On the trail: Big Valley Vista perfect hike for Thanksgiving

We Pennsylvanians, and particularly those of us who live in the Centre Region, have a lot to be thankful for.

Our area is blessed with many natural wonders and a great network of trails for exploring those special wild places. If you want to see such a place and burn off a few Thanksgiving calories, then the hike to Big Valley Vista is perfect for you.

Accessible only from the westbound lanes of U.S. Route 322 as it crests the Seven Mountains region, the Seven Mountains Rest Stop is the trailhead for this hike. It features a nature trail along with spurs of the long-distance Mid State Trail, and leads hikers to an outstanding overlook called Big Valley Vista. This moderate hike is about 2 miles long.

At the rest stop's parking lot, look for the large wooden map board near the gravel entrance driveway. The map shows the trails leading to Big Valley Vista. After examining it to orient yourself, bear right to a mailbox that sometimes contains maps and brochures and continue on to the yellow-blazed nature trail.

A short walk on this trail will bring you to an old overgrown sunken road that runs perpendicular to the trail, the old Bellefonte-Lewistown Pike, which offered horse-drawn carriage passengers in the early 1800s a route through the Seven Mountains. This pike followed the older Kishacoquillas Indian Path and is just one of several Native American paths whose traces can still be found.

Continuing along this yellow-blazed trail, you soon will reach a junction with a blue-blazed trail, a spur of the Mid State Trail. The yellow-blazed nature trail turns left here and loops back to the rest area. You, however, should turn right and follow the blue-blazed trail, gradually ascending Long Mountain, as the trail becomes increasingly rocky.

After hiking about a half mile, you will encounter the orange-blazed Mid State Trail. Here the climb is steep but not very long, and soon you will reach a short blue-blazed side trail to Big Valley Vista. Unlike many of the other vistas in Bald Eagle State Forest, this one has deluxe accommodations in the form of a stone and timber bench and two stone viewing platforms. These features were built by airlifting supplies to the site.

The view from Big Valley Vista is to the east and south. Looking east one can see Jack's Mountain looming in the distance, past Big Valley and the town of Milroy. To the south, Laurel Creek Reservoir can be seen, sparkling among the trees. Few places can match the majesty of this one on a crisp fall day. It is one of the most picturesque sites in central Pennsylvania. Spend some time enjoying the view!

Return to the Mid State Trail and turn right. After about a quarter of a mile, you will reach a junction with another blue-blazed spur trail heading to your left, with a sign pointing back to Seven Mountains Rest Area. Turn left on this trail and proceed down the rocky slope. Continue into a clearing and reach a gravel road and bear to the left past a gate back to the rest stop parking area.