Lots of winter fun awaits in the Rock Run Trail system.
Originally built as a cross-country ski trail system with help from Ralph Seeley and Tom Thwiates, this trail system is also part of the Allegheny Front Trail (backpacking loop), and includes orange, yellow, and blue-blazed trails. Since the trail has a rocky base, a minimum 8-inch base of snow is recommended for skiing. Luckily the trailhead lies on the edge of the Allegheny Plateau, and it often gets significantly more snow than the Ridge and Valley Region to the south. The trail system includes a 2 "lollipop" loops. The smaller, southern loop is 8 miles; the northern loop is 13 miles. This is a beautiful, but remote and advanced cross country ski trail, so if you are new to XC skiing this may not be the best place to start out. If you're looking for some adventurous terrain, the 8 or 13 loops are perfect! Beginners can enjoy this area by not continuing into Rock Run, but enjoying the open meadow skiing found in the first 2 miles.
There is a large parking area at the intersection of route 504 and Tram Road, roughly 4 miles east of Black Moshannon Lake. The parking area is usually plowed enough for 6-8 vechicles. Trails in this area are not groomed, so technically it is better for metal-edged skis, although any ski will do. Stream crossings do exist, so skiers are encouraged to being extra glide wax in case their skis get wet and sticky.
Skiers can snap into their ski bindings from the car and immediately begin gliding north. The trail begins directly behind the large Allegheny Front Trail sign. Follow the Allegheny Front Trail (sometimes known as Entrance Trail) for 2 miles as it leads downhill past a few meadows. These meadows offer a great way to explore off-trail rather than complete the whole 8-mile loop. The official trail follows alongside the Middle Branch of Rock Run until reaching a trail register. The trail splits at this register. To the left, Headwaters Trail (also Allegheny Front Trail) continues downstream for a couple miles, crosses a few seasonal streams to a junction of multiple trails with a wonderful bridge over Middle Branch of Rock Run. To take the 8-mile loop, cross Middle Branch of Rock Run on this bridge, and head back towards the right via Woodland Trail, which climbs for a few miles back to the register.
Rogue eyeing up the trail!
Hearty adventurers looking for a 13-mile loop will stay on the west side of Middle Branch of Rock Run on the Ridge Trail (also Allegheny Front Trail), rather than crossing the bridge. After a moderate climb away from Middle Branch of Rock Run, Ridge Trail leaves the Allegheny Front Tail system by turning right. Now Ridge Trail gently descends again (including a few long switchbacks) for a few miles back towards the confluence of Middle Branch and Rock Run. This area is known as ‘The Forks’ and includes a few more small stream crossings, and a very narrow bridge. Next, turn upstream on an old logging grade. This grade is now known as Valley Trail. Valley Trail leads back to Woodland Trail, which leads back to the trail register. Retrace your tracks back the final two miles to arrive back at your car at the route 504 parking lot.
Be sure to bring your Moshannon Lizard Map, along with cold weather gear for this winter adventure!