EXPLORING OUR OUTDOORS: The Standing Stone Trail

Surrounded by multiple state forests and parks, Centre County outdoors lovers have a lot to be thankful for. Hikers especially have an abundance of options to enjoy— one of them being the 80-mile Standing Stone Trail (SST), which runs south of State College and Penn State University.

Initially built as the Link Trail to connect the Mid State and Tuscarora trails, the SST received its current name in 2007. It’s also part of the Great Eastern Trail — America’s newest long-distance trail that spans from Alabama to New York.

Running along the ridge and valley section of the northern Appalachian Mountains, the SST features many views and unique cultural attractions. The most popular section of trail, by far, is the Thousand Steps hike, just south of Huntingdon.

The whole trail is highly rated, but the Thousand Steps section can’t be missed. While not a long section at 3.4 miles, it’s steep, with about 1,125 feet of elevation gain. This intense portion of the SST is called the Thousand Steps for a reason — in 1936, workers built steps from local rock to help make the climb to their mountainside quarry a bit easier. There are about 12 “flights” of stairs, with rest areas scattered throughout. 

The Thousand Steps hike features great views along the way, but additional vistas can be found by continuing past the actual steps. If completing the longer 9.7-mile round trip, four primary views can be seen: Mapleton Overlook, Mount Union Incline Vista, Shaughnessy Run Vista and Shorbs Summit Vista.

Designated Trail of the Year in 2016 by DCNR, there’s a lot more to see than just the Thousand Steps. Cutting through two Natural Areas, two state forests and four state game lands, there’s plenty of flora and fauna. The rare obolaria wildflower and putty root orchid, for example, can be found in Rocky Ridge Natural Area. And don’t miss the Stone Mountain Hawkwatch, a platform built along the trail that’s perfect for viewing feathered friends.

More history can be found along the trail, too. In Fulton County, the stretch of railroad grade named “Vanderbilt’s Folly” was originally built in the late 1800s to compete with the Pennsylvania Railroad. The project went bankrupt, but some of the tunnels that were built eventually became part of the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

Closer to State College lies one of the state’s last operating iron furnaces, easily accessible from the trail and via Greenwood Furnace State Park. The furnace’s ruins make a great day trip, especially if you have time to hike a portion of the nearby trail.

Other points of interest on the SST include Hunter’s Rocks, an area popular with climbers that’s easily accessible by side trail, and Alan Seeger Natural Area, which includes a tract of old-growth Eastern Hemlock and White Pine.

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