The Quehanna Trail - September 2022

The Quehanna Trail - September 2022

The QuehannaTrail is a roughly 75 mile loop located in Central Pennsylvania in the Moshannon and Elk State Forests. This includes approximately 30 miles through the Quehanna Wild Area, a 50,000 acre tract of protected land. There are no resupply areas along this trail and no shelters. The trip will take you trough sections of relatively easy stretches along the plateau mixed with challenging descents and ascents through many drafts (valleys or ravines eroded into the landscape).  

The Basics

  • Maps: 
  • GPS: GPX File: QT_Full.zip (missing segment day 4 battery issues)
  • Videos: Quehanna Trail Playlist (YouTube)
  • Notes:
    • Difficulty fluctuates throughout the trail. It is very remote and can take time for trail maintenance to clear downed trees.
    • Overall on my trip it was well maintained 
    • Excellent camping opportunities.
    • Guidebook is recommended for camping and water quality.
    • Guidebook it also recommended for mileage and mapping. The DCNR maps where not as accurate as I would have liked and their mileage is off in certain sections and overall.
The Trip 

Trailhead parking can be found in Parker Dam State Park on Fairview Rd. It is required that you register at the State Park office if you plan on using this trailhead. There is no charge the park just wants to know what cars are supposed to be parked there. If the office is not open there is a drop box to fill out your registration form. 

Following the Trail

The Quehanna Trail is a 75 mile loop, meaning you will start and end at the same place. There is no dedicated direction of travel, but the maps are laid out with the intent that you travel counterclockwise. This is the way I followed on my trip. I arrived a little later than I originally planned due to heavy rains and the nearly 4 hour drive from home. I hit the trail around 10am. I had already hiked the first 5-ish miles a few years earlier so I knew what to expect up that point. I also know that more rain was likely for day 1 a Thursday and that a bigger storm was moving in for Sunday and Monday.

The trail was very well marked with very few exceptions. On the rare occasion I lost the blaze it was pretty easy to get back on track. Day 1 one was fairly easy with only a couple decent climbs, I made about 12.5 miles before the weather rolled back in and I made camp. I only saw 1 group out all of day 1, two guys from Ohio who were attempting the entire hike in 4 days. We played leap-frog up until the end of day 1 when they passed me about a mile before I stopped for camp. I was in no hurry and was prepared to stay out for up to 7 days if the weather allowed. I really wanted a nice long trek thru the PA wilds.

You've got to enjoy solitude.

On day 2 I passed the two guys from Ohio a couple miles out of camp. I didn't actually see them, they were still in their tents... and I didn't see them again throughout my trip. I did pass a group of local hunters who were just out for a hike a little while later but that was it for day 2. The Quehanna Trail is so big, that even if anyone else is out there you probably won't see them. I'm OK with that as I enjoy solo trips, but if you like running into other hikers to keep your morale up... be aware, this is not the trail for that.

I entered the Quehanna Wild Area on day 2. It's the largest wild area in the state and it sits in the heart of the 2,000,000 acre PA Wilds. You only cross 2 paved roads during the entire 75 miles - the Quehanna Highway (twice) and Wykoff Run Rd. You don't even come close to any towns either, some of the only signs of civilization you'll see are hunt camps you'll sporadically pass. There are several dirt forest roads you cross however.

I covered almost 16 miles on day 2, the terrain was fairly mild with a few climbs and descents but terribly difficult. The exception being the water crossing at Mosquito Creek, one of the craziest downed-tree-as-a-bridge crossings I've ever seen. I knew that was about to change as the trail was about to leave the southern end of the loop and start to turn northwards into more rugged terrain on day 3.

The last human contact for the trip.

On day 3, only about a mile out of camp I passed another occupied camp. They too, like the previous morning, were still in their tent - so I passed by quietly. I was waking up about 5:30am and hitting trail at around 7am, first light. This was September so I only had about 10 or so hours of usable light and I was trying to make the most of it. While this trial doesn't offer many stunning vistas the different ecosystems you travel through are where I think it's beauty shines. Watching the forest change throughout the day as you go from plateau to draft and back again is stunning. As I started the turn north at the eastern most edge of the loop the terrain changes and becomes more rugged. The climbs become longer and the trails going into and out of the drafts become rockier. 

Just before I stopped for lunch I passed my last camper. He was car camping and looked to be filming. We shared a quiet nod and wave hello before I passed one of the many grown over vistas. Just passed the old vista was a really cool spring that someone, long ago, had carved downed trees into an aqueduct down to the creek.

I stopped for a long lunch at Three Runs Rd and that's where I had my last human contact along the trail. A gentleman riding his mountain bike along the road stopped by for a quick chat while I was packing back up. He kindly gave me a weather update and then peddled off. I didn't see another soul until I got back to the trailhead 2 days later.

The terrain on this day was much more difficult. Not impossible, but I covered nearly 17 miles and experienced over 6300 feet of total elevation change. I found an old abandoned campsite in an old pine grove and settled in... I knew the weather was about to change.

Dodging raindrops

I woke up on day 4 to thunder and the rain started just as I was finishing breaking down camp. Luckily though, the heavy rain stayed away as I hiked. Instead I just had to deal with intermittent showers. All and all, not so bad. I don't mind hiking in the rain, it gives the forest a different look and made the emerging fall colors kind of pop. I knew this day would be a little slower because of the weather so I didn't push it and took the miles the trail would give me.

I hiked along some stunning creeks as I passed through several more drafts and it seemed like the rain always held off while I was climbing and ascending. This was a good test for me, I was pushing in to my longest continuous backpacking trip and I was feeling great both physically and mentally. Even though I enjoy solo trips I was curious how I'd be doing on day 4. I was doing great even with the rain.

My end point for the day was dictated by the weather. Approaching 13 miles for the day, the thunder came back and I could hear the rain moving across the forest. I was a little short of where I wanted to be, by a mile or so, but I was OK with it. I found a nice spot off trail and hung my hammock and tarp and called it a day. 15 miles to go for my last day.

The home stretch.



Day 5 started out dark and dreary, but eventually cleared up as I headed back to Parker Dam State Park. This last segment is home to the largest permanent reroute on the trail and a surprising amount of forest road hike. I am usually not a fan of road hikes, but after 4 days of going into and out of drafts I decided I was OK with it. I was able to bang out a lot of miles pretty quickly.

As often happens on trips, I began thinking about the past few days and how day one seemed so long ago but also like I had just started. I found myself trying to take in as much as I could as if 5 days wasn't enough. I knew my trip was coming to an end but also felt like I could keep going.

As I approached the last 2 miles of the Quehanna Trail I started hearing thunder again off in the distance and the clouds that were moving in were very ominous. I was glad I opted to complete it in 5 days. I could also begin to hear the familiar sounds of state park campgrounds and smell campfire smoke faintly. I was getting closer to civilization.

As I could see the Jeep coming into view I began to wish the Quehanna Trail was just a little bit longer.    

Guidebook?

Yes. I won't get into a review of the book but if you can get your hands on one I highly recommend it. The book in question is the Guide to the Quehanna Trail by Ben Cramer. I have used a few guidebooks written by Mr. Cramer and they are very well put together. His mileage is always spot on and if anything he gives too much information about the trail. He gives water source quality, campsites, mileage, points of interest and history on the area. Also, you get a very good trail map that is not the same one you get at the trailhead.

Difference in the Maps

The map you get at the trailhead is the official map provided by the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (PA DCNR). As I stated earlier I did this trip in September 2022. I downloaded a map from the DCNR for the trail, which should be the most up to date AND I grabbed a paper map at the trailhead. Both the digital map and paper map were from 2019 and did not show a lot of the small reroutes that have been made (pre-2019).

This trail has not changed much since it's inception aside from the major reroute at Medix Run between miles 61 and 65, this is shown on the DCNR maps. The thing I found odd is the mileage differences between the 2019 DCNR map, an older 2013 DCNR map I had, the map included in Ben Cramer's guidebook and my own GPS. Ben Cramer's map and my own GPS were almost spot on with each other. While the DCNR maps were off by multiple miles in some spots.

Difficulty

Simply put... this is a difficult trail. Not because of any extreme terrain but because it's 75 miles of the closest thing to wilderness as you can get in Pennsylvania. There are no shelters, no nearby towns to resupply and few people to rely on. Most of the water crossings has bridges but the few that don't can literally end, or greatly extend your trip if water levels are high. For the most part the hiking is relatively easy and straight forward. The ascents and descents in the drafts will be the hardest part. Some are long and rocky and may have downed trees to contend with. Just be prepared with everything you will need and be ready for solitude.

Wildlife

What can you expect to encounter while on the Quehanna Trail? I personally heard coyotes, barred owls, white tail deer and various birds. I saw plenty of birds, squirrels, chipmunks, frogs and deer and saw evidence of elk. It is possible to come across black bears and snakes, including rattlesnakes in the area so keep your eyes (and ears) alert. While camping it is good practice to keep your food out of camp and away from the reach of critters either by hanging your food 15 to 20 feet off the ground and 10 to 15 feet away from a tree trunk and hanging your food at least 200 feet from where you are camped. Otherwise use a bear canister and wedge it under a rock or downed tree outside of camp. It is not impossible to see elk along the trail, unfortunately I did not on this trip.

Miscellaneous  

A few things to keep in mind. 

  • There are no shelters on this trail.
  • Primitive camping is not allowed within the Parker Dam State Park or the few small sections of state game lands you'll cross.
  • There are no towns you will pass through for resupply so take everything you need.
  • Mosquito Creek, will be the worst water crossing (as of this writing). I suggest speaking with either Parker Dam State Park or Moshannon State Forest about current water levels. When I did this there was no bridge, only a felled tree with a makeshift rope railing. It was not the most fun thing I have ever crossed and if water levels were higher I still would have had to walk through the water for part of it. Tree bridges don't last so this has most likely changed already. To route around Mosquito Creek is not short.
  • There are plenty of water sources, but always treat/filter.. 
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