Experience the Trails of Pennsylvania

Thickhead Mountain: Steep Climb Up, Easy Walk Down

There is a grassy forest road that climbs the southern and western flanks of Thickhead Mountain where it connects with Detweiler Road near McKinney Spring on the top. I have wanted to hike this road and see McKinney Spring but I couldn't find a good trail to use to make a circuit hike out of it. I had thought that the Shingle Path that climbs Thickhead Mountain was long ago engulfed in brush and forgotten. I was happy to discover that I was wrong. With a steep climb up the cleared Shingle Path I was able to finally do a circuit hike on Thickhead Mountain Road.

Trailhead:  N 40° 44.82'
W 77° 42.86'
Total Elevation:  1850'
Trail Length:  4.1 miles
Hike Time:  3 hours
Hike Type:  Loop
Difficulty Rating:  78
Near:  Rothrock State Forest, near Colyer Lake

The trailhead for this hike is at the end of John Wert Path, where it meets Thickhead Mountain Road. Coming from State College, you need to follow route US322 east and turn onto Bear Meadows Road at the entrance to the Tussey Mountain Ski Resort. Follow Bear Meadows road for a little under three miles and turn left onto Treaster Kettle Road, just prior to Bear Meadows Road entering Bear Meadows proper. Follow Treaster Kettle Road until you exit the Rothrock State Forest, approximately 3.1 miles from the turn off Bear Meadows Road. About a tenth a mile past this point you will see Thickhead Mountain Road coming in from your right. Turn here and drive about one and a quarter miles, passing through Heckendorn Gap, and parking the car at the sharp left hand switch-back on the road. This is where John Wert Path begins and the start of this hike.

After making sure the car was far enough off the road, Shari and I began our hike. We had two plans for hiking this evening. The first was to see if Shingle Path Trail was passable and if we could do a circuit hike on the Thickhead Mountain Road. If we discovered that the Shingle Path Trail was not accessible, then we would hike out the John Wert Path to Bear Meadows and then turn around and hike back.

We walked past a gate and soon came upon a camp on our right. Just past the camp, near the edge of its grassy lawn and a rhododendron thicket we spied the Shingle Path sign. A little over a tenth of a mile into the hike we turned off the John Wert Path and began a gradual ascent on Shingle Path Trail.

Shingle Path was not blazed but it was relatively clear of brush and obstacles. It was obvious that the trail was being used by someone, be it hikers or bikers, I am not certain. The climb wasn't too bad at first, but at 0.3 miles the trail makes a slight turn to the right and tackles the mountain head on. From here to the top the climb was steep and steady.

Shari and I paused quite a few times on the way up Thickhead Mountain. Turning around and looking down the trail behind us we were granted views through the leafless trees. We passed a lady walking here dogs. They were going down as we were climbing up. It looked more like the dogs were taking the lady for a walk as they sped down the mountainside.

After a quarter of a mile and over 500 feet of elevation gain, we reached the top of Thickhead Mountain. On the top the wind was blowing quite a bit but it felt good after the invigorating and sweaty climb of Shingle Path. A short jaunt of about a tenth of a mile had us crossing the top of Thickhead Mountain and beginning a descent on the other side. This descent was down into the Detweiler Valley and at this elevation, it was a short descent since the head of the valley was shallow hear. At 0.8 miles the Shingle Path crossed the grassy Detweiler Road where we turned left off the trail and began a gentle ascent back up Thickhead Mountain once again.

The ascent was quite gradual and leveled off at about 1.3 miles into the hike, where Detweiler Road makes a sweeping turn to the right. At 1.4 miles Detweiler Road ends at an intersection with Thickhead Mounatin Road. We needed to turn left here to follow Thickhead Mountain Road out across the end of Thickhead Mountain and back to the car, but off to our right was McKinney Spring. I had never seen this spring before and now that we were so close, I wanted to go investigate. Luckily the spring was only a little over a tenth of a mile west of this intersection. There is a large sign here indicating the presence of the spring and gives a bit of history about it. Not a very large spring but quite impressive that it even exists on top of this mountain. After a few obligatory photos, Shari and I traced our steps back towards the Detweiler Road intersection.

For the next half mile we followed the grassy Thickhead Mountain Road as it made a gradual ascent to the top of Thickhead Mountain. During this part of the hike we were lucky to view two deer grazing on the trail in front of us. With the wind blowing into our face we were able to get quite close to the deer before the spooked and ran off into the woods. I always enjoy seeing wildlife when hiking on the trails and I especially enjoy those opportunities when you get to view the wildlife for an extended period of time.

About 2.1 miles into the hike we reached the highest part of the hike and soon began our gradual descent. To our left was a road that led up to an area that once held radio towers. These towers have long been removed. To our right we had some nice views towards Penn Roosevelt and also Triester Valley and Broad Mountain.

The gradual descent on the grassy road made for a very pleasant hike. We were able to take our time and look around and enjoy the scenery. With the sun setting, we got some very colorful views of the mountains and valleys all bathed in the golden red glow of the setting sun. Soon, however, the sun was behind the mountains and all we had left was the encroaching the darkness.

It began to get quite dark as we passed the gated section of Thickhead Mountain Road at about 3.1 miles. Up to this point the road had been grassy with dirt single tracks where bikers were ride. Now the road was once again gravel. Luckily it was a full moon this evening and the light of the moon illuminated the road and woods quite well. After 4.1 miles of hiking we were finally back at our car.

This was a great hike and I would recommend it to anyone that wants a bit of a work out. The climb up Shingle Path is quite steep and will get the blood flowing. However, once you reach the top, the stroll back down is quite enjoyable. I would also recommend checking out the McKinney Spring. I think you will be amazed as well at the presence of this spring so far up on top of the mountain. When viewing the spring you can almost imagine the lumberjacks of old stopping here to fill their canteens. So if you're looking for a nice after work hike or a hike to do on a weekend afternoon, than I strongly suggest you consider doing this hike. I think you'll agree that it a hike worth doing.

{vsig_c}0|thm1_01.jpg|After parking the car, we passed the gated road and began our hike on the John Wert Path.{/vsig_c} {vsig_c}0|thm1_02.jpg|The sign marking the intersection with Shingle Path.{/vsig_c} {vsig_c}0|thm1_03.jpg|Looking back the way we came gave us some nice views through the leafless trees.{/vsig_c} {vsig_c}0|thm1_04.jpg|Enjoying the flatness of the trail after the steep climb.{/vsig_c} {vsig_c}0|thm1_05.jpg|Strolling along on the grassy Detweiler Road.{/vsig_c} {vsig_c}0|thm1_06.jpg|This sign tells the history behind McKinney Spring.{/vsig_c} {vsig_c}0|thm1_07.jpg|When located at the top of a mountain, this qualifies for a spring.{/vsig_c} {vsig_c}0|thm1_08.jpg|The picture is a bit blurry, but you can see one of the deer that we enjoyed viewing for an extended period of time as we hiked down Thickhead Mountain Road.{/vsig_c} {vsig_c}0|thm1_09.jpg|Looking towards Penn Roosevelt.{/vsig_c} {vsig_c}0|thm1_10.jpg|The full moon can be seen above Bald Mountain in this picutre.{/vsig_c} {vsig_c}0|thm1_11.jpg|The setting sun colored the hills a vibrant fire red.{/vsig_c}

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  • I enjoyed reading about your hike!
    We have a hunting camp a few miles away (closer to Colyer Lake) from the gate you mentioned on Thickhead Road.
    When I’ve hiked that area, we walk past the camp you mentioned and go out to the pipeline. Then we follow the pipeline in a southern direction. You’ll go up and down another ridge and then come to Detweiler Road. Then we make a left on Detweiler and that will take you all the way back up to the Thickhead Road and the areas you mentioned.
    It’s longer but not quite as strenuous and still very beautiful.
    If you come up Detweiler then make a left on Thickhead, then shortly after look for Penn Lookout Trail.
    Years ago the view from up there was pretty spectacular but I haven’t been up there in years.
    When I was younger, all those roads were open to drive on. Now that they’re closed it’s kind of interesting to see nature reclaim them.

    Brian Z on

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