Originally built as a cross-country ski trail system with help from Ralph Seeley, Tom Thwiates, and the Penn State Outing Club, this trail system is also part of the 42-mile Allegheny Front Trail.
The loop is well signed and includes orange, yellow, and blue-blazed trails. The trail is a mix of small rocky tread, soft dirt tread, and bumpy old railroad grades. Luckily the trailhead lies on the top of the Allegheny Plateau, and so it is more moderate than trails in the Ridge and Valley Region to the south- perfect for trail running! You will need to keep your eyes focused on the trail, but sights of plenty of wild plants along the trail such as trillium, mayflower, and ferns will keep your mind occupied. This trail system includes 2 "lollipop" loops. The shorter, southern loop is 8 miles; while total mileage from Route 504 and back using northern loop is nearly 13 miles. This is a beautiful, but remote trail, so you may want to run with a friend or group. If you're looking for some runnable yet adventurous terrain, these 8 or 13 mile loops are perfect. Beginners can enjoy this area too!
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 large enough for several vechicles. Stream crossings do exist, although bridges are in place over Rock Run itself.
The trail begins directly behind the large Allegheny Front Trail sign. No matter the direction or distance of this loop, hikers and runners descend on the way out and ascend on the way back to the car. The elevation change is not steep, but the full half marathon distance loop has an overall elevation change of roughly 2,000 feet (1,000 feet down and 1,000 feet back up).
To begin, follow the Allegheny Front Trail, aka Entrance Trail, for 2 miles as it leads downhill through several meadows. This is an easy and fast warm-up for your run. Beginners and hikers not interested in the longer loops can utilize these meadows as a great way to explore off-trail instead. The official trail leads to a bridge over the headwaters of the Middle Branch of Rock Run, then follows alongside the Middle Branch of Rock Run until reaching a trail register. Be sure to stop and sign the notebook, and leave a thought, inspiration or message for others. This isn't an Orwellian form of surveillance - it helps the State Forest support funding requests for trail based recreation when they can show that the public uses and enjoys a trail system. The trail splits at this register. To the left (clockwise), Headwaters Trail (also Allegheny Front Trail) continues downstream for a couple miles, and crosses a few seasonal streams to a junction of multiple trails with a wonderful bridge over Middle Branch of Rock Run.
To complete 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.
Hearty adventurers focused on the half-marathon distance 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. The switchbacks allow runners to up the tempo here. The next area ahead is known as ‘The Forks’ and includes a few more small stream crossings, and a very narrow bridge. The unique peaked design makes this a favorite on social media - we have yet to find another like it.
Take your time on the bridge, as the unique design looks interesting but it can be a tricky one to cross, especially when wet. After crossing the bridge, you'll turn upstream on an old logging grade. This grade is now known as Valley Trail. Valley Trail leads back to Woodland Trail, which eventually leads back to the trail register. This is the toughest part of the loop, since it is generally all uphill from here back to the parking area.
Retrace your tracks back the final two miles to arrive back at your car at the route 504 parking lot.
Conditions on the plateau can be wet and foggy, so bring wet weather gear and a headlamp if you plan to explore after work. Be sure to keep an eye out for porcupines in this part of Moshannon if your dog runs with you. Be sure to bring your Moshannon Lizard Map along for the adventure, too! This is one of many possible adventures in Moshannon State Forest.
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