Bald Eagle State Forest offers a unique mix of mountain ridges and valleys near the geographical center of Pennsylvania. With almost endless options for bicycle touring in this forest, sometimes the hardest part is choosing a route. Lucky for us, unPAved PA has created a few fun routes for their upcoming unPAved of the Susquehanna River Valley event. Last week our Trail Guru used the Bald Eagle Lizard Map and a Surly Cross Check to explore some of the roads along these routes. Have a look below at just a handful of options to be found in Bald Eagle State Forest.
A great place to start a ride in the middle of the forest is at the PA Fish and Boat Commission Lot in Cherry Run, accessed from route 45 near Woodward. Park your car, load your gear, and head out on a nice cruise along Penns Creek. This section of gravel is a gated old railroad bed with a relatively fresh gravel surface surrounded by Penns Creek Wild Area.
After a few easy miles of cruising through this remote valley, you'll quickly come to a newly upgraded railroad tunnel under Paddy Mountain. The route leads straight through this tunnel. We suggest bringing your bike lights, as it does get pretty dark for a bit as you pass through the mountain.
A new foot and bike bridge appears just seconds after exiting the tunnel. Slow down here to appreciate Penns Creek as it flows under the bridge. Also keep an eye out for boaters, tubers, and folks fly fishing on the creek!
Hang a left after the bridge and ride through Poe Paddy State Park, which is a hidden gem deep in this forest. Exiting the park, cyclists could turn right and head towards Poe Valley State Park (which offers swimming, camping, and a snack bar seasonally). Today though, we're going to turn left and climb up Havice Valley Road.
Havice Valley Road climbs for a long time and gains about 800 feet in elevation before finally reaching the ridge above Price Kettle. Here we find an intersection with two dirt roads: Little Poe Road leads right to eventually end near Poe Valley State Park, while Strongs Mountain Road leads left, deeper into the forest.
Our Trail Guru opted for option C: stay on the gravel surface of Havice Valley Road and enjoy a fast downhill through Price Gap.
Cyclists looking for a long adventure may continue downhill the whole way to Siglerville-Millheim Pike, but today's plan was to go left on Strongs Improvement Road, and then take another left onto Flat Hollow Road. Pictured below is the horseshoe curve of Strongs Improvement Road at the intersection with Flat Hollow Road.
As one would guess in this part of the state, Flat Hollow Road was anything but flat. This rocky, dirt road climbs roughly 300 feet to connect Strongs Improvement Road with Strongs Mountain Road. Strongs Mountain Road is just as rocky, but steeper than Flat Hollow Road until it tops out at 2,000 feet along the ridge of Strong Mountain.
Sitting at 2,000ft elevation, the intersection of Strongs Mountain Road and Longwell Draft Road was the highest destination for the day. Getting to this intersection is difficult in any direction, as all roads leading to it are dirt 4wd roads that climb up from the valleys below. Enjoy a well earned break here!
The ride today led downhill along Longwell Draft Road. Although this is on the route for the upcoming unPAved of the Susquehanna River Valley event this fall, our Trail Guru was riding it the other way. Cyclists for the unPAved of the Susquehanna River Valley event will be sloughing up Longwell Draft Road for a few miles. Our Trail Guru on the other hand, rode downhill on the loose, rocky "road". This is full suspension mountain bike territory, on the gravel bike it was an exercise in braking and rock avoidance. Don't let the photo below fool you; Longwell Draft Road is a difficult (and exhilarating) road to navigate with a gravel bike either uphill or downhill.
Longwell Draft Road spills out to an intersection with Weikert Run Road and Hoofnagle Road, which are typical gravel forest roads. Not wishing to go home just yet, our Trail Guru decided to climb out of the gap on Hoofnagle Road up to Hunter Road. Three DCNR free campsites exist on this stretch of road. Yes that's right, you can set up a motorized base camp in the middle of the forest for free. Check your Lizard Map for all of the campsite numbers and locations, then simply call Bald Eagle State Forest before your trip to obtain your free permit (570.922.3344).
There is plenty of wildlife along these roadways during the summer months. On any given day you are likely to encounter deer, turkey, groundhogs, chipmunks, turtles, and snakes. A common game we play here in Central PA is called 'stick or snake'. On today's ride, it was a snake, as a beautiful (and well-fed) rattlesnake was spotted slithering across the sunny road.
A close-up for those who appreciate these creatures:
Our Trail Guru stayed on Hunter Road until it split with Weikert Run Road. From here, it was essentially all downhill to White Mountain Road and then to Weikert. Be sure to stop in at Penns Creek Angler to say hello to shop owner, Bruce, and glean some local knowledge from him!
The last few miles of today's ride were on the smooth, paved, and mellow Winter Road. The scenery was spectacular—in the foreground was a working farm in the valley, while the ridges of Bald Eagle State Forest touched the sky in the distance.
A little over 4 hours from beginning, our Trail Guru had looped 30-miles back to his car at the lot near Cherry Run. This loop is just a small taste of what's in store for the cyclists riding the unPAved of the Susquehanna River Valley event this fall, and an even smaller example of the hundreds of miles of roads and trails open to cycling in Bald Eagle State Forest. Grab your map and go on an adventure today!