Explore, Enjoy, and Protect the Planet

On The Trail — December 2009

Nature’s Wonders Are on Display at Bear Meadows

by Helena Kotala

Bear Meadows Natural Area, located seven miles southeast of State College, is a gem in Central Pennsylvania. It is a high-altitude boreal sphagnum bog containing unique plants that are only found in regions that were glaciated thousands of years ago.

The glaciers did not actually reach this far south, but the Bear Meadows area was so cold that it formed its own ecosystem. A late-summer attraction in the area is the multitude of highbush blueberries.

There is a three-mile loop trail that takes hikers all the way around the bog, and is relatively flat, easy hike, although it is rocky in some portions. The trail also tends to get muddy in some spots, so be sure to wear appropriate footwear. It also is a good choice for cross-country skiers in the winter, as long as there is more than five inches of snow.

Once you reach the Natural Area, park near the stone monument, walk across the bridge and you will see the trail sign to your right. As you walk, keep the bog to your right. Soon, you will come to a forest of rhododendrons that surround the trail, almost creating a tunnel. In the winter, these rhododendrons look beautiful covered in snow.

After about a mile, you will pass the blue-blazed Gettis Trail on your left. This is a side trail of the Mid State Trail, and the blazes will follow the Bear Meadows Trail for about a quarter mile before veering off to the left again. Ignore these blazes and continue straight ahead, always keeping the bog to your right. Soon after the blue blazes end, there is a spring named, “Sand Spring,” or as some Germans called it, “Tuempel” (little puddle). Continuing on, you will come to an open area which was once home to a cabin more than 30 years ago. There is a fire ring and some logs to sit on, which make a nice place to rest and have lunch. However, please note that there is no camping allowed in State Forest Natural Areas. This meadow is the halfway point.

When you are ready to continue on, pick up the trail again. The trail is a little hard to find again from the meadow, so just make sure that you are heading in the same direction that you had been going, and you’ll see the trail.

After almost another mile, you will emerge on a narrow gravel road. Turn right and follow this road almost to Bear Meadows Road. Just before reaching the road, you will see another trail off to the right. This is Jean Aron Trail, a short blue-blazed trail that offers a more scenic route back to the parking area through hemlocks and rhododendron. Shortly before reaching the parking area, there is a slight clearing to your right, which offers a nice view of the bog, as well as featuring a very large hemlock tree. Hug the hemlock, and see how many people it takes to encircle the tree. When you are ready to end your hike, follow the trail back to the parking area.

Helena Kotala is a student at Penn State University and Outings Co-chair of the Sierra Club Moshannon Group.