Explore, Enjoy, and Protect the Planet

On The Trail — April 2004

A Short Circuit Through Bear Meadows

by Dave Coleman

During each of the weekends of October and November, I hiked a short loop in some of my favorite state forest areas. I describe one of them below that should be within quick reach of anyone in Centre County — especially the Centre Region. In southern Centre County, in the Rothrock State Forest is the Bear Meadows Natural Area. This is just one of six natural areas in the forest district and the most easily accessed. Just five miles off of Route 322, this is the first distinct destination you will reach driving on Bear Meadows Road.

With the shorter days of autumn and winter, we casual hikers don’t have a whole lot of daylight to explore the woodlands especially if one doesn’t set out until later in the day. This loop can be undertaken in an afternoon even if casually strolled. If there is time left after this loop, you can proceed further into the Rothrock State Forest and visit the Alan Seeger Natural Area which can be hiked in even less time.

The Bear Meadows Natural Area contains a 520-acre boreal sphagnum bog (as described by Marcia Bonta in her book Outbound Journeys in Pennsylvania). The DCNR booklet “State Forest Natural Areas & Wild Areas” describes it as a fen wetland. Most of us would just call it a swamp, but it is a National Natural Landmark and has a curious and somewhat mysterious origin. Some speculate that the bog’s original formation was from glaciation — even though the known extent of the ice-age glaciers was at least 60 miles to the north.

This is a popular area for passive recreation as is most of Rothrock State Forest. On almost any day, you will encounter other hikers, birdwatchers, bicyclists, and even skateboarders on the paved road leading into the state forest. Biking or camping is not permitted in the natural area.

The short loop around the bog is three and a half miles long and usually conducted clockwise. Starting at the small parking area at the monument, go just left of the water and follow the well-worn trail along the edge of the bog. An observation platform is off on the right a few hundred yards from the road. This is a good way to observe the bog itself and some of the abundant plant and animal life — especially the dozens of species of birds that use the bog and surrounding forest as habitat. Back on the trail, you will be walking past hemlock, spruce and fir trees as well as some large rhododendron.

The pathway is pocketed with wet areas, puddles and mud, almost year-round so proper footware is necessary to keep your feet dry during all but the driest summer periods. These wet areas would be the limiting factor for skiing this loop; plenty of snow (a base of 1 to 2 foot minimum) is necessary to navigate this trail on skis.

Eventually (after a little over a mile) the trail climbs slightly to higher, dryer terrain, but a few wet pockets will still be encountered. Here the trail passes through more hardwoods, with white oak predominating. After a couple of trail connectors on the left (stay right, if you start ascending any significant grade, you are on the wrong trail), the trail also begins to turn north, then northeast and finally to North Bear Meadows Road. Follow this closed state forest road almost to its intersection with Bear Meadows Road but then take the Jean Aron path to the right which parallels the road the last half mile back to the parking area. Named after a local hiking advocate, the Jean Aron path leads through bigger and denser patches of pine than the preceding portions of the loop. It is a nice short finish to a nice short loop.

If You Go: To reach the Bear Meadows Natural Area, take Bear Meadows Road 5 miles from Route 322 (just a few miles east of Boalsburg) past Tussey Mountain Ski Area. The state forest roads and natural area are shown on the Public Use Map of Rothrock State Forest, but you will need the Purple Lizard Map to see the trail loop described above. If you don’t have waterproof boots and want to keep your feet dry, avoid this loop during wet periods. Allow two hours for a fast-paced hike and several hours for a casual stroll.

Dave Coleman is a member of the Moshannon Group and the public lands co-chair of the Pennsylvania Chapter of the Sierra Club.