Editor’s note: The following is part of the Active Life special section.
It’s Shingletown Water Gap, located in Rothrock State Forest, and staring directly into the belly of downtown State College, just two miles away. It is just one of Centre County’s enchanting trails.
With trails that reach deep into the heart of the Ridge and Valley Region of the Appalachian Mountains, hiking in Centre County is a source of inspiration and comfort for those searching for more in life. For Penn State Biologist and senior lecturer Christopher Uhl, it feels like a whole different world.
“If I’m broken or confused, I know that I am not going to be able to break those feelings by doing the same thing that I’m always doing. Being outside invites me to change my perspective. I’m able to discover there that whatever it is that seems like an insurmountable problem, in the concept of a larger reality, may be trivial,” Uhl said.
Jean Aron, author of “The Short Hiker,” said her life wouldn’t have been the same if it weren’t for the trails in Centre County that helped her learn who she is.
“I’ve always been shy and introverted. But when I’m outside I stop and see what I’m hiking through. Some people can just play golf and use that as an excuse to walk around, but I like being on the trail more than chasing a ball around a course,” she said.
Below is a non-inclusive list of the best hikes the area has to offer.
“Bear Meadows is in Harris Township, and it’s probably my favorite place. I kind of keep that a secret, that’s where the Jean Aron path is,” Aron said.
Uhl also counts Bear Meadows as a favorite hiking spot.
“What makes living here so extraordinary is that you can be in the middle of a fairly sophisticated small city, but you can walk for an hour away, in any direction, and be in the middle of a forest,” he said.
Bear Meadows is located behind Tussey Mountain Ski Resort in Rothrock State Forest.
While Mount Nittany is probably the most popular hike in State College, it’s worth it. Located in Lemont, it provides a perch for hikers to sit and look out and over the valley.
Hikers have options as to difficulty, with the 3.5-mile round trip White Trail and the 4.6-mile round trip Blue Trail. The trails are marked with stations along the way, with varying overlooks that showcase State College and Penn State campus, Tussey Mountain and across Penns Valley.
Allegheny Front Trail
The Allegheny Front trail is a 42-mile hiker’s feast that encompasses Black Moshannon State Park. According to Keystone Trails Association, the trail was built in the late ’90s by the Penn State Outing Club, Ridge and Valley Outings Clubs and Quehanna Area Trails Club and the Keystone Trails Association.
The Keystone Trails Association describes the trail as having six trout streams; an acid-polluted stream of interest to activists, known as “Red” Moshannon Creek; and various small brooks. The trail also “includes about 3 miles on the edge of the Allegheny Front, with six identified vistas and some areas of nearly continuous views; extensive portions of the Ridge and Valley Province to the southeast are visible. Hiking is very rocky and steep along this portion of the trail, though you are rewarded with some of the finest overlooks in all of Pennsylvania.”
Sproul State Forest
Sproul State Forest is located partially in northern Centre County and contains more than 280,000 sprawling acres of hiking bliss.
The land was purchased in 1898 by the Commonwealth.
According to the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, the Chuck Keiper Trail “traverses the Burns Run Wild Area, Fish Dam Wild Area, East Branch Swamp Natural Area and Cranberry Swamp Natural Area. A looped trail is located around the perimeter of Cranberry Swamp. This trail is marked with yellow paint blazes.”
Wherever you decide to hike, Uhl said it’s about connecting with the “outside” world.
“I feel most myself, most at home when I’m in the woods. It’s like a homecoming, a sense of ease. For the native peoples of this land, their understanding of outside, was just the opposite of ours. What we would call outside, they would call inside,” he said.