Last weekend I decided to head to upstate Pennsylvania by myself to check out "peak foliage." It had been a while and I was getting the camping itch (AKA the "get away from civilization" itch.) I used the excellent and always reliable Mid Atlantic Hikes site to pick a good weekend hike and settled on one I had been wanting to try for a while, the Loyalsock-Link Loop with a visit to the Haystacks. The Loyalsock Trail is a 59.3 mile trail through the Loyalsock State Forest and is a popular 4 or 5 day through hike. This particular hike picks up the Loyalsock Trail in Worlds End State Park and follows it about 12 miles out to the Haystacks, a popular summer swimming hole with some very odd looking rock formations in the Loyalsock Creek that look like... wait for it... haystacks. This hike then returns to the park via the Link Trail on the south side of Loyalsock Creek.
Loyalsock Creek behind the snack bar (a good place to wait for your breakfast sandwich to be ready)
On the morning of Saturday, October 15th, just before 9 AM, I arrived at the Visitor's Center of Worlds End State Park just as the ranger was opening the doors. Brief side note: you might be wondering, like I was, about the unusual name of this place. This non-definitive story about the origin of the name is from the back of the park map/pamphlet:
What's the Name of this Place?
The name of the park has swirled with controversy. A map from 1872 called the area Worlds End. The excerpt below is from an article from July 20, 1935, by W. S. Swingler, Assistant District Forester of Wyoming State Forest, now Loyalsock State Forest.
"There was even a dispute as to the proper name of the area. Some people called it Worlds End, others Whirl's Glen, and still others Whirls End. The first name arose from the topography of the place. Seven mountain ranges converge on the point and one does receive the sensation of being at the ultimate ends of the earth. The proponents of the second name base their claim upon the whirlpool in the Loyalsock Creek and the third name was probably a contraction of the other two. Since the whirlpool had largely disappeared, it was decided that the name Worlds End would be the most appropriate. Hence, the name Worlds End State Forest Park."
In 1936, a letter campaign caused the park name to be changed to Whirls End. Another letter campaign forced the matter to be brought to the former State Geographic Board, who supervised the official naming of places. The name was changed back to Worlds End in 1943.
After signing in with the park office (you have to let them know you'll be camping on the trail and leaving your car in the parking lot overnight) I grabbed a little extra trail fuel at the concession stand at the entrance to the park (in the form of a bacon, egg and cheese on croissant sandwich) and hit the trail basically exactly on time, which is incredible considering I had to get up at 5:30 AM to make it here this early.
Crossing to the north side of the creek behind the Visitor's Center. You don't need to go far to appreciate the beauty of this park.
As soon as the trail turns from the road to the forest it starts to climb steeply. There should be the first of several waterfalls at this spot, but it has been unusually dry in the area this summer, and despite the fact that the remnants of Hurricane Matthew has passed through last weekend, there is almost no water at all to be found in the little tributaries that feed into the Loyalsock (which is also quite low). At the top of this steep climb is the High Rock Vista, a nice view down into the main area of the park. This part of the trail is shared by a little half-mile loop that takes hikers to the scenic overlook and back down to the main part of the park, so I'm not surprised to bump into about six other hikers at High Rock.
View from High Rock. The top of that ridge across the way is Canyon Overlook, where I'll be in about 27 hours.
Luckily, the other hikers were only doing the short High Rock Trail loop, so as I turned right to continue up the Loyalsock Trail, I did so alone. The trail continues steadily uphill, but it's not too steep here and the trail is wide and smooth and easy to walk, probably an old logging road or railroad grade. It is utterly quiet and peaceful; when I stop walking, all I can hear is the wind and leaves falling like rain.
The distinctive LT blaze.
I was covering a lot of ground and the morning flew by. I chatted with a guy hunting grouse for a few minutes when the trail crossed an unpaved back country road and passed a total of four people hiking in the opposite direction. I stopped for a snack and short break at the next waterfall I passed, which was also dry. By 1:30 PM I had reached Sones Pond, one of the landmarks that, in prepping for the hike, I had considered a potential spot to set up camp. I was surprised to reach it this early, so after a few pictures and another rest & snack, I continued on.
The "Upper Falls" of Big Run. Can you spot the Loyalsock Trail registry in this pic?
After Sones Pond, the trail descends steeply back to the Loyalsock Creek. The trail crosses an old steel frame bridge, then the Loyalsock Trail turns left (east) towards the Haystacks, while the Link Trail turns right and heads back towards Worlds End on the south side of the creek. I honestly did not think I would reach this junction with enough time and energy to make it out to the Haystacks, but it was still only 2:30 and I was feeling pretty good so I turned left. My reward was another steep climb, this time to what is definitely an old railroad path. It was perfectly flat and ran through the forest in a straight line for a mile and a half. It was a little monotonous but I did have my only deer sighting of the weekend here, and despite the fact that I missed the turn off and went about a half mile out of my way, I did finally reach the Haystacks.
Deer on the trail suspiciously eyeing the interloper.
Old railroad grade.
After another little snack break, I had to make a decision. It was nearly 4 PM. There were about two hours of sunlight left. I had hiked 13 miles already and had about that far to go to get back to the park tomorrow. While it was tempting to set up camp here, I decided to start back and make the most of the remaining daylight. Always better if day two is shorter and less strenuous than day one. When I made it back to the bridge it was after 5 PM. I found the Link Trail and pushed on for a while, but eventually I lost the trail in the gathering dusk and had to double back a little bit. Luckily I had passed a really nice campsite and figured that getting lost was my sign to just go back there and set up camp. I was able to get my tent set up and dinner cooked (dehydrated lasagna again, my favorite!) before it was completely dark. I had absolutely no cell phone reception here which meant I couldn't check in on the score of the Notre Dame Stanford game, which was exactly why I came out to the middle of nowhere in the first place. Really saved myself a lot of aggravation there. The temperature dropped precipitously after dark, so I zipped myself up into my sleeping bag/cocoon, and was probably asleep by 8 or 8:30.
After a solid 11 hours of sleep or so, I broke camp and made some breakfast. A bald eagle flew by while I was eating on a big rock in the middle of the creek which was pretty cool. Right as I was getting ready to set off again, two hikers approached from the direction I would be heading, and they were nice enough to answer my questions about the trail ahead so I wouldn't get lost like I did the evening before. I found my missed turn and hiked on. The trail mostly sticks close to the creek here. I passed a few camp sites where campers where still getting up and at them. And, notably, one tent with two empty bottles of wine outside it that showed no signs of stirring at 10 AM. Must have had a good night.
Loyalsock Creek, looking east from 'breakfast rock' Sunday morning.
And looking to the west.
A little further down the creek.
After a few miles, the trail left the creek and crossed Route 154, and I was soon climbing straight up the side of a mountain. This climb was a brute and it took several stops/breaks to make it all the way up. Once it was over though, I knew most of the hard work was finished. (Bonus: once I had reached high ground I was able to get cell reception, so my real reward for that climb was finding out that Notre Dame lost last night.) The trail opened up and I pressed on, excited to finally reach Canyon Overlook back in the park. At another campsite, I stopped for a short break when I met two hikers who had overdone it on Saturday and just didn't have the strength or energy to continue on Sunday. They were doing the same basic loop I was, but starting/ending at the Haystacks and going counterclockwise. So they had sent the younger members of their group to go get the car and come back to pick them up. It was a real treat chatting with them.
Field of orange ferns, cut through by the Link Trail, near Worlds End State Park.
Canyon Overlook, Worlds End State Park.
The view from Canyon Overlook is spectacular, and there is a road up to it; it's not necessary to do all this hiking to get there. After the vista, the trail goes downhill steeply and meets up with Double Run, another tributary of the Loyalsock. This one actually did have some water in it too!
Double Run making its way through the fallen leaves.
A waterfall? on Double Run.
Pretty soon I was back at the park Visitor's Center. Final tally: 24.5 miles hiked and 3700 vertical feet climbed. Not a bad little weekend. I feel like I should definitely be doing stuff like this more often. Hopefully, I will. (Below are a few more random pictures from the weekend.)