Ever since doing the Jackson Trail on Tussey Ridge which serves as a short cut for part of Pennsylvania’s Mid State Trail, I’ve been interested in hiking that area of the Mid State Trail. I thought I was going to do the part near Jackson Trail atop route 26 near Pine Grove Mills because I’m familiar with that area already, but after reading about some other sections of the trail, I decided to be a little more adventurous.
I decided to pick up the Mid State Trail in Rothrock State Forest right next to Tussey Mountain. It’s located right off route 322, south of State College past Boalsburg. After entering the Tussey Mountain area where the ski lodge is, you continue driving into Rothrock State Forest, which is marked by white boundary blazes. Eventually, you have to get onto Laurel Run Road, which is an unpaved road that makes very, very sharps turns as it heads up to the ridge top. There are no guardrails next to the sheer drops of the mountainside and there are quite a few blind curves, so it’s a tricky drive. I took it all the way to the top until I hit a gated access road apparently called Shingletown Fire Road, but there is currently no sign marking it. I originally drove past it because I wasn’t sure it was the right gate. Then, when I realized I was descending down the other side of the ridge, I realized that gate was definitely the one I wanted. When I parked in front of the gate, I saw some faded orange blazes on either side of the road where the Mid State Trail comes through. I was in the right place! I was even greeted by this little guy as soon as I began the hike.
I started off by going past the gate and walking down the forest access road. Not too far in, the MST breaks away from the access road on the right. If you’re not paying attention, you could easily miss it – watch for those orange blazes! This sign greets you as you step off the access road and onto the “actual” trail:
I always like to do my research before heading out on a hike, especially around this area of the MST because of all the side trails and hidden vistas. To someone who is a non-experienced hiker, I would definitely recommend checking out some maps of the area first and becoming familiar with the area before heading out. It’s easy to wind up somewhere you didn’t expect (following the orange blazes aside, that is).
A little ways down the trail was this signpost:
I was interested in the springs nearby, but figured I would do that another day since I could already hear thunder in the distance and I had just begun the hike! (Also, I looked into the Little Flat Tower which I put together is a fire tower, since when I originally drove past the access road gate I saw a side road with a small sign that said “Little Flat Fire Tower.” I did drive back there after my hike was over, but the fire tower road was gated off completely, apparently due to vandalism. I did some research, though, and you can apparently hike to it from the MST on the other side of Laurel Road – I think that’s what I’ll be doing next!).
After awhile, a small sign that says “view” points to the right. I followed the small side trail and was met with a fantastic view of Mount Nittany. I could also see the storm that I was hearing coming by in the distance, but it looked like it was going to miss the ridge I was on which was a relief. The views were absolutely stunning – I could’ve spent much more time there!
I knew after hitting this vista that there would eventually be a small side trail called the 1-2 Link to my right father up the MST. I read up that it used to be marked with a sign, but is now just marked with a cairn (an obviously human-made pile of rocks). I did come across the rock pile, but couldn’t determine any real trail. It was really feeling like much of this portion of the trail is neglected.
I have done some tough hikes before and, although this one was pretty flat and not the rockiest trail I’ve ever been on, it was a little rough going. About one third of the hiking I did was entirely through brush and vegetation that was completely covering the trail. There are many rocks underfoot, too, and having to battle brush makes seeing the rocks hard and so it’s slow going. Even with my experience, I had to stop a couple times and look around for the trail blazes because the trail would sometimes literally disappear because of the tall brush and vegetation. I talked with a friend after I returned from the hike and we’re considering going up to clear the trail – it definitely needs to be done!
My main goal for this hike was to get to the Roman Tower. It’s a small foundation of rocks built up in a square shape. From what I’ve read, it used to be taller. Currently, the center of it is evidently used as a fire pit. What’s nice is that the Tower offers some more great views!
From the Roman Tower, I could see the storm blowing past across the other mountains, but the thunder continued to get louder and the sky grew darker. I stuck around long enough to take some pictures before it started to rain.
Although the trek to Roman Tower was a little tricky because of the overgrowth on the trail, getting back was even a little more difficult because everything was wet now (took much longer than I thought it would!). The rocks underfoot, which were hidden by the overgrowth, were slippery, so slowing down the pace was necessary (I did fall right on my tailbone slipping on a wet boulder – not fun! No harm done, though, so I was able to get right back up and continue on). In fact, that only reason why I got so wet was because of having to battle the overgrowth. If the trail was defined and kept up, this probably would’ve been less of a problem. The Mid State Trail needs some maintenance love!
Overall, even through battling some intense overgrowth, being bitten by some angry ants, and slipping on a wet boulder, it was truly an excellent hike. The views were incredible and the Roman Tower was pretty cool! There were a couple places along the trail that had dry campsites, so I wouldn’t mind spending the night up there. It was a great trek! I’m really looking forward to doing the MST on the other side of Laurel Run Road and getting up to the Little Flat Fire Tower. That will be next!