Central Pennsylvania history provides us with a glut of colorful characters, and one such is Hairy John Voneida, the namesake of the Hairy John Picnic Area of Bald Eagle State Forest.
John Voneida lived alone in this narrow valley east of Winkelblech Mountain after the death of his family. He was regarded as a friendly hermit who provided food and even lodging to travelers along the mountain road. John Voneida was known for his long hair and beard and when children in the nearby villages saw him, they shouted, “Here comes Hairy John,” and he became immortalized by this name.
You should park in the gravel parking lot of the Hairy John’s Picnic Area that is closest to State Route 45. Walking a few feet up the road to the next lot will bring you to the orange-blazed Mid State Trail, of which the Hairy John’s Trail is a segment. Hike to the right and follow the orange-blazed trail down to Hairy John’s Pond which is fed by Hairy John’s Spring. There’s a picnic table here if you’d like to take in the scenery for a while.
Continue your hike by following the orange-blazed Mid State/Hairy John’s Trail upwards, towards Winkelblech Mountain. You will notice a change in the composition of tree species, as hemlocks give way to white oaks, which in turn give way to chestnut oaks and black birches as you ascend.
About halfway up the slope, the trail becomes markedly steeper and rockier, and then becomes all rock for a short climb to the top of Winkelblech Mountain. Turn around and face east for a view through the mountain gap.
At the top of the mountain you will encounter a trail marker denoting the intersection of the Mid State Trail with the Winkelblech Mountain Trail. At this intersection, turn left and follow the blue-blazed Winkelblech Mountain trail along the spine of the mountain. The dry mountaintop supports a community of chestnut oaks, white pines, and red maples, with an understory of huckleberry.
A mile’s hike along this trail will bring you to the gravel Winkelblech Mountain Road, a DCNR state forest road. Turn left onto this road and follow it down to a spectacular vista which affords a panoramic view to the south, above the hollow formed by Voneida Run.
Continue down the road for a mile and turn left onto a short road that leads back to the Hairy John’s Picnic Area and follow it to the parking lot and your vehicle.
If you go: From State College, take Rt 322 east to Rt 45 north. Pass through Old Fort, Spring Mills, Millheim, Aaronsburg, and Woodward. Rt 45 goes through Bald Eagle State Forest. Watch for a sign denoting the Hairy John Picnic Area on your left. Park in the first gravel lot on your left.
Dr. Stan Kotala is the Endangered Species and Wildlife Chair for the Moshannon Group of the Sierra Club.