The Thunder Swamp Trail System is a little less known in northeastern Pennsylvania when compared to the Pinchot Trail System. It has a reputation for being hard to follow, and under maintained. There aren't any vistas or steep climbs, and is in fact one of the "flattest" backpacking trails I've come across in the northeast of the country, let alone the state.
- Map: Thunder Swamp Trail System (DCNR)
- Although the terrain of the TST is fairly flat from an elevation gain standpoint, the trail is fairly rocky. This due in large part to it geographic location upon the Pocono Plateau.
- Between Lake Minisink south to Luke Road there are no campsites, at least none that I saw. Keep that in mind as you plan your trip.
I have hiked sections of the Thunder Swamp Trail before, so I had an idea of what I was getting myself into. For this trip I wanted to do things a little differently. For a few years now, I had wanted to try setting up my tarp as a shelter just so I knew that I could in an emergency. Of course I always would have my hammock with me, so it always got pushed until "next time". This trip, I didn't give myself the option of pushing it back. I didn't even pack a hammock only my tarp, a ground sheet, sleeping bag and air pad.
I knew it was going to get chilly overnight, forecast said low of 34F. I also knew daylight was going to be short, this was the last weekend before Daylight Savings ends and the sun would set at 6:09pm. So I counted on at 10-12 mile day.
I left the trail head at about 8am and headed clockwise, towards the site of my first solo backpacking camp at Bushkill Creek, shortly after passing that site I was in new territory for a while. I made decent time, occasionally stumbling over the rocky terrain hidden under all the fallen leaves. By the time I had crossed back over Rt. 402 on the north end of the loop it was approaching 2PM and I was ready for lunch. I figured I would stop along Saw Creek/Thunder Swamp for a quick bite and then decide what my plan would be from there.
As I ate, I looked at the map. I had already covered roughly 11 miles but it was too early to set up camp, plus there were some hunters in that area that I didn't want to disturb. I decided to push on, thinking there had to be a campsite along the eastern edge of the main loop.
I was wrong, from Lake Minisnk south to Luke Road there were not any campsites that I saw. I wound up completing nearly 18 miles, 17.77 to be exact, of the 20 mile main loop. I set up camp along Red Rock Run as the sun set. What a great way to test an emergency setup! The tarp shelter worked great, and I really had no issues setting it up for ground use other than getting the stakes in the rocky ground.
Overnight I was constantly serenaded by a large pack of coyotes, they howled and whooped off and on all night. I could hear them not far out of camp near the edge of the creek, they seemed to be having a blast running around and looking fro scraps left behind by the hunter the previous day.
I only had a short 2.5 miles hike back to the car on day 2. It was a fun, if not exhausting trip, and I enjoyed every second of it.
Be prepared for long stretches without campsite opportunities. What this trail lacks in vistas and views it make up for with the raw beauty of the surrounding forest. The trail was better blazed than I expected and was not difficult to stay on trail.