The elevation profile (below) of this 59.2-mile trail looks like an EKG of arrhythmia as it cuts through the Endless Mountains region of north-central Pennsylvania, part of an immense deciduous woodland that spans the northern tier of Pennsylvania and southern New York. Target four to six days for a thru-hike gaining 12,000 feet in elevation.
From the trailhead on PA 87 (1), climb nearly 1,300 feet in two miles to ledges at the lip of the Allegheny High Plateau, an ancient uplift worn to a 2,000-foot-high nub by glaciers. Quickly descend into rocky Pete’s Hollow, losing all of that hard-won elevation. Then it’s right back up again to hawk’s-eye views of the Loyalsock Valley from atop Smith Knob (2) at 1,850 feet.
The next seven miles gain minimal elevation, passing through open forest of cherry, hickory, and gray birch, and paralleling several small creeks. Make it an 8-, 11-, or 12.5-mile day by picking from excellent campsites beside mountain streams at Painter (3), Shingle, and Grandad Runs, respectively. The Loyalsock continues its mercurial ways, dropping off of the Allegheny Plateau, then regaining the heights on a three-mile walk on Genesee Trail Road (4). The dirt road follows the Towanda Path, an Iroquois trade route later used by soldiers in the War of 1812, and runaway slaves.
Pass remnants of an old resort (5) built to take advantage of superb views of pastoral valleys and forested ridges at the brink of the Allegheny Front. Lunch in open fields at mile 19, near the trail’s high point (2,140 feet), before entering a section of steep climbs and beautiful waterfalls, creeks, and views. Soak tired feet in crystalline Ogdonia Creek before the rapid ascent to the .3-mile spur trail to 80-foot Angel Falls (6). Continue north for two miles to Kettle Creek, where you’ll be tempted to camp next to the water but can’t; you’re in a protected natural area. Dutters Run (7) makes a fine consolation prize, with four waterfalls and several streamside campsites scattered over a half-mile.
Next morning, hike 2.5 miles through woodland skirted with gardens of maidenhair, ostrich, and Christmas fern. The overlook at High Knob at mile 30 (8), one of 25 vistas, looks west down sharply cut Loyalsock Valley. Hike four rolling miles to a veritable water park of flumes, falls, and pools in Ketchum Run Gorge (9). From here, switchback up to Alpine View, which makes good on its name. Make your third camp at raucous Double Run at mile 39.7.
The next morning, after two miles of walking up knobs and grassy clearings, arrive at Loyalsock Canyon Vista (10) for views of World’s End State Park’s many deep ravines. From here, drop 600 feet to a bridge crossing Loyalsock Creek, followed by an 800-foot climb up the gorge’s other side. Hike east 2.5 miles to camping at Tamarack Run.
On the last day, recross Loyalsock Creek on an iron bridge to follow a railroad grade 1.5 miles until the trail returns to the river at the Haystacks (11), a class IV+ rapid in spring. Finish with a two-mile, hemlock-shaded riverside hike to the eastern terminus (12).
THE WAY West trailhead: on PA 87, seven miles north of Montoursville. East trailhead: .25 mile west of US 220 on Mead Rd., eight miles northeast of Laporte.
THE SEASON April for enhanced views through leafless trees, and October for vibrant fall colors (check hunting season dates with Loyalsock State Forest: 570-946-4049). Summers are hot and humid.
GUIDEBOOK AND MAPA Guide to the Loyalsock Trail ($7, lycoming.org/alpine)
SHUTTLE Local hiker and entrepreneur Connie Wilson shuttles hikers from either terminus ($35/hiker, $30/hiker if more than one, 570-928-9475).