Exploring Our Outdoors: Rothrock State Forest

Outdoor activities are plentiful in the region, thanks in part to public land like Rothrock State Forest.

Located just minutes from State College and Penn State University, this 215,000-acre tract of mountainous terrain in Centre, Mifflin and Huntingdon counties offers hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, wildlife viewing and much more.

Founded in the early 20th century by neighboring Mifflin County native Dr. Joseph Rothrock, the forest was initially barren due to excessive logging and resource extraction. Concerned that the barren ridges would not regrow without proper management, Rothrock took action in 1895 when he was appointed the first commissioner of what’s today known as the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. This was the beginning of Pennsylvania’s state forest system, which helped formed the public lands we know and value today.

The state forest has come a long way in those 100-plus years, and today includes four unique state parks. Additionally, six natural areas and two wild areas can be found here, meaning there’s a lot of nature to explore.

Fortunately, a robust trail system calls the forest home, with over 300 total miles contained within its boundaries. This including portions of the 327-mile Mid State Trail, also known as “The Wildest Trail In Pennsylvania,” which was founded by the Penn State Outing Club and now reaches from Maryland to New York.

Portions of the 80-mile Standing Stone Trail, which contains the popular Thousand Steps hike, are also found in the state forest. Many shorter trails are available, too.

Cycling enthusiasts are in luck as well, as the forest is considered one to the premier mountain biking destinations in the state. Numerous events are held in the forest each year, including the Wilderness 101, a 101-mile mountain bike race, and the Trans-Sylvania Mountain Bike Epic 7-day stage race. In 2005, the Single Speed World Championship was held here.

Popular mountain biking trails are concentrated around the Shingletown Gap and Coopers Gap areas, but trails exist throughout the forest. Additionally, miles of gravel roads provide routes for less rugged and flatter excursions. To plan your biking trip, we recommend taking a look at the Rothrock State Forest Map — free on the DCNR website — or by picking up a version of the locally produced Purple Lizard Rothrock map, which shows popular trails and attractions throughout the forest.

You can also use your map to reach one of the secluded natural or wild areas located here. We recommend the 390-acre Alan Seeger Natural Area in neighboring Huntingdon County, which offers spectacular old-growth white pine and hemlock. This is also a great place for families, featuring a small picnic area and a short loop hike through its 25-acre tract of old growth forest.

Another unique natural area, popular for wildlife viewing and picking blueberries in the spring, exists just miles from Boalsburg. The Bear Meadows Natural Area — a National Natural Landmark — protects a 320-acre boreal bog that contains old-growth black spruce and balsam fir.

While some of the forest’s attractions can only be reached by foot, others are easily accessible by car. Many of the forest’s roads were built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps, and reach to the far corners of the forest. Eleven officially designated scenic vistas are located here, the most popular and easily-accessible being the Jo Hays vista off Route 26, just south of State College.

An auto tour of the forest can show you many natural wonders, especially in the spring or fall. Early June is a great time to see mountain laurel blooms, and in October, leaf peeping is a popular activity. You might see a variety of animals on your trip, including deer, bear, turkey, grouse, squirrels, rabbits and more.

After your drive or hike, you can head home or find a place to camp. Eight locations offer motorized drive-up camping throughout the forest — perfect for seclusion and easy setup. Backpacking and primitive camping is also permitted throughout the forest.

Local state parks also offer a variety of camping options. Whipple Dam and Trough Creek state parks offer modern campsites, with Trough Creek also offering RV camping and the Trough Creek Lodge.

Additional activities in the forest include snowmobiling, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and horseback riding. Anglers and hunters also have a wide range of recreational opportunities.

No matter the season, there’s always something to see or do in Rothrock State Forest. Whether you’re taking it in by car, bike or foot, we know you’ll enjoy exploring one of the most scenic natural areas in Central Pennsylvania.

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