Pennsylvania is the sixth most populous U.S. state at over 12 1/2 million people, but the 33th in total size at 46,000 square miles. This shakes down to the 11th most densely populated state (top 10th if you take D.C. out of the equation). And yet it never ceases to amaze me how many state parks, forests, and game lands this state boasts.
There are 2.2 million acres of state forests and nearly 1.5 million acres of state game lands all across the state, which is 12.5% of the total land area. In other words, 1/8 of the state is public lands, most of that is densely forested. Not only that, these 3.7 million acres are veined with trails. Not only are these lands free to roam, but all the state parks are, too.
I’ve always been a walker, but in Southwest Louisiana, it was always too flat to hike. There were woods all around where I grew up, most bordering on swamps, but there were plenty of trails for the adventurous. (We had to watch out for poisonous water moccasins and potentially mean dogs.) In Pennsylvania, there aren’t as many snakes, many more deer, and the potential for big, bad bears and smaller, but “badder” hunters. The latter’s more likely to kill you than the former.
So, since we’ve lived here, I’ve hiked some, but the more I hike, the more I’d like to. And I discovered something. Unless the trails are on state park lands, they aren’t really rated. You also may not know what you’re in for. In fact, if you have a map, it can be misleading and confusing because it’s not as accurate or up to date as it could be. To remedy this, whenever I go on a new, not-so-well-documented hike, I’ll write it up here.
So, to begin, the Mile Run Trail in Bald Eagle State Forest. I chose this hike because I got up last Saturday morning wanting to get out. I had found an interesting auction about an hour’s drive away, but the weather was cool enough for a hike. Hiking in Pennsylvania can be risky on any day, but Sunday due to hunting, but Philip and I decided to go for it. I also chose this hike, because it was an easy shot off the interstate with nearby parking.
Mile Run Trail is located off I-80 Exit 199. Luckily, I found this video to show you exactly what it looks like getting there:
At 1:32, you’ll see where they pulled off the road to a gravely paved area. On the opposite side of the Dept. Transportation area, you can park. Beyond the gate, 1:45-1:50 is parking for snow mobiles. At 1:59, they turn right onto Mile Run Road heading north. This is where the trail begins- on Mile Run Road itself.
As you can see below, this area has a great number of limestone rocks and boulders. We’ve dubbed this “tumble down.” The Appalachian Mountain range is one of the oldest in the world and so it’s worn down over time. Then, during the glacial age, glaciers scraped whatever they could from the mountains, resulting in the “Ridge and Valley” Appalachian mountains. The limestone rocks were the result.
As you head up the hill on Mile Run Road, the trail turns into the forest on the left side of the road (west). The trail is well blazed with red rectangles as well as some neon orange tape on some lower branches. It follows its namesake creek, Mile Run, for a stretch. There are a lot of limestone rocks on this part of the trail so it’s not for mountain bikes. Hikers, horseback riders, and possibly snow mobiles, but bikers will get frustrated with the amount of rocks on the trail.
The trail heads in a mostly north direction once in the forest. There are lots of things to see including Monotropa uniflora (common names: ghost plant, ghost pipe, or corpse plant.) This plant is parasitic and does not produce chlorophyll. It lives on mushrooms, which grow near trees in a whole parasitic happy family. Wikipedia tells me they are rare, but I have seen these on less traveled Pennsylvanian trails including this one on Mile Run Trail, as well as one on State Game Lands 58.
As the trail strayed from the creek and went up in elevation, another bonus: WILD BLUEBERRIES! I can’t emphasize how exciting this was to discover. It’s been a PA hiking trail bucket list item for me. √
Blueberries are native to North America and their wild variety are much smaller than their cultivated, grocery-store counterparts. I kept pausing to pick and eat them and it was a nice snack along the trail. As with any woodland blueberry patch, be aware of your surroundings; bears like them, too.
The blueberry patches began at a change in direction that was NOT on our Central Mountain Trails map. Luckily, the double rectangle (a change of direction blaze indicator) meant we were headed in the right direction.
We came across another trail- Five Points Trail- but this, too, was not marked on our map. We stayed on Mile Run and then came to another intersection after just a little bit of hiking. Again, not on our map. The section we were on went down in elevation, while another higher one continued up the mountain, but mostly in the same direction. The third leg went opposite, so we turned again. Seems like someone should work on better maps!
I knew we were headed in the right direction when I started seeing grass blades on the trail and this was confirmed when I spotted clover. Clover is a field flower and so for it to be on a woodland trail means that it came in from elsewhere, likely a road. Sure enough, we emerged from the trail at a crossroads. Signs clearly marked where we were- at the confluence of Mile Run, East Run, Pine Gap, and 3rd Gap roads. Because we wanted to see the vista marked on the map, we turned left and headed up Pine Gap. This time, the map was right.
The funny thing is, my vista pics never do the actual view justice.
On our way back to the car, we walked all the way back down Mile Run Road. Though it was getting hot and the sun was out, I don’t regret it. Firstly, we saw a patch of these cool mushrooms:
Then, as we got further down the road, I noticed that milkweed grew on both sides. I wondered if I’d see monarch butterflies as they feed on the nectar and females lay their eggs on the leaves. I didn’t have any hope, though. Milkweed grows like crazy here, but in nearly 10 years of PA living, I’ve never once seen a monarch on one. Well, good things come in threes. I spotted the ghost plant, had my wild blueberries, and as Philip and I hiked down the mountain, I began to spot monarchs. In all, I counted at least a dozen of them. I know they’ll be heading south soon. They always flew over our old house in West Tennessee around Labor Day weekend.
Overall, it was a good hike on a nice day. Didn’t pass a person on the whole of it and no sound of gunshots despite it being a Saturday.