Warm Weather Fun: From Rails to Trails to Hiking and Biking
By Abbe Hamilton
This summer, venture outside to some of the best hiking, biking, and paddling destinations Happy Valley has in store! Beginner or expert, here are some destinations to check out for local outdoor fun.
Purple Lizard Destinations
If you’ve never used a Purple Lizard map, make this summer the one you try it. Based in Central PA, the Purple Lizard Maps company produces durable, up-to-date maps of the public lands around Central PA and other select regions — places the cartographers themselves regularly visit! The maps are intuitive and attractive, and depict biking and hiking trails, dirt and gravel roads, topographical contours, and points of interest — all the information you need to plan a destination and navigate to it! Note the little purple lizards that dot the maps, they indicate special surprises on the trail. Maps are available at local bookstores and outfitters. You can also borrow maps from the Schlow Library in State College. More information at purplelizard.com.
Standing Stone Trail Sweet 16 Challenge
The Standing Stone Trail was named the Pennsylvania Trail of the Year in 2016. In the north, it connects to the Mid State Trail in Detwiler Run Natural Area. Its southern terminus is the Tuscarora Trail in Cowans Gap State Park. The 84 miles of ridgeline in between are full of fascinating geologic formations (including iconic Monument Rock), the Thousand Steps, a fire tower, two trail towns and vista after fantastic vista. The Sweet 16 Challenge highlights sixteen of the trail’s most iconic attractions. Go to standingstonetrail.org/charters to download your Sweet 16 challenge brochure. Visit one destination on a day hike, or all 16 to earn a certificate and patch!
Weekly Summer Bicycle Groups
State College is a hub of enthusiastic cyclists. Regardless of whether you’re a novice or a pro, there is a weekly evening ride where you can get out on a bike, meet new friends and hone skills this summer. Local bike shops and clubs host rides on gravel roads, single track mountain bike trails and paved roads. Whether you’re looking for a laid-back evening cruise around town, or a strenuous and technical trail ride in Rothrock, State College riders have you covered.
The Bicycle Shop hosts two weekly rides. Monday at 5:30 p.m. is the ladies beginner mountain bike ride. They host mountain bike rides Tuesdays at 5:30 p.m. The Happy Valley Women’s Cycling team hosts a Friday night pizza ride, which is a marked-course social ride starting and ending at a local pizza place. See thebicycleshopinc.com/rides for ride details and schedules.
Freeze Thaw Cycles sponsors gravel road rides every Wednesday night from April to October. The ride is open to all adults and lasts approximately two hours, departing from the Galbraith lot in Rothrock State Forest at 7 p.m. Freeze Thaw Cycles also offers a Monday night one hour, easier-paced ride. Details TBA, see their website at freezethaw.com/visit_us and follow their Instagram and Facebook for weekly details.
State College Cycling Club hosts Tuesday evening road rides suitable for riders capable of maintaining a 12 mph pace and up (separate groups based on ability level). They post routes beforehand online. Rides start up in April. See statecollegecycling.com for details.
Penns Valley Pedals and Pints is a group that rides the paved and gravel roads around Millheim on Wednesday nights. Volunteers mark the course before each ride, and a $3 entry fee gets you a free beer after the ride. At the end of the year, all proceeds from the rides are donated to a local charity. The low-speed (typically horse-and-buggy) traffic and beautiful scenery of the Millheim area make this an excellent option for folks turned off by road riding in high traffic areas. They meet behind Elk Creek Café at the Millheim Fire Company. Visit pedalsandpints.weebly.com/about.html for more information.
The Nittany Mountain Bike Association (NMBA) holds single track mountain bike rides on Thursdays at 6 p.m. from the Galbraith Gap lot in Rothrock from mid-May through September. All levels are welcome, but newcomers should be prepared for technical terrain. See nittanymba.org/local-rides/ for more information.
Juniata River Tributaries
The branches of the Juniata River have something to offer for every paddler. Fish for trout by boat in the dark, wild narrows of the Little Juniata. Ride the peaceful meanders of the Raystown Branch and spot the turtles, or follow the historic route of the Main Line Canal from Petersburg down through Mill Creek and beyond, navigating around bridges and islands. Pick up the Juniata River Water Trail Upper Section map guide pfbc.pa.gov/WaterTrail.htm and plan your route. Rothrock Outfitters of Huntingdon can provide recommendations and gear for an outing, plus a shuttle or shuttle assistance. Make advance reservations for weekend gear rentals or shuttles. Visit their website at rothrockoutfitters.com for rates and information.
Penn’s Cave & Wildlife Park
See it by boat! Visit this all-water cave listed on the National Register of Historic Landmarks near Centre Hall, PA, where the tour is given entirely by boat. You’ll experience breath-taking natural limestone formations during the underground 45-minute tour. Also available above ground are tours of the farm-nature-wildlife park where North American animals are featured (including mountain lions!) on some of the Penn’s Cave mountain and pasture acreage. Visit pennscave.com for tour details and pricing.
It rhymes with “flower.” Take your bike (or horse) along a section of this seventeen-mile-and-growing cinder and paved rail trail. It follows the path of the historic Main Line Canal along the Frankstown Branch of the Juniata from Canoe Creek State Park to Alfarata. Most of the path is set far back from active road and rail lines, and the solitude compliments the scenery as you ride by some of the oldest and grandest buildings in the area, which face the river rather than the road. Visit rttcpa.org/lower.shtml for more information.
Bald Eagle and Spring Creek
These two creeks are the tributaries to the Foster Joseph Sayers Lake in Bald Eagle State Park. Between them, they offer something for downriver paddlers of any ability. Paddle beginner-friendly Bald Eagle creek to see a diversity of hawks and waterfowl, and bring a picnic lunch to Curtin Village Ironworks along the way. For visitors confident in negotiating some swift sections and obstacles, Spring Creek from Bellefonte to Milesburg offers fun riffles and excellent stops for trout fishing. Tussey Mountain Outfitters, located along Spring Creek in Bellefonte, can provide you with boats and other equipment, as well as assistance with shuttles. Details about different sections of streams can be found at tusseymountainoutfitters.com/outings-rentals/.
Bike Paths around State College
Bellefonte Central Rail Trail is a paved and cinder trail that runs from Sunset Park on McKee St. in State College north to Toftrees on the old rail line. The trail continues past Toftrees Avenue on a narrower track that connects to Stevenson Rd. in Port Matilda. It is 1.3 miles in length.
Spring Creek Canyon runs along the winding Spring Creek corridor on a gravel track that is better maintained than ever. It’s flat and kid-friendly, with towering cliffs and prime fishing spots. The trail spans a little over three miles from the end of Shiloh Rd. to Fishermans Paradise in Bellefonte.
Watch the Cavalry Church Harvest Fields property in Boalsburg this year. Nittany Mountain Bike Association hopes to ultimately facilitate four to five miles of beginner mountain biking trails there. Construction starts this summer!
If you’re looking for an adventurous outing, Ridge Soaring Gliderport is located in Julian, PA, just minutes away from State College. In this privately-owned airline service industry, you’ll find licensed pilots taking guests up for glider flights and giving them an unforgettable experience. Reviews say that where weather lacks to accommodate, hospitality abides. Check out their Facebook page to see videos and reviews of satisfied customers.
Fort Roberdeau is a short drive from State College and an excellent seasonal trip for families. They are open year round from 8 a.m. to sunset for families to explore, and tours begin May 1. The fort hosts events, recreational activities and school field trips throughout the year. Don’t miss some of the upcoming 2019 events like Exploring the Night Sky with Lasers on April 12 or Open Sky Watch Night May 10.
There’s so much more to see outdoors in Happy Valley and loads of community organizations eager to introduce newcomers to their favorite destinations. Ask any outfitter or fellow visitor for further recommendations and you’ll come away with something to do every day of the year.