Indian Wells Vista

Indian Wells Vista Mid State Trail

 

Location: Near Boalsburg, PA
Virtual Hike: #1 - 5.2mb QuickTime Movie
#2 - 1mb Quicktime VR Interactive
Getting there: Click here
Difficulty:
1-10
6 very rocky in some spots, with a long downhill at the end
Vertical Rise/fall: 1048 feet up
1362 down
Length: 6.5 miles
Popularity:
1-10
5
Special needs: trekking poles
shoes that won't hurt your toenails on the downhill

It is usually very wet near Bear Meadows, so take jungle boots or fast drying shoes and synthetic or wool socks. A change of socks would help, since you need to pass several very muddy areas. 
This is a swamp, after all :-)
Why?: spectacular views
folklore
nice primitive camping

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Trail Map

indian_wells_long_hike_map.jpg (133674 bytes)

Click for full size image - 130k

Elevation Profile
from Bear Meadows parking area, past Little Flat, and down Galbraith Gap
Note mile-long descent down Spruce Gap Trail at the end . . .

Getting there

You'll need a shuttle for this trip, unless you are a fast hiker, staying overnight, or have all day to do it.

Take Route 322 East (South?) of Boalsburg and State College, PA

Turn right onto Bear Meadows Road, at sign for Tussey Mountain Ski Area. Take this road past the ski lodge, and into the State Forest. Pass up the first parking area, and park near the intersection of Laurel Run Road and Bear Meadows Road. This is the first road you'll encounter on your right. Park one car here.

Take your other car past the paved road and a mile or so on the gravel road to Bear Meadows Natural Area. Park here.

The hike

Trails in the Seven Mountains Area of Pennsylvania have a lot to offer. Some have majestic vistas, some have natural areas, some are rocky, some are grassy, some have flowers and some have towers. This hike has it all. Along with one of the best views in Central Pennsylvania, there's a bit of history on this hike. 

Virtual Hike - interactive, hi-res QTVR, different from the movie up top

Click here for a QuickTime VR panorama. If you do not have a QuickTime viewer, it's a free download from Apple. This movie is a 180 degree panorama of the Indian Wells Vista. 970k

As you face the bronze plaque, you are looking at the ridge you are about to hike. Notice the rock outcropping directly in front of you--this is the Indian Wells Vista. You might not be able to see it from the parking area, but you'll get a few more views of it.

Start your hike on the Bear Meadows trail to the south (left if you are facing the plaque).

Take your time to take in the views of this rare location. Thousands of species inhabit this area, and it is something of a geologic oddity, since it was never glaciated, and is therefore more similar to southern swamps than typical northern swamps. In August, you'll find a lot of people picking blueberries in canoes (perhaps huckleberries?). You could spend a whole day just investigating this area, but not today. You will be ridge hiking today, and this is just a good place to start your hike.

Follow the path around the southern edge until you meet the blue-blazed Gettis trail. The Gettis Trail actually loops around, so you could take a slight shortcut by taking the "second" Gettis Trail ahead a few clicks. The first trail gives you an opportunity to catch your breath on a slight sideways trek along the Mid State Trail before climbing to the top of this ridge. The hike starts at 1800 feet, and you'll be climbing to 2350. This is about the same as a climb up Mount Nittany, except the trail is straight up with no switchbacks.

Follow the blue blazes up the hill, looking over you shoulder every now and then to check out the views of Little Flat *you'll see the antennae) and the Indian Wells Vista scree slope.

Take the MST to your right (west) and follow the orange blazes past some interesting piles of rocks. If you should happen to miss the MST, don't worry, you'll eventually come to Gettis Ridge Road, and you can hike up the hill to the MST at North Meadows Road (or North Meadows Road as it sometimes appears). I think the rocks actually make the MST in this area adorable, since few trails are *this* rocky, even in Pennsylvania. Take your time and take in the scenery, and be careful not to startle any snakes warming themselves on the rocks.

After a bit you'll encounter the intersection with the "other" Gettis Trail, and you should take the MST up the hill at that point. This will take you to North Meadows Road. Actually, you could drive to this point quite easily, but then you would not have seen the ridge before you hiked it, and you would have missed out on Bear Meadows. 

The MST cuts between the switchback the road makes to get over the hill, and there are some excellent primitive camping sites for the next few hundred yards. The best is just before the Indian Wells Vista, which sneaks up on you faster than you would expect. First, though, you'll pass a blue blazed side trail that leads to Keith's Spring. If you need water, this isn't a bad place to get it, but you might want to filter the heck out of it.

Just past Keith's Spring is a nice view of Tussey Ridge, and if you've ever hiked the Jackson Trail, you would be looking at it and the MST. Backtrack to get back to the MST if you've taken this "side cut" and you'll be a little less than halfway between North Meadows Road and the Indian Wells Vista when you meet the MST.

When you pass a really nice campsite, you are almost to the vista, which is a good place to eat your lunch. The next outcropping of "tuscarora" you see will be the back side of the vista. Tuscarora is a layer of rocks common to the ridges in the Seven Mountains area (you are now on Fourth Mountain) and it is characterized by shiny specks of quartz evenly dispersed in the white rock. 

Views from the vista are nothing less than extraordinary on a nice day. You can easily see past Woodward and Aaronsburg to Buffalo and Winkleblech Mountains (another nice hike!) and perhaps the next ridge before Lewisburg.

Tom Thwaites speculates in 50 Hikes in Central Pennsylvania that the wells, which are actually just little depressions in the rock, were dug by Native American youths who were collecting water during vision quests. 

Continuing on the trail, you are met with a rather dull section of the Thickhead wild area, and aside from the occasional side trail leading to vistas that are not as impressive as the Indian Wells, there's not much to see except the flora. A trail register tells you that you are half way to Little Flat.

After what seems to be an eternity, you'll come upon the Spruce Gap trail--you'll be heading down the hill this way, but pass it for now, and go on to Little Flat. Little Flat is not what it used to be, but it is still worth looking around. A little cabin is nestled next to the fire tower where lookouts would report any trouble in days of yore. Helicopters and planes made the towers obsolete, but there are still a number of them left, although some have been co-opted by the antenna farm people, mostly for cellular towers.

If you have the guts to climb the tower, you can't see as much as you used to, since the pines surrounding it block the view in several areas. Still, the views are impressive.

After taking in Little Flat, head back the way you came, and take the Spruce Gap Trail down the hill. Here, you'll head from over 2400 feet to a bit over 1400 feet in less than a mile. That's a pretty nasty grade to hike down. Before you start, tighten your shoe laces as tight as you can stand them . . . you'll thank yourself later. If not, you just might lose a toenail or two. Be wary of extreme bike riders who will also come down this path. It's barely wide enough for one, let alone two with one on a bike. It's amazing that people actually do this section on a bike.

After the longest downhill in this area, you'll come across the Lonberger Path. Take this to the left, and then follow Old Laurel Run Road to Laurel Run Road and then to your car. Old Laurel Run Road isn't marked, but it's pretty obvious where it is, just before the stream, which is Laurel Run. If you pass it, take the next opportunity to go downhill and you'll get to Laurel Run Road. It's a bit confusing, but if you have a half-decent sense of direction, you won't have any trouble.