Experience the Trails of Pennsylvania

Quehanna Trail: Discovering the Eastern Sections of the Wild Area

It had been over 5 years ago that Mark and I last hiked on the Quehanna Trail. For our first backpacking trip of the season, it was decided to go back to the Quehanna Wild Area and hike on the Quehanna Trail. This time Mark and I were accompanied by Kaelen, Jim, and Chris. We opted for a hike on the eastern section of the trail, which provided vistas and more of a challenge than the western parts. So on a chilly morning on the first weekend of May, the five us began our spring backpacking trip on the Quehanna Trail.

Trailhead:  N 41° 11.76'
W 78° 9.10'
Total Elevation:  4983'
Trail Length:  16.4 miles
Hike Time:  10 hours
Hike Type:  Shuttle
Difficulty Rating:  132
Near:  Along the Quehanna
Highway, near the
Quehanna Boot Camp

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The trailhead for the start of this hike is located along state route 1011, also known as the Quehanna Highway. To reach the Quehanna Highway, you need to get onto route 879. This can be reached from route I80 at a number of exits: at exit 120 near Clearfield, at exit 133 near Kylertown, and exit 147 near Snow Shoe. Exit 120 near Clearfield is with route 879, so just head east from there. Exit 133 near Kylertown brings you out on state route 1011 (its not called the Quehanna Highway here) and you can follow it north to the intersection with route 879. And finally, from exit 147 near Snow Shoe, take route PA144 to its intersection with route 879 and head west. Near the town of Karthaus (you'll pass through this town if coming from the Snow Shoe exit of I80), there is an intersection with route 879 and the Quehanna Highway. Follow the Quehanna Highway north for about 5.3 miles (you'll drive through Piper, also known as the Quehanna Boot Camp) and you'll see the parking area in your right.

This was a shuttle hike, so we needed to take one of our vehicles to the other end of the hike. Our hike was to end at a designated parking area for the Quehanna Trail, along Hoover Road. It had rained quite a bit in the region for the past couple of weeks, and we discovered a section on Hoover Road that had ruts in it about 2 feet deep. We realized we couldn't drive back Hoover Road any further so we parked one of the cars here. We estimated that we were about a mile from the parking area where the trail crossed Hoover Road, so it looked like we would be doing a little bit of road walking to finish out our hike on Sunday.

After we got back from dropping off the car, we all put on our packs and started our backpacking adventure. At the start of our hike, the parking area for the trailhead, is not where the Quehanna Trail crosses the Quehanna Highway. We had to walk south along the road for approximately a quarter of a mile before we came upon the trail. There was plenty of space along the side of the road, a grassy are of about 100 feet wide, so we weren't walking on the road proper. Once we trekked about 0.25 miles we turned left onto the orange blazed Quehanna Trail.

After only hiking a bit over a tenth of a mile we came to the first trail register. We stopped here to sign in. We noticed we were the second entry in the new trail register and the first was that of a trail crew who were apparently ahead of us doing some trail maintenance today. We benefited from the fruits of their labor as we continued on, as the trail was free of obstacles and well marked with freshly painted blazes.

At about 1.2 miles into our hike, just prior to climbing a short rise, we came across the trail maintainers. They were lopping brush and removing deadfalls from across the trail. We thanked them for the work they were doing and told them we really appreciated it. Not much longer after passing them we noticed more deadfalls and brush encroaching on the trail. It was much easier hiking the section of the trail that they had cleared, but we managed and pressed on.

At 1.4 miles we had our first vista of the hike. Nothing spectacular, but a vista none the less. We paused here for a bit to take a look around before we continued on with the hike.

At 1.5 miles into our hike the descent from the vista ended and we made a sharp left and began a gradual ascent. After a tenth of a mile we emerged onto a grassy road, which we followed for about 200 feet before we once again entered the woods. We stopped here to apply some DEET insect repellent as a number of us had already began picking ticks off their clothes. Luckily I had no issues with ticks, but Kaelen and Jim were flicking them off their bodies for the entire hike. There were quite a few ticks on this backpacking trip, but to the best of my knowledge, no one had any attached to them after the hike.

For the next 0.6 miles, after entering the woods, the trail ran straight with a gradual ascent. After our ascent, we began a descent into a hollow, following an old forest road. At 2.5 miles the trail bears right off of the forest road and follows a small stream down through the hollow. The guys in front missed this turn off, and Mark and I had to yell to them and told them to turn back. They did some brush whacking off trail and met up with us on the trail about a quarter of the way down the hollow.

At 2.7 miles we reached the bottom of the hill where we crossed a dirt road and then a bridge, which crossed the Upper Three Runs stream. We paralleled the stream on the north bank and the trail beared to the left at 3 miles, just near a small reservoir. We began another climb up along Laurel Swamp Draft.

This climb was the steepest so far, and in my opinion, the steepest of the entire hike. I had not done any backpacking for almost 2 years, and this climb really put a hurting on me. I was trailing to the rear on this climb. Mark and Storm waited for me at the top, but the rest of the guys pressed on. After 0.7 miles of climbing, Mark and I stopped at our second vista of the trip. This one was much nicer than the first, and enjoyed much more, not only because of the view, but because of the rest we took after the tough climb. I feel vistas after steep climbs are much more appreciated then vistas you encounter on flat stretches of the trail.

After the climb, the trail was relatively level. We hiked over some marshy areas where we walked on puncheons. At 5.2 miles into the hike we came across a dirt road and the spot of an old fire tower. The Three Runs Lookout Tower use to stand here, but was removed back in 1979. Finally, at 5.8 miles we came across Jim, Kaelen, and Chris, lounging on the trail, taking a lunch break. Mark and I took off our packs and sat down on the trail to join them.

After a much needed and satisfying lunch we continued on with our hike as we followed the trail down to the head waters of Lower Three Runs. Once we met the stream, the trail turned left and began a gradual climb. We followed the stream for a little over a half mile, and at 5.6 miles the trailed made a sharp right and continued its gradual ascent.

At 7 miles our climb was over and we came upon Three Runs Road. This is a maintained, dirt forest road. There was an information board here with maps of the area as well as other information about hunting and forest regulations. We noticed quite a few elk rubs in this area. This was some of the first elk signs we saw on the trip so far. Later we would see more signs of elk, including the skeletal remains of a young elk, but we never encountered a live elk on the trail.

Once crossing Three Runs Road we began our descent towards Upper Jerry Run. We were going to be camping along Upper Jerry Run, and we were all feeling a bit anxious to set up camp. At 7.8 miles we crossed a small feeder stream for Upper Jerry Run that we had been hiking alongside during our descent. Once across the stream the trail made some sharp turns as it navigated through a rather thick section of brush.

For the next half mile we hiked along the hillside and could hear Upper Jerry Run to our left and below us. We couldn't see the stream because of the thick undergrowth, but we new it was there. At 8.3 miles the trail made a left a steep descent, and finally at 8.5 miles into our hike, we emerged on the southern banks of Upper Jerry Run.

We continued to hike along the stream for another 0.4 miles, passing a couple of small camp sites along the way. At 8.8 miles we came across a rather large campsite and decided to call it a day and erect the tents here. The campsite and fire ring along the stream did not have much room for three tents, so we pitched our tents on the trail, which was probably the largest flat area we could find. After setting up the tents, we put some beers in the stream to cool, and began gathering firewood. After some of the guys played a game of hacky sack, we started a fire and settled down around it enjoying a cold beer. Our dinner consisted of rib eye steaks, cooked on the cools in foil, followed by hot dogs and bratwursts roasted on a stick. Mark commented that this was the best dinner on the trail he had ever had. Of course, the cold beers helped complete the meal as well. Around 10:00PM we all decided to call it a night and headed off to bed. With the exception of being awoken by snoring in nearby tents, this was one of the more peaceful night sleeps that I've had in the woods.

The next morning we awoke to some chilly weather. The sun was shining, but its warming rays had not reached us yet along the stream. We heated some water and had coffee and breakfast bars for our morning meal. Soon we had the tents down and our backpacks ready to go.

We encountered a small problem at this point in our hike. With all fo the recent rain, Upper Jerry Run was running full in its banks. Just a bit past our campsite we could see where the trail crossed the stream a number of times, and all without the aid of a bridge. We could not see any ways to get across at these points without getting our feet wet. We knew the trail would soon turn left and begin to climb the hillside on the far side of the creek, so we opted for crossing at our campsite and climbing up the hill to intersect with the trail. We climbed away from our campsite and the stream, and at about 0.3 miles later, in a small hollow, we crossed back onto the Quehanna Trail.

After a short climb, about 9.6 miles into our hike, we emerged onto the Sinnemahoning Trail. This trail connects the Quehanna Trail with the Donut Hole Trail. With these types of connector trails, it is now possible to hike from the West Rim Trail near Ansonia the entire way to Parker Dam State Park on the western edge of the Quehanna Trail.

The Quehanna Trail soon turned left off the Sinnemahoning Trail after about a quarter mile. We began our descent in Upper Pine Hollow which would lead us to Wykoff Run. Our group of hikers got spread out quite a bit on this section of the trail. Mark and I stopped so that he could fix blisters starting on his feet while Jim, Kaelen, and Chris marched on. Soon I feel back from Mark as earlier in the day I had to put on a knee brace because of my left knee hurting at the end of yesterday's hike. I took it easy as I nursed the knee during the descent.

At 11.5 miles the trail turns right to follow the east bank of Wykoff Run. At 11.7 miles we crossed Wykoff Run on a large foot bridge and a tenth of a mile after that our hiking troup was back together, resting at a roadside rest, where the Quehanna Trail crosses Wykoff Run Road.

We ate a few snacks during our break and soon began the climb away from Wykoff Run. Shortly after crossing the road, the trail was an easy, gradual climb. However at 12.1 miles it turned decidedly steeper. Once again Mark and I fell behind and we would not see the rest of the guys until the end of the hike. During this climb along Laurel Draft we were treated to some nice views of waterfalls in the stream below. I attempted to take some pictures, but from the distance where the trail was located, none of them turned out. Some time I'd like to hike closer to the stream, just to view some of these waterfalls up close.

Things finally leveled out after about 1.2 miles of hiking. We crossed Laurel Draft on a small wooden bridge. We paused here for a bit so Storm could get a drink out of the stream. After crossing the stream, we had a small climb, but soon we were back on level ground hiking.

At 13.8 miles we passed through a pipeline and powerline clearing. I was hoping to catch a glimpse of some wildlife in the clearing, but none were seen. At 14 miles, in the middle of a forest meadow, we once again crossed over the headwaters of Laurel Draft. It looked like there may have been a bridge here at one time, but it must have been destroyed or perhaps washed away. The stream wasn't very wide here and we easily jumped across.

For the next 0.8 miles we hiked through hardwood forests on relatively flat terrain. Unlike back home, there were no leaves or even buds on the trees here. The sun was shining brightly through the leafless tree canopy. I later discovered that I got a decent sunburn on my neck and arms which was probably from hiking this section of the trail.

At 14.8 miles we emerged onto Hoover Road and what was to be the end of our hike. There was a large parking area to the west of Hoover Road. We did not see the boys waiting for us here, so we decided to turn left and hike back Hoover Road to where the car was parked.

What was suppose to be a one mile hike to the car ended up being closer to 1.6 miles. When we got to the car the rest of the guys were there waiting for us. Of course they commented on my poor abilities to estimate distances, but everyone was in good spirits for completing our backpacking trip. After a quick drive back to the trailhead to pick up the other car, and then a return trip to pick up the rest of the group, we were soon on our way fill out stomachs at a local restaurant called Clooney's.

The first backpacking trip of the season was a success. Everyone enjoyed the Quehanna Trail so much that we are planning on coming back in the fall for our annual Fall Backpacking trip. We had done a little more mileage then we originally planned, putting in a total of 16.4 miles. The hike was tough on me because I was out of shape and the fact that I had not done any backpacking for over two years. I hope to get some additional backpacking trips in this summer so that in the fall, when we revisit the Quehanna Trail, I'll be in better shape and ready for the challenge.

Leaving the trailhead for a short hike along the Quehanna Highway.

We followed the orange blazes, shortly after getting on the trail.

The first part of the trail was well maintained with freshly painted blazes.

We begin our descent towards Upper Three Runs.

This bridge, one of many on the trail, crosses Upper Three Runs.

The spring wildflowers, Trillium in this case, were in full bloom during our hike.

Yours truly at our second, and most appreciated vista of the day.

Wooden planks make hiking this section of the trail a little less messy.

Mark and Storm hiking towards the Three Runs Lookout Tower area.

Our third vista, just a short distance past where we had our lunch.

An interesting little setup for getting fresh water from a spring further up the hillside.

The Serviceberry were in full bloom.

At our campsite, getting ready for a game of hacky sack.

Tent City set up on the trail.

Upper Jerry Run running swiftly near our campsite.

After a bit of off trail bushwhacking, we arrived back on the Quehanna Trail.

The trail crosses one of the many feed plots found in the Quehanna wild area.

The bridge over Wykoff Run.

Mark hikes alongside Laurel Draft.

Another bridge, this time crossing Laurel Draft near its headwaters.

Crossing a pipeline clearing.

Mark emerges from the woods at Hoover Road.

The end of our hike, walking down Hoover Road to our car.

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