Experience the Trails of Pennsylvania

National Trails Day: Hiking in Rothrock State Forest

Saturday, June 3rd, 2006 was National Trails Day. This was the day that everyone was suppose to get out and enjoy the outdoors. Unfortunately, in our neck of the woods, the weather was not all that cooperative. I awoke Saturday morning to an overcast and dreary day with drizzle falling. Regardless of the weather I was determined to make it out onto the trail on National Trails Day and experience my outdoors. I decided to make a circuit hike on some of the many trails within Rothrock State Forest. The hike would be on the northwest face of Tussey Mountain, climbing to the top where I would hike across Little Flat, and then descend back down to Galbraith Gap, using the Old Laurel Run Trail, Spruce Gap Trail, Lonberger Trail, and the Three Bridges Trail.

Trailhead:  N 40° 45.86'
W 77° 45.32'
Total Elevation:  2232'
Trail Length:  3.7 miles
Hike Time:  2.5 hours
Hike Type:  Loop
Difficulty Rating:  81
Near:  Off route US322 near Bolasburg, PA.

I decided that I wanted to do a hike close to home. I had plans for later on and I didn't want to spend my available time driving to a place when it could be better spent hiking. I decided to make a circuit hike on some of the many trails within Rothrock State Forest. I had read about a trail called the "Three Bridges Trail". The name intrigued me and I was interested in finding out all about these "Three Bridges". So I decided to do a hike on the northwest face of Tussey Mountain, climbing to the top where I would hike across Little Flat, and then descend back down to Galbraith Gap. The circuit hike was to be about 4 miles in length and would include the Old Laurel Run Trail, Spruce Gap Trail, Longberger Trail, and of course the Three Bridges Trail.

The trailhead for this hike is located at the parking area for access to the Rothrock State Forest in Galbraith Gap. This is located about 0.5 miles beyond the Tussey Mountain Family Fun Center on Bear Meadows Road. To reach the trailhead you will need to get on route US322. Traveling east, you will see Bear Meadows Road on your right, just after passing Boalsburg. The four lane highway will reduce to two lanes with Bear Meadows Road being 0.65miles beyond this point, on your right. If you are heading east, you will see Bear Meadows Road on your left, directly across from the Elks County Club and golf course. Once you get on Bear Meadows Road, drive for 1 mile. You will see a stone road as well as a sign to your left. Pull back onto this road and continue back to the second parking area. The trailhead is just across the bridge on the other side of the paved road.

For the first tenth of a mile I hiked in the woods, just to the right of Bear Meadows Road. Soon the road bore off to the left, crossing a bridge, while I continued hiking straight for another hundred feet. The trail then turned to the left and followed an old railroad grade along the south bank of Galbraith Gap Run.

At 0.3 miles into the hike the trail pulled up and away from the stream and crossed Laurel Run Road. This is the start of Longberger Path and it begins a gradual climb up the mountain. A half mile into the hike, Longberger Path intersects with Spruce Gap Trail. I turned right here and continued on Spruce Gap Trail for only about 50 feet when the Three Bridges Trail branched off to the right. I could have continued on up Spruce Gap Trail, doing this hike in a clockwise fashion, but I really wanted to see what all this "Three Bridges" talk was about.

Walking back Three Bridges Trail I soon learned how the trail got it's name. At the marshy area of the headwaters of a small mountain stream, there were three bridges constructed. The bridges allowed you to walk through this fern filled glen, and across the babbling stream, without impacting the vegetation and causing additional erosion. There was what appeared to be a nice camping area here, but upon further investigation I could see that it was well used with broken glass strewn about everywhere around the fire ring.

The Three Bridges Trail soon came to an end at Laurel Run Road. The trail was only a quarter of a mile long and acted as a cross connector between Longberger Path and Old Laurel Run Trail.

I followed Old Laurel Run Trail up to the top of the mountain and the Little Flat area. The trail paralleled Laurel Run Road for about a quarter of a mile before it gradually turned to the left and began a steeper ascent to the top. At 1.7 miles into the hike I emerged from Old Laurel Run Trail onto the forest road that went back to the towers on Little Flat.

I had the opportunity to get off of this road and follow the Mid State Trail that roughly parallels the road. But, after the climb to the top of the mountain, I decided to take it easy and catch my breath while hiking the more easily traveled road. After a half mile of road walking, I was finally at the top of Little Flat and reconnected with the Mid State Trail as it passed the fire tower located here.

After joining up with the Mid State Trail I hiked for another 0.15 miles before coming to the intersection of Spruce Gap Trail. This short section of the Mid State Trail that I had just hiked is only one of a hand full of sections that permit use other than just foot traffic, such as bikes or horses.

I was pleasantly surprised with the Spruce Gap Trail. The trail looked to be well used, even if the underbrush was starting to creep onto the trail. With the recent rains, the brush was quite wet and my legs were wet as well as I navigated this section of the trail. Before long however I was walking in and among a stand of hemlocks. The trail began to descend here and was quite slippery with the recent rains and exposed tree roots.

Around 2.6 miles into the hike I emerged from the stand of hemlocks and was treated to a decent view of Bald Knob. There was a lot of fog surrounding Bald Knob but relatively fogless on the trail. I am sure this view would be nicer on a clearer day and in the late fall or winter when the leaves were off of the trees. I did pass one fellow hiker at this point. He was climbing up Spruce Gap Trail as I was descending. We exchanged greetings and both continued off on our separate ways.

For the next half mile, the descent on Spruce Gap Trail was somewhat steep. What made the descent even more difficult was the state of the trail. The trail was very rocky and eroded in many places. I learned later that a switchback had been placed to the right of the trail. However, if the switchback is to be used, some sort of sign needs to be placed on the trail along with a blockage of the existing, eroded trail. At 3.1 miles into my hike I passed the Three Bridges Trail and had completed the main part of the circuit hike.

I finished the hike off by walking on Longberger Trail back to the trailhead. There were many more cars here now then there were two hours ago. The rain had stopped and this probably explained the increase in cars at the trailhead.

The total mileage for this hike was 3.7 miles and I was able to do it in about 2 hours. There was a total elevation gain of over 1000 feet making this a good hike for a cardiovascular work out. Even with the damp, dreary, overcast day I enjoyed this hike. As the gentleman that I passed on Spruce Gap Trail commented: "It's better than sitting around the house". The close proximity of this hike to State College and the easy access to the trailhead makes this an ideal hike to do after work or when you just want to get out and get some exercise. Both Old Laurel Run Road and Spruce Gap Trails make for easy access to the Mid State Trail, something to keep in mind if you're through hiking or need a place to park your cars for a point to point hike.

On National Trails Day 2006, I am sure there were others across the country doing hikes that made this hike pale in comparison. But with the time that I had allotted I thought it made for a nice hike. And the important thing was that I was able to get out on National Trails Day and enjoy the outdoors. I'd say with the close proximity to State College that I'll be doing this hike again. Maybe sometime this fall, when the leaves are off the trees. It'll give me a chance to fully enjoy the view from Spruce Gap Trail.

{vsig_c}0|lsg1_01.jpg|Here I am standing at the trailhead. The bridge in the background takes you from the parking area, across Galbraith Gap Run, and into the Rothrock State Forest.{/vsig_c} {vsig_c}0|lsg1_02.jpg|Pennsylvania's DCNR has been placing these new trail markers throughout the Rothrock S.F. This one is at the intersection of Spruce Gap and Longberger Trail.{/vsig_c} {vsig_c}0|lsg1_03.jpg|The trail that connects Spruce Gap and Old Laurel Run Trails is called Three Bridges Trail. As can be seen in this photo, there actually are three bridges on this trail.{/vsig_c} {vsig_c}0|lsg1_04.jpg|At the intersection of Three Bridges Trail and Old Laurel Run Trail. Laurel Run Road can be seen on the right of this photo.{/vsig_c} {vsig_c}0|lsg1_05.jpg|I came across this Eastern, or Red-Spotted, Newt on my hike up Old Laurel Run Trail.{/vsig_c} {vsig_c}0|lsg1_06.jpg|Hiking across the ridge top towards the fire tower on Little Flat. The fog was starting to roll in on this section of the hike.{/vsig_c} {vsig_c}0|lsg1_07.jpg|At Little Flat I joined up with the Mid State Trail for about a tenth of a mile before heading down Spruce Gap Trail.{/vsig_c} {vsig_c}0|lsg1_08.jpg|About a quarter of the way down Spruce Gap Trail I got this shot of Bald Knob. In the fall or winter, when there are no leaves, I bet this would be a nice view.{/vsig_c} {vsig_c}0|lsg1_09.jpg|Looking back up Spruce Gap Trail, you can see how steep and rocky this trail is in parts.{/vsig_c}

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