Explore, Enjoy, and Protect the Planet

On The Trail — April 2005

A Good Kind of Loneliness on the Bucktail Path

by Ben Cramer

So-called “industrialized” Pennsylvania contains a surprising amount of forest cover and opportunities for remote solitude, particularly in the North-Central region of the state. Between I-80 and the New York border, and roughly from Warren in the west to Wellsboro in the east, there are areas where one can literally walk for days without encountering another human being, with just little-used dirt roads and hunting camps as the only signs of civilization. This vast wilderness is quite a surprise for northeastern America, and even Pennsylvania natives are amazed when they begin to discover all this natural solitude on foot.

North-Central Pennsylvania is overflowing with outstanding hiking trail networks that are dozens or even hundreds of miles long. The Susquehannock, Chuck Keiper, and Black Forest Trails are just three prime examples. One long-distance trail that offers extra loneliness and solitude, even for wild Pennsylvania, is the Bucktail Path in Cameron County, which quietly meanders 34 miles from Sizerville State Park north of Emporium to Sinnemahoning on Route 120.

The hills and plateaus of Cameron County have seen little activity since the heyday of logging, mining, and railroading in the first half of the twentieth century. As the crow flies, most of the Bucktail Path isn’t very far from Route 120 and Emporium, but the hills are alive with solitude due to their inaccessibility to all forms of travel except walking. Some veteran Pennsylvania backpackers have reported hiking the entire 34 miles of the trail, over several days, without seeing other people. This is a long and lonely trail, but in the best of fashions.

One especially interesting portion of the Bucktail Path is in its middle reaches, just north of a junction with rarely used Hunts Run Road (which comes into the remote hills from the village of Cameron). For several miles the trail follows a stream called McNuff Branch, crossing this unusually wide and deep mountain brook several times without bridges. McNuff Branch features a plethora of beaver dams, as the enterprising critters are very busy in the area. Some of the dams are quite formidable constructions, stretching for more than a hundred feet and holding back artificial ponds of considerable size, as the beavers make themselves cushy new residences.

The southern portion of the Bucktail Path traverses the hard-to-reach Johnson Run Natural Area, a protected grove of old-growth forest featuring giant hemlocks and several noteworthy species of hardwoods. After coming back down to Earth at the very southern end of the trail, and just when the long-distance hiker is within sight of victory, the Bucktail Path offers yet another wide and bridgeless stream crossing. Thirty-four miles south of Sizerville State Park, the trail ends in the village of Sinnemahoning.

Sinnemahoning is located at a major hub for the Pennsylvania long-distance hiking crowd. A couple of miles east on Route 120 is the tiny village of Jericho, where a back road leads to the western end of the rugged Donut Hole Trail. From here you can hike 90 miles east to Farrandsville in the Lock Haven area. Meanwhile, between Sinnemahoning and Jericho Wykoff Run Road pops out from the far side of broad Sinnemahoning Creek. From the other side of the bridge, a street in the village of Wyside leads to the Old Sinnemahoning Trail, a former jeep road that runs very steeply into the mountains above the river, and tops out in the unique highland forests and meadows of the Quehanna Wild Area. This trail emerges at the northeastern corner of the Quehanna Trail, an outstanding 76-mile loop that reaches as far west as Parker Dam State Park near Clearfield.

The Bucktail Path is not recommended for beginning hikers or backpackers who are just starting to discover the solitude of Penn’s Woods. There are dozens of wet stream crossings and several steep climbs. Due to infrequent usage, some sections are poorly blazed and the footway is insufficiently worn down, making parts of the trail quite difficult to follow without pathfinding experience. And if you have a mishap, especially in the middle portions of the trail, you are very far away from assistance. But if you’re ready to tackle the trail’s challenges, the Bucktail Path will lead you into a very unique kind of loneliness, and that’s a good thing in “crowded” Pennsylvania.

If You Go: The Bucktail Path is mostly within Cameron County, with the northern end reaching a few miles into Potter County, all within a 2–3 hour drive from State College. The north trailhead is located at Sizerville State Park, accessed via PA Route 155 about six miles north of Emporium. The south trailhead is at the end of Grove Street in Sinnemahoning, which is located on PA Route 120 about 20 miles southeast of Emporium. A trail guide and map for the Bucktail Path can be purchased from Keystone Trails Association or at local outdoor retailers. Also consider using the easier to read public use map for Elk State Forest.

Ben Cramer is a freelance writer and outdoor enthusiast living in State College. He is also a committee member for the Moshannon Group of Sierra Club. The Moshannon Group hosts regular outdoor adventures throughout central Pennsylvania (see the Outings page for details).