I. love. trails.
I started running trails in the spring of 2015, and it has kind of become an obsession for me. I have one trail running friend who loves checking out new spots, and we actually stumbled upon this stretch of the Bucktail Path by accident after we bypassed another trail head.
Bucktail Path is a 34 mile trail that starts in Sinnemahoning, Pennsylvania and traverses through the Johnson Run Natural Area and Elk State Forest. Our intentions were to run the Square Timber trail, near the village of Sterling Run in Cameron County, but we drove right past! After studying the map, we changed plans and were aiming to pick up Bucktail at the trail head at the intersection of Stillhouse Rd. and Ridge Rd. (see red arrow on the above image). Parking is problematic, so we ended up driving a bit further and parking at the Square Timber Vista, which was another spectacular, serendipitous find!
For a full map, please see the PA DCNR website here. This was a hands-down GORGEOUS trail! We ran about three trail miles out and back (see red dot on the map for our turn-around point), and could not stop saying how beautiful the scenery was.
There is some weaving in and out of the woods across a gas line right-of-way, but even these clearings were stunning! Back in the forest, there were ferns as far as we could see! The trail was very friendly, and very run-able. We did do quite a bit of climbing, but more between miles two and three (and on the back-side, of course).
I would have to say that one of my favorite aspects to this run was the fact that the Mountain Laurel were blooming! On May 5, 1933, the Mountain Laurel was declared the Pennsylvania state flower by Governor Gifford Pinchot, and for good reason! This showy shrub blooms across our beautiful state from June through July, predominantly in wooded areas.
Just a short drive from Camp Eagle’s Nest, this section of the Bucktail path is a perfect day hike (or run!) for the intermediate level trail enthusiast! Make plans for a June hike, and you will not be disappointed by the spectacular floral display!
1. Smaller CrowdsThis is a no-brainer! If you have ever been stuck in an elk-induced traffic jam on Winslow Hill, you know EXACTLY what I am talking about. Though the PA Elk Range is estimated to cover land from Coudersport to Clearfield (see RMEF map below), the majority of the tourism is conducted in and around Benezette, which isn’t a very big town! So skip the traffic and lines at the local restaurants!
2. “Friendly” ElkDon’t get me wrong, elk are WILD ANIMALS and should not be approached, nor should you try to touch or feed them!!! During the rut, bulls are considerably more aggressive in trying to protect their harems (groups of cows) from other males, according to the RMEF. Benezette boasts an elk population that is rather tolerant of humans and they will often let you get close. This past weekend, our kids and their friends climbed in a fenced perennial bed at The Elk Grove for an up close and personal look at a local cow interested in the apple tree.
3. Baby Elk… Need I say More?I shot these photos at dusk this past weekend, who WOULDN’T want to see a baby elk who still has its spots???
4. Shed HuntingShed (dropped antlers) hunting is pretty much the unofficial spring sport of Elk Country. According to the RMEF, antlers grow throughout the year as layer upon layer of cartelige gradually develops into solid bone by the start of rut. As testosterone levels start to taper off, by spring, bulls are ready to lose their antlers. As the sheds drop, people follow. I have yet to find an elk shed, but I can say that I have logged a good amount of miles on foot (and snowshoe) in search of the prize! For a very cool shed hunting success story, see this forum post from pahunting.com!
5. All of the Other Awesome Things to do in Elk CountryElk viewing is just ONE of the amazing parts of the Pennsylvania Wilds! Elk State Forest covers 200,000 acres that is part of Pennsylvania’s extensive 2.2 MILLION acre system of state forest. We have hiking, camping, hunting trapping, fishing, mountain biking, horseback riding, kayaking and canoeing, and winter activities such as cross-country skiing and snowmobiling. For an excellent resource about what to do in and around Elk Country, see the Pennsylvania Great Outdoors Visitor’s Bureau’s website here. Happy Elk Viewing, Jennifer
Starting Point: Bucktail OverlookThis vista showcases a southeast view of the Bucktail State Park Natural Area, which stretches from Emporium to Lock Haven, boasts forest land that is abundant with trees such as sycamore and river birch, which thrive in the river valley. Elk, whitetail deer, bear, and other animals call the Bucktail Natural Area home as well, along with many species of birds, plants, reptiles, and amphibians. After the Bucktail overlook, I headed west on Mason Hill Road into the village of Sterling Run. This is NOT a route that should be attempted in snow and ice unless you have tire chains! Once in the village of Sterling Run, I turned left onto Highway 120 towards Emporium, making a right onto Hunts Run Road. After another right turn onto Whitehead Road, and another right, it becomes apparent that Ridge Road is aptly named.
Logue Run VistaOn the East side of Ridge Road, is this spectacular view overlooking Logue Run, a tributary of the First Fork of the Sinnemahoning Creek. Not boasting any spectacular views, but still having some picnic-potential, is the Whitehead Pavillion, just a short drive south from the Logue Run Vista.
Unnamed West-Facing VistaThe next stop on the vista tour was this unnamed spot, facing west, overlooking Whitehead Run, still stunning!
Norcross Run VistaThis vista was not my favorite. As you can see from the picture, the land immediately adjacent to the road has been timbered, and though the view in the distance is nice, the fallen trees and brush isn’t too visually pleasing. The vista overlooks… you guessed it, Norcross Run! Though the view is somewhat tainted by the timbering, it is still worth a stop!
Square Timber VistaThis isn’t the first time I have posted about the west-facing Square Timber Vista, it is situated less about one mile from access to the Bucktail Path, for more information about that stretch of the trail, see my blog post here. This is a stunning overlook that provides a view for miles over the Square Timber Wild Area, which consists of 8,461 acres of steep hills and deep valleys.
If you follow Ridge Road, it eventually leads down the hill to Grove Hill Township Road, and back onto Highway 120 in between Sterling Run and Driftwood. Below, you can find a map of exactly where we went. As a side note, if you see Brooks Run Fire Tower signs and your interest is piqued, the hike from the intersection of Brooks Run Road and Ridge Road is one solid mile up hill, and the tower is fenced in with barbed wire around the top. Neither the 11 year old dog nor I were pleased >:( I hope this helps our readers with some ideas for planning a trip to see the fall foliage this year in the PA Wilds! What are your favorite things about fall? Comment below! Happy Vista Viewing, Jennifer