Travelers heading westbound on Route 322 over Seven Mountains this year are bound to run into traffic jams due to a $100 million PennDot road project that will widen the highway near General Potters Mills. Instead of getting frustrated sitting in traffic, we suggest pulling over at the Seven Mountain Roadside Rest Area and taking a quick hike to one of the best vistas along the 325 mile Mid State Trail! The hike is free...as it is a project headed by volunteers with the Mid State Trail Association.
Seven Mountains Rest Area is only accessible to westbound traffic on Route 322. The pull-off is less than 5 miles west of Route 322 Milroy Exit, and almost at the top of the climb above Laurel Creek Reservoir.
As you climb the mountain above Laurel Creek Reservoir in your car, pay attention for the sign pictured above, which is part of the Mid State Trail. The pull-off to the roadside rest area is shortly past this spot.
Of course one doesn't have to venture into the woods at this roadside rest area, although we do suggest it. If you're not a hiker, feel free to enjoy the picnic area...
And if you have pets in tow, be sure to let them do their thing only in the designated Pet Area. If you have children in tow, be sure to keep them out of the Pet Area, less the rest of your car ride will be a foul experience for sure.
Of course we highly suggest that you explore the area further by following some short hikes that begin and end at the rest area. Refer to the hiking board posted at the rest area, and bring your Bald Eagle Lizard Map along for the hike, too. As the sign says, the yellow-blazed Nature Trail was built and is maintained by the Pennsylvania Conservation Corps...now known as the PA Outdoor Corps. This stellar program offers young adults experience and opportunities working in the field of outdoor recreation and conservation.
There is plenty of history to be found in this are as well. The first "roads" to go through these mountains were actually footpaths created and maintained by Native Americans. According to the book, Indian Paths of Pennsylvania by Paul A.W. Wallace, Kishacoquillas Path (named for the Shawnee chief of the same name who lived in Lewisburg), led from modern day Lewistown to Milesburg. Milesburg was then known as Bald Eagle, after the local chief Bald Eagle (which is also the origin of the name of Bald Eagle State Forest and many other modern day sites in this part of the state). Another Path, Logan's Path, led from Potters Mills (where the current Route 322/Route 144 construction is taking place) to the West Branch Susquehanna River near Lock Haven. Learn more about the Native history of this area by referencing Indian Paths of Pennsylvania by Paul A.W. Wallace.
The first settlers began crossing over Seven Mountains (which was originally called Seven Mile Mountain) in the late 1700's. Rev. Philip Vickers Fithian wrote about traversing this terrain from Bellefonte southeast to Lewistown in his journal entries from August 1-8, 1775. Among other notes, Fithian wrote of the area:
The first mountain we had to climb by far exceeded all I have yet gone over. It is a long steep. The ascents, however, were trifling, for the road lies alongside of the mountain and winds gradually upwards, but the rocks, vast stones of every size and shape, make it not only troublesome but dangerous to go over them. On the top of this–oh, murther!–another still higher. One who like me has been little used to go over such high hills can have by bare description no conception, not even an idea, of the rough romantic prospect here,–a long view more than forty miles [sic] over the tops of pine ridges through the long warm valleys. The highest tops of very tall trees are apparently two hundred or three hundred feet below us, and within gunshot of us. I was afraid [to] miss a step . . . and blunder, for in such case we should surely have trundled down the hill like Sisyphus’ always receding stone. . . . On the summits of these hills is yet a great plenty of large sweet huckleberries. My advice to all who in future pass over these–and I give it as a friend to them, soul and body–is to enter upon the journey armed with an uncommon share of patience and perseverance. Being feeble, fallen sinners, they may, like the Israelites long ago, commit sin in these American high places and swear. (Read more of this journal in a publication edited by Robert Greenhalgh Albion and Leonidas Dodson (Princeton, 1934).
Skip ahead to 1821, and you'll find yourself walking on the first settlers' road passing over these mountains. At this point, the turnpike was a wagon road for horses. Over the next 200 years, the road turned to pavement for cars, then a 4-lane divided highway, and now it is turning into an even more expensive 4-lane divided highway that will traverse all of the ridges and valleys between Lewistown and State College.
Back to to hike: the yellow blazed Nature Trail connects with a blue blazed spur trail of the Mid State Trail. After about a mile of hiking, reach the signed junction of the blue blazed trail with Mid State Trail, and notice Route 322 below you to the east. A short but steep decent towards the highway leads to the trail sign visible from the highway (mentioned and pictured previously in this blog). If you have the time and desire, go ahead and visit this spot. There is a really neat cement culvert, which allow water and hikers to pass under Route 322 year-round. Turn around here and head back uphill on the Mid State Trail to complete the Rest Area loop.
The climb along the Mid State Trail is steep, yet rewarding. Ripe blueberries can be found here in mid-summer. Wildlife is also abundant here, even with the loud highway noise nearby. The trail may be overgrown from time to time, but remember, this trail is almost entirely maintained by volunteers. Want to help out? Feel free to contact Mid State Trail Association and/or attend some of their group trail care events.
At the top of the climb, take a very short side trail to one of the best vistas on PA. Big Valley Vista looks south towards Jacks Mountain and the gap that leads to Lewistown. Laurel Creek Reservoir and Route 322 are clearly seen (and heard) from this vista. It is hard to imagine what this natural vista looked like before the manmade reservoir and highway interrupted the scene, but we're sure that it was even more amazing than it is now.
When the vista was modified decades ago, Pennsylvania National Guard used helicopters to drop equipment and materials to build structures such as benches and overlook rockwalls.
The rockwalls are impressive, and the views are most impressive during the fall foliage season. Use your Bald Eagle Lizard Map and your Rothrock Lizard Map to get a fuller appreciation of the lands and trails surrounding this vista.
Once you've had enough of the view, continue on Mid State Trail for just a bit until you reach another signed junction with a blue blazed trail. Mid State Trail continues northbound over one hundred miles to the New York border. You'll want to turn left to descend back to your vehicle at the roadside rest area.
The descent is short and enjoyable! Soon enough you'll arrive back at the rest area and your car. Hopefully, you feel reinvigorated and are ready to continue on your road trip to your final destination.
Please note: this area is open to hunting during spring and fall hunting seasons. Be sure to wear blaze orange! Of course we encourage you to sport your orange Lizard beanie for cool weather adventures!