August 02, 2018

In the middle of Pennsylvania you will find Bald Eagle State Forest, which is a unique destination for explorers because it offers a tremendous diversity of experiences. For travelers looking to car camp, it has over 60 remote campsites available for free (reservations required) that you can set up as base camp or just for a night. There are also four State Parks to choose from with a variety of camping amenities and recreational options. Bald Eagle State Forest has some of the best fly fishing streams found along remote dirt roads in Pennsylvania. If you're self-contained you can disappear into the forest for days and drive a few hundred miles primarily on dirt. The Purple Lizard Bald Eagle Map can unlock all of this for you!

If you're new to overlanding, car camping, bike packing or backpacking this is an area you can test out your kit without being too far from civilization. In fact, if you forgot anything, you can drive to a grocery store, hardware store or microbrewery in less than 90 minutes. How bad can it get?

This blog is a day trip, but can be combined with two other trips for a multiple day adventure. Between the three trips you will explore the majority of the forest, but plenty of roads remain untraveled waiting for you to come back an explore on your own. This is an overland route which means a 4wd or high clearance vehicle is recommended. However, you can follow along and choose dirt and gravel forest roads and avoid the 4wd roads if you want to explore in a car. 

 

It's not always about the drive - it's about what you find on the drive.

Unlike pre-programmed GPS routes, pay-to-follow tours and itemized directions, Purple Lizard believes in making your own adventure, so you will always have options. This blog depends on you having the Purple Lizard Bald Eagle Map, and you can take a Sharpie permanent marker and write arrows or make other notes on the map as you read along. That is what real maps are for—don't be afraid to mark them up! It will become a treasured document with your personalized notations of special places to return to. 

Real maps are for making notes on - bring a Sharpie permanent marker to write on the synthetic material that Lizard Maps are made of. 

Photo credit: Chris Cordes and Expedition Portal

Millheim is the epicenter of Bald Eagle State Forest. A classic former mill town turned bedroom community-music-culture-food hot spot, Millheim is a delightful place to visit. 

If you want to do more than just drive there are hundreds of miles of mountain bike and hiking trails, as well as a few lakes and river stretches ideal for paddling a kayak or canoe. Several Natural Areas and Wild Areas exist where you can explore on foot following old logging routes that have become rough footpaths. Mountain and valley vistas abound, some you can drive to and others you'll have to work a bit harder to reach. 

We have a few favorite spots to share, and a few tips that will make your visit even more enjoyable. Purple Lizard made their first map of this area in 2013 and updated it with a second edition in 2018. That's the map we'll be referencing for this article. 

Bald Eagle State Forest is a big place: almost 200,000 acres sprawling across five counties. Interstate 80 cuts across the northern edge, State Routes 192 and 45 cut across the middle, and US Route 322 defines the western edge about 10 miles from the town of State College, PA which is dominated by the Penn State main campus. Several delightful small towns can be found around the forest; our favorites are Millheim and Lewisburg, but more on that later.

You cannot depend on your cell phone out here. The highway corridors and small towns will have limited coverage depending on your carrier, but once you enter the woods you may find a weak signal on the occasional ridgetop. This is one of several reasons why you have a Purple Lizard Map! Turn that thing off and put it away. Get out a real camera because you will have real photo opportunities. And enjoy being unplugged for a few hours. Or a few days. 

It's not always about the drive - it's about what you find on the drive. 

You can enter and exit the forest at hundreds of access points, but we're going to suggest starting in Millheim, PA on Route 45, halfway between State College and Lewistown, PA. Millheim is your last stop for gas, so fill up here.

Head east on Route 45 to Woodward, PA. You'll see the famous gymnastics and extreme sports action camp on your right which is home to acres of halfpipes, quarter pipes, ramps, jumps and foam pits where the best skateboarders and ramp riders come to practice their craft. As you drop down into the tiny hamlet of Woodward proper, look for the tiny dirt road on your right called Woodward Gap Road. It looks more like a driveway than the gateway into Bald Eagle State Forest. Within a mile you have left all traces of modern civilization behind and it feels as if you are deep into a magical forest—because you are. 

You see nothing but deep, dark forest as far as the eye can see. If there are mountain lions and sasquatches living in Appalachia they are out here, along with that sinkhole that leads to the Center of the Earth. When we find it, we'll put a lizard on it!

Continue to the intersection with Paddy Mountain Road where you have some options. Unlike pre-programmed GPS routes, pay-to-follow tours and itemized directions, Purple Lizard believes in making your own adventure, so we'll always have options. Here you have two choices: head west (right) and then south (left) on Cherry Run Road to head to Weikert. Or head east (left) on Paddy Mountain Road which will also bring you back to Weikert.

Motorized Campsites

As you explore Bald Eagle take note of the campsites along the road. These are marked with a brown fiberglass stake with a number on it, and a clear sleeve to display your permit. Permits are required, and they are free - you need to phone DCNR to make reservation in advance at the District Office: 570-922-3344. During your travels make notes about the various sites and mark the number so you can return and base out of one for a few days. Some are more tent or trailer friendly than others, some are shady and some are open, some are tucked a few hundred yards in the woods and some are right next to the road. I'm sure you'll see a few that are perfect for your needs!

We're going to find Cherry Run Road simply because it is one of the most beautiful roads in the forest. It winds along Cherry Run, and you have to be careful not to drive off the road because your eyes will always be drawn to this amazing stream. Photographers will want to stop a few times.

Cherry Run Road meets Winter Road, which is paved. If you head west (right) it soon stops at a parking area which accesses the rail trail and the Mid State Trail. If you want to take a long walk, you can follow this 323-mile trail north to the New York state line, or south to the Maryland state line. If you want a much easier walk, follow the rail trail about a half mile to the lizard on the map, which a beautiful spot where Penns Creek meanders in front of an old cabin now owned by the PA Fish and Boat Commission. It's all public land so you can hang out on the lawn and enjoy this idyllic scene. If you're a fisherperson this the place to get out your fly rod.

Another option at this parking area is to launch your canoe or kayak. The take-out is downstream at Weikert. Alternately you can launch upstream at Poe Paddy State Park and take out here. Many boating options exist along Penns Creek! In theory, you can put in here and take out in the Chesapeake Bay, but that is more adventure than we planned on.

Follow Winter Road to the tiny hamlet of Weikert and turn right on White Mountain Road and right again on Weikert Run Road. If you want to take a hike check out our blog about Devil's Elbow and White Mountain Ridge Trail

At the end of Weikert Run Road you can head straight on Longwell Draft Road, which is a Drivable Trail. This is a little over four miles long and is, as the name implies, is an old logging road. At least that is my best guess: 'draft' is also used to describe a creek, but in this case I think it refers to the use of draft horses to pull timber out of the woods, and a draft road was a primary access route for teams of draft horses to pull loads of timber. Even in todays era of super comfy trucks you may feel the 'long' in Longwell Draft Road as it really feels remote, and in summer months gets very overgrown into a green tunnel of sorts with a rough, rocky base. 

Drivable Trails and High Clearance Roads

Longwell Draft is what DCNR classifies as a Drivable Trail, and Purple Lizard calls a High Clearance 4wd Road. This means it receives little to no maintenance and you will encounter wash outs and gullies. If you are in a stock SUV or pick-up without any low hanging fruit you should be fine. If you are in a Subaru Outback or Volvo Cross Country you will need to pay attention, you may need to stack rocks and a spotter would be helpful. (If you don't understand that sentence you will by the end of the road). Do you need four wheel drive? Probably not, but you do need some ground clearance. A family sedan will leave some parts behind, but a 1972 VW Bug would probably bounce along quite happily, and a vintage Citroen 2CV would be an absolute hoot. Leave the sports car at home. You also need to be OK with adding pinstripes from branches because you will be driving between areas of overgrown bushes, and you may find yourself in a tight spot if a tree or two fell along the trail recently. A chainsaw is a good thing to carry if you want to explore Drivable Trails, they are primarily kept open by individuals like yourself who need to open the trail to get by. We do get the occasional comment from people disappointed that their triple-locked rig rolling on 38s wasn't challenged by the trail. It won't ever be challenged by any trail in Bald Eagle. That isn't why we symbolize the roads as high clearance: we do it so Mom and Dad with a car full of Scouts don't find themselves high-centered on a ledge in the middle of nowhere trying to find a trailhead. Any two-wheel drive vehicle with some extra ground clearance should be able to handle the road, but we can't promise it won't leave a few marks.

 

Expect some Pennsylvania pinstripes by the end of a Drivable Trail

All that foreshadowing may, or may not, add anything to your experience on the Drivable Trails in Bald Eagle State Forest. Some are relatively smooth and open while others are rough and overgrown. This changes every season so it's not worth suggesting exactly what you'll find—and that would kinda ruin the whole point of a good roadtrip anyway. 

Alternate Route: if you don't want to bounce and scrape along Longwell Draft Road, head south (left) on Hoofnagle which will continue to Hunter Road and short-cut the entire Drivable Trail section. 

At the intersection of Strong Mountain Road head south (left) to Hunter Road. Here you have options, of course! This adventure will continue east (left) on Hunter Road, but you can look at your Lizard Map and easily see how you could expand the loop to go west (right) to Bear Gap Picnic Area, climb over Red Ridge and follow Knob Ridge Road to the Snyder-Middleswarth Natural Area. But that is part of the Exploring the Southern Frontier of Bald Eagle State Forest: Milroy to Millheim, PA adventure, so you can decide if you want to add that on today or stick with the plan. Your call!

We're going to continue east on Hunter Road until we find Henstep Valley Road on our left. Use the Lizard Map to navigate those two intersections with Short Mountain Road and Weikert Road, even though you stay on Hunter Road it can get confusing. If you've had enough you can bail on Weikert Road and find your way back to Route 45. But if you want one more Drivable Trail head out on Henstep Valley Trail. This is part of the Seven Mountains Dual Sport Trail System so you may encounter motorcyclists enjoying a backcountry ride. Similar to Longwell Draft Road in the remote feeling except Henstep doesn't follow a creek, it stays on a high bench above Henstep Run. It meets Route 235, and the world of paved roads and 55 MPH. Head north (left) and return to Route 45. 

You may be in a big truck but I'm a grouse having a walk. Good day. 

At Route 45 you can head west (left) back to Millheim, or east (right) to the 'burgs' of Mifflinburg and Lewisburg. Lewisburg is a delightful town and home to Bucknell University. You'll find a historic main Street filled with shops and eateries. One of our favorites is the Smiling Chameleon Draft House where you will find a comprehensive menu and extensive tap selection. They make the guac fresh at your table and we highly recommend it!

Millheim has exactly three dining choices: Elk Creek Cafe and Aleworks, Inglebean Coffee Shop, and Original Italian Pizza. We like establishments with self explanatory names, so you're on your own to choose which flavor you want. Inglebean has more than just coffee, you can get breakfast fare, sandwiches, smoothies as well as the best coffee in the valley. You may find live music at both the Inglebean and Elk Creek depending on the day. Elk Creek specializes in local farm2table dinners and features an amazing selection of their own craft beers. If you want to upscale your overlanding experience you may be able to get a room at the Triple Creek Lodge above the Inglebean Coffee Shop and call it a day! If you want a really amazing lodging experience check out Brush Mountain Lodge, just a few minutes west at the very top of Brush Mountain—it's a truly beautiful place to stay.  

Elk Creek offers food, their own craft beers and live music. Photo credit: Chris Cordes and Expedition Portal; Elk Creek Cafe

So now you have explored a big section of the south-central tier of Bald Eagle State Forest. You didn't get to see it all—there are many more places to come back an explore, but you got a sense of why this area is so magnificent. Millheim is the central hub of Penns Valley, and we have two other overlanding adventures for you to explore next:

Exploring Bald Eagle State Forest Southern Frontier: Milroy to Millheim, PA

Exploring Bald Eagle State Forest Northern Frontier: Millheim to Mile Run, PA

We took our friends at Main Line Overland and Expedition Portal on a drive through Bald Eagle, check out the articles On The Lizard's Tail and Purple Lizard's East Coast Adventure Maps.

Join fellow travelers at the Mid-Atlantic Overland Festival held every August in Central PA about an hour west of Millheim. 

 Michael Hermann has been exploring Bald Eagle State Forest for over 30 years, long before he drew the first Purple Lizard map.

 





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