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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)

Less is More
See all 50-mile thru-hikes

For a full GPS tracklog of this trip go to

Hike It

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.

A Guide to the Loyalsock Trail ($7,

SHUTTLE Local hiker and entrepreneur Connie Wilson shuttles hikers from either terminus ($35/hiker, $30/hiker if more than one, 570-928-9475).

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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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