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. How much snow is on the plateau on any given day? Contact Black Moshannon State Park, which is only a few miles from this trail system, for up to date snow levels and ski conditions.
Volunteers and PA DCNR work crews do their best to maintain this trail system, which includes a 2 "lollipop" loops, every fall before snow hides trail debris. The smaller, southern loop is 8-miles and usually in better condition than the full 13-mile northern loop. Either way, this is a beautiful, 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 on the other hand, the 8-mile or 13-mile loops are perfect! Beginners can enjoy this area by not continuing into the Rock Run drainage, but enjoying the open meadow skiing found in the first 2 miles of the trail.
There is a large parking area at the intersection of route 504 and Tram Road, roughly 4 miles east of Black Moshannon Lake. This is about 20-miles northwest of State College, PA and 12-miles east of Philipsburg, PA. The parking area is usually plowed wide enough for 6-8 vehicles. 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 bring 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 descends through a spruce plantation before crossing Middle Branch of Rock Run on a ski friendly bridge which was installed over the summer of 2018. The trail then follows Middle Branch of Rock Run downstream 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.
Indy De Lemon 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 one very narrow bridge. Purple Lizard Maps last visited this bridge early in 2018. Shown above, this is a gnarly bridge to cross without snow and a real challenge with snow. Take caution at this stream crossing! 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.
Photo by Lizard Seeker Helena Kotala
Be sure to bring your Moshannon Lizard Map, along with cold weather gear for this winter adventure. Don't forget to keep a Positive Mental Attitude and bring a few of your best ski buddies, too!
Photo by Lizard Seeker Helena Kotala
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I had two seriously long days in the woods planned, for an estimated total of 44 miles of backpacking. My plan was to follow a slew of lesser-known trails to create a loop that incorporates both Black Forest Trail and West Rim Trail. I picked this route after studying the Pine Creek Lizard Map. There are countless trails on this excellent map, but some of them are old, neglected, and untravelled. I wouldn’t have it any other way. Winter is a great time to do this kind of exploring. There are no rattlesnakes, nettles, or ticks. Streams are easy to follow, and the cold temperatures can dress up the stream banks with ice sculptures. The lack of leaves creates winter vistas where in the summer there is only endless green. So off I went.