Central Pennsylvania really has some amazing views and that’s never truer than when you’re hiking near State College, PA.
Whether you’re here for school, visiting a student, or just here for a fun vacation in Happy Valley, these trails are the perfect way to enjoy the outdoors.
These spots have a good variety of water features, gorgeous views, and overall scenic trails. Before you head out, make sure you check that the length and difficulty fit your fitness level.
You’ll also want to be sure that you carry the right hiking essentials with you and especially hiking snacks. It’s no fun being hangry on the trail.
Hiking was one of my favorite things to do in Bellefonte which is where I stayed when I visited Happy Valley. I hope you have as much fun as I did!
Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links. If you make a purchase through this link, I may earn a small commission at no additional cost to you. Thanks for keeping Stuck On The Go going! I was hosted by the Happy Valley Adventure Bureau for my time in State College. All opinions are my own.
- 10 Top State College Hiking Trails
- Tips for Hiking in Rothrock State Forest
- Wrap Up: Hiking Near State College, PA
10 Top State College Hiking Trails
Here are a few great hiking trails near State College that should be on your list. This isn’t exhaustive of course but I’ve done many of these and the others have come highly recommended!
1. Mount Nittany Loop Trail
- AllTrails link: Mount Nittany Loop
- Distance: 4.8 miles
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Trailhead: Main Trailhead | Overflow Parking
Funny story about this one – I thought since it was such a popular trail that it was relatively easy. That is in fact, not the case.
About a quarter of the way up I was already huffing and puffing. It is rated as moderate after all. It’s only difficult for just over half a mile while you’re hiking up to the summit.
Once you reach the summit, most of the loop is up on top of Mount Nittany so you’re walking around on relatively flat ground.
Most people take the right fork of the trail from the trailhead with white blazes. This leads to the Mike Lynch Overlook where you can see State College and the Penn State Campus.
If you’re short on time, you can hike back down the way you came from the Mike Lynch Overlook, but I think the entire loop is worth doing. The trails are very well maintained.
The blue trail on the way down is a little less steep but rockier. If you have trekking poles then it’s a good idea to bring them. Especially in the winter when the blue trail can be very icy.
This is one of the most popular hikes near State College so it does get pretty crowded.
How long is the Mount Nittany hike?
The entire Mount Nittany loop trail is almost 5 miles long. If you want to hike to the Mike Lynch Overlook only via the white-blazed trail then it will be about 1.4 miles.
2. Little Flat Fire Tower via Mid State Trail
- AllTrails link: N/A
- Distance: Keith Spring to Laurel Run Road is ~5 miles
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Trailhead: Start Point | End Point
This hike was one of the most scenic and unique that I’ve ever been on. Make sure you have a map of Rothrock State Forest with you when you set out on this one – Purple Lizard makes the best maps of the area.
I started my hike at the Keith Spring Trail, made a left onto the Mid State Trail, which took me up to the Little Flat Fire Tower. Then you can either take the Mid State Trail down to Laurel Run Road or hike the gravel forest road down.
I started down the Mid State Trail but came across a rattlesnake in the path. There were thick bushes on either side of the trail so I wasn’t able to go around the rattlesnake.
I decided to backtrack and hike down the forest service road instead. This is your reminder to make sure and watch your feet!
This hike was so cool because I got to cross Indian Wells. It’s a section of the trail where you’re just climbing over rocks. The views here are spectacular.
Along the Mid State Trail between Indian Wells and Little Flat Fire Tower there are also a few offshoot trails on your right that are short and lead to viewpoints.
Once you get to the fire tower, you can’t climb it but it’s pretty neat to see. There’s also an old cabin at the bottom but you can’t go inside.
Hiking in Rothrock State Forest is extremely rocky so I highly recommend a good pair of hiking boots and trekking poles.
It can also be a bit overgrown in places but nothing terrible on this hike when I did it. Having a pole was definitely helpful to push the limbs back and check for snakes though.
You’ll either have to have two vehicles for this hike or get someone to run shuttle for you. If you prefer to do a loop hike the fire tower then check out this route on AllTrails. That doesn’t take you over Indian Wells though.
After this hike you’ll probably be pretty tired and need a hearty meal. Check out some of these restaurants in Bellefonte to fuel back up.
3. Colyer Lake
- AllTrails link: Colyer Lake Loop
- Distance: 2.7 miles
- Difficulty: Easy
- Trailhead: Parking Lot 1 | Parking Lot 2
If you want an easy walk with scenic views of a lake then the Colyer Lake loop is perfect. This is also great for hiking with younger kids.
There are benches periodically around this trail and it’s typically recommended to go counterclockwise.
It’s a well-maintained and marked trail and probably the most beautiful around sunset. Since it’s just a little hilly and only 2.7 miles, this is a pretty quick one. Should only take an hour or so.
Make sure when you’re searching for the destination in maps that you search for the Colyer Lake Parking Lot and not just Colyer Lake. Google Maps took me to private property at first so I had to backtrack to find the parking lot.
You can also use the link above and it will take you to one of the parking lots – there are two around the lake.
4. Bear Meadows Natural Area
- AllTrails link: Bear Meadows Loop to Jean Aron Path
- Distance: 3.5 miles
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Trailhead: Bear Meadows Parking
It’s only recommended to do this trail if you have waterproof footwear or if it hasn’t rained in a week or so. This is a wetlands area and there can be standing water and lots of mud on the trail.
If it has been wet lately then an alternative to taking the Bear Meadows Loop and Jean Aron Path is to hike the North Meadows Road up to Quinn’s Rock. Then you could take the Mid State Trail back to Bear Meadows Road and make a loop that way.
There are two different parking areas for the Bear Meadows Natural Area and it’s really a great place to see a wetland ecosystem.
Along portions of the Bear Meadows Loop and Jean Aron Path, they do have a boardwalk made using two boards side by side to help with walking through the wet parts.
While there aren’t stunning vistas here, there’s a rhododendron tunnel, lots of cool plants, mushrooms, and insects.
Bear Meadows is also close to the Alan Seeger Natural Area which is another great place for hiking near Penn State.
You may want to bring some extra socks and shoes in case the trail is wet. Socks make a great stocking stuffer for hikers at Christmas time!
5. Black Moshannon State Park
- AllTrails link: Black Moshannon State Park
- Distance: Varies
- Difficulty: Varies
- Trailhead: Park Office (Pick up map here)
About thirty minutes northwest of State College is Black Moshannon State Park. One of the main features of the park is a beautiful lake where you can take a boat out, rent kayaks, fish, or hike around.
This is a very popular place to hunt in the fall though so make sure to keep that in mind and wear colorful clothing – bright orange is what most people wear during hunting season.
If you’re looking for something short and scenic then the Bog Trail is perfect. It follows the lake and you’ll be on a boardwalk for most of the trail.
You can extend that hike by adding part of the Moss-Hanne Trail just note that it gets very wet, especially after rain. You’ll want good boots.
The Black Moshannon Creek Trail is another great option that follows the creek on the opposite end of the lake.
All three of these would be out-and-back trails but you could make a loop out of the Bog Trail, Moss-Hanne, Indian, and Hay Road Trail.
You can stop by the park office for a park map that shows all the trails and they also have clean bathrooms.
6. Allegheny Front Trail
- AllTrails link: Allegheny Front Trail (entire trail)
- Distance: ~1.5 miles (just the section I did)
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Trailhead: Trailhead on Underwood Road
The Allegheny Front Trail is a 42-mile long-distance trail and it actually passes through Black Moshannon State Forest.
There are multiple scenic vistas along the trail and lots of access points. The section that I chose to do was up to Ralph’s Majestic Vista.
It was short because I was running low on time but I parked along the trailhead at Underwood Road and hiked up that way. The trailhead was a bit hard to find and I used a combination of paper maps and the AllTrails app to find it.
Use the link above and you can see where the trailhead was on Google Maps. There are two different viewpoints pretty close together – Ralph’s Majestic View and then if you keep going you’ll find Ralph’s Pretty Good View.
It’s a beautiful section of the trail with lots of ferns, forest, and some big boulders. Very peaceful too – I didn’t see a single person!
This is on State Forest land though and another hunting destination so please be aware of the hunting seasons and dress accordingly.
Pro Tip: If you have AllTrails Pro then download the map of this hike. Bring a paper map at the least because I didn’t have cell phone service.
7. Shingletown Gap
- AllTrails link: Lower Trail to Shingletown Gap
- Distance: Varies
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Trailhead: Shingletown Gap Parking
This is probably one of the closest places for hiking near State College, PA – it’s only 12 minutes from downtown State College and just outside of Boalsburg!
From the Shingletown Gap Parking Lot you have access to sooo many different trails. I went on the Lower Trail which follows Roaring Run which is a beautiful, rocky creek. The AllTrails link above shows how you can make a loop out of this if you want a longer hike.
You can make multiple different loops from this hike or just go out-and-back on the Lower Trail. It’s very shady and a relatively easy hike on the Lower Trail.
There isn’t a ton of parking space at the trailhead so you may want to have a back up plan if the parking lot is full.
This is another trail located in Rothrock State Forest so of course it’s pretty rocky but well-maintained. There are beautiful rhododendron bushes that line the trail in some sections and they were still blooming in July.
8. Trough Creek State Park
- AllTrails link: Copperas & Balanced Rock Loop
- Distance: 1.6 miles
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Trailhead: Copperas Rock Parking | Suspension Bridge Parking
There are so many state parks near State College and Trough Creek is one that’s well worth a visit. One loop brings many people to the park because there are four different points of interest to see in a relatively short distance.
The Suspension Bridge, Rainbow Falls, Balanced Rock, and Copperas Rock are the main points of interest, not to mention a few beautiful vistas along the way.
To complete the loop, you’ll take Balanced Rock Trail, a small section of Abbott Run, Ledges Trail, Copperas Rock Trail, and Rhododendron Trail.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, stop by the park office and pick up a paper map or download the trail map from AllTrails.
There are two different options for where to park to start the loop. The Balanced Rock Trailhead is best if you don’t want to do the whole loop and just want to see the bridge, Balanced Rock, and Rainbow Falls.
It’s a pretty short hike to all three places and then you can turn around and go back the way you came or head out toward the Ledges Trail and take the whole loop.
The alternative is parking down at the Copperas Rock Trailhead. This way you’ll leave most of the exciting parts of the hike toward the middle/end. If I did it this way, I would take Copperas Rock Trail first and do the loop clockwise.
While I was there in early July the rhododendrons were blooming along the Rhododendron Trail and it was really beautiful.
Another popular hike in the park is a short one out to a historic cemetery but it’s on the opposite end of the park.
There are bathrooms throughout the park and picnic areas too. The trailhead at Copperas Rocks has some picnic tables right by Great Trough Creek so this is a great place to bring a sandwich.
9. Jackson Trail
- AllTrails link: Jackson Trail
- Distance: 5.3 miles
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Trailhead: Jo Hays Vista Parking
Following the ridgeline of Tussey Mountain, the Jackson Trail offers multiple gorgeous overlooks of Rothrock State Forest.
While there isn’t a huge elevation gain, the amount of rocks along the trail and rock scrambles makes this a bit challenging. Good shoes and strong ankles are recommended.
There is a nice parking area along Mc Alveys Fort Road opposite the trailhead where you’ll also find Jo Hays Vista.
The trail is out-and-back for a total of about 5.3-miles. Be very careful in the winter because ice will make the rocks very slippery.
Both ends of the trail connect with the Mid State Trail so if you wanted more of a challenge, you can definitely add mileage to your hike.
This is definitely one of the most popular trails for hiking near Penn State!
10. Green Shoot Trail to Bald Knob Ridge Loop
- AllTrails link: Community Member Upload
- Distance: ~2 miles
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Trailhead: Bald Knob Ridge Trailhead
If you’re looking for a quick, scenic hike then this is a great choice. This is another trailhead that can be a bit tricky to find if you’ve never been so be sure to prepare before you head out.
The trailhead for Bald Knob Ridge is right off Laurel Run Road in Rothrock and there is no parking lot, just a small pull-off.
When the trail forks, take the trail to the right to stay on Bald Knob Ridge. Once you make it to the top, you can either take a cut-through via the Clemons Trail to the Greenshoot Trail or if you have more time then keep going until you reach the next trail intersection.
This intersection will take you to the Sand Spring/Green Shoot Trail. Make sure you take the Green Shoot Trail and it will take you back around to where you’re parked.
It was pretty steep in sections hiking up to Bald Knob and I had to stop a few different times. It’s rated as moderate but I thought it was pretty dang tough.
Also note that it’s pretty rocky coming down so you’ll want to watch your step – this is especially true when the leaves have started to fall and it’s hard to tell what’s under them.
The trail leads up to a nice vista but it’s really just a peaceful walk hiking through the forest. In the fall, the blueberry bushes are also stunning because they turn bright red.
I can imagine this is a very popular hike when the blueberries are coming in during the summer!
I was lucky enough to do this hike with my friends from Bellefonte Bed & Breakfast. If you need a place to stay in Bellefonte please check them out!
Tips for Hiking in Rothrock State Forest
Many popular places for hiking near State College are located in Rothrock State Forest so I thought I would offer a few tips for hiking in the area.
Wear Good Footwear
I can’t tell you how happy I was that I wore my hiking boots with ankle support. All the trails were very rocky and had lots of tree roots zig-zagging through.
You’ll want shoes with great traction and I prefer hiking boots that are a bit taller for a little more support.
The ones I wear are the Merrell Moab 2 Mid Waterproof shoes. While the waterproof boots aren’t as breathable, I prefer them because I HATE wet socks with a passion.
Bring Trekking Poles
In case I haven’t told you yet, these trails are rocky. 🙃 I used to think trekking poles were extra but they are beyond helpful.
Not only do they absolutely save your knees when you’re going downhill, but they are a life saver when the trail is a bit overgrown and you need to hold branches/brush out of the way.
You can also use the pole to tap rocks ahead of you during warmer months in case of snakes in the area.
Carry a Paper Map
My cell phone service was very spotty while I was exploring central PA. You can definitely download portions of the map to your phone but we all know that technology isn’t fail-safe.
It’s always best to have a physical back up. On almost all my hikes I carried a Purple Lizard map of Rothrock State Forest or a map of the state park that you can pick up at the park office.
Many of these hikes require you to link multiple different trails together so you don’t want to get turned around out there.
Look Out for Wildlife
I’ve already mentioned that I saw a rattlesnake while out in Rothrock during July. Snakes are one of the main wildlife dangers to be aware of.
The other ones are black bears and ticks. Black bears are the least common but still dangerous.
Make sure you check for ticks after each hike or whenever you spend time in the woods. While these are common and you may not think anything about them, they can be very dangerous and carry multiple diseases.
Wrap Up: Hiking Near State College, PA
So there you have it! Some of the best hiking near State College. These 10 hikes should definitely be on your list whether you live in the area or are just visiting for a bit.
I hope these tips were helpful and you love these hikes as much as I did. I’ll be visiting the area again next year so I hope to add to this list soon.