Hiking the Loyalsock Link Loop

By: Malti McKinnon

Loyalsock Trail Pic

Without a doubt, there’s plenty of great hiking within easy driving distance of State College. As a native of the area, I am quite familiar with the trails of Rothrock and Scotia, but I’ve also spent my fair share of time backpacking in the Black Moshannon and Williamsport areas. There are countless trails that I want to hike in the future, but with three day windows on weekends combined with a limited travel radius, the options quickly shrink. With those types of parameters, I find that loops are the most efficient. You can hike a good distance and see different parts of the trail the whole way, and most importantly, you end up back at your car.

When I realized I had a few days free before Thanksgiving, I was thrilled to find the Loyalsock Link Loop. Northern Pennsylvania’s Loyalsock Trail spans 59.2 miles along Loyalsock Creek in Lycoming and Sullivan Counties, and the link loop variation cuts it down to a reasonable 28 mile loop with a link trail leading in from the parking area.

Isaac (a fellow Appalachian Outdoors employee) and I allotted three days to complete the trail. Beginning Monday, we left State College early and got to the trailhead before 10 am. The parking area is easily accessible from the highway and is outfitted with bathrooms. There are two trailheads that both meet up with the link trail, the first descends immediately and the second traverses through the woods before it gradually slopes downward.

Taking the first trail, we immediately met up with the Link, which was blazed yellow with red Xs. The first section is an easy, flat trail, with an option to take a small detour down to the Haystacks of Loyalsock Creek. It’s a scenic hike and the Haystacks are quite impressive, a short climb will bring you back up to the flat grade.

Haystack Pic

After an easy couple of miles, the Link meets up with the Loyalsock along a road, and the Link continues straight while the Loyalsock is on the right across a bridge. Since we hiked the loop clockwise, we continued straight along the Link Trail, following the creek for a good bit. The first challenging portion of the hike was along this section when the blazes suddenly disappeared. Following the creek was no longer an option because of steep terrain, so we climbed straight up the ridge to meet the road above, in the hopes of meeting up with the trail where it crossed the road. The climb was very steep and the footing wasn’t great, but once we got to the road, right at the top the blazes had mysteriously reappeared. I still don’t know how the trail was supposed to go to get up to that point, but I’m fairly certain we didn’t do it correctly.

The next section was a fairly easy trek through the woods adjacent to the road, but just after crossing the road the first real climb of the trip began. The hills on this trail are difficult. When the trail is easy, it’s very easy, but when you’re climbing, it’s straight up. Trekking poles helped, but this hill lasted for what seemed like miles. In reality I don’t think it was even a mile, but it just kept going.

Luckily at the top there is a nice convergence of the trail and what looks like a little used logging road can be found. There’s a campsite option at this location with a fire ring, and this is where we stopped here for some lunch. At this point it was hitting just about 1 o’clock. Sunset would come at about 4:45, so we kept going, planning to get in another few miles before camping.

As we continued along the trail, the Link intersected with the Loyalsock, and we followed the latter across an access road. There are some very steep downhill parts of the trail here, and the footing is also unsure in some of the rockier areas. After crossing another access road, we descended into an area where the Link and Loyalsock meet up again for the last time. There is a stream and bridges here, and since it had started to get dark, we chose to camp along the stream.

Stream Pic

In the morning, when we checked the weather, the risk of snow the next day had increased and was now calling for a full-out storm, so we made the decision to cut the trip down to two days and finish as early as possible that day. We made another climb out of the valley, with more views of the surrounding area at the top.

The trail continues into World’s End State Park from here. The amenities of the park were closed for the winter, but there are still some picnic tables and a visitor’s center there that could be a nice pit stop.

We continued through the park and made another steep climb up onto the ridge. This was another hard section, but there were plenty of rocks that gave the steeper parts a stair-like quality, and at the top we were rewarded with a nice view of the park at High Rock Vista.

After that climb, there weren’t any other terribly difficult sections. Several more miles in is Ken’s Window, another nice vista. From there the trail cuts through some beautiful landscapes, including Sones Pond, one of my favorite areas of the trail. It’s a gorgeous, large pond amid a flat section with lots of evergreens, and would make a great place to camp if you wanted to add a third and easy day.

After the pond, there isn’t much of the loop left. There’s another steep downhill that leads to the bridge crossing Loyalsock Creek, and from here it’s back onto the Link for the last few miles of the hike. This time we skipped the Haystacks, but we did take a different route back to the parking lot, which took us up another climb and through a small scenic section of evergreens.

Trail Pic

When we got back to the car, it was 1 pm, and we were glad to have finished in two days. The storm the next day turned out to be pretty bad, definitely not one you’d want to be stuck in out in the woods, but even without the storm I don’t think we actually could have hiked the trail in three days. Despite the difficult climbs, the travel on the loop goes fast, and going for three days would make for a lot of down time.

I highly recommend this hike for anyone in the area. It is definitely one of my favorites, and offers a nice combination of easy and challenging terrain, with gorgeous vistas and forests. An added bonus, it can easily be done as a weekend trip.

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