone foundation was located here along with some old stone railroad pylons. This seemed to be some area for the unloading of railroad cars. We took a moment to take some pictures of the old ruins before we continued on with our hike.
We started another descent, meeting up with a small stream in Slide Hollow at about 3.8 miles. We paused here for a moment as Jeff filtered water and refilled his water bottles. We then started a relatively steep climb, ascending about 400 feet in a little under a half mile. At 4.4 miles we made a sharp right on an existing trail and climbed a little further. At this intersection, if you glance to your left, you will see orange blazes on down the trail. This is not the way to go, and I am assuming that these blazes will be removed or painted blue in the near future. There is a sign post at this intersection that points you in the right direction.
At 4.6 miles we came across another forest road. This was, until this past spring, the northern terminus of the contiguous section of the Mid State Trail: Tannery Hill Road. After crossing the road we had some nice leisurely hiking ahead of us. The trail followed an old forest road for the next 1.3 miles. The hiking along the road was free of obstacles and relatively flat, so we made pretty good time on this section of the trail.
At six and a quarter miles we crossed Roland Run, following the stream as we descended to Stony Fork. Hiking was slowed as we had to make our way through a large patch of Stingy Nettle. Harry was wearing gaiters, so he took the lead from Jeff and attempted to clear the path by using his trekking poles as a sycle.
Finally, 6.9 miles into our hike, we came across Stony Fork. Harry had to leave us at this point as he was only hiking the day with us. He said his good-byes and then headed on down Stony Fork Road to his car parked along route PA414. The rest of us needed to ford Stony Fork at this point. We put on some sandals and made our way across the stream. It wasn't too deep here, making just up to my knees at the deepest point, and it was only about 15 feet wide. Once on the other side we turned right and followed the trail upstream, along the banks of Stony Fork.
We reached what was going to be our campsite, just off the trail, and beside the stream where there was a rather deep swimming hole. However, we weren't the first one's on the scene as there were a lot of locals already swimming here. I would guess that there were probably about 20 people cooling off in the stream. We figured it would probably be a little noisy for a couple hours, but once the sun began to set, that we would have the entire place to ourselves. Just as we began to unpack and set up our tents, three jeeps came out of nowhere, off-roading up the trail we had just hiked. They parked their jeeps only a few feet from where we were going to set up camp. Let's just say we weren't happy campers. So we packed up our things and Jeff lead us on to another, hopefully less popular, swimming hole another half mile upstream.
When we reached the second swimming hole there were a few people here, but not as many as there was at the first place. Also there wasn't a campsite here, but we found a nice flat area along the stream and trail and decided to go ahead and call it home. Jeff and Ken began making a fire ring and Ken later made a nice log seat as well. Before long we all had our tents set up, our packs emptied, and camp clothes put on so that we could enjoy the remainder of the day. We had hiked about 7.6 miles and it was only late afternoon, somewhere around 3:00. We had plenty of time to enjoy ourselves in and near Stony Fork.
Prior to starting out on our hike, I had placed a rather large cooler, covered in camo, near Stony Fork, where the Mid State Trail crosses. The cooler contained a case of beer along with ham steaks for that evenings dinner. If you were paying attention to my report so far, you would realize that we ended up camping about three quarters of a mile upstream from where we forded Stony Fork. That means that we had to lug this cooler with us to our campsite. We all took turns carrying the cooler, which I must say was quite heavy, being filled with beer and ice, and I for one was very grateful to crack open a cold one once we finally got it to our campsite.
Before we had our evening meal of shells and cheese along with fried ham steaks, Jeff, Rob and Ken went for a dip in Stony Fork. The water temperatures were just a bit too cold for me to venture in, but the guys seemed to have a good time. The swimming hole itself was probably eight feet deep at its deepest part. Jeff seemed to enjoy the swimming hole the most, jumping in from the nearby cliffs, to sliding along the shallow areas on his belly and shooting down over the falls. After an hour of cooling off in and beside the stream, we all headed back to camp to eat our evening meal.
We spent most of the night sitting around the campfire, drinking beer and talking. Jeff called it a night first, at about 9:30PM, and I followed shortly after. The night passed by uneventful, and aside for waking a few times in the middle of the night because of the cold, it turned out to be the best night's sleep that I've gotten on any of my overnighters.
I awoke in the morning around 7:15AM to find Ken was already up and tearing down his tent. After everyone filtered some water, ate some breakfast, and broke down camp, we were on the trail around 8:15AM. From camp, we hiked along Stony Fork for another mile until we came to Mossy Run. At this point the trail makes a sharp left and follows the stream upwards. This was the steepest climb of the entire hike and I'm glad we did it early in the morning.
At the top of Mossy Run, the trail turns to the left and makes its way through some interesting rock outcroppings. There are some very large rocks here, some larger than a house, and the trail meanders through many of them. Once we were through these rocks, we had a nice gentle hike, reaching Clay Mine Road nine and quarter miles from the trailhead. At Clay Mine Road we took a break, as we recovered from our climb up along Mossy Run.
The next mile and a half we hiked through a lot of mountain laurel and along some old forest roads. At 10.7 miles we crossed Water Tank Run and began a gradual climb along the east rim of Pennsylvania Grand Canyon. We didn't have any vistas along this section, but you could see blue sky to your right. At 11.1 miles the trail, which has been following an old logging road, bears to the right and begins a steep ascent, heading back away from the rim. At 11.5 miles the old logging road that we were following continues straight, but the trail makes a sharp right. For a shorter hike you could continue straight and meet up with the Mid State Trail in about two tenths of a mile, but if you did go straight you would miss a wonderful vista from the east rim of the gorge.
Following the Mid State Trail to the right, we came across a sign that says "View" and points towards a blue blazed trail. This trail take you out to a vista that you don't want to miss. Approximately 0.3 miles of hiking on the blue blazed trail brings you to a vista, where you can look up the Pine Creek Gorge, as well as directly across to see hollow formed by Bohen Run. Walking a little further brings you to a vista that looks over Stone Quarry Run with views down Pine Creek.
We took a short break here, enjoying the views, and then headed back the blue blazed trail to the Mid State Trail proper. At 12.9 miles into our hike we joined onto the old logging road at the point where you could have taken a 0.2 mile shortcut to reach. We continued on the trail and came upon Stone Quarry Run. At this point the orange blazed Mid State Trail bears right and follows the stream down to Pine Creek. There is a blue blazed trail that continues straight to Fork Hill. Jeff informed us that this blue blazed trail was to be the Mid State Trail, but because of some land ownership issues, it was now a side trail as the main portion of the trail follows Stone Quarry Run. Jeff is hopeful that the Mid State Trail can, at some point in the future, follow this original routing. After I had the opportunity to view the vistas on Fork Hill, I agree and hope that the Mid State Trail proper will include this section.
After pausing at Stone Quarry Run so that Jeff could filter some water, we continued on, following the same old forest road, but now blazed blue.At 13.4 miles we came upon a large clearing, probably used as a staging area for timber harvesting, and made a sharp right, following yet another forest road. This forest road, and blue blazed trail, finally came to an end at 14.5 miles.
We were now perched high above the town of Blackwell, at the very tip of Fork Hill. There was a tower located here, and just a short distance past the tower we were treated to the best views of the entire hike. I couldn't think of a better way to end a hike then taking in the scenery from these vistas. The vista to our right gave an nice view up the Pine Creek Gorge. My favorite was the vista on the left. From here you had an obstructed view, looking up Babb Creek, towards Morris. Looking to your right, you could see the bridge of the rails to trails as it crossed Pine Creek, as well as a great view of Gillespie Point just across the valley from us. Personally, I feel that the vistas from here are just as good as though that you get from Gillespie Point.
We were now 1 mile from completing our hike. This was to be the steepest descent of the entire hike, following an unblazed trail down the mountain. I was glad that we were going down the mountain side and not climbing up it. We descended 1000 feet in under a mile, making this just as steep and challenging as some of the elevation changes found on the Black Forest Trail. At the end of our descent we came across an old cemetery where Dr. William Blackwell, the founder of the town, was buried.
After getting back to the cars that we left at Blackwell, we all took off our packs and then headed over to the Blackwell Hotel. We had a nice afternoon meal and probably ended up drinking over a gallon of water between the four of us. We said our goodbyes to Ken and Jeff took Rob and I back to our cars at the trailhead.
It was a pleasure hiking with these guys and I was honored to have Jeff leading this hike on the part of the Mid State Trail that he scouted. The section around Anna S. Mine had some interesting geological features, and Stony Fork was something that you didn't want to miss. The section on the east rim was nice as well, and even though you may give some thought to making your hike shorter by passing over the vistas, I strongly recommend against it. The views from the east rim are just as spectacular as those from the west. And if you're feeling adventurous, make sure you take in the views from Fork Hill, and follow the steep trail down to the town of Blackwell.