Short Thru Hikes in Pennsylvania 

Would you be surprised to learn that Pennsylvania is chock full of great backpacking trails? Everyone knows that the Appalachian Trail travels through the Commonwealth, but I believe that there are trails that the weekend warrior may find more rewarding. Hidden within the PA State Forests and Parks are several gems that can be thruhiked in one to five days.  These are my favorites.

Loyalsock Trail

  • Length: 59.2 Miles
  • Duration: 2.5-5 Days

In my opinion, PA trails don’t get much better than the Loyalsock Trail (LT).  Located in Northeastern PA, the LT weaves through the Loyalsock State Forest and Worlds End State Park, roughly following the Loyalsock Creek. It begins on PA-87 near Montoursville and ends at US-220 north of Laporte. Out there, you’ll find something for everyone: waterfalls, streams, vistas, rock formations, and a road walk. The trail is well-marked by yellow plastic discs emblazoned with “LT” in red, making navigation a breeze. Water is readily available in all seasons, which means no schlepping tons of water. There are a lot of ups and downs (the elevation profile is often compared to the EKG of an arrhythmia), but there are only a handful of really tough climbs. Definitely add the LT to your list!

Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail

  • Length: 70 Miles
  • Duration: 3-6 Days

Looking for a more leisurely backpacking experience? Check out the Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail (LHHT). The LHHT is located in Southwestern PA, stretching from Ohiopyle State Park to PA-56 near Johnstown. With the exception of the initial climb to the ridge and the descent at the end, this is a relatively tame hike. This trail is its own PA State Park, which is what makes it different than any other trail in the state. There are shelter areas every 6-12 mile along the trail. These areas include tent camping sites, privies, firewood, water, and clusters of wooden shelters. You must reserve your campsites or shelters in advance, which means you have to plan out your hike and stick to it. There’s no improvising on the LHHT! I suggest booking the shelters, so you can leave your tent or tarp at home. The shelters also have built in fireplaces, which makes them great for winter trips. I strongly suggest the LHHT for beginners, but it can also provide an interesting change of pace for veteran backpackers.

West Rim Trail

  • Length: 30 Miles
  • Duration: 1-3 Days

One of PA’s better-known wonders is the Pine Creek Gorge (AKA The Grand Canyon of PA). As the name suggests, the West Rim Trail (WRT) roughly follows the western rim of the gorge. This means that you’ll get plenty of great vistas along the way! The ups and downs are minimal on the WRT. You climb up to the ridge, follow it for 25 miles, then drop down again. Water is relatively easy to find, and there are a handful of nice campsites as well. If you want some added convenience, I suggest that you park at Pine Creek Outfitters and have them shuttle you to the southern terminus. When you finish the trail, just walk back to your car at PCO. It’s only about a mile!

Black Forest Trail

  • Length: 42 Miles
  • Duration: 2-4 Days

The Black Forest Trail (BFT) has a reputation as one of the hardest trails in Pennsylvania. Also located near the Pine Creek Gorge, the BFT often decides to lose 1000-1500 feet of elevation very quickly only to regain it equally as quickly. I’ve always said that this trail is bipolar. Sections are either really hard or really easy, and there isn’t much in-between. The BFT’s proximity to the Gorge means that it has several nice vistas, and it also travels past some interesting old slate quarries. Water and campsites are both abundant, so logistics and planning are a snap. A connecting trail allows you to link the BFT with the West Rim Trail for an extended adventure!


Hike Prep: The Loyalsock Trail

Sixteen months after my epically embarrassing bail five miles into the Loyalsock Trail, I’m ready to give it another go. There aren’t any stomach bugs floating around my house this year, and I’m in much better shape. I’m very confident that I’ll be able to finish this hike strongly.

Trail Markers on the Loyalsock Trail.

Trail Markers on the Loyalsock Trail.

For those who aren’t aware, the Loyalsock Trail is a 59.2-mile-long backpacking trail in Pennsylvania’s Endless Mountains region. It starts north of Montoursville, PA along PA-87 and ends north of Laporte, PA at US-202, and it’s traditionally hiked Eastbound. Following the trail is very easy as it travels through the Loyalsock State Forest and Worlds End State Park. Yellow plastic discs are emblazoned with a red “LT” and affixed to trees at very regular intervals along the trail. Signs are also available at many road crossings and some trail intersections.

My companions from Berks-Lehigh Hiking & Backpacking and I will be hiking this trail “backwards” (Westbound), with estimated mileage splits of 9/22/17/11. We’re aiming to camp with my fellow Gossamer Gear Trail Ambassador Brian Horst at Mile 11. This will be my group’s final night on the Loyalsock Trail and the first night of Brian’s Eastbound hike with his group from DC UL Meetup.

My Gear Selection

I’ve decided that I’m going to do a test run of my winter kit on this trip. It’s still a little too far out for the forecast to be reliable, but I’d say that overnight temps could end up being anywhere from 25-45F. These temperatures won’t push my gear to the limit, but they will give be a good idea of what things I need to tweak before winter arrives.

For those who are interested in the raw numbers, you can view my complete Gear and Food ListUPDATED 11/5/14 – Added a backup battery for my phone and an extra fleece layer. 11.6lb Base Pack Weight… yikes!

My primary addition for winter will be the Gossamer Gear Thinlight (59″ x 39″ x 1/4″, 9.6oz) pad. This unassuming piece of gear will play a pivotal role in keeping me warm in my hammock.  When slid between the two layers of my Warbonnet Traveler hammock, it will help insulate me against convective heat loss (heat taken away by the air moving beneath you). I plan on using this in tandem with my Warbonnet Yeti and am hoping to be able to push the combination down to at least 10 degrees. to keep me warm on top, I’ll be using my 10-degree Enlightened Equipment top-quilt.

Instead of using my beloved Aquamira to treat water on this trip, I’ve picked up a Sawyer Mini filter. This filter is made to screw onto the top of a flexible reservoir. Once the reservoir is filled, you screw the filter on, then squeeze the reservoir to force water through. Since this fits my 2L Platy Bottle (which I take on every trip anyway), I’m going to leave the Sawyer reservoir at home. To maintain the filter, you just fill the supplied plunger-style syringe with clean water and force it through the filter in the reverse direction of normal flow (called “backflushing”). The filter and syringe combine for a total weight of 2.6oz.


Sawyer Mini filter with cleaning plunger.

Because we’ll be getting a late start on Day 1, we’re going to have to hike nearly 9 miles in the dark. Even though I love my 1-ounce Petzl e+Lite headlamp, it isn’t bright enough for any kind of real night hiking. That’s why I’ll be carrying my Petzl MYO RXP headlamp. I picked this lamp up a few years ago (for use on night hikes), and it is VERY bright. It does a great job of lighting up the trail, but it is also VERY heavy, weighing in at 6.2oz. I’d never carry this lamp unless I absolutely needed it.

Since I’ll be carrying heavier, bulkier gear and 4 days worth of food(10.4lb Base Pack Weight, 19.6lbs BPW+Consumables), I’ll need a bigger pack to put everything in! That’s where my brand new Gossamer Gear Gorilla comes into play. This pack has 10 liters more volume than my usual pack (the previous model of the Gossamer Gear Murmur), and it also has an aluminum stay to help transfer the weight of the pack to my hips. The Gorilla was completely redesigned this year, and I’m excited to finally get it out on the trail.

Food Selection

Dinner on night one will be an Italian hoagie. It’s heavy to schlep into the woods, but it will be delicious and well worth carrying. The other two nights, I will be enjoying a high-class meal consisting of instant mashed potatoes and Spam prepared and served in a freezer bag.

For simplicity’s sake, I will be eating the same thing from breakfast and lunch every day: a tortilla with Justin’s Almond Butter and Bacon Jerky. This may seem like an odd combination, but it has become one of my favorite trail foods this year. It is easy to prepare, and there is no cleanup at all. To me, those are both trademarks of the perfect hiking meal. Just squeeze the almond butter out of the packet, slap on some bacon jerky, wrap it up, and eat while you hike!

My snacks will include an entire bag of Fritos, a block of cheddar cheese, chocolate covered coconut chips and chia bars. I’ll also be bringing along some of the dietary supplements I use during my gym training (Whey Protein Isolate, BCAA’s, and a Sleep/recovery aid).

A Snowy Night Out on the Loyalsock-Link Loop

Last weekend, seven crazies from Berks-Lehigh Hiking and Backpacking decided to brave the impending snowpocalypse and spend 2 days on the trail. We had voted and decided on the Loyalsock-Link Loop long before the forecast even hinted of snow, but when we heard 6-12 inches, we decided to go anyway. This trip was to be 25 miles with splits of 15.5 and 9.5, but it didn’t work out exactly as planned.

As we gathered on Saturday morning, the snow was already starting to fall; coating the parking lot with a fine dusting of fresh snow. We grabbed our packs and hit the trail. The Loyalsock Trail descended a short distance before meeting with an old railroad grade, which we followed for a bit before dropping down along the banks of the Loyalsock Creek. For the next 3 miles, the trail followed the creek pretty closely and we got a few great views of the water rushing by the snow covered rocks. After the 4th mile, the LT crossed the creek on an old iron bridge and started to head away from it. We reached Sones Pond around mile 6 and found it to be frozen and covered in a few inches of fresh snow. Up until this point, we had managed to make pretty good time despite some ice and the continually deepening snow.

We followed the LT without incident until we reached High Rock Vista in Worlds End State Park. This small vista gave us a modest view of the Park Office and the Loyalsock Creek below. This is really where I first realized just how crappy this snow storm was becoming. The park facilities below were barely visible through the dense falling snow. I suggested that we take a detour from our intended route. Instead of following the Loyalsock Trail, which took a narrow somewhat treacherous route into the valley, I thought that the High Rock Trail might give us a safer way down. After slip sliding down into the valley, a few of my cohorts seemed a little skeptical that my route was actually any safer, but I reassured them it was. The High Rock Trail ends at Rt. 154, which we followed into Worlds End. We made use of the public restrooms. This was a convenient place to replenish our water, and we all made use of the electric hand dryers to dry out gloves and hats.

After a very quick look at the guide book, we decided to get back on the Loyalsock Trail instead of the Link Trail as we had originally planned. The Link Trail would have taken us on some rocks right along the edge of the creek. One slip on the ice would have meant an unintended polar bear plunge, and it probably would have ended our trip. We were all equipped with microspikes, but it wasn’t worth the risk. Unfortunately, we didn’t look too closely at the map… Our detour on the Loyalsock Trail added some extra mileage as well as a very steep climb in fresh powder. I’m pretty sure this was the point where most of us started to feel worn out. After the climb, we descended back into the valley where we rejoined the Link Trail, which we followed up a tough climb to Loyalsock Canyon Vista. In good weather, this vista is usually quite pretty, but the driving snow made it difficult to see very much. From there, we hiked about 2 more miles and made camp just as the last of our daylight faded away. According to Mark’s GPS, we had done just under 18 miles.

Hua built a raging fire, which we enjoyed for a bit, but I was in bed before most senior citizens had finished eating their early bird specials. The snow continued most of the night and brought many branches crashing down in the vicinity of our campsite, but luckily our site was free of widow makers. My bivy had a bit of a condensation problem which sort of half wetted out my quilt. It got pretty chilly, so I only got about 2-3 hours of shut eye. I finally got up around 4AM and got the camp fire going again. The task of tending the fire kept my mind occupied while I was waiting for everyone else to wake from their slumber.

In the morning, we discovered that the total snowfall had reached about 12″. Mark and Seth yearned for their snow shoes as we took turns breaking through the fresh snow. It was very slow going. Our pace was barely over 1mph. After a few slow miles of this, we reached Rt. 154 again. Most of us had long drives home and places to be that afternoon, so we made the decision to road walk. After 4 or 5 miles, 154 reached Rt. 202, where we turned left. We then turned left onto Snyder Road, which was basically a dirt road, but at least it was plowed. From Snyder Road we got onto Mead Road, which was covered in between 10 and 12 inches of snow. We followed Mead Rd for a mile or so before reaching the parking lot where our trip had started the day before. Luckily, the lot had been plowed! We all went about cleaning our cars and eventually parted ways. The trip didn’t go at all according to plan, but I’m fairly certain that everyone had a great time anyway.

Hike Prep: Loyalsock-Link Loop

Loyalsock Canyon Vista in summer.

This weekend I’ll be leading a great group from Berks-Lehigh Hiking and Backpacking on a 25-mile, 1-night hike on the Loyalsock-Link Loop in Pennyslvania’s Loyalsock State Forest and Worlds End State Park. This hike will start at the eastern terminus of the Loyalsock Trail. When we reach Worlds End, we’ll pick up the Link Trail and head more or less back the way we came. We’ll rejoin the Loyalsock Trail and hike back to the cars.

Gear Choices

The weather forecast is still in flux. I’ve seen forecasted overnight lows ranging everywhere from 9-30 degrees, so I’m going to plan for 9 degrees. This might make me carry some things I might not end up needing, but I want to get my packing done early. My total bas weight will be right around 10lbs for this trip.The extra gear will also give me an opportunity to use my Gossamer Gear Gorilla pack, which normally has too much volume for my purposes. I haven’t really had the chance to give this pack a fair trial, and I’m looking forward to carrying it.


My Gorilla: Packed and Ready to Go

My shelter as (almost) always will be my Zpacks Hexamid Solo Tarp. In order to help cut the cold wind, contain a little extra heat, and add some extra protection from precipitation, I’ll be supplementing my tarp with a Katabatic Gear Bristlecone Bivy. The Long/Wide size only weighs 9oz, but provides enough space for me and my dog.

For sleeping, I will be using 2 pads. My Exped SynMat UL 7 is pretty warm but isn’t quite enough, if the temps drop into the teens. I’ll be adding a torso length Z-Lite Pad to provide a little extra insulation. I’ll be covering up with a 10 degree Enlightened Equipment RevelationX quilt. A balaclava and all my layers can provide a little extra boost just in case the mercury really starts to drop.

Since I’ll be freezer bag cooking, my cook system’s main purpose will be boiling water. For that job, the Trail Designs Caldera Cone Ti-Tri and Gram Cracker stove suit my needs perfectly. Esbit isn’t usually my fuel of choice, but I was out of alcohol. This decision was based on laziness, but it actually saved me about an ounce of weight. The Gram Cracker is lighter than my alcohol stove, and this way I won’t need to carry the weight of a fuel bottle.

Those were just the basic highlights, but you can check out my complete gear list HERE. As always, thanks for reading!

Epic Failure Report: The Loyalsock Trail

This weekend, I attempted to hike the Loyalsock Trail end-to-end. Needless to say, I didn’t finish. Actually, I barely got started. There are a few small reasons, and one very big reason.

I left a day early so that I wouldn’t have to get up so early to make the 3 hour drive on Saturday. Of course, I wasn’t wearing my hiking clothes, but rather some other stuff. About 2 hours into the drive, it dawned on me: I left my trail runners at home! The sandals I was wearing are OK to hike in, but would never have held up to a 4-day trip. So I wasted 2 hours trying to find cheap, acceptable replacements. I settled on a pair of Merrell low hikers, which ended up hurting my feet.

My next small mistake was discovered when I was settling in for the night. I was rationing out dog food when I noticed that something looked wrong. I had brought the saddlebags for my dog’s backpack, but not the harness. This meant that I had to pack an extra 5 or 6lbs of stuff into my pack. Whining and complaining soon followed. At least I was carrying the Gorilla. My Murmur would have never been able to hand the extra load.

My next failure occurred as we were setting up our shuttle. I moved my pack from my car into another car, without realizing that my water bottle had fallen out. All I had was my 32oz Gatorade. This wasn’t a huge deal. I just figured I would just have to refill more often. I did have an empty 2L Platypus bottle, but it would have been a pain to deal with while hiking.

Now that you have the backstory, here’s what happened on the trail. We started our hike from the LT’s western terminus on Rt 87, North of Montoursville, PA. The climb from the road is immediately steep. Every step forced you to choose between wet rocks or loose dirt, either one of which could have caused you to slip and roll back down the hill. By the time we got our first mile in, I was exhausted and dripping with sweat. I was the last one up the hill, behind a group of hikers that I could have normally been out in front of. I chalked this up to the fact that I’m not very strong on steep climbs, and once things flattened out a little, I did make my way to the front of the pack.

After a treacherously slippery descent to the Little Bear Creek, I was a few minutes ahead of the group. We stopped along side the creek at mile 4.85 for a quick snack at some picnic tables. By this point, I had already finished my Gatorade, refilled the bottle with water, and finished that. I immediately fetched and treated another liter. After our snack, I felt pretty good. We hit the trail, which was another nasty climb. By mile 5.25, I was done. I couldn’t pick my feet up. I could barely keep my poles in my hands. At first, I thought this was related to the beer I drank the night before, but I had done much worse in the past and never had adverse effects like this on the trail. I wasn’t feeling anything that even remotely resembled hangover symptoms, but I couldn’t think of any other possible cause. I sat down for a moment, and the last guy in the group stopped with me. I told him that I didn’t think I’d be able to finish out the day, let alone the whole trail.

At this point, I dropped my pack and decided to catch up with the others and let them know I was bailing. I walked for over a mile, whistling and shouting the whole way. There was no sign of them. After almost throwing up on the trail, I decided to turn around and head out. I returned to my pack, which my comrade was diligently guarding, and we headed back down to the creek, where there was a road crossing. We hitched a ride back to my buddy’s car, and we headed back to the Eastern Terminus to pick up my car. Along the way, we stopped at a car we had staged in the middle. I left a note for the others, since they were probably confused and/or worried.

The drive home wasn’t great. I had to stop 2 or 3 times to keep myself from passing out behind the wheel, but I eventually made it home. When I got home, the fireworks began. My wife had a pretty bad stomach bug a few days before and suggested that I had picked it up from her. That definitely explained it. I was sick as a dog all night. Come the following morning, I was still very dehydrated, but my other symptoms had subsided.

I was mad at myself for bailing, but it was definitely for the best. Guess I’ll have to try this one again sometime….

Hike Prep: The Loyalsock Trail

Next weekend, I plan on doing an end-to-end hike of my favorite trail in Pennsylvania. The Loyalsock Trail (LT) is a footpath, which begins on PA Route 87, north of the Montoursville Exit of Interstate 180, and ends at a parking lot on Meade Road, 0.2 miles from US Route 220. The LT follows mountain ridges and streams through the Loyalsock Creek watershed as it travels through the woods on footpaths, old logging roads and abandoned railroad grades. The trail passes through parts of the Loyalsock State Forest for most of its 59.21 miles and spends a short time wandering through Worlds End State Park. The extremes of elevation are 665′ at its lowest, and 2140′ at its highest.

I’m leading this hike as an event for Berks-Lehigh Hiking and Backpacking. In an attempt to attract a few more people, I built in an early bail-out point, creating a 2-day, 22 mile option. As of now, half the group will be hiking for 2 days, and the other half will be hiking end-to-end in 4 days.

Gear Highlights:

For this trip, I’m shooting for a base pack weight around 6.5lbs. I’ll be going “No Cook” in order to save some weight, the weather won’t require me to carry any particularly warm or technical layers, and I won’t need to carry my insulated sleeping pad.

  • Gossamer Gear Gorilla: I’ve had this pack for a month or two, but haven’t had the opportunity to carry it yet. Normally, I’d carry my tried-and-true Gossamer Gear Murmur on a trip like this. The Gorilla (27.5 oz), while still relatively small and ultralight, weighs more than double what my Murmur (11.7 oz) does. That being said, it has a few nice features that my Murmur doesn’t. It has a removable aluminum stay (to help transfer weight to the hips), a padded hip-belt with pockets, and a zippered pocket in the lid. The Gorilla is also constructed almost completely from Dyneema Gridstop fabric, which will take much more of a beating than the Silnylon used in large areas of the Murmur.
  • Black Diamond Z-Poles Distance: I’ll be carrying the Distance poles (aluminum) because I broke my Ultra Distance poles (carbon fiber) on my recent trip the the White Mountains. The pair of aluminum poles weighs about 2 ounces more than the carbon fiber poles, but they have proven themselves to be more robust and worth the extra ounces.
  • Exped AirMat Basic 7.5 UL: I carry the “Small” size of this pad. At 64″, it’s longer than a torso pad, but a bit shorter than a full-length pad. My feet hang off the end, but I don’t really notice. At roughly 10.5oz, this pad provides a lot of comfort without any terrible weight penalty. The 3″ thickness is very important to me, since I am a side and stomach sleeper. A CCF pad just doesn’t cut it for me.
  • Enlightened Equipment Prodigy X Quilt: This fantastic 40 degree quilt has kept me warm down to 29 degrees. A 40-degree quilt might be a tiny bit much for a summer trip in this region, but I sleep a little on the cold side. I carry the 6’/wide size quilt, which weighs in around 22oz.
  • Foster’s Can 2-Cup Flat-Bottomed Ridgeline Pot: I bought this pot from Zelph Stoveworks, and I actually used it as my primary cook pot for a little while. I’ll basically just be using it as a mug and measuring cup on this trip. At 1.2 oz, it will save me 1.3 ounces over my normal titanium pot.

My COMPLETE gear list!


I’m expecting this trip to be warm and humid all around. This means that my layering needs will be very simple. My layering system will include The North Face Verto Jacket, Mountain Hardwear Canyon Shorts, Patagonia Capilene 2 Crew, lightweight Bridgedale socks, La Sportiva Wildcat shoes, and my trusty Outdoor Research Radar Cap. I won’t be carrying an insulation layer (such as a fleece or “puffy” jacket), but I can always wrap my quilt around myself if there is a freakishly chilly night in camp.


Since this is a summer trip, I’ve decided to go “no cook” to save the weight of the stove and fuel. I have a few cold-rehydratable dinners and fruit smoothie mix from Pack It Gourmet, which will fulfill my major meal requirements. The rest of my calories will be made up of jerky, nuts, fruit leather, and granola bars. To satisfy my caffeine fix, I am going to try Starbucks VIA instant iced coffee. I won’t be able to make it ice cold, but there is plenty of cool stream water, which should be good enough. I’m also going to pack Gatorade mix, to help replace any electrolytes that I may sweat out.