Early spring ridge hikes are rewarded with impressive and regular views. Yellow Arrow Trail near Colerain leads to at least one such view — Indian Overlook.
Hiking to the overlook includes climbing less than a mile, but gaining 750 feet in elevation. Completing the hike as a loop will add 2.45 miles. Include a short walk on the Ice Caves Trail, and you have a half-day outing.
The trailhead is at the Recreational Access Trailhead along Spruce Creek and Colerain Road. Yellow Arrow Trail is well blazed. Once on the trail you move immediately from parking lot into tall hemlocks. You are soon crossing Colerain Road, which makes a loop hike possible.
Continue up the mountain. Look closely at the first head-high hemlocks that you pass on the trail. One of those trees has branches and needles that are covered with hemlock wooly adelgids (HWA), a forest pest introduced from Japan before 1951 that is threatening the future for hemlock trees in Pennsylvania.
As you climb away from the hemlocks, there is a nice buck rub next to the trail. In the fall males generally rub saplings with the base of their antlers. Bucks seem to prefer certain trees, and this striped maple (Acer pensylvanicum) is one of them. This is a signpost for other deer. It is a visual sign and a scent sign. Look closely, and you can see other rubs nearby.
As the trail gains elevation, you will begin to see more and more of the valley. The trail is more defined as it eventually follows what was likely a logging road.
Nearing the top, the trail clings to the mountainside. And then you approach Indian Overlook — a superb view looking over Spruce Creek, its valley, Bald Eagle Mountain and the long line of the Allegheny Front.
On a weekday I sat alone on rocks at the edge, soaked up some sun and ate my lunch.
I retraced my route back to the parking lot, and it was not easy. Descending is tougher than ascending! The better way down is to continue 0.2 miles past the overlook, and then to turn right on Colerain Road, which will make this a 3.1-mile loop hike.
Walking on the road is easier than hiking back down the Yellow Arrow Trail. Views through the trees are nice, and in about a mile you will come to a wide spot in the road. There is a great view of Canoe Mountain (State Game Lands 166) and the wide valley beyond it.
As you near the bottom of the mountain you may return to the trailhead by following the Yellow Arrow Trail to the left where it crosses Colerain Road. Another option is to continue on Colerain Road to the Ice Cave Trail, or what remains of it.
As you are leaving the State Forest, look for the post on the left that has Colerain Road engraved on it. At that post, turn around and look up the road for a post on the other side. Walk into the woods at that point, and you will see a path.
To see the ice caves, follow the path — which at times is not obvious. The large stone structure that is to your right as you begin following Spruce Creek is likely an incinerator built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps. It might have been used by Colerain State Park, which was here from the 1940s through the 1970s.
A 10-minute walk brought me to the first of the ice caves — look for an area where rocks appear to have been removed, leaving a depression or opening in the rocks at the base of the talus-covered mountainside. There are several. Continue a little farther to see the most well-defined ice caves.
Local lore has it that these caves form ice year round and might have been used to keep food cold throughout the summer. Ice caves at Colerain are referred to in publications at least a century ago. At that time other ice caves or ice mines were roadside attractions and often promoted as mysterious phenomena. They were referred to as glacieres naturelles (natural refrigerators) and had monikers such as the Devil’s Ice Box.
Air emerging from the caves can be up to 50 degrees colder than the surrounding air. As the cold air meets humid air, ice can form. Geologists say this can occur as late as early summer but, despite local lore, it is unlikely that ice has ever been present for the entire year.
Yellow Arrow Trail is a short, steep, challenging hike to a nice view, or you can drive up the mountain and take a short walk to Indian Overlook. The view from Colerain Road adds to the outing. An additional bonus is the pleasant, scenic walk to the ice caves, a site with natural and historical significance.
Enjoy this outing and explore one of the wonders of Central Pennsylvania!
Gary Thornbloom is the Co-Chair of the Public Lands Committee, PA Chapter Sierra Club; he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
If you go
Directions: Travel about 11.7 miles west of Pine Grove Mills on PA-45. At the intersection of PA-45 and PA-350 set your odometer and continue 3.0 miles — by my odometer; Google Maps says 3.2 miles — on SR-45, and look for a left turn (just after a school bus sign) onto Colerain Road (no sign).
There is almost immediately a bridge that crosses Spruce Creek, and then a large parking area. Some DCNR Rothrock State Forest Maps (some were available at the trailhead kiosk) show a “Parking Area” here, while others refer to it as a “Recreational Area Access”.
Resources: Rothrock Pennsylvania State Forest Trail Map, a Purple Lizard map, is available at Appalachian Outdoors, and is the best map I found for this area.