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50-Mile Thru-Hikes: Loyalsock Trail, Pennsylvania

A 59-mile "long trail" through Pennsylvania.
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The Loyalsock is diverse. It visits 31 waterfalls, countless drips and runnels, and one impressive set of class IV rapids. It pings to this beaver pond, pongs to that clearing, then shoots into an open forest of tall maple and black cherry underplanted in ferns nipped with autumn gold. The variety creates the illusion of covering more ground than we’d thought possible, a point driven home as Alan and I take out the maps while relaxing beside a small fire at a campsite in Dutters Run. We listen to a five-foot waterfall and play rewind on our adventure.  

“Wow, still 32 miles to go?” I point out while tracing my finger back along the squiggling red line. “Perfect.”

“That climb right there was a killer,” adds Alan, jabbing a finger at the map. “And there’s where we got the apples off that old tree.”

But the best is yet to come. Going west to east, the Loyalsock’s highlights go from high to higher. The valleys are deeper, the streams more acrobatic, and the views more extensive. Fans of the trail are divided in pinpointing its apex. For some, it’s the collision of seven mountain ranges at Canyon Vista, at mile 43 in World’s End State Park. For others, it’s the Haystacks at mile 57, a sandstone outcrop in Loyalsock Creek that forms a snowmelt-charged, class IV+ rapid that kayakers paddle in spring.

I say it comes at mile 34 at the head of Ketchum Run, where the trail teeters between darkness and light. Cupped in a west-facing bowl carved into steep hillsides, the east and west branches of translucent Ketchum Run converge in an intimate glen. It’s made dusky even at midday by steep walls of schist and a dense canopy of hemlock. Licks of cool air and the muffled roar of Lee’s Falls below drift up on a breeze. And there’s a campsite, too.

Debating a trail’s best spot can start a campfire brawl. But as we descend the final two miles, alongside Loyalsock Creek, I recall that sweet spot by Ketchum Run and realize that only one truth matters: You can never be sure until you’ve hiked the whole thing.

Contributing editor Jim Gorman vows to thru-hike the Pacific Crest Trail before he leaves this earth.

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