Hiking in the Spring Creek Watershed
Gabrielle Stewart, Boalsburg resident
Central Pennsylvania is filled with outdoor adventures for the amateur or professional recreationist, whether you are a casual hiker or cross-country skier or hardcore mountain biker. For those wishing to spend time in the outdoors without devoting significant effort or money to a hobby, hiking can be a wonderful way to get to know our local natural resources—and those include the Spring Creek Watershed. Read on to learn about hiking opportunities in our watershed for every fitness level.
Remember to take the best steps for your own safety when hiking. Wear orange during a hunting season. Hike with a friend or, if hiking alone, tell someone where you’re going in case you get lost or hurt, as phone reception may be spotty.
Spring Creek Canyon Trail
Winding along Spring Creek near Bellefonte, the Spring Creek Canyon Trail offers over six miles of leisurely hiking. With multiple access points and accessibility, this trail is a convenient option for anyone feeling the urge to spend time outside regardless of fitness level.
Visitors can start hiking from a few places: the parking lot (Site 1) at Fisherman’s Paradise off of PA-150 near Bellefonte, the parking area off of Rock Road (Site 2) east of the State College Airport, and at the State Game Lands 333 parking area (Site 3) on the north end of Shiloh Road just after crossing Spring Creek. The trail is wide, mostly gravel, and largely flat with only one stretch sloping down significantly from the Rock Road access.
Visitors can expect to see a lot of Spring Creek flora and fauna on their route. Forest herbs like yellow iris, red columbine, and bloodroot can be seen showing off their striking flowers. Hardwood tree species like tulip tree and sassafras are joined by our state tree, the eastern hemlock, in small pockets. For naturalists interested in fish and wildlife, there’s also plenty to observe from brown trout to fish-eating species like bald eagles. No matter the time of year, this rich riparian habitat is bursting with life.
Nestled just south of Circleville Park and west of Park Forest along Circleville Road, Patton Woods Natural Recreation Area (Site 4) offers a wooded retreat in a suburban sprawl. With numerous trails cutting through impressively sized oaks, maples, and pines, these woods are sure to provide a pleasant hiking opportunity—without a long drive to a state forest or park! Patton’s sandy trails are mostly flat with some slight grades and uneven terrain, making them a good choice for most able-bodied hikers or
Whether you’re interested in a 20-minute run or a 2-hour walk, you can keep yourself occupied with Patton’s trails. They connect to extensive trails in the adjacent State Game Lands 176 in Scotia, an area that once held a logging and mining town. Along the way, you’ll pass under mature oaks towering over beds of ferns. Depending on your route, you may walk alongside a meadow, vernal pool, or pond. It’s true that Patton Woods isn’t the most remote of hiking areas; however, there is plenty of nature to enjoy here if you take some time to open your eyes and really look.
Accessible via a parking lot on Route 45 (Site 5) just east of its intersection with route 26, the Musser Gap hiking area gives visitors scenery and their choice of how to enjoy it. The main trail, Musser Gap Trail, is gravel with a slight grade that increases as you near the gap itself. Along the trail, you’ll walk through deciduous forest above with creek crossings and a colorful understory below. Several fungi species and wildflowers like purple-flowered raspberry, jewelweed, and brown-eyed susan ensure that
your outdoor excursion will be shared with pollinators like birds and insects.
Entering the gap will give you choices. Take Frog Hollow Trail to walk a half mile uphill to Lion’s Valley Vista, with the option of walking the flat 0.6-mile Huckleberry Loop through—you guessed it, huckleberry. Or stay on Musser Gap Trail until its intersection with Mountain Mist Trail, where you can continue forward for a short (but difficult!) ridge hike of 0.3 miles up to Hubler Gap Vista, or turn left to reach Highline Vista in 0.9 miles.
Whatever your decision, you are sure to take in some beautiful views and enjoy the sounds of leaves rustling and creek water running. The increasing uphill slope will also ensure your legs get a nice workout!
Moderate to Difficult
Rothrock State Forest, Galbraith Gap access
Galbraith Gap, a popular access point for mountain biking and hiking, offers numerous opportunities for outings of various lengths and difficulties. You can access this area most easily by turning on to Bear Meadows Road from 322-E just east of Boalsburg. This road will take you past a few parking lots,
including the Tussey Mountain Ski and Recreation parking area and Galbraith Gap parking area (Site 6), before moving deeper into the forest.
Due to elevation changes in the Appalachian ridge region, visitors can explore their choice of landscape among a variety of habitats. Ridgetops, some old and worn enough to turn the trail into bare rock, are covered with huckleberry, blueberry, and mainly broadleaf trees; common wildlife sightings include white-tailed deer and various songbirds not found at the valley floor. In the lowlands, hemlock groves and rhododendron provide shade for small, crystal-clear creeks where native brook trout can be seen if you are quiet and move slowly enough.
As said before, the state forest is filled with hiking trails, several of which are in our watershed. The following hike combines a few of these to show you the diversity of the forest habitats while giving you a bit of a workout.
Park on Laurel Run Road next to the Bald Knob Ridge trailhead sign (Site 7), about 1.5 miles after turning from Bear Meadows Road and after taking a tight left and tight right turn. Follow Bald Knob Ridge Trail until its intersection with Green Shoot Trail, continuing straight along Green Shoot. At the intersection with Clemons Trail, turn right to start moving uphill. In less than a half mile you will have reached the top of Bald Knob, where you will walk on the exposed inside of a ridge in one of the world’s oldest mountain ranges. You can return to the parking area by descending Bald Knob Ridge Trail for a total of two miles, or walk back down Clemons and Green Shoot trails for a slightly longer hike at 2.4 miles.
Ultimately, the Spring Creek Watershed contains too many outdoor recreation areas to collect in just one article. So what are you waiting for? Grab a good trail map, water bottle, and snack, and get out there to
explore some of the gorgeous natural resources in your own backyard!
This post is not sponsored.
● Purple Lizard Rothrock Map - this waterproof, double-sided map is a fantastic companion for exploring trails, campsites, wilderness areas, state forests, and more around the Spring Creek Watershed area. Check out the Bald Eagle and Moshannon maps for more of Central Pennsylvania!
● RideWithGPS - this online resource and smartphone app is intended for mountain bikers and cyclists but can be used to explore and plan routes for hiking and backpacking as well. Users can sign up for free and peruse various different map layers that highlight different features or trails. The tool can measure distances. You can also record hikes or rides on the phone app.
Gabrielle Stewart is a Penn State alumna and employee, as well as Centre County resident, with a lifelong appreciation for the outdoors. Nature serves as one of her primary inspirations for multiple hobbies, including birding, hiking, and drawing.
Map caption. Numbers correspond to parking access sites.
Photo 1. A tour of the Spring Creek trail at the Rock Road parking access. Photo: ClearWater Conservancy.
Photo 2. A typical ridgetop trail in autumn. Photo: G. Stewart