By: Chris Byrnes
For me, adventure starts at my front door, and it’s all about moving myself by my own power. That means no engines, no motors, no fossil fuels, and no carbon emissions. Of course there’s a lot to see out there in the world, and planes, trains, and the ever-present automobiles can help you get yourself out there a lot faster. There’s value in that, don’t get me wrong. I have a car and I use it, but I don’t use it every time.
Here in State College, PA, it’s very easy for me to get from downtown to a myriad of adventure destinations. Penn State’s Arboretum extends beyond its manicured park. The Spring Creek Canyon rail trail winds its way to Fisherman’s Paradise and Bellefonte’s growing community. Mount Nittany, Scotia, Rothrock, every direction presents more and more to explore.
My personal favorite day entails dashing and skipping across the rock gardens throughout that aptly named forest just to our south. Shingletown Gap is a classic and well-established access point to Rothrock but there’s no great pedestrian route. Motorists along Route 45 and Branch Road can be a bit nerve-inducing with their speeds and the lack of wide shoulders doesn’t help either.
That’s why I’ve taken such a liking to Musser Gap. There is a parking lot at the bottom, but it’s small and somewhat hidden from Route 45. Musser Gap’s strength is in catering to those who choose to walk, run, or bike from State College and the surrounding community. The Sparks Street bike path leads into the Sheller’s Bend neighborhood. From there, it’s just a quick hop over to Whitehall and then into a beautiful patch of land where you’re sure to see other hikers, bikers, and runners coming and going; this spot is a draw in and of itself. One of the higher elevations of the valley, you can get a sense of the connection between State College, Pine Grove Mills, and Centre Hall. This is also the site of a controversial development proposal, so get out there and appreciate it before it’s gone!
Once you cross Route 45, the path is a well-manicured gravel multi-track that winds its way slightly upward towards the gap; here, you’ll find a bridge before the trail transitions into typical rocky singletrack. This is perhaps my top recommendation for young children who are just beginning the joys of hiking. A young family could take advantage of this flat, wide section of the trail before graduating to the adventure beyond.
Above the gap, the Mountain Mist trail follows under power lines to one of my personal haunts, the Highline Vista. Jo Hays and Mount Nittany do not compare to this lesser known destination, yet it can be reached on foot within an easy couple of hours from Downtown. I’ve intentionally omitted a picture of the view, go see it for yourself!
Take advantage of the season, lace up your shoes, set aside a few hours, and see just how close adventure can be. Challenge yourself to leave the car keys at home!