The Little Quehanna Loops
The little Quehanna Loops are nestled near the northern edge of the Quehanna Wild Area, down the road from Benezette, PA. You’ve heard of Benezette? It’s one of the places where the Eastern elk (Cervus elaphus) herd is making a comeback.
I can see elk?! So why even bother with these little trails?
Benezette is a great place to see elk, as they often wander out from thick mists to bugle and battle. And, of course, people are all over trying to see them. I’m not knocking elk-viewing, but I do live in the area. Trust me, it can get very crowded and frustrating.
If that’s your thing, the Elk County Visitor’s Center will give you a history of the herd and point you in the right direction to find them. The area also houses countless micro-wineries, distilleries, and breweries. Elk-themed gifts? Got’em. Staying overnight? It seems like there are more campgrounds, cabin rentals, and B’n’B’s than elk in the area. Everything elk is a recent, explosive pop-up industry.
But…all that elk-craze lacks solitude.
The Solitude Part
Enter the hiker’s heaven that is Quehanna. The 71-mile Quehanna Trail is a week-long trek that circles the entire area. Inside (and just outside) that loop are countless little trails, forest roads, game lands, and natural areas. Like their “big brother” trail, the little Quehanna loops wind through multiple environments, touch the past, and can offer a glimpse of the same elk folks are climbing on top of each other to see. The elk are not as easily seen, but they’re here.
Tackle one trail for a quick morning hike. String two Quehanna loops together to fill half a day. Want a longer, full-day trail? Put the loops together to form a single, large loop!
A Note on Terminology:
- I group these 4 trails as the “Little Quehanna Loops.” The Little Quehanna Loop can also refer to a section of the trail hiked using either Cross Connector.
- While there are many trails in Quehanna, these 4 trails are the only loops labeled as foot traffic only. That means little chance of meeting bikes, horses, or other conveyances.
- With the exception of a few connecting trails, these are the only trails fully inside Quehanna and Elk County. Adding all that would make it a really long, convoluted title.
- I’ve included the Quehanna Trail East Cross Connector (Q.T.E.C.C.) trail because all 4 of these trails use it, as well as notes on the featured cabin ruins. Check it out!
Marion Brooks Loop
Named after Marion E. Brooks, an environmentalist from Elk County, this 3.1 mile loop is the largest of the four and sits beside the Marion Brooks Natural Area. The Natural Area here is noted for one of the largest stands of white or paper birch (Betula alba var. papyrifera) in the United States. When parking at Loesy Road just off of the Quehanna Highway, the Natural Area is directly to the left. To soak in the birch, take the little trail going into the stand behind the Marion Brooks monument. The Loop, however starts by going up Loesy Road beside the Natural Area for about 1/2 mile before making a sharp right into the Wild Area.
This loop is an easy walk with slight elevation changes, minimal rocky spots, two tiny bridges, and two highway crossings. The trail also gives the hiker a wild variety of environments- it skirts around wilderness fields, winds through thickets of laurel and stands of beech and pine. It seems like the scenery changes every five minutes, so it’s really hard to give detailed descriptions from memory (and I just hiked the thing this morning). I find the tall pines in the southeastern corner (where it shares a trail with the Beaver Run Dam Trail) especially enchanting as the wind blows through their tops and their strong, sappy scent fills the air.
This 2.9 mile loop (including the Q.T.E.C.C. approach) is also the most northern little Quehanna loop, and only accessible by hiking sections of other trails. It has a higher elevation gain than the Marion Brooks Loop, and is slightly tougher. The trail also winds through similar environments as Marion Brooks, but it is more wooded. The northern edge of the trail follows a small stream and affords views of tiny waterfalls and other places where the stream meanders through rocks. Higher up on the hillside are two little vistas overlooking Paige Run some 300 feet below. Much of the trail wraps around this ridge, so glimpses of the land below are constant.
When taking on this trail, though, I suggest hiking it clock-wise. The boulders and wet spots makes the approach to the ridgeline difficult at times. Also pay close attention to your footing while on the ridgeline. Even though it’s well-blazed, sections are sloped, often narrow, and have a lot of low-lying branches.
Two trailheads give access to this short 2.2 mile trail. I suggest parking in the area that sits on the Q.T.E.C.C. and hiking north to the Teaberry Connector Trail. Due to the steepness of climbs, hike this trail clockwise. The section shared with Teaberry ends when it turns sharply downhill into dense laurel and rocky ground.
When I say rocky, I mean rocky. It’s not quite scrambling, but it will be a challenge for hikers who aren’t used to rough terrain. It’s also beautiful- the trail winds along the stream, in and out of thick laurel and massive boulders. The whole area down here truly makes you feel small. The trail then turns uphill. This switchback is also tough, as it’s steep, narrow, and sloped. When you reach the top of the hill, though, you find yourself on top of one of the boulders with an awesome vista.
The remainder of the trail is a relatively flat, easy hike that comes back to the Quehanna Highway. It then runs along what appears to be an old access road that’s easy to follow, but not very well marked. This road leads you directly to the parking area for the Beaver Run Dam viewing area. Continue up the road for the Dam to find the last section of the loop on the left. This well-marked section is fairly close to the highway, but far enough back to only hear the road hum of passing cars. It connects back with the Q.T.E.C.C., crosses the highway, and then brings you back to the trailhead.
Beaver Run Dam Loop
This 2.5 mile loop is the Q.T.E.C.C. trail linked to two connecting trails- the Lincoln Loop and the Beaver Run Damn Trail. I detail the trail clockwise, though it’s mostly flat so there really isn’t any reason why you can’t hike it counter-clockwise. You can park in the Wildlife Viewing area’s parking lot, check out the blind and then jump onto the trail, or skip the blind entirely and walk down an access road to the dam crest. The blind offers views of waterfowl, a variety of water mammals, and lots of birds, though it’s a popular stop-off. There is almost always people at the viewing area. Beyond that, however, the trail doesn’t see as many visitors.
This trail can get swampy and confusing at first, so keep an eye out for the yellow blazes. Failing that, stay close to the water and it will meet the trail. Despite that, it is an easy hike as it marches along wetlands, rocky fields, and young forests. If you’re hiking this in the late spring or summer, make sure to wear sunscreen and bug protection. The trail leaves the open and gently-shaded areas as it turns northwest. Re-enter the thicker forest by turning right at the trail register.
Here it meets up with the section of the Q.T.E.C.C. that forms my favorite part of the Marion Brooks Loop- the tall pines that whisper in the breeze! Continue through the pine forest, enjoy the sounds and smells, and then turn right onto the Lincoln Loop connecting trail just before it reaches the Quehanna Highway. This trail goes through the mixed forest and leads right to the Impoundment road just before the sign.
Quehanna Trail East Cross Connector Trail
Winding right through the middle of the 4 Quehanna loops is a cut-off trail. The trail is well-maintained and marked, but make sure you take a map with you. This area is wild and cell phone reception is almost non-existent. You don’t want to find yourself accidentally hiking the much longer Quehanna Trail if you’re only out for a day hike.
If you’re hiking the section north of the Quehanna Highway, look for the remains of the hunting lodge. When facing north, it’s just off to the right. Foliage can hide it, but an unmarked, short trail goes right to it. If you cross the little bridge, you went too far. Low walls, the two fireplaces, assorted bricks, and scraps of metal are all that remain, but it’s still a haunting reminder of the past. For more history of the area, check out this Wikipedia article. There is more to the history than I can do justice.
Seeing the elk in Benezette is cool, but sometimes you need to get away from the tourist-choked country roads. If you’re already a frequent hiker, I’m going to guess you like your solitude and space. Luckily for you, the 4 little Quehanna Loops are a short drive away.
But don’t stop there! The area is rich in history. Native Americans, early settlers, the logging industry, the CCC, and Curtis-Wright’s nuclear testing sites all have a place here. So do natural areas, wildlife viewing blinds, and hunting areas. Pick up maps of Quehanna and Moshannon at nearly all of the parking areas, or a State Forest Office.
If you need help getting started hiking (with or w/out kids), check out my tips on kid-friendly hike planning. Need ideas on what else you should probably bring? I have you covered with a list of essential extras. Go ahead and poke around the rest of the site, you’ll probably find other topics of interest (including “rules” for alternative trails, which the Quehanna area has many).
Want a GREAT map of the area designed by and for outdoors-people? Try Purple Lizard’s Moshannon-Quehanna Map. It’s water-proof, easy to read, filled with awesome details, and is my personal pick for my Quehanna ventures. Purple Lizard is also a member of 1% For the Planet, so they’re just a downright good company.
How to Get Here
The Quehanna Highway begins in Medix Run, PA on Route 555 and ends just outside of Karthaus, PA on Route 879. The Quehanna Highway can also be reached via Wykoff Run Road off of Route 120 just outside of Sinnemahoning, PA.
As there are few roads larger than improved dirt, it’s easy to navigate once you’re there. Parking is available alongside Loesy Road, the Q.T.E.C.C. highway crossing, and at Beaver Run Dam. Cell phone reception is spotty at best, so be prepared! If you’re unsure of where you’re going, a Moshannon State Forest District Headquarters is located off of Deible Road, just a few miles away from the little Quehanna loops.