The Fred Woods Trail is a 4.5 mile loop trail near the small town of Driftwood, perched high atop the surrounding mountains. The trail was built in honor of forester Fred Woods who died from a heavy machinery accident while on the job in 1975. The trail meanders through huge boulder that make a "rock city" in the woods, as well as visiting two breathtaking vistas. This was my first visit to the trail and I was excited to see what the trail had to offer.
|Trailhead:||N 41° 21.77'
W 78° 11.00'
|Trail Length:||4.3 miles|
|Hike Time:||2.5 hours|
|Near:||Near Driftwood, PA, Elk State
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Good luck getting to the trailhead for this hike. Do not attempt this during the winter, after the first snowfall in autumn, or when there is still ice clinging on in shady areas during spring. Mason Hill Road has no winter maintenance and it is steep. A sign at the start of the road recommends tire chains and I doubt they would do much good in the dark days of winter.
To reach the trailhead, head up into "God's Country" on route PA120. Make your way to the town of Driftwood, along the banks of Sinnemahoning Creek. From there, follow route PA555 towards the town of Benezette. After traveling for 0.9 miles, look to your right and you will see the road sign for Mason Hill Road, as well as an indication that you should turn here to reach the Fred Woods Trail. You will be on a gravel road that turns to a rocky, dirt road in a short bit and becomes rather steep. There are some sharp, blind turns and not much room for two cars to pass, so be careful while heading to the trailhead. After turning onto the dirt road, you will make a sharp turn to the left at 1.9 miles, marking the initial, steep ascent to the top of the mountain, also known as Mason Hill. From this point, drive another 1.8 miles (3.7 miles since turning off route PA555) and you will see the Fred Woods Trail on your left, with parking to the right of the road.
The Fred Woods Trail is relatively flat and I was quite surprised to see how well it was maintained. The entrance trail, which you will retrace your hike on the way back out, was about three quarters of a mile long. You will meet the main loop at a sign that gives an explanation as to the name of the trail. From here it is a circuit hike and you can travel the trail in a clockwise or counter-clockwise direction. I decided to turn right and hike the trail in a counter-clockwise direction.
About 1.5 miles into the hike you will enter the "rock city". Up to this point you will have passed many large boulders. These are remnants from the ice age and there are other areas in Penns Woods where you will encounter these solitary behemoths planted in among the forest. The rock city, on the other hand, is quite unique. The boulders tower overhead as the trail snakes its way through some of the rock formations. At 1.6 miles you will encounter the Rock Trail leading off to your left. This trail further explores the rock city and unique rock formations here. I would strongly recommend that you take some time to explore here. For this hike, I continued straight on the main loop.
At 1.7 miles you will reach the first vista. This is the Water Plug Vista that looks over Water Plug Hollow towards the valley below. I spent a bit of time here enjoying the view. It was still early in the morning, about 7:15AM, and fog from the night before was still clinging in the valley below. After a bit of time enjoying the view I continued on.
Shortly past the Water Plug Vista the Rock Trail will emerge on your left. The trail continues for 0.8 miles, near the edge of the drop off to the valley below. At 2.5 miles we come across the second vista of this hike: the Huckleberry Vista.
I think this vista is nicer than the Water Plug Vista because if gives you more of a panoramic view of the landscape. Looking across the valley, it was neat to see the rolling hills fade into the distance. Again the fog was laying in the valley below and I spent a good 15 minutes enjoying the view before continuing on with the hike.
About 0.3 miles from the vista the trail turns left and would offer yet another view, if it weren't for all the leaves on the trees. Soon the trail gets rockier as it leaves the edge and continues across more level ground. At approximately 3.5 miles into the hike we are back at the intersection with the entrance trail. We will turn right here and retrace our steps back to the trailhead and our waiting car.
This was my first hike on the Fred Woods Trail and I see myself coming back to visit again. The section of the trail out to the Water Plug Vista is level and maintained well enough to suggest it as an out-and-back hike for younger hikers. All ages will enjoy the interesting rock formations found at the "rock city". If you have not hiked the Fred Woods Trail, than I highly recommend putting it on your short list of trails to hike in Pennsylvania.