Pennsylvania West Rim Trail
High atop Pine Creek Gorge, the eastern version of the “West Rim Trail” highlights the best features of North Central Pennsylvania, including its industrial history, dramatic canyon, and sprawling hardwoods. I hiked the trail in July 2020 with my good friend Doug as a quick two-night trip long the trail’s 31 miles.
At just over thirty miles and relatively flat, the West Rim Trail is easily achievable as a two-night trip or ambitious overnighter. A point-to-point route, the trail requires either two vehicles or a shuttle, conveniently available from Pine Creek Outfitters.
No reservations are required for camping on the WRT; campsites are available on a first-come-first-serve basis and are plentiful. The trail can get crowded on weekends and holidays, so for sites with the best views weekdays may be best.
Although this trail is dead simple, I’d still recommend a map. Purple Lizard publishes a very high quality map of the region that we saw several hikers with, although we were very pleased with the free map of the trail we grabbed at Miller’s general store in Blackwell.
Day 1 - Blackwell Trailhead to camp above Good Springs Hollow - 10.2 miles
After a night of car camping at Leonard Harrison State Park, Doug and I had a lazy morning in Blackwell before making our way to the southern terminus of the trail. The parking area is generously sized just off Route 414 near Rattlesnake Rock. We began our hike with a long, steady climb up to the top of the canyon.
For the most part, the WRT is very well marked with bright orange blazes and frequent signage. Hiking in either direction requires a climb at the beginning, which tapers off quickly and transforms to a blend of carriage roads and flat footpaths.
One aspect of the trail that constantly hides in the background is the industrial remnants that litter the landscape. About a mile into our hike, we passed an old dynamite shed used for road and trail construction a century ago.
The southern portion of the trail is heavily wooded with sparse views. One of the few lookouts over the first ten miles was a small window in the foliage framing the bridge at Blackwell in the distance. Fungi and berry bushes were plenty.
One of my favorite things about the WRT was the many crossings over small hollows and tributaries that feed Pine Creek. Within our first few miles we crossed over Jerry Run, Bohen Run, Dillon Hollow Run, Steel Hollow, and Gundigut Valley.
We stopped and made camp for the night above Good Springs Hollow. Although the canyon was obscured by trees, the steep dropoff made it a dramatic place to stay. After making camp, we built a small fire and enjoyed dinner.
Day 2 - Good Springs Hollow to Colton Road - 12.2 miles
After a moderately lazy morning, we continued north towards the Bradley Wales campground. One nice feature of the campground is the fresh water pump, which provides tasty, clean water. The pump takes quite a bit of time to yield water, so if you use it, stay persistent!
Above Bradley Wales, the trail starts to provide teasers of the wonderful vista, with the first truly great views available on a northbound hike.
Here the trail also starts to present its most prickly feature: stinging nettles. In summer the sides of the WRT are so laden with nettles that they are impossible to avoid. Consider avoiding our mistake and wearing lightweight pants instead of shorts. The stings were so prevalent that they quickly became an inside joke for the entirety of our hike.
Some of the best campsites along the trail start to pop up here near the midway point. Overlooking the canyon, they’d be an amazing place to spend the night. Although our timing didn’t work well for these, if you are doing an ambitious one-nighter or want to park nearby and hike in for the night, I’d highly recommend doing so near the Ice Break Trail or atop Horse Run.
As the afternoon progressed, the filtered sun through the leaves and ferns was absolutely striking.
Camping for our second night was tricky as the trail had begun to fill up for the holiday weekend. Unable to find room off Thomson Hollow Road, we ended up stopping at a junction just above Colton Road. Although it was a bit unsightly – a dirt turn-around – we were joined by three other backpackers and stayed up late chatting with each other and sharing snacks and stories.
Day 3 - Colton Road to Ansonia Trailhead - 6.1 miles
Day three was brief but dramatic, presenting the best views of the trip along the northern end of the trail. We awoke early, bid farewell to our friends at camp, and headed out to camel up on water for the day.
We quickly arrived at the busiest and most scenic views of our trip, along Barbour Rock. The trail was crowded with families and day hikers from Colton Point State Park.
The final leg of the trail was pleasant and straightforward, culminating in the same meandering carriage roads and creek crossings that pepper the entire journey.
I’d highly recommend Pennsylvania’s West Rim Trail for folks looking to experience the best that the state has to offer. Diverse, straightforward, and logistically easy, the trail is one of the Keystone State’s gems.
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