The Quehanna Trail is a giant circle around some of the darkest night skies in Pennsylvania. This “re-wilded” area offers the kind of peace and quiet hikers of all stripes crave. For the day-hiker with young kids, the accessibility of Quehanna trail sections are especially attractive. The quick hike to Wildcat Rock is no different.
Combining the prestige of knocking off a short section of the Quehanna, the succession of vistas, and a splash of history, this hike will swell your little ones with pride and awe. When you hike it at the close of fall, with a chill breeze rattling the bare trees and stirring the fallen leaves, you’ll swear you can still hear the call of the wildcats that met their demise here.
If you’re lucky (or unlucky), you might even see one.
Lost Run Road
The approach to the trail can be a little tricky, not so much because it’s hidden, but because as you go down this road, all you’re thinking is Where is this road going? Have faith…the trail is there. Lost Run Road is a winding dirt road the juts south off of the Quehanna Highway (off of Route 555 in Medix, PA). This is directly across from the MK Goddard Wykoff Run Natural Area.
On Lost Run Road, you’ll pass the (gated) Reactor Road. This was the site of a nuclear reactor built in the mid-1950’s, and then demolished in 2009. No fear, the area is labeled as “safe.” Just stick to the road, cutting through State Game Lands 34. Your trailhead is just on the other side to the left, after about 4 miles. Be careful that you fully exit the SGL, otherwise you’ll end up on the Eastern Cross Connector trail for the Quehanna (QTECC).
The trail can also be approached from the Caledonia Pike to the south. It is a bit longer, but it also offers a pull-off area for Gifford Run Vista. It’s pretty, but we didn’t stop on the way out- it was the day before hunting season and it was pretty well parked-up with folks scouting.
The surest sign to know you’ve arrived at the trailhead is the parking area with a large Quehanna Trail sign. There are also maps of the Quehanna Trail and Moshannon State Forest (usually) available here if you need them. There is a trail register roughly 1/4 of a mile down the trail.
The Vistas Before Wildcat Rock
This section of trail follows the ridgeline overlooking Mosquito Creek, a tributary of the West Susquehanna River. Much of the views are the same, peeking into the forest below through thick deciduous forest and scattered boulders. Along this mile-long section are multiple openings, with two of some note. Overall, it’s pretty easy hiking, with little up and down, and a few sloped trail sections.
In all honesty, the first vista marked on my Purple Lizard map wasn’t much to write home about. You’ll find that along one of the powerlines that crosses the trail. The second vista, however, was worthy enough to stop, relax, snap a few pictures, and have a snack with the boys. From there, the trail heads up and away from the ridge through the hardwood forest.
If you’re not paying attention to a compass, it will feel like you’re going west and away from where you want to be going. You’re not, you’re actually still going southeast. That was my observation, anyway.
After a half-mile march through the forest, the trail suddenly turns downhill and dumps you right onto Wildcat Rock.
So-noted for the three wildcats (lynx) shot from the rock in 1946 by Geo. A. Oswald.
It doesn’t sound impressive, I admit. I like to imagine the scene as more brutal than it probably was…something like the attacking bear in The Revenant, but with hungry wildcats. Thinking of it that way, in the cold autumn air just over 74 years to the day it happened, I felt the eyes of the wildcats on me. That was a little unnerving and exhilarating.
What is impressive is that the event was marked with a small monument. I mean, a couple hundred pounds of masonry was hauled into the forest to erect a creepy tombstone on top of a long, sloped boulder. It’s a minor event in history not big enough to be a footnote, but and event that was remembered so fondly that it was commemorated.
The spot is ideal for for a lunch stop- it’s under the cover of trees that look out at a powerline vista.
Coming Back from Wildcat Rock
From Wildcat Rock you have a few options for finishing the trail. Customize them to your (and your younger hiker’s) needs.
If you’re in it for a longer day hike, you can continue south along the Quehanna to a water crossing followed by Corporation Dam. This will roughly double the distance of your hike, skirt you along the middle of the ridge before dropping you down a steep hill. There are no clean exits on this end, though, so you’ll have to double-back to get to the parking area.
You can turn around. You’ve seen this section of trail already, so you know what’s there.
The boys and I took the third option, as the youngest didn’t seem too keen on seeing the same stuff again. Right next to Wildcat Rock is a powerline that crosses Lost Run Road. Follow the access road uphill (it flattens at the top) and hike it about 3/4 of a mile to Lost Run Road. From there, turn right (north) and hike along the improved dirt road. This road gently rises and falls, is relatively easy (if not boring), and a lot faster (even at around 1.5 miles).
SAFETY TIP: If you’re out during a hunting season, be aware that there may be a lot of “traffic.” Stick to the left side of roads and wear blaze orange. For more information, check out my articles on Hiking During Hunting Season and Alternative Trails.
This trail was an excellent hike to close out Autumn, but a bit busy due to the approach of deer season. When we started in the morning, we saw nary a soul, but by the time we hopped back in the Hikemobile, the parking areas were pretty busy. The road out was also busy.
Don’t let that deter you: we saw no one on the trail. We had Wildcat Rock to ourselves.
The adventure doesn’t stop there! There are so many trails along the Quehanna and its cross connectors your head will spin. If you’re interested in other hikes in the area, check out my articles on the Little Quehanna Loops and Dayhiking in the Quehanna.