Explore, Enjoy, and Protect the Planet

On The Trail — January 2011

Rocky Ridge Natural Area:
An Outstanding Hike among Spectacular Rock Formations

by Dr. Stan Kotala

Rothrock State Forest, named for Dr. Joseph Trimble Rothrock, the “Father of Forestry” in Pennsylvania, comprises 96,000 acres that spread across the rugged ridges of Huntingdon, Centre and Mifflin counties. This State Forest includes six natural areas set aside to protect unique or unusual biologic, geologic, scenic and historical features or to showcase outstanding examples of the state’s major forest communities. Natural areas are “managed” by nature and direct human intervention is limited. They provide places for scenic observation, protect special plant and animal communities, and conserve outstanding examples of natural beauty.

Hiking Rocky Ridge

Hiking in the Rocky Ridge Natural Area · Photo by Dr. Stan Kotala

Rocky Ridge Natural Area in northern Huntingdon County is a great place to enjoy spectacular geologic formations and great scenery. The Natural Area itself consists of 150 acres of rich, mixed-oak woodland that supports numerous wildflowers among magnificent exposures of Oriskany sandstone and limestone.

Rothrock State Forest also includes 16 miles of the 70-mile Standing Stone Trail (SST). The SST connects the Tuscarora Trail at Cowans Gap State Park with the Mid State Trail (MST) at Greenwood Furnace State Park, hence its original name of the Link Trail. The SST follows scenic ridgelines in Huntingdon, Mifflin, and Fulton counties. In the Rocky Ridge Natural Area the Standing Stone Trail passes through Oriskany sandstone rock formations that offer scenic interest to hikers.

Start this hike by parking at the intersection of Frew Road and the orange-blazed Standing Stone Trail. There is ample parking all along Frew Road in this area. Begin the hike on the right (west) side of the road by following the orange blazes. The trail descends to a small stream which can be crossed on a rock bridge. The area near the stream supports a large colony of Christmas ferns, an evergreen species that formerly was collected for holiday decorations.

The trail ascends a somewhat steep slope up Brush Ridge for about 1/8 of a mile before entering the giant rock formations. Make sure that you follow the orange blazes through the mazes among the boulders. Many of the rocks are covered with lichens, mosses, and ferns.

Big Rock at Powerline, Rocky Ridge Natural Area

Spectacular geologic formation at the powerline in Rocky Ridge Natural Area ·
Photo by Dr. Stan Kotala

When you reach the power line corridor, you will see the Wetzel Trail that descends back into the valley from which you came, but you will continue to follow the oranges-blazed SST along the ridge. To the east is Stone Mountain and to the west Stone Valley. Between Brush Ridge, along which the trail meanders, and Stone Mountain is Frew Road, along which your vehicle is parked.

As you hike south past the power line, many more examples of Oriskany sandstone formations and breathtaking views over Stone Valley will be encountered. You will notice a few short trails marked by yellow blazes. These are side trails off the Standing Stone Trail. If you wish, you can follow these to several points of interest. Table Mountain pine, pitch pine and white pine are more common along this segment of the trail, most of which is on the western side of Brush Ridge. The pines, along with stands of mountain laurel, add green to the winter scenery here.

About a mile south of the powerline, one of the yellow-blaze side trails will take you to Hunter’s Rocks, a magnificent cluster of immense house-size boulders. Several of these boulders form sheltered areas convenient as escapes from rain or snow. This is a great place to take a rest and have some snacks, as it is also the half-way point of this 3-mile hike.

After taking a break, retrace your steps back to the orange-blazed SST and follow it downslope toward Frew Road. You will come to a switchback at the intersection of another trail with yellow blazes, known as the Old Link Trail. Follow the yellow-blazed Old Link Trail back along the eastern side of Brush Ridge, paralleling Frew Road.

This side of the ridge is underlain with limestone, and a series of sinkholes can be seen along the Old Link Trail. The vegetation is also different from that on the western side of Brush Ridge. The pitch pines and mountain laurel which are found on the western side are replaced by tulip trees, shagbark hickories, sugar maples, basswoods and cucumber magnolias, as well as large numbers of white oaks.

The yellow-blazed Old Link Trail again merges with the orange-blazed SST a few hundred feet before reaching the power line that you crossed earlier. Upon reaching the power line, turn downslope for about a hundred feet and you will see the yellow-blazed Bypass Trail on the other side of the power line clearing. Follow the Bypass Trail back along the eastern slope of Brush Ridge, with the large outcrops to your left. The Bypass Trail then joins the SST again, which you will follow downslope towards Frew Road, retracing your first steps of the day back to your vehicle.

Rocky Ridge Natural Area is a fascinating destination because of its unique geological setting, topography, and flora. Be sure to return in spring, when wildflowers of many varieties abound in this dramatic setting.

Two maps that are useful for this trip are the Rothrock State Forest map and the Standing Stone Trail Club map of the trail in the Rocky Ridge Natural Area.

If you go: From State College, take Rt 26 south 20 miles to Martin Gap Road, which will be on your left. Follow Martin Gap Road into Rothrock State Forest and bear right onto Frew Road. Travel on Frew Road for about ¼ mile and look for the orange blazes on both sides of Frew Road, denoting its intersection with the Standing Stone Trail (a black and yellow gate is on the left side of the road in this area). Park along the road.

Dr. Stan Kotala is the Outings Chair for the Moshannon Group of the Sierra Club