Explore, Enjoy, and Protect the Planet

On The Trail — February 2002

Cross Country Skiing in the Quehanna Wild Area

by Gary Thornbloom

The 50,000 acres of the Quehanna Wild Area offer many cross country skiing opportunities on trails that are 2,000 feet and higher in elevation. The 700-foot gain in elevation from State College is often enough for the trails to have a base sufficient for excellent cross country skiing at times when there is no snow in Happy Valley.

A nice (three-to-five-hour) outing is to leave one vehicle at the Marion Brooks Natural Area parking lot along the Quehanna Highway. Travel 1 ½ miles north in a second vehicle to the parking lot near the Forest Headquarters where you will find a display that includes free maps of the area trails. It is an easy ¼ mile of skiing along the highway back to the Mosquito Creek Trail.

Ski north to the Quehanna Trail and then west on a short connector that follows a pipeline to the Quehanna Trail East Cross Connector. Continue south and cross the highway. Turn west on the Marion Brooks loop and continue on to the Marion Brooks parking lot. Note: The section on the Quehanna Trail bisects the northwest end of the Marion Brooks Natural Area. As you leave the natural area you have the option of shortening the route by following the Losey Trail out.

This ski outing covers a little over seven miles, is fairly level, and will take you through a variety of forested areas. You begin by entering a mixed coniferous stand of trees. The trail then rolls gradually uphill through hardwoods with many open areas. Continuing on to the East Cross Connector will challenge you with a short section of trail that passes through a thick stand of mountain laurel. Pay close attention to the blue blazes that mark this section of trail.

Once you find your way through the laurel the trail dips gently in and out of two runs. Paige Run cuts through a wide open (meadow-like) area dotted with some large white pine. The stumps are what remain from the white pines that were cut from this area over one hundred years ago. Without the pines the water table rose and kept the forest from regenerating. Notice the fine old stone foundation and fireplace as you climb out of Paige Run.

After crossing the highway you will enter a series of red pine, white pine, and larch plantation trees planted by the Bureau of Forestry in 1919. When there is no traffic in the distance it is a cathedral of silence, interrupted only by the wind whispering through the pines.

As you leave the pines and join an old tram road, take a moment to review the trail register in the black mailbox at the trail junction. The register helps the trail overseer to determine the recreational usage of the area, and it can tell you how often the trail is suitable for skiing. You can also read what others have seen in the area: one recent entry recorded observing four elk. Be sure to add your comments and observations! From the trail register it is a short ski to the Marion Brooks parking lot.

A word of caution concerning the two by six inch blazes: the orange-blazed sections are well marked; the blue sections are sometimes faded, but can always be seen if you pay close attention. Also, do not be led astray by some orange markings, blotches which appear to be left by hunters on the beginning section of this outing.

If You Go: From the junction of Route 879 and the Quehanna Highway (SR 1011), just north of Karthaus, drive 13.8 miles north on the Quehanna Highway to the Marion Brooks Natural Area parking lot. It is another 1.4 miles to the Forestry Headquarters parking lot.

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Gary Thornbloom is the Outings Chair for the Moshannon Group of the Sierra Club and can be reached at bearknob@verizon.net