Experience the Trails of Pennsylvania

Pinchot Trail: Hiking the South Loop

The Pinchot Trail, named after Gifford Pinchot, the first chief in charge of the United States Forest Service as well as a two term governor of Pennsylvania, is located in Lackawanna State Forest on the Pocono plateau in north-eastern Pennsylvania. I was looking to do a hike outside of Central Pennsylvania, and along with the minimal elevation changes also made this a great trail for Shari to do her first over-night hike of the season. We decided we would have a long, hiking Memorial Day weekend, hiking the south loop of the Pinchot Trail as well as stopping over at Ricketts Glen State Park to hike the Falls Trail there as well.

Trailhead: N 41° 13.16'
W 75° 37.88'
Total Elevation: 1562'
Trail Length: 14.2 miles
Hike Time: 8 hours
Hike Type: Loop
Difficulty Rating: 87
Near: Southwestern Lackawanna

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The trailhead for the Pinchot Trail is well marked and has plenty of room for multiple cars. From the trailhead you can hike the entire Pinchot Trail, or if you prefer to do as we did, you can hike either of the two loops formed by the intersecting township road. To reach the trailhead, you will need to get onto US Interstate I-80. Once on route I-80, look for exit 284 (route PA115). If you are a NASCAR fan, you may recognize this exit as it is the same exit as the Pocono Speedway. Once on route PA115, you will want to head north and continue straight for approximately 5.75 miles. At this point, turn right onto Buck River Road. Once on Buck River Road, continue straight for approximately 5 miles until you get to the town of Thornhurst. Once in Thornhurst, turn left onto Bear Lake Road. Travel down Bear Lake Road for 4.2 miles and look to your right. You will see a sign indicating the trailhead parking area for the Pinchot Trail. Turn right just past the sign on a dirt road and park in the large parking area.

After getting our packs ready, Shari and I hiked the short distance from the parking area back to route PA115. In this area of Pennsylvania, privately owned land is interspersed with the State Forest Land. This is the case on this section of the trail, which requires a short bit of road walking. After hiking the paved road for 0.7 miles, we spied the double orange blaze that indicated the trail was turning off to our right, where it followed Tannery Road, a dirt forest road.

We had to hike an additional 0.2 miles on Tannery Road before we finally reached single track trail. Turning off to the left, we followed the trail through a section of new growth woods. The trees here didn't seem to be much over 15 feet in height and very slender in the trunk.

For the next 0.6 miles we skirted along the western edge of Balsam Swamp. We came into a large clearing, more-so a meadow than a swamp, about 1.5 miles into our hike. Here the trail was cleared, but I could see in the summer how some of the low bushed could overgrow the trail. Blazed posts are placed alongside the trail to help you navigate across this large open space.

After crossing the meadow clearing, we re-entered the woods. After a short walk on the level, we soon began a short climb. After our ascent we were greeted again to a large clearing. There was plenty of places to setup tents here, however there was no source of water. At 2.5 miles we came across the Stone Tower. This was a pile of rocks, arranged in such a way so as to resemble a tower, that stood about 7 feet tall. Shari paused a moment at the tower to find a rock that she then tossed onto the pile, adding her own little contribution to the tower. After passing the tower we began a gradual descent.

Around 2.65 miles the single track trail merged with a grassy double track trail. The trail looked to have once been used for motorized vehicles, but now was only used by hiker, biker, and horse-back riders. It was on this section of the trail that I encountered an odd site. Approximately 3.05 miles into our hike there was a yellow diamond-shaped sign along the trail that stated "Stop Ahead". After a tenth of a mile we came upon a double-blazed intersection with a stop sign located there. I'm not sure if the sign was meant for hikers, or perhaps those that travel at higher rates of speed, but regardless, I wouldn't think there would be that much traffic on this trail to warrant a stop sign.

At 3.15 miles we turned right and continued on the grassy forest road. AFter 0.15 miles the trail beared left off the road and back into the woods on a single track trail. While hiking this section of the trail we did spy our first creature on the hike. Off to our right, half way up a large tree, Shari saw a dark silhouette climbing up. I took a closer look at it, not sure if it was a bear cub or something else, but then figured out from it's slow rate of climb that it was a porcupine. He was a rather large fellow and soon made his way around the tree so that our view of him was blocked by the trunk of the tree.

We merged from the woods to cross Tannery Road at 4 miles into our hike. We had a small ascent of about 50 feet before we continued on a gradual descent. The trail merged with Phelps Road at 4.8 miles and we had some road walking on this dirt forest road for about 0.25 miles before the trail turned off to our right.

We climbed a little again, crossing through a some-what swampy area 5.5 miles into the hike. We crossed another dirt road at 6.1 miles and the lowest part of our hike at 6.2 miles where the trail crossed the small stream of Butler Run. Butler Run flows into Choke Creek, but the confluence of these streams is beyond the borders of the State Forest. We had to hike another 1.7 miles before we found ourselves along the banks of Choke Creek.

Finally, 8.9 miles into our hike we found a very nice campsite on the eastern banks of Choke Creek. We set up camp and made our dinner meal of "Switchback" spaghetti. We started a campfire and sat around it for a while, but soon headed off to bed after an exhausting day of hiking. It was nice camping by the Choke Creek, but I was awaken many times during the night by the peeping of frogs. They finally decided to shut up around 4:00AM and I was finally able to fall soundly asleep.

The next day we awoke and broke down camp, after having an energizing cup of coffee and a granola bar for breakfast. We continued on the trail, leaving Choke Creek at 9.15 miles into our hike. We had a short climb over the next 0.5 miles before the trail leveled out. We hiked through alternating stands of pine trees and mountain laurel, finally emerging back onto Tannery Road at 11.25 miles.

We hiked on Tannery Road for about a half of a mile before the trail turned off to our left. Directly across from this juncture was the gated grass road that leads to the Stone Tower that we passed yesterday. The trail headed into the woods a short distance before turning to the right and paralleling Tannery Road. After 0.3 miles we found ourselves once again hiking on Tannery Road.

At 12.3 miles the trail departed from Tannery Road to our left. From here the trail was rather straight as it followed the State Forest boundary out to Bear Lake Road. We emerged on Bear Lake Road 13 miles into our hike. The Pinchot Trail continues on the other side of the road, but we were only doing the south loop, and turned right here to follow the paved road back to the trailhead, completing our 14.2 circuit hike of the south loop.

The Pinchot Trail is a rather easy trail to hike. The elevation changes are minimal and there really aren't any strenuous climbs. The trail is a bit rocky in places, but being from Central Pennsylvania, I didn't mind the rocks at all. The township road that bisects the trail makes it easy for you to break up the hiking of the trail, as we had done. Hopefully at some point this year we will get an opportunity to make it back up here so we can hike the north loop and I can mark the Pinchot Trail as Pennsylvania trail that I've completed in it's entirety.

There is ample parking at the trailhead for the Pinchot Trail. From here you can hike the entire trail or you can opt for the south or north loop.

After three quarters of a mile of road walking, we finally get on the trail proper.

Shari makes here way across this large open meadow.

The highest point on the south loop, this is the location of the 'Stone Tower'.

I was a little surprised to see this sign along the trail. Apparently hiker's walk very quickly on these trails and it's best to look both ways before merging with oncoming traffic.

Beautiful Choke Creek. The trail follows the banks of this stream for about 1.1 miles.

Our campsite located along Choke Creek.

After hiking on Tannery Road, the trail bears off to our left, back onto a single track that parallels the dirt road.


  • Thanks for the report on your hike. My brother and I plan to hike the trail the first week of Oct. is Choke Creek a safe source of drinking water? I have a filter water bottle that is supposed to filter out all kinds of stuff. Just wondering what you think.

    John Hontz on
  • I’ll be hiking this solo in two weeks, extremely excited! Did you ever hike the north trail? Thanks for the review!

    Dustin on

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Pinchot Trail