Explore, Enjoy, and Protect the Planet

On The Trail — November 2010

Hiking the Homestead Trail

by Dr. Stan Kotala

Penn State University’s 7,000-acre Penn State Experimental Forest in Stone Valley, between Tussey Mountain to the west, and Stone Mountain to the east, includes more than 25 miles of hiking trails. This article will focus on the Homestead Trail (blue blazes) and include shorter segments of the Lake Trail (yellow blazes), Sawmill Trail (blue blazes), and Ironstone Trail (blue blazes), for a loop of five and a half miles.

Park at the Woodcock Trail parking lot on Red Rose Road, just off Charter Oak Road. Walk from the parking lot to Red Rose Road and turn left; there are signs for the Ironstone Trail in the woods to the left. Descend to a tributary of Shaver’s Creek and cross this tributary on a series of small wooden footbridges. Observe the gray-blue muscular trunks of ironwood, a species that thrives in moist woodlands. Follow the Woodcock Trail, a segment of which is part of the Ironstone Trail, taking time to read about the woodcock, a “shorebird” that lives in the woods! Then follow the blue-blazed Ironstone Trail to Trail Intersection Marker #6, where you will turn right onto the blue-blazed Homestead Trail and cross Shaver’s Creek on a picturesque wooden bridge.

A short walk and you will cross another tiny wooden bridge over another Shaver’s Creek tributary. Observe the ironwoods and the witch hazels, the latter blooming in late fall. Look for the wispy curly yellow flowers on their twigs.

At a hemlock on your left you will emerge onto Rybacki Road, turning left for a few yards before entering the woodland on the other side of the road. Ascend a small ridge, eventually walking along its spine, with a steep drop to the left and great views to the right. Watch for the double blue slashes denoting a change in trail direction, the trail veering off to the right, descending from the spine of the ridge through dense young white pines and again crossing a small wooden bridge before emerging once more onto Rybacki Road.

Hiking the Homestead Trail

White pines and old fields along the Homestead Trail. · Photo by Stan Kotala

Turn left on the gravel road and follow the blue blazes. After passing some tall white pines, you will come to an area that was once an old farm that is slowly reverting back to forest. The trail meanders through the old homestead of the farm. In a grove of walnuts, look for the stone foundation of a farm building next to the trail on your right and a long-forgotten piece of farm machinery on your left. Watch for the blue blazes indicating a right turn into the shrubby woods at this point. You will soon cross a large power line clearing affording great views of Tussey Mountain to the west. A very short walk through the woods on the other side of the clearing will bring you back to the power line where the trail makes a U-turn back towards Red Rose Road.

The Homestead Trail is wide and flat in this area and remains so as it traverses forests of several different age classes for the next mile. You will see the grave marker of a Civil War veteran on the left side of the trail and remnants of old logging roads throughout the forest, eventually descending to a parking lot on Red Rose Road. At this point you can opt for a longer hike along Shaver’s Creek and through the environmental center grounds, or a shorter hike back to your vehicle. If you want the shorter option, then just turn right after you emerge onto Red Rose Road from the parking lot and follow it to the Woodcock Trail parking lot and your vehicle. If you want the longer option, then cross Red Rose Road and continue on the blue-blazed Homestead Trail through a woodland known for its protruding roots which can trip an unwary hiker.

Emerging from the woods, cross Scare Pond Road and continue on the Homestead Trail till it merges with Sawmill Trail at Trail Intersection Marker #3. The Sawmill Trail parallels Shaver’s Creek and will take you through a dark hemlock woods, from which you will emerge onto the Lake Trail at Trail Intersection Marker #2, and cross a double bridge over a braided section of the stream. After crossing Shaver’s Creek you will be in a moist riparian woodland, so note the swamp white oaks and bur oaks around you. As the trail ascends, the character of the woodland changes, eventually opening into the area of the Shaver’s Creek Environmental Center.

If you like, you can visit the center’s gift shop, where hundreds of nature-related books, audiovisual guides, clothing, bird feeders, and other items can be bought. Shaver’s Creek Environmental Center encourages you to explore its Discovery Rooms and visit the gardens and bird feeder areas. Also visit the raptor center in back of the main building where you will see bald eagles, a golden eagle, broad-winged hawks, red-shouldered hawks, American kestrels, red-tailed hawks, barred owls, great horned owls, and others. All these raptors were injured in some way and are not suitable for release back to the wild.

After enjoying what the environmental center has to offer, continue your hike by following the Lake Trail to Trail Intersection Marker #7, where you will pick up the Ironstone Trail, which follows a tributary of Shaver’s Creek for a quarter mile before turning sharply to the right, ascending a forested hillside before descending through a large plantation of Norway spruce. Emerge onto Red Rose Road again. Your vehicle will be across the road at the Woodcock Trail parking lot.

If you go: From State College, take Rt 26 south to Pine Grove Mills. Once you are in Pine Grove Mills, take Rt 26 south for 4.1 miles over Tussey Mountain and, at the base of the mountain, turn right onto Charter Oak Road. Stay on Charter Oak Road for 1.7 miles and turn left onto Red Rose Road. Look for the Woodcock Trail parking area on the left. This parking lot is a small gravel lot in the woods and is large enough to accommodate no more than six vehicles.

Dr. Stan Kotala is the Outings Chair for the Moshannon Group of the Sierra Club. Upcoming outings are listed on the Outings page