Explore, Enjoy, and Protect the Planet

On The Trail — September 2011

Hike Musser Gap for Great Mountain Scenery

by Dr. Stan Kotala

Stream in Musser Gap

Stream in Musser Gap · Photo by Stan Kotala

In 2006, ClearWater Conservancy purchased 423 acres in Musser Gap on the western slope of Tussey Mountain, which was then transferred to the Pennsylvania Bureau of Forestry to be added to Rothrock State Forest. The Conservancy bought the land from a private landowner who had planned to develop the property.

The acquisition of Musser Gap created a valuable recreational resource providing new access to the existing trails in Shingletown Gap and on Tussey Mountain, alleviating the overuse of the Shingletown Gap trail system.

Musser Gap encompasses a variety of habitats for the hiker to explore. Ample parking is provided at the trailhead on the east side of State Route 45. From the parking lot, hike upslope and through the fence. At this point, you can follow either of two parallel paths. To the left, you can take an old sunken road marked by a yellow-and-black steel gate just a few feet beyond the parking area, or continue upwards through the field. Both paths converge a few hundred feet upslope as you hike through old fields and hedgerows. None of the paths in Musser Gap are blazed, but the main path is obvious, as it is an old logging or access road. Do not be misled by the white rectangles painted on some trees: these are DCNR state forest boundary marks.

The sunken road leading through the old fields and hedgerows is bounded by many walnut, ash and maple trees. The habitat changes about a half mile from the trailhead, where you enter the forest, still following the old road. This forest contains many dead and dying eastern hemlocks. The hemlock, Pennsylvania’s state tree, is being decimated by the woolly adelgid, an invader from Asia brought to the United States by the exotic plant trade.

You will cross the small stream that descends from the gap and continue along the old road, which now ascends more steeply up the gap. Not long after crossing the stream and about a mile upslope of the trailhead, you’ll see traces of the old reservoir. A year ago, ClearWater organized the removal of the century-old reservoir dam to reconnect the stream. That was good news for the native brook trout and other aquatic wildlife in the waterway that runs through this forest.

Continue along the old road which curves gradually to the right. Notice another change in the forest, as chestnut oaks, black birches, red maples and striped maples become the dominant species on the higher, drier portions of the gap. The road becomes less distinct in this area, and you will encounter a ‘Y’ in the trail. Take the left fork and you will emerge from the gap and encounter an access road along the power line that runs parallel to the crest of the ridge. Become familiar with this intersection — it is easy to miss on the way back if you are not paying attention.

Turn left on the power line access road and follow it for the next mile. Where the power lines descend from the ridge, you will reach a nice vista looking west towards State College. This is a good place for a snack before retracing your steps back down the mountain to complete a total hike length of close to five miles.

In the future, ClearWater is working with Penn State to establish a greenway to connect Musser Gap to the planned Whitehall Road Regional Park and the nearby neighborhoods. The path will run parallel to State Route 45 before crossing the road, continuing across land that Penn State owns and eventually connecting with the planned park.

If you go: From State College, take South Atherton Street to State Route 45 west near Boalsburg. Follow State Route 45 west towards Pine Grove Mills; 3.4 miles from the intersection of South Atherton Street and SR45 west, you will notice a dirt road on your left that angles up and away from State Route 45 marked with a wooden Rothrock State Forest sign. Turn up this road to the large Musser Gap parking area and the trailhead for this hike.

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