Explore, Enjoy, and Protect the Planet

On The Trail — December 2006

Fred Woods Trail — On Top of the World

by Gary Thornbloom

Fred Woods Trail

Awesome lichen-covered rock outcropping along the Fred Woods Trail · Photo by Gary Thornbloom

The Fred Woods Trail includes an enchanting meander through large rocks and rock slots as well as several great overlooks above the Bennett Branch of Sinnemahoning Creek. The longest rock slot is about two hundred feet long with the top of the rocks looming twenty feet above. Narrow nooks invite exploration. Wider nooks with moss covered walls, and hemlocks towering from an open center invite meditation. Overhangs create various sized caves, some dry, some with pools of water. Shafts of sunlight illuminate moss covered walls. Tall hemlocks filter light into other small spots. The trail winds through all this and soon you are not certain which crannies you have already explored.

It is easy to see why the trail’s namesake, Fred Woods had this as one of his favorite places. The trail, created by the Camp Quehanna Young Adult Conservation Corps in 1980, is named in memory of Fred Woods, a Bureau of Forestry Foreman, who died while performing his duties in 1975. The trail is a splendid memorial.

The hardest part of this hike is the 3.9 miles of narrow dirt road that you will drive as you climb up Mason Hill from Bennett Branch. The entire trail is laid out on the plateau top and has no elevation gains for the hiker to deal with. The trail is rocky in one short section, but overall this is an easy hike that the entire family can enjoy. The promise of vistas and exploring in and about the rocks will keep the kids walking.

The trailhead is at the edge of a stand of hemlocks. Orange blazes mark the trail. An easy 0.8 mile of trail gets you to a 3-mile loop. Bear left when you get to the loop. You are soon on the section of the trail with the roughest footing. At this time of year there are constant views through the bare trees and out over the stream below. Three vista points along the trail provide openings with clear views of Bennett Branch. From the first you look out across the stream to Miller Run, from the second, ridge after ridge rolls away to the northwest, and the third looks out over Water Plug Hollow.

Dogwood and mountain laurel in bloom would be highlights of this section of trail in spring and summer. In late fall striped maple, small trees with green and white striped bark, are often rubbed smooth by bucks as they get a feel for the antlers they cannot see. Numerous buck rubbed trees are one thing to look for along this trail.

However, the rocks are the highlight of this hike. At many places along the trail you can look back into the woods and see large rocks that would be highlights of many other hikes. Many are fern and moss covered islands. Many have trees growing on them. Some, along the trail, have raised curving ridges. Others appear to have been shaped by moving water. Shortly after leaving the second vista the trail enters a narrow rock slot. This short slot between eight foot high rock walls would again be a highlight elsewhere. But the best is yet to come! Just down the trail from here is the Rock Loop.

The Rock Loop is a half-mile meander that will work its magic on any explorer, young or old. On or off the trail this is an area where you will want to spend some time looking around and eventually just finding a quiet spot to sit.

Along with the imposing presence of the rocks are many subtle delights. I have never seen larger lichens hanging in green and gray flaps on rock faces. Emerald moss covers rock walls twelve feet high. Thin tree roots emerge from seemingly solid rock and crawl over the rock face searching for earth. Tree roots thicker than a person wrap themselves over rocks. Hemlocks seem to emerge from solid rock and tower overhead. Crannies everywhere invite exploration. Silent rock rooms invite lingering. Ferns and rhododendrons fill several of the rooms. The third vista is also on the Rock Loop, on a natural rock outcropping.

After the Rock Loop the trail heads back into the woods, although more rocks along the trail and off in the woods are reminders of where you have just been. Make sure to bear left when you come to the section of trail that takes you back to the trailhead.

The Fred Woods Trail is one more magical place preserved in the State Forest Lands of Pennsylvania. One more place that once you have taken the time to get on the trail you too can enjoy and explore!


Public Use Map for Elk State Forest and a detailed map of the Fred Woods Trail are available for free. Contact Elk State Forest Headquarters at 814-486-3353.

If You Go: Just north of Karthaus, at the junction of SR 879 and the Quehanna Highway (SR 1011), drive 9 miles north on the Quehanna Highway to Wykoff Run Road; turn right onto Wykoff Run Road to PA 120; turn left on PA 120 to PA 555; go west for 0.9 mile on PA 555 and turn right onto Mason Hill Road; go 3.9 miles on Mason Hill Road: parking is on the right and the trailhead is in the hemlock stand to the left. Mason Hill Road is a narrow, steep dirt road. I made it easily in a Subaru, but it looks like it could be slippery in snow or ice conditions.

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Gary Thornbloom is the Chair of the Sierra Club Moshannon Group and can be reached at bearknob@verizon.net