What seems to be the new norm, we in Central Pennsylvania experience extended periods of drought during the summer months. This can be a concern when hiking during this time, causing problems finding reliable water sources along the trails. Many thanks to Ralph Seeley and the Quehanna Area Trails Club for putting together this overview of water sources along the Quehanna Trail.
We strongly recommend that you filter all water that you find along the trail. Giardia is still around. Also, hunting camps were traditionally located at springs, although some of the springs are not reliable.
This discussion will go in a CCW direction, since that is the way most backpackers go—that is, starting from Parker Dam State Park on the south loop. There is a spring at the hunting camp at mile 4.8, and another spring at another camp where the trail loops back to the north side of Alex Branch at about mile 5.2. Alex Branch itself will hold water to some extent because it rises out of wetlands.
Trout Run, at mile 6.5, should continue holding water because it is fed out of extensive wetlands. A bridge may be installed at Trout Run later in 2007, because the crossing is dangerous at high water levels.
Roberts Run will probably go to a near-trickle even though there is a beaver pond at its head. However, about 100 yds east of the bridge crossing in the upper part of Roberts Run, the trail passes over the top of a spring. Also, another quarter-mile beyond, where the trail comes down to a vista over that beaver pond, look to the left to see a trickle coming out of a spring at the base of the hillside, 50 yds west of the lowest point on the trail. That would be about mile 9.5.
A little over a half-mile east of Knobs Road, at about mile 12.3, the trail presently crosses from south to north over a brook called Deer Creek. If you turn left after crossing the (dry?) brook, and bush-whack 200 yds back west on the north side of the little valley, you will come to the only hunting camp in the Deer Creek uplands. There is a large spring at that camp. Do not tent within sight of the camp. The trail will be relocated in August to a new crossing further down the Deer Creek valley, and water is available in pools at that crossing.
The next reliable water is met in the Gifford Run valley, starting at mile 14.6. At mile 16.9, just before crossing Merrill Road, the hunting camp there has a spring.
Unfortunately, the next 6.5 miles is all upland walking, with no reliable water source. At mile 19.2 a diversion could be made down to Mosquito Creek, using Lost Run Road. This would be about a 2 mile round-trip diversion. Going straight down to the stream on the Cross-Connector exposes you to big snakes.
Mosquito Creek, at mile 23.6, should always have at least a trickle in it. A bridge constructed here in 2007 makes crossing this creek a bit easier.
Between mile 23.6 and mile 30.5 there is no reliable water, although Cole Run might have a trickle. Near the Quehanna Highway there is a facility that trains PennDOT employees: in a pinch you should be able to get water there. At the bend in the trail near mile 30.5 there is a hunting camp 100 yds to the east, where there is a spring, usually good.
At about mile 31.5, Upper Three Runs should always have at least a trickle. The hiker can also walk down to the reservoir below and dip water out.
In the Lower Three Runs valley there are one or more springs, particularly at one well-developed site on the south side of the old grade, at mile 35.0.
North of mile 35.8 (Three Runs Road), water may be invisible until the lower part of Upper Jerry Run is reached, near or above the stream crossing at about mile 37.5. From that point over to the crossing of Wykoff Run at mile 40.1, water is not likely to be found. Wykoff Run always has water.
Near the top of Laurel Draft, 50 yds above a footbridge, there is a spring, usually good. This would be about mile 41.8. At about mile 44.5, marked Arch Springs on the map, there is a spring, but it will probably be dry due to the small catchment area above it.
A mile or two down in Sanders Draft there should be water running, and certainly water is available at the bridge crossing Red Run at mile 48.8. There is also a walled spring on the left side of the trail 100 yds west of Red Run Road. Thus it could be a dry eight or nine miles from the crossing of Wykoff Run, to the lower part of Sanders Draft and Red Run.
The next reliable place for water is at mile 54.4, the bottom of Mix Run. A mile up the valley from that point there is always a flow coming out of Ripper Hollow.
There are various small sources in Silver Mill Hollow at about mile 59.5; also try at the hunting camp where the trail crosses the Quehanna Highway at mile 62.3. At mile 63.2 the trail crosses over Medix Run, which always has water in it, coming from a large drainage area. Thus in a really dry season it could be 10 miles from water in the Mix Run valley, over to water in Medix Run.
Between mile 63.2 and 69.5 there are various stream possibilities, and at 69.5 there is a hunting camp with an associated piped spring, as you leave the state forest road. Between 69.5 and the end of the hike, Saunders Run usually has running water.
Map of real-time streamflow compared to historical streamflow for the day of the year for Pennsylvania. Realtime image from the US Geological Survey web site.