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Old 02-22-2020, 06:55 PM   #1
rdl
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Trip recommendations -- PA

I'm looking for a central destination for 2 guys in WNY, 1 in CNY and 1 in the DC area to meet in Pennsylvania and do maybe 30--35 mile backpack over a 4 day period in late April, early May. All experienced backpackers. We can drop cars as needed. Hopefully we can find a suitable destination that's scenic and not too crowded although we don't need complete isolation.

Any suggestions ?
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Old 02-26-2020, 08:57 PM   #2
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Most important things to be aware of off the bat:

PA has a seasonal fire ban every spring, from March 1 through May 25. The ban applies to all State Forest Lands under the jurisdiction of DCNR- which includes most (but not all) of the backpacking opportunities in PA- including portions of the AT. During the ban, some State Forests will issue verbal permission to have campfires if the conditions are acceptable, but you'll need to contact the appropriate State Forest headquarters office a few days prior to your trip to find out if fires are allowed. They may also require you to get a camping permit in order to have a fire during the ban.

Additionally, PA State Forests require a permit for any backcountry camping if you plan to remain camped at the same location for more than a single night. The permits are free, and can be obtained from the appropriate State Forest headquarters office by calling a couple of weeks in advance of your trip (or you can stop in at an office in person during normal business hours). If you move camp every day, however, a permit is not necessary.

I'd suggest reading through DCNR's brochure on backcountry hiking and camping (PDF link) for more relevant info regarding policies and regulations. Most of the rest of it is pretty similar to how things work on NYSDEC lands, although the specific numbers are different (group size, set back from water and trail, etc.).

PA has a bunch of really nice backpacking options. The PA Wilds area proper is sort of a "mini-Adirondacks," consisting of roughly 2 million acres of mostly public lands with a few private parcels mixed in, and a decent network of hiking and backpacking trails. Some trails can be moderately popular, but overall the area sees significantly less use than the Adirondack High Peaks in particular.

As a good starting point I'd suggest checking out the side bar at the PA Wilds subreddit on Reddit. You'll find an entry for every major backpacking trail listed there, with the total length of the trail, whether it is a linear trail or a loop, and a link to find more information. Many of the trails listed have their own guidebook and map set available for purchase online (although it can take some Google-fu to find them, not all are available on Amazon).

I'd also recommend picking up a copy of Backpacking Pennsylvania, authored by our very own forum member jmitch. It's got detailed overviews of the vast majority of backpacking trails in PA. With this book combined with the various individual guides and map sets for each trail, you'll be well prepared for plan a trip on the majority of what PA has to author as far as backpacking.

As far as specific destinations:

Hands down the most scenic option is the Black Forest Trail- but this is probably also one of the more challenging options. It's a 42 mile long loop trail, and there's numerous steep ascents and descents along the full length of the trail. The scenery is outstanding, however. If you're looking for a worthwhile challenge, this could be a good one. Here's a link to a photo album from when I hiked the BFT with a couple of friends back in 2013.

I'm pretty partial to the Old Loggers Path, which is a 27 mile loop through moderately rugged terrain (there's a few decent climbs and descents but nothing overly strenuous). There's a few overlooks along the way with nice views, and some neat stretches of trail along cascading streams and a few small but scenic waterfalls. With 4 days at your disposal, this would be a pretty easy trip- but still worthwhile, I think. I understand that there's a couple of lean-tos now on this trail as well. I hiked the entire trail in 2012, and have since returned with friends twice to hike parts of it, including this trip in 2013.

To date, my favorite PA backpacking trail is the Susquehannock Trail System, an 85 mile loop. The trail is decently rugged at times, yet still not the beast that is the Black Forest Trail. It's also remote at times, combined scenery with solitude. This is longer than you're looking for but there's enough road crossings that you can easily do a section of it. I particularly like the Hammersley Wild Area portion of the trail (which traverses PA's largest roadless area)- and you can combine Hammersley with a hike through the nearby metropolis of Cross Fork, with a stop at the local bar for some food and beer mid-way through your trek. This one also has a few lean-tos on it now (and I believe more are planned for the future). I thru-hiked the entire STS in 2013, and returned twice with friends to hike and camp in the Hammersly Wild Area- once in 2014, and again in 2015.

I haven't hiked it yet, but I've heard nothing but good things about the Quehanna Trail, which is a 75 mile loop. It can be split into 3 smaller loops- a ~20 mile west loop, a ~50 mile middle loop, and a ~40 mile east loop (distances are approximate since they're off the top of my head). My friends and I are looking at starting to tackle this trail in sections this spring, with roughly the same time frame as you- so maybe we'll see you out there if you pick this one too.

There's also the Chuck Keiper Trail, a 50 mile loop trail that traverses a mix of gentle and rugged terrain. It's sort of a squished loop, and there's a roughly 2 mile cross over trail that bisects the main loop into a ~20 mile east loop and a ~30 mile west loop. My friends and I did this over two consecutive spring trips- we hiked the east loop in 2018 and returned to finish the CKT by hiking the west loop in 2019. We found it to be a good one to split up across 2 long-weekend trips.

There's also the Allegheny Front Trail, a 42 mile loop that traverses highlands immediately above the Allegheny Front- the edge of the eroded Allegheny Plateau. It's got a few rugged climbs but overall isn't that physically difficult so you might be able to tackle it in a single 4 day trip. Alternatively, the Shingle Mill and Moss-Hanne Trails divide the main loop into two (slightly) shorter ~30 mile loops- an east loop and a west loop, so this could be another good one to tackle over multiple trips. I hiked the full AFT with a friend in 2016.

There's a couple of backpacking trails in the Poconos region as well- the Pinchot Trail, a 26 mile loop, and the Thunder Swamp Trail, a 30 mile "figure-eight" of sorts (it's actually a big loop connected to a small loop via a side trail). These are OK trails- I like them personally but they're definitely not destination trails worth driving long distances to like some of the other backpacking trails listed above. Both have nice scenery, and they offer a surprising amount of solitude given their location (especially the Thunder Swamp Trail which is literally just down the road from the Delaware Water Gap yet receives a fraction of the level of use). I backpacked the Pinchot Trail in 2014 (note that the south half of the trail has been extensively re-routed since my trip), and I also backpacked the Thunder Swamp Trail in 2016.

A couple of other trails that I haven't hiked yet but are on my "to-do list:" The West Rim Trail, a 30 mile linear trail, and the Loyalsock Trail, a 60 mile linear trail. The West Rim Trail traverses the west rim of the PA Grand Canyon, an impressive gorge formed by Pine Creek (think sort of like Letchworth but in PA). I've heard it's a nice trail, but I've also heard a common critique that "all of the best views are at spots that you could just drive to anyways." The Loyalsock Trail is rugged in spots (and there is a 6 mile road-walking section) but still sounds nice overall. I did hike the Loyalsock-Link Loop with a few friends in 2014, which combines the extreme eastern-most stretch of the Loyalsock Trail with the Link Trail to make a ~24 mile lollipop route.

I hope this is helpful information for you to start narrowing down your options. One final word of warning: Be wary about backpaking in PA... In particular, the number of options for longer loop backpacking trails especially will leave you wondering why there's so few comparable loop trips in the Adirondacks. You'll start to form the opinion that that with 3 million acres of backcountry terrain at it's disposal, NY State could (and should) be much more on point in developing similar opportunities for long distance hiking that don't force you to re-tread your steps (or spot a second vehicle).
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Old 02-26-2020, 09:02 PM   #3
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Oh, also, if you're into patches, check out the State Forest Trails Award, which is co-sponsored by the Keystone Trails Association and DCNR. To earn it, you must hike every designated state forest trail in it's entirety (at least the sections that are on state forest lands), which clocks in at at some 700+ miles total. It's probably one of the hardest (if not the single hardest) hiking patches to earn in the northeast.
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Old 02-26-2020, 09:17 PM   #4
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One other tid-bit I forgot to mention: You can get free visitor-use maps for each state forest sent to you in the mail by contacting that state forest's headquarters office. The maps show the designated state forest trails (and associated side trails) and while the scale isn't great for actual on-the-ground navigation they are nevertheless another good resource for trip planning.

I'd also recommend ordering a copy of KTA's Guide to Hiking Trails in Pennsylvania Map (located midway down the page). This is a map of the full state of PA that shows every long-distance trail. It's not at all something you'd use to navigate (or even plan the finer details of a trip), but it's nevertheless a really great resource for seeing what is available and where. If you're trying to democratically pick something that results in roughly even driving times for everyone, it will be a huge help in that regard also.
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Old 02-26-2020, 10:14 PM   #5
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Holy chit-if what DS just posted doesn't help nothing will. Impressive to say the least.
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Old 02-28-2020, 09:38 PM   #6
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All great info, thanks!
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Old 03-06-2020, 01:33 PM   #7
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I grew up in PA and it is often overlooked. I overlooked most of it when I lived in PA apart from the AT and Loyalsock area. The state forests have many options and the book mentioned above includes many of the shorter options within each trail system. After leaving the east and now back within striking distance of PA, I'm working on visiting many of the trails I overlooked. I hiked the Loyalsock last summer and wasn't disappointed. If anything, spending time in the west made me appreciate the trail more. My next destination is the Susquehannock Trail System hopefully in April. I included a link to my Loyalsock Trip below for an idea of what to expect. If you look at my website or facebook page that goes with the blog, I'll have a report on the Susquehannock Trail as well when it occurs.http://www.tomcatsadventures.com/201...ock-trail.html
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Old 03-11-2020, 09:39 AM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Tomcat View Post
I grew up in PA and it is often overlooked. I overlooked most of it when I lived in PA apart from the AT and Loyalsock area. The state forests have many options and the book mentioned above includes many of the shorter options within each trail system. After leaving the east and now back within striking distance of PA, I'm working on visiting many of the trails I overlooked. I hiked the Loyalsock last summer and wasn't disappointed. If anything, spending time in the west made me appreciate the trail more. My next destination is the Susquehannock Trail System hopefully in April. I included a link to my Loyalsock Trip below for an idea of what to expect. If you look at my website or facebook page that goes with the blog, I'll have a report on the Susquehannock Trail as well when it occurs.http://www.tomcatsadventures.com/201...ock-trail.html
The Susquehannock Trail System (STS) ranks as definitely in my top 10 and quite possibly even top 5 backpacking trips. The combination of solitude and physical challenge, plus nice scenery (and bomber campsites) made it one of my favorite trips. At some point, I'll absolutely be back to re-hike the STS in one go.

I'm a bit envious that you're headed there this Spring- I've thought about trying to re-hike it in sections with my friends but the lack of well-maintained cross-over trails makes this a difficult prospect for us since we usually only have 3-4 days to hike as a group. We could spot cars but given the remote location of even many of the road crossings this is also a bit of a logistical challenge.

The Hammersley Wild Area is also a place I'd like to return to explore more fully. Even on two subsequent trips there, I only saw a small portion of what that area has to offer. (Granted the group I was with on both trips probably could've put more effort into hiking, but the trips were also a social gathering just as much as an opportunity to be outside.)

I wish there were more options for long distance backpacking- especially long distance loop backpacking- in the Adirondacks that could be completed over a long weekend (3-4 days). PA really does have the ADKs beat in this regard, considering the number of backpacking loops in PA that range from 20 to nearly 90 miles in length. (Plus you can piece together multiple trails to come up with some loop trips that exceed 100 miles!)

Last edited by DSettahr; 03-11-2020 at 09:55 AM..
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Old 03-15-2020, 09:16 PM   #9
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You got plenty to think about already, but of that list I'd suggest considering the east loop of the Quehanna Trail and the west loop of the Chuck Keiper Trail.

The QT loop, at ~41 miles, is a bit longer than your target, but has some of my absolute favorite trail in PA. It feels (and is) very remote, has plenty of wildlife, and lots of interior trails if you need to shorten the length. If that has to happen, I'd suggest using the forest roads and old double track in the SE to cut a couple miles and increase your speed.

The west loop of the CKT is ~33 very rough, lightly traveled miles. Another great place for solitude and wildlife, with even river otter apparently now making their way into the many smaller streams. It doesn't have a lot of vistas and the trail can be very challenging, but that's a great time of year to visit.

If you're considering the Susquehannock Trail, know that there are several connector trails that can be used to shorten the loop. Using the East Fork connector can snag the northern stretch in ~33 miles. The Twin Sisters / Hammersley Loop is only about 22 miles, but hits more interesting trail, and can be extended somewhat to include the nice upper couple miles of Hammersley's drainage (at the cost of some dirt road walking).

The West Rim Trail is excellent, scenic, and the right length, but if solitude is a priority I'd suggest doing that another time.
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Old 03-19-2020, 04:34 PM   #10
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DS gives great advice. I also love the network of trails in the Quehanna Wild Area. People also like the Mid State Trail from Woolrich to Blackwell. Standing Stone Trail is fantastic, rocky and rugged in places, but the views are excellent.

Black Forest Trail is very scenic, but also more popular.

A little known option is the Tiadaghton/Mid State Trail loop. A nice BFT alternative.

http://www.docs.dcnr.pa.gov/cs/group...r_20033440.pdf

Trail maps can be found on the pages of the individual state forests:

https://www.dcnr.pa.gov/StateForests...s/default.aspx

Last edited by jmitch; 03-19-2020 at 04:47 PM..
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