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Backpacker Magazine – October 2010

50-Mile Thru-Hikes: Loyalsock Trail, Pennsylvania

A 59-mile "long trail" through Pennsylvania.

by: Jim Gorman

Loyalsock Trail, Canyon Vista Mile 43 (Tom Till)
Loyalsock Trail, Canyon Vista Mile 43 (Tom Till)

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For a full GPS tracklog of this trip go to
Unexpectedly and abruptly, at around mile 30, we run into a group of backpackers in their mid-20s. They are from West Chester, Pennsylvania, and they’re the first people my buddy Alan and I have seen in days. They smell like shampoo. They seem to be in a hurry.
“How far ya’ going?” one says.
 “How many miles to Angel Falls?” asks another.
The trail chatter snaps me out of a thru-hiker’s hypnosis—I’m not sure what time it is or exactly where we are on the map. My mind has been floating and drifting, pleasantly void of stress or boundaries as my feet pad methodically through mile after mile of hemlock and hickory laced with rushing creeks. This is long-trail bliss.

The crazy thing? This “long trail” is only 59 miles end to end, and we’re already about halfway through. Our trip isn’t a traditional multi-month, foot-long-beard-growing, trail name-acquiring, complicated-mail-dropping, job-quitting thru-hike. My friend Alan and I have families, careers, and mortgage payments that can’t be put on hold for six months. But we also have aspirations for long-trail satisfaction—accomplishment, adventure, scenic variety, disconnection, and the bone-weary exhaustion that rewards a hard effort. The solution: a point-to-point hike of about a week. By passing the aches-and-pain break-in period of the weekend, getting to know one trail intimately, and hiking into new territory, we hope to arrive at a place where contemplating the fuzzy caterpillar crossing the trail is infinitely more important than deciding whether granite or engineered stone countertops will better enhance resale.
Judging by the looks on the twentysomethings’ faces, our lofty plan appears to be working. They move on while I’m still trying to pinpoint our precise location.

Alan and I are on the Loyalsock Trail, a little-known route through the Nowheresville of north-central Pennsylvania. The path rolls and dips along the Allegheny Plateau in the heart of one of the biggest green blobs Google Earth shows south of Maine. The scene past the trailhead, near Hillsgrove Township, is straight out of the Carboniferous Period. A colony of fledgling ground pines—Joshua tree-like evergreens—projects weird lime-green antennae skyward. Stands of spruce, their arching branches studded with needles, cast shadows on an understory of spongy, star-shaped mosses. It’s a fascinating prologue, but we didn’t linger.

“We better get moving if we’re going to finish this thing,” Alan had said.

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Reader Rating: -


Star Star Star Star Star
Dec 21, 2012

I live locally and spend much time on the LT. The entire trail is exceptionally well blazed. There are some steep ascents and descents, but they're not technically difficult, they are just tiring on the legs and lungs. Many options for parking and doing 1 night loop hikes, or 2 car shuttle hikes. Much more info if you google search. A real nice guide( very detailed map included) is availbe from the Alpine Club. Enjoy!

Mar 29, 2012

"a thru-hike gaining 12,000 feet in elevation" This has to be a typo,..

Feb 25, 2012

Nov 03, 2011

This trail was my now-husband and my first camping date -- and the point at which I realized my new boyfriend was colorblind. After realizing that each trail intersection point would be accompanied by a lengthy map consultation (good thing he's map-savvy), I finally piped up with "why don't we just follow the red blazes?" His response? "What red blazes?"
So, to all you first-daters who want to impress your new partner with your woodsman/woman skills, be warned the trail markers are scarlet. And plan accordingly.

That said, the Loyalsock is hands-down some of the best hiking in PA.

Anna Alford
Aug 03, 2011

I've lived near this trail most of my life and hiked sections of it many times. I recently opened a B&B at mile marker 19 and offer a cushy, hiker friendly place to stay before your trip or enroute. I'm happy to help hikers with shuttles and other logistics.

Nicole Dolbin
Jun 16, 2011

I just completed an eastbound thru-hike of this trail today. I've hiked several different places in PA (West Rim Trail, sections of the Tuscarora Trail, sections of the AT and several trails in different state parks). This was by far the most beautiful an life changing. It was also the most difficult. I left the trail almost feeling defeated. Enjoy this amazing trail, but be sure to treat it with the respect it deserves. And if you plan on hiking the LT, whether it be all of it or just a section, definitely buy the trail guide. It really gives a great background of the history of the trail. Enjoy!!

Apr 20, 2011

Just completed thru-hike in 3.5 days. Beautiful, well marked trail. Lots of stream crossings and wet, boggy sections after an all day rain. Steep, frequent, sometimes miserable climbs. Limited but beautiful campsites (no shelters). Lots of waterfalls and scenic vistas (in mid April). We'd highly recommend Bellevue Cottage at mile 19 as a staging point if you want to do more than 12 miles on first day (since you can't camp from about mile 12 to 22.

Mr. Fusion
Nov 23, 2010

This article is a joke.

Mr. Black
Oct 28, 2010

I've been hitting sections of this trail since 1998 and have watched the campsite near the falls on Ketchum run change over the years. I have some grainy pictures from a disposable camera where me a some buddies set up a zip line over those falls and the pool below. When I get that itch to go backpacking, the Loyalsock is the picture that my mind conjures up.

Regina Payne
Oct 25, 2010

Is the Loyalsock Trail blazed besides having mile markers? What are the elevations? Why does trail slide away? Are there maps? Tenting spots? thanks, Regina

jessie's girl
Oct 21, 2010

i just hiked this trail the beginning of october. as described it does have the feel of a long trail, but please notice that it is a fairly strenuous trail and NOT really novice-friendly. some places on the trail are so narrow, and yes, u WILL be getting wet numerous times crossing streams. it rained 3 of the 4 days i was there so my advise: bring appropriate shelter or pick a nice week with no rain ;-)
with over 40 waterfalls, angel falls was so great to see.
oh, and one other piece of advise:
if you're hiking this trail for the falls go whenever u like. if you're hiking for the 'views' at the tops of climbs go in the spring before all the trees get the leaves that will be hiding all those views!
nice trail tho--will do it again sometime.

Oct 21, 2010

This trail was my first experience backpacking. My wife and I teamed up with a partner who had been on this trail before. We loved it! It was a tough go, as another commenter mentioned it is not for a novice. Novice or not, I enjoyed the weekend trip culmonated with a bone chilling dip in the Loyalsock in the "haystacks" section.

Oct 21, 2010

A few friends and I did one small section of this trail this summer. This is not for novices. We did 5 miles RT. the plan was an 8-mile one way jaunt, camping one night. We made it 2 miles before numerous minor injuries forces us to camp and trek back the same way. (a severely sprained ankle)

The view WERE great, but dont be shocked when the path your own suddenly slides away from your feet, or when you have to get your boots wet to continue a trail. I wish I could remember which mile marker we were on. Some where in the middle. We drove by a popular campground to get there.

Oct 21, 2010

Is this picture digitally enhanced or will it look like this to the naked eye??

Oct 21, 2010

This picture is amazing! Any ideas about what month this is?

Oct 21, 2010

I really dig Jim Gorman's writing. A week-long thru-hike = great idea. Until I can get my life to a place that allows the "complicated...job-quitting..." type of adventure, I'm hitting the trail in PA. Thanks for the inspiration!


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