My Christmas gift to myself this year was a road trip to Central PA. With Christmas being a Saturday, and my boss giving us all the Friday off, it was the perfect opportunity to get away for a few days. After much research, I decided to head out to Central PA for a few days, basing myself in Altoona, so that I could explore some State Parks and hiking trails in the area.
Being winter, the weather was likely to be a bit sus, but I headed off with a complete list of State Parks, and hikes that I wanted to check off. Best laid plans and all that!
Here’s a quick summary of what I managed to achieve, and the highlights of my weekend away…
Abandoned Turnpike Tunnels
I’ve been wanting to visit the Abandoned Turnpike Tunnels for years now – especially after accidentally driving right by the turnoff on the first day of my National Parks Road Trip back in 2018!! Oops! This time, I made sure to set my GPS correctly!
There are a couple of options for visiting the tunnels, and I feel it would be easy to make a whole day of exploring the area. I had a couple of other stops on my wish list, so after doing a bunch of research, I decided to visit the Ray’s Hill Tunnel. The 1.5 mile walk to the tunnel entrance was an easy, mostly flat walk along the abandoned turnpike. Closed to vehicular traffic in the 1960’s, and long since abandoned for any other use, the tunnels exhibit a kind of post apocalyptic vibe. The whoosh of cold air as you approach the tunnel was kinda creepy, and only added to the vibe. I was lucky enough to have the place to myself, spending my time photographing the graffiti along the tunnel walls, and inside the rooms at the entrance to the tunnel.
This place would be extra scenic in the fall. If you’ve got the time to spare, visit the Sideling Hill Tunnel, the Railroad Arch ruins, and the Abandoned WWII POW Camp while you’re there. These sites are all just a quick 10 minute drive from the parking lot along a scenic, dirt road in the adjacent Buchanan State Forest.
Trough Creek State Park
Located on the Southeaster shores of Raystown Lake, this park is a hidden gem! I only had enough time to check out the highlights of this park, but I have to say, it’s a little beauty! The main park road travels along the gorge, alongside Great Trough Creek, so it’s almost impossible to miss any of the main sights in the park.
I think you could easily spend the best part of a day here, but if you’re pressed for time, like me, then the highlights are Balanced Rock, Rainbow Falls and Copperas Rock. The area is also rich in industrial history, and is home to the Paradise Iron Furnace, and an Ice Mine! I would have loved to have more time to hike further than Balanced Rock to see some of the natural beauty of the park.
Chimney Rocks Park
It was raining (all day), so I didn’t even hike along the trails to see the Chimney rocks, but there was a nice viewpoint overlooking the town of Hollidaysburg…
Canoe Creek State Park
This park was rich in limestone back in the day, and I’d seen pics of the Blair Limestone Kilns here, which was what had attracted me to the park in the first place. It took me two visits to the park to get onto the trails. The first time I visited it was pouring with rain, and after waiting it out for more than 45 minutes, I turned around and left.
I headed back the next morning when the weather had dried up, and I could get out and explore. I headed straight onto the Limestone Trail, which led to the Limestone Kilns and beyond along Mary Ann’s Creek. For those with more time to spend in the park, there’s loads of trails that lead further up the hill, and would be great to explore. After exploring a little further along the creek on the Limestone Trail, I headed down towards Canoe Lake, and took a quick wander along shores of the lake on the Marsh Trail. Apart from a couple of people trail running, I mostly had these trails to myself, but I’m sure it would be much busier during the summer months.
I didn’t have a lot of luck with the Raystown Lake viewpoints… The Ridenour Overlook was closed, not sure if it had anything go do with the draw down, or whether I was just there too late in the season. I decided not to walk down the road to the overlook, rather, I just headed down to the Raystown Dam for some lake level views, and living in the hopes that there might be a Bald Eagle hanging around the area. There was certainly some twitchers dropping by to scan the treeline, but no eagles as far as I could see…
Greenwood Furnace State Park
This park is centered around the historic iron making center of Greenwood Furnace. It was a peaceful, yet beautiful little spot to explore. The town surrounding the furnace was abandoned when the furnace closed in the early 1900’s, but a few historic sights remain to be explored, and they’re all easily accessible along the park trails. Once I was done exploring the Industrial history of the park, I headed along to the Greenwood Lake to enjoy the scenic views of the Spillway and take a stroll along the Lakeside Trail. I could imagine this place being really popular place to relax in the summer, and spectacularly scenic in the fall!
Whipple Dam State Park
It was a spur of the moment decision to stop at Whipple Dam State Park on my way to State College, but boy, am I glad I did. It turned out to be one of my favorite locations of the weekend! The Lake here was created to provide water for a local sawmill in the 1800’s, but has been used for recreation only since the early 1900’s. If you’re looking for a peaceful spot to spend an afternoon alongside the lake, then this might be your place. There’s just a couple of trails, open for hiking, and cross country skiing in winter. The lake was already starting to freeze over in December, bur I can image it being a great place for a refreshing dip in the summer.
On the way into State College, I stopped at the Jo Hays overlook for a quick overview of the city. I was in town the day after Christmas, so not much was open… a couple of Penn State merchandise stores, and a few restaurants. A quick stroll along College Street revealed a few murals, so after grabbing some food for a late lunch/ early dinner, I strolled the vicinty of College Street & Calder Way to see some more of the local street art.
Here’s where I went…
Have you spent time road tripping around Central PA? Where else would you visit for hiking or scenic views? I definitely had a more extensive bucket list, but winter weather has it’s way, and I’ll just have to return. Let me know what you think!