Fifty-eight percent of Pennsylvania is forest. It’s not the most forested state in the Union, but for a developed state that’s pretty damn impressive. Within PA, the state forest system occupies 2.2 million acres. And of the 20 state parks, Elk State Forest takes up roughly 217K of those acres. Hidden in that vast forest, at the southeastern corner, are two little trails that have become bucket list trails for Pennsylvania hikers: the Fred Woods & Pine Tree Trails.
Both of these trails are yellow-blazed (hiking-only), are short, and are set apart by beauty and remoteness. You’re going to have to do a little bit of rough-road riding to reach them.
They’re worth every bump.
If you’re in the area of Benezette, Pennsylvania looking for Elk and need a change of scenery, they’re close by. And, trust me, I know looking at the glare of taillights through the early-morning fog can get old fast.
Get out there!
Fred Woods Trail
Named in the memory of Frederick Woods, a Forest Foreman who was fatally injured while performing his duties for the Bureau of Forestry, this trail is a must hike. The trail is just over 4.5 miles long and perfect for a morning or afternoon.
The trailhead is a relatively easy jaunt through open forest, rising and falling very little. There are a few wet sections. When you reach the loop- designated by a large memorial sign- the real fun begins. You can take the loop in either direction. I suggest going counterclockwise.
The loop becomes increasingly rockier. When you reach the shelf, the trail winds through large boulders, across rocky areas, and has a lot more up-and-down. All along this laureled section you catch glimpses of Water Plug Hollow to the north and crazy rock formations all around you. This leads up and out to the Loop and Rock Trail intersection.
Do the Rock Trail.
Though it’s short, much of this trail wanders along the bases of massive boulders, slips into tight sections, and works its way toward the tops of the boulders. It’s just a cool place to wander, and you can spend hours here exploring or rock-climbing. When you’ve had enough, make your way to the Water Plug Gap Vista for some prime photo ops and a comfortable place to take lunch.
Continue along the loop through gentle forests. The boulders on this section are far and few between, but the trail does make its way across the hill’s edge, offering hollow views. Every time I’ve hiked this trail I’ve seen deer. The easy-going trail ends just after the Huckleberry Vista, also a photo-worthy view, and then wanders through very rocky terrain. This leads you back to the memorial sign.
How to Get Here
For those unfamiliar with the area, you’re going to think you’re in the middle of nowhere. This isn’t far from the truth.
To find this trail, head west on Route 555 from Driftwood, or east from Benezette, and turn up Mason Hill Road. Go 3.75 miles up this road (it’s a dirt road) and the trailhead is on the left, with parking on the right (in front of a management fence). Find trail flyers at the trailhead, at the interpretive sign.
Pine Tree Trail
While not as “renowned” as Fred Woods, this slightly older trail is a boon to anyone interested in trees and climbing hills. Pine Tree Trail sits in the northeast side of the Pine Tree Natural Area. This interpretive trail has 38 marked trees, though you will likely need the flyer to ID them (the trees are numbered). I suggest hiking the trail from the Hicks Run Camping Area.
The trail is also accessed from the Thunder Mountain Equestrian Trail, West Hicks Run Road, and East Hicks Run Road, but these trailheads aren’t well-marked. The first time we hiked this trail we started at the East Hicks Run trailhead and missed a lot. It’s one of those “blink-and-you-miss-it” trailheads that starts out with a steep climb.
The area was first logged for white pine, hemlock, and later hardwoods. This grew back with fast hardwoods. The area was cleared for farming in the 19th century. Eventually the clearing was abandoned and went back to nature. Since white pine is a pioneer species, the clearing was ideal for the already present tree. It grew fast, shading out most anything else, and has remained almost untouched since. If you pay close attention (or use the provided flyer), you can still find the remains of the settler’s cabin just off the trail.
To find all of the marked trees on the flyer, you’ll need to hike the spurs, including multiple trips up the 500-foot hills.
The Hicks Run area is notorious for rattlesnakes. Pay close attention while on the trail, and be especially cautious if you’re hiking this trail in the height of summer. While much of the Pine Tree Natural Area is shaded by the white pines, the copious ferns provide cover for rattlers.
How to Get Here
Off of Route 555, turn onto Hicks Run Road, and then hang a left onto West Hicks Run Road. It’s a little over 2 miles to the Camping Area from Route 555. The main trailhead is just to the north of the campground. Find the flyers for the interpretive trail here. I have not seen flyers (or places for them) at the other trailheads.
If you need a place to camp, the campground runs on a first come permit system. Call the District Office to request a permit: (814)486-3353, or visit the DCNR website for Elk State Forest.
BONUS AREA: Bucktail Overlook
Also known as Top of the World, if you’re around Fred Woods Trail, head east and take a look! This amazing overlook is just off of Mason Hill Road along the Bucktail State Park Natural Area, up a well-marked road. As you drive up the steep hill, you get the feeling that you’re about to drive over a cliff…and then BOOM! There it is!
The lookout, that is…not a cliff to drive over.
If you’re looking for more day hikes in the area, check out my posts on The Little Quehanna Loops and Day Hiking in Quehanna. Most all of the trails listed in those posts are within a 30 minute drive of Fred Woods and Pine Tree Trail.
May as well make a weekend of it, right?