Explore, Enjoy, and Protect the Planet

On The Trail — November 2008

Jackson Trail, Skyline Trail, Mid State Trail — Great Views!

by Gary Thornbloom

Even before Pennsylvania’s hardwoods shed their leaves, the views while following the ridgeline along Tussey Mountain are awesome. In November the views are also continuous. Jackson Trail trailhead, where SR 26 crosses Tussey Mountain just south of Pine Grove Mills, is an easy place to begin this ridge top adventure.

Heading east on the blue blazed Jackson Trail you will discover that, while the trailhead is easy to get to, the trail is soon nothing but rock. Good footwear is a must. The myriad patterns and shades and green to grey lichen encrusted rocks are an interesting counterpoint to the constant views.

Lichens are an example of mutualism — two plants, an alga and a fungus, that live together, so together that they look like one organism. The alga provides photosynthesis and the fungus provides protection, a home, for the alga. Does it work? Well, lichens can be the only thing growing in some pretty barren locations. On the surface of the rocks that make up this trail would be one. Lichens are among the oldest living things on earth, some may be 9,000 years old. They need water and light. Without water they simply dry up and wait, reviving once water is present. The only thing they cannot tolerate is air pollution. The jumble of rock guarantees you will spend a lot of time looking down for safe footing so enjoy the rock and lichens.

When you stop to catch your breathe and enjoy the views look way up. Tussey Mountain is the primary route for golden eagle migration and November is a great month to see them. Golden eagle sightings outnumber bald eagle sightings. If you want more walking when you finish this hike take the Mid State Trail less than one mile to the southwest from where you parked on SR26 and walk out to the hawkwatch site where the powerline crosses the ridge.

The Allegheny Front, 12 to 15 miles in the distance, provides the skyline to the northwest. If you look closely you can see the radio towers above Unionville, as well as the Doppler radar — looks like a golf ball on a tee — that is east of Black Moshannon State Park. Bald Eagle Mountain stretches just below this. And then, Nittany Valley — many housing developments reaching out into farm fields, State College, University Park Airport and Penn State — Beaver Stadium. Note also the threads of green, or by now brown, that worm their way here and there through the valley. These are usually streams with their riparian buffers — corridors for wildlife to make their way through the valley. Note the large wooded area of the Barrens — State Game Lands 176.

Mountains also grace the skyline to the southeast. Glimpses of distant ridgelines are blocked by Rudy Ridge just 1.5 miles on the far side of Pine Swamp Valley. The views in this direction are woodlands, public lands — Rothrock State Forest.

Skyline vistas are worth the hike.

Ridetop vistas greet hikers along the Jackson Trail · Photo by Bill Mertens

Jackson Trail provides constant views both north and south for nearly 3 ½ miles as it follows the ridgeline. This trail ends when it meets the Skyline Trail, a section of the Mid State Trail — an orange-blazed trail. To complete a loop back to SR26 drop down the mountain on the Mid State Trail and continue along Shaver Creek to Pine Grove Trail and take that back up the mountain to where you began.

Or to continue with more, and some would say more vast, vistas, continue east on the Skyline Trail, a section of the Mid State Trail. There are now fewer rocks, but leaf covered and with space between them they make for more difficult hiking. The ridge is a bit wider, so often the views are best seen by walking out short spurs. After the leaves have fallen, distant ridgelines are visible through the bare trees.

You will pass Musser Trail, Deer Path Trail and Sand Spring Trail (temporarily closed) and all can be used to set up loop and shorter hikes. Rothrock State Forest contains a large network of linked trails.

You can enchant the weary hikers in your party with the prospect of a visit to the Roman Tower, accessible by one of the short spurs to an overlook of Nittany Valley. As you near the end of the Skyline Trail, Mount Nittany at the end of Nittany Mountain dominates the north view. Bald Knob is in the foreground. To the south and east are Greenlee and Thickhead mountains. Several Natural Areas and Wilderness Areas are to the east.

If you have set up a shuttle vehicle, continue until to the gate where Mid State Trail crosses Laurel Run Road. Having left a vehicle here you can avoid retracing and walking the approximately 7 rocky, but filled with scenic views, miles you have just hiked.

Late fall is the time to be on the trail walking across Tussey Ridge, getting a feel for the lay of the land, the valleys we call home and the mountains that surround us. Enjoy a leisurely day getting to know little things like lichens, while enjoying the great views that are Central Pennsylvania!

If You Go: To do this hike with a shuttle, take SR322 east to Bear Meadows Road (the road into Tussey Mountain Ski Area), turn right; then turn right onto Laurel Run Road and take this to the top of the mountain and leave a vehicle where the Mid State Trail crosses this road. You can then follow State Forest Roads (Laurel Run and then Pine Swamp roads) to SR26; turn right onto SR26 to the top of the mountain and the Jackson Trail trailhead.

The DCNR Public Use Map for Rothrock State Forest, free from DCNR, gives an overview of the entire area, and the Mid State Trail Association guide and maps, available at local outdoor stores, covers the area of this hike in more detail.

Download PDF of this article

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