I've enjoyed spending time in the saddle at many great locations around the country. But with access to more than two million acres of public forestland in my home state of Pennsylvania, there are endless opportunities to explore new trails each summer season.
The Loyalsock State Forest District is located northeast of Williamsport and contains just over 114,000 acres. This tract of forest was purchased from the Central Pennsylvania Lumber Company in the early 1930s, and was renamed in 2005 in recognition of the Loyalsock Creek that meanders through the district.
In late summer, my local riding club reserved nine campsites at the trailhead along Double Run Road, providing us easy entry onto the 50-mile-long bridle-trail system that loops both east and west of the forest road. Camping permits are free, but must be requested in advance by contacting the state forest headquarters.
The East Loop
Our convoy of trailers arrived on a Thursday morning. After setting up our campsites and the horses' high lines, we pulled out the trail map to choose a short route for our first day's ride.
Following a quick lunch, we saddled up and headed for the east loop, where we encountered standing water and mud that seemed endless as we made our way along the first four miles of trail.
Upon reaching the Shanerburg Rd. we turned northwest, using the solid surface of the forest road for our return trip back toward camp. This 10-mile warm up was a perfect way to familiarize our group with the terrain and acclimate our horses to their temporary surroundings.
The next morning, we saddled up early, hoping to complete the entire 27 miles on the east loop. I was a bit groggy as I tied on my raingear after a restless first night in camp.
Apparently our stock trailer was an inviting place for a brown bat to explore after we had fallen asleep. I finally chased our little nocturnal visitor out the side door, then hung tarps over the open slats before climbing back into bed.
Riding out along the same path as on Day One, we again survived the mud and this time traveled east on the forest road until the trail cut south, dropping into the valley along the Shanerburg Run.
The trail here was thankfully much firmer with the exception of a few bogs in some grassy areas. We made numerous stream crossings in the thick pine forest along the creek basin. The trail now continued northward for another four miles, then briefly followed a forest road before turning westward toward World's End State Park.
At Mile 21, we finally reached the Loyalsock Canyon Vista and enjoyed the panoramic view of the valley spread out below us. Continuing along Cold Run Rd., we passed a scenic waterfall while counting down the final five miles on the east loop.
Storm clouds had now gathered, so we shortened our ride by staying on the forest road for a hasty retreat back to camp. There, I spent a rain-soaked evening reviewing the map and planning for our ride on the west loop early the next morning.
The West Loop
Day 3 had now arrived, and we rode out of camp along High Knob Rd., catching a connecting trail to the 22-mile loop for our final day in the saddle. Heading west, the trail followed a logging road before turning southward toward the Kettle Creek Wild Area. This was my favorite portion of trail, as it took us through the old growth forest following the edge of a scenic ravine far below us.
At Mile 7, we began a steep descent into the Dry Run valley, crossing a stream at the Hillsgrove Ranger Station. After a lunch break and some time to rest our horses, we began the long climb out of the valley up to High Knob Vista.
Here, the trail leveled out once more as it followed along Nettle Ridge for about four miles, before intersecting with Coal Mine Rd. and the final six-mile loop back to camp.
Arriving back at my trailer, I'll admit I was a bit tired after our three-day adventure, but more than satisfied with the memories I'd take with me.
If you plan on visiting Loyalsock, bring your own water, since none is available at the campsite. The facility does provide poles with eyebolts for your high line, and public restrooms are also on hand.
As for the trail conditions, this had been one of the coolest, wettest summer seasons in decades, so I'm confident they will improve. I'll definitely schedule a return trip to this rugged, beautiful Pennsylvania State Forest.
For more information, contact Hillsgrove Forest Headquarters, (570) 924-3501; www.dcnr.state.pa.us/forestry/equestrian/bridle_trail.aspx.