Best hikes on game lands

Best hikes
Courtesy Dave Coleman

By Dave Bonta

There are many wonderful day hikes to be found on state game lands. Lehigh Pond in the Poconos, State Game Lands 312 (SGL 312) is surrounded by 3,828 acres of bogs and fens, home to rare plants such as Labrador tea, pitcher plants, and many-fruited sedge. Further to the east, in Pike County, Shohola Falls (SGL 180) provides a spectacular setting for watching migratory waterfowl and was first where Game Commission biologists reintroduced ospreys to the state.

In many areas, Game Lands are virtually the only wild places in a sea of sprawl. In Bucks County, SGL 139 preserves part of Quakertown Swamp, one of the largest wetland complexes in southeast PA. Fourteen rare breeding birds have been recorded in the swamp, which is also home to the largest great blue heron rookery in the eastern half of the state. Near State College, the Barrens (SGL 176) protects a rare, mid-valley plant community dotted with seasonal wetlands.

Possibly the two most famous places in the game lands system are large, dammed reservoirs: Middle Creek Management Area, on the Lebanon-Lancaster border, and Pymatuning Lake, which straddles the Ohio border in Crawford County. Pymatuning served as one of the last strongholds for bald eagles in the east when DDT almost wiped them out. Nesting eagles remain one of the main attractions in SGL 214 and the adjacent Pymatuning State Park.

Some of the largest roadless areas in Pennsylvania occur on Game Lands, such as Stony Creek Valley in Dauphin and Lebanon Counties (SGLs 210 and 211). This area, collectively known as St. Anthony's Wilderness, forms a southern anchor for a string of game lands extending northeast along the Kittatinny Ridge, a world-famous raptor migration corridor, which links up with the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area. These game lands also play host to the Appalachian Trail. Major portions of the Mid-State, Link and Tuscarora Trails also pass through Game Lands.

Although game lands make for great day hikes, you must adhere to Game Commission rules. Overnight camping on game lands is prohibited with the exception of through-hikers traversing the Appalachian Trail.  During spring and fall hunting seasons, hikers must wear blaze orange clothing. And there are restrictions on mountain biking and other recreational activities.

Dave Bonta is an writer and prolific blogger, and has served as co-chair of the Chapter's public lands committee.

Published August 2005