Rothrock State Forest: an Overview

By: Bart Beck

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When many people think of State College, they think Penn State University, bar hopping, and college football. Often, less thought of is its proximity to some of the best outdoor recreation opportunities that Pennsylvania has to offer.  When you tire of the asphalt, buildings, and manicured landscapes, you’re only a hop, skip, and a jump away from Rothrock State Forest.

When I say a hop, skip, and a jump, I mean as little as a thirteen minute drive from the corner of College Avenue and South Allen Street. If cars aren’t your mode of transportation, a thirty-five minute bike ride will get you to trail-heads that enter the 96,250 acre state forest that spans Centre, Huntingdon, and Mifflin counties. If you can’t consider that right outside your backdoor, I’m not sure what you can.

The opportunities you will find on the other side of that door are almost endless. Camping, mountain biking, hunting, foraging, and fishing opportunities abound. It’s all thanks to Rothrock State Forest being managed by the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ Bureau of Forests and its multipurpose management goals that allow industry and recreation to coexist. That may mean you run into commercial logging or perhaps you benefit from the commercial logging that takes place there, but we should all rest assured knowing that, because it is managed for multi-use purposes, commercial activities are permitted only after things such as recreation, sustainability, and the public good are considered.


Having the land owned and managed by the state also means that it belongs to the public. Every acre of land in the State Forest’s 2.2 million acre system belongs to the citizens of Pennsylvania. That means voting and input will influence the future management of areas like Rothrock. If you’re a fan of mountain biking, you can work with them to get more mountain bike trails built; if you’re a fan of backpacking, you can assist with the upkeep and expansion of its trail system. Whatever your hobby or interest, there are ways you can lend a hand in shaping Rothrock as well as the other state forests in Pennsylvania.


As a state forest, Rothrock began to take shape in the early 1900s. At the time, the land was privately owned and had been stripped of its wood to fuel the iron industry. As that industry gave way, Dr. Joseph Trimble Rothrock assisted the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in the acquisition of much of what was previously forested land. As the state expanded the acreage of the forest, the nation entered the Great Depression and Franklin D. Roosevelt created the Civilian Conservation Corps in order to employ unemployed men throughout the country. Rothrock State Forest was home to many of the CCC’s work camps and much of its early development—from dams to tree planting—is owed to this long past program. The foundation the CCC laid is what we all have inherited and what we have the opportunity to enjoy and care for.


If I’ve got your attention, let’s talk about how to get there:

Looking to hike or ride, the two closest places to access the forest are Shingletown Gap and Musser Gap. From downtown State College, take Atherton Street south to West Branch Road (Sheetz at the intersection). Take West Branch Road to Route 45.

If you’re heading to Shingletown, turn left onto Route 45 and then take a right on Mountain Road (1-2 miles).

If you’d prefer to check out Musser Gap, take a right onto Route 45 and you’ll find the Musser Gap Trail Parking Area on your left (1-2 miles).

Looking to get deeper into the state forest, take Atherton South (322 business) through Boalsburg and turn onto Bear Meadows Road. This road will take you right into the forest where you’ll find parking areas and plenty of gravel roads to explore.

Keep following us as we explore and describe more recreation opportunities in Rothrock State Forest. Next time, I’ll get into the multiple State Parks you can find within the Forest.


Rothrock Trail Map


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