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Rocksylvania: 10 of Central PA’s Best Hikes

From lakeside trails and mountaintop views, to old hemlock groves and a historic fire tower, these are the 10 best hikes to explore near State College, Pennsylvania.

Hiking Easy, Moderate, Difficult

Jackson Trail Loop
Photo: Brendon Voelker


While most people probably think of Penn State when referring to State College, others revere central PA for its diversity of public lands and trails found just outside of town. With a unique beauty that cannot be understated, massive state forests, game preserves, and parks dot the map, and there’s no shortage of wildlife, wildflowers, history, and stunning views to discover along the way. Whether you’re looking for a relaxing day hike or a week-long adventure in the mountains, these are 10 of the best hikes to explore around State College, PA.

Named after an early conservationist, Rothrock State Forest is a go-to area for locals. The iconic Tussey Mountain Trail traverses a rocky ridgeline loaded with views, or consider the short walk up to the Little Flat Fire Tower, where you can stand beneath beautiful red spruce trees alongside the historic tower. Other trails such as the Alan Seeger Loop or Bear Meadows Loop, offer the option to observe massive old-growth hemlocks alongside black spruce, balsam fir, and even yellow birch, this source notes. Part of the Shingletown Gap area, Bald Knob is another great day hike with a commanding mountaintop view - plus a distinct possibility that you will have the trails all to yourself.

Outside of downtown and less than 15 minutes from the college, consider the 5-mile blue loop at Mount Nittany, known for its six unique overlooks with vantages to see the surrounding valleys. Of course, you can’t go wrong with the Jackson Loop either, which conveniently begins and ends at the Jo Hays Vista on highway 26 heading to McAlevys Fort. The roadside bench also offers a nice view looking towards town, and it’s a great place to enjoy the sunset year-round.

30 minutes northwest of State College, Black Moshannon State Park hosts the largest reconstituted bog in Pennsylvania, and was even ranked as one of the 25 must-see state parks in PA. While the 40+ mile Allegheny Front Trail is the most epic, and longest hike to make this list, the interpretive Bog Trail around the lake highlights unique flora and fauna, including carnivorous plants, orchids, and other species typically found further north.

If you find yourself wanting to head a little further from town, then download an offline map and consider a day trip to the Stone Valley Vista in Greenwood Furnace SP, or head towards Huntingdon and enjoy the 1000 Steps hike along Standing Stone Trail. While the epic 80+ mile SST is documented in detail in this guidebook, these two hikes showcase some of the trail’s most acclaimed views. Both hikes enjoy spectacular mountaintop views from rocky overlooks, while mossy rocks, wildflowers, and ferns line every step of the way. If you’re eyeing a thru-hike on the SST, consider one of these two hikes to experience the feel of the trail.

While any of these hikes can be enjoyed year-round, winter can lead to significant snow and ice accumulation, while spring freeze-thaw cycles often yield muddy trails. Late spring and summer yield the best selections of wildflowers and fungi, and the fall colors are a sight to behold. Wildlife, including deer, bear, and snakes are common, though all are wary of people and tend not to cause problems. Of course, the infamous timber rattlesnake can be spotted through the summer across the rocky ridgelines, so plan an early start on warm days and make sure you watch where you step!


Routes included

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