Spruce Gap Trail is a classic climb in Rothrock State Forest which is easily accessible during all four seasons of the year, 24 hours a day. The trail itself is never easy, though. It is ideal for those training for any of the ever-so-popular trail challenges that occur throughout the year in Northcentral Pennsylvania. Fitness fanatics, mountain runners and those looking to get a good sweat on in the middle of winter will love this trail. Many local outdoor enthusiasts judge themselves and their fitness levels by the time that it takes them to ascend this 1,100 foot climb from Galbraith Lot to the top of Little Flat (about 1.5 miles). You may learn to hate this climb, you may learn to love this climb, but no matter what, you will gain a sense of accomplishment every time you complete this climb! Follow along with as below as we introduce one of the 'easier' ways to enjoy Spruce Gap Trail.
Although short in length, the 5-mile loop described below is quite difficult. Even the approach trails can be tough for beginners who want to tackle Spruce Gap Trail. Of course once you’re on top, you have got to get down somehow too, right? Like most parts of Rothrock State Forest, your options here include walking or running along a rocky ridge trail or descending a steep trail straight back down to the gap. Since running downhill is quicker (or at least shorter) than running across a rocky ridge, the loop described below will lead the runner down steep trails before heading back to the parking lot. Quick tip: Short leg strides uphill and downhill will save your legs, joints, and energy. Trekking poles also provide a lot of assistance for climbs and descents. If you are not sure if you're ready to tackle Spruce Gap, no problem, check out some of our other suggestions here:
The trails below are only open to foot traffic, so please no bikes or horses for this route. Please note: Even though we use the term 'run' in this blog, very few people can actually run up Spruce Gap Trail! Do your best to 'move quickly' and have a good time!
The easiest and quickest way to get from your vehicle at Galbraith Parking Lot to Spruce Gap Trail is to cross over a nicely constructed wooden bridge to reach Bear Meadows Road, then cross the road and find the signed Galbraith Gap Trail. Jog about 200 yards on this trail, which runs parallel to Bear Meadows Road. Now stay to the right on a double track dirt road rather than turning left back onto Bear Meadows Road. This trail turns into a nice former railroad grade just above the stream. After about a quarter mile, cross Laurel Run Road and re-enter the woods on the trail to the left. This is the northern end of Lonberger Path. You are about to engage in a steep, but relatively short climb which includes a few switchbacks.
Reach two important trail intersections about 0.5 miles into this loop. The first is a T-intersection where Lonberger Path goes off to the left and Spruce Gap Trail continues towards the right. If you'd like to go left here, follow this blog: Tussey Mountain Loop. Today though, we'll stay to the right at this intersection. Immediately reach a Y-intersection where Three Bridges Trail veers off to the right. Here stay straight, begin breathing heavily, and start chugging your train uphill on the official Spruce Gap Trail.
The trail goes under a nice section of coniferous trees about one mile into the adventure. Beware of ice and very slick trail conditions here in winter. On the other hand, the ground here is softer in the summer and the sun is usually blocked. Either way, this may be a great spot for a break...you’re not at the top yet!
After another quarter mile or so, you will finally reach the top of the climb at an intersection with the Mid State Trail (MST). Revel in the glory, be proud of your accomplishment, then get moving again and follow the orange blazed MST to the left.
Reach a monument for the MST and Tom Thwaites just a couple of tenths of a mile along the MST. There is also a bench here…which offers a great place to relax and enjoy this section of forest. Tom Thwaites is a legend in the PA hiking community. He was the first person to open and maintain the Mid State Trail, and although he passed away a few years ago, his efforts continue through volunteers with Mid State Trail Association.
When you are ready to descend go left on Kettle Trail. Kettle Trail descends straight down off of the ridge about 600 feet in about one half mile. It is filled with a whole lot of loose rocks, ice, and undergrowth. Be very careful hiking and scrambling your way down this trail as it can be extremely treacherous in places, which is exactly why so many people love it so much.
Just over two miles into our day we'll find a four-way intersection with Kettle Trail and Lonberger Path. Go left on Lonberger Path. Follow this trail slightly downhill for about 2.1 miles. It’s a great easy run, but don’t loose concentration. There are a lot of little rocks and roots that frequently send runners and bikers flying off the trail and into the woods.
Reach a trail junction with Spruce Gap Trail roughly 4.5 miles into the route. This is the same intersection encountered at the beginning of the hike. If Spruce Gap Trail wasn't hard enough for you, stay to the left and take yourself for a second lap along this loop!
If you're feeling tired and done for today, turn right, downhill, and enjoy some switchbacks and a rock armored tread down to Laurel Run Road (gravel). Cross the road and find Galbraith Gap Trail slightly to the left. Follow this for about a quarter mile until the trail turns into a double track dirt road. Quickly turn left on the trail before reaching paved Bear Meadows Road.
Just under 5-miles into the day you'll be back at Bear Meadows Road. Cross the road, and jog over the wooden bridge. Get a stretch, cool down, find your car, and drive home!
Looking for more challenging opportunities in this section of Rothrock State Forest? Check out this blog:
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