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The Mount Nittany Vista on Tussey Ridge

Location: Near Boalsburg, PA
Getting there: Click here
Difficulty:
1-10
3
Vertical Rise: 150 feet
Length: 2.9 miles round trip to Mount Nittany Vists,or 4.5 miles round trip to the Roman Tower
Popularity:
1-10
7
Special needs: boots to traverse the MANY small rocks
Why?: Ridge hiking without the climb, best views of Mount Nittany and Happy Valley

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Mount Nittany Vista Roman Tower on Mid State Trail - State College, PA
Upper left shows the signage for the Mount Nittany Vista. Upper right shows the 1-2 Link Trail, but the sign is often missing.
The picture on the right shows the side trail for the Roman Tower.
When approached from Laurel Run Road, there are no signs, so you just need to look for this split.

 

Trail Map

Mount Nittany Vista
Click for full image


This hike is on the Tussey Ridge, about a 20 minute drive from downtown State College, PA.

It has all the advantages of ridge hiking without having to climb the mountain. It's an excellent "first hike" in Centre County, since it offers the best view of "Happy Valley". You'll bump into a few people, but if you venture past the Roman Tower (more on that later)  you're likely to find more deer than hikers :-)

Getting there:

From State College, start out by taking route 322 business (Atherton Street) west to Boalsburg, about 5 miles. 

Continue through Boalsburg, staying on Rt 322 business, which merges with Rt 322. About 3 1/2 miles west and you'll see signs for Tussey Ski Resort and Bear Meadows Road. Take this right and continue into the state forest, about a mile. 

The first right in state forest area is Laurel Run Road. This road looks scary the first few times you drive it, but it's really not that bad. Take it slow, and honk when you get to each of the three blind curves. Take it slow, there's no hurry.

Continue up Laurel Run Road to the summit, where you'll see a gated road at the very top. This is actually Shingletown Fire Road, which used to be traversable until vandals made gates necessary. That's ok, because it makes for a nice start to the hike.

From the intersection of Bear Meadows Road and 322, it's about 4 3/4 miles to the top of the ridge. Total time from State College is about 30 minutes to this point. The hike is about an hour and a half if you turn around at the Mount Nittany Vista, or about 2 and a half hours if you go all the way to the Roman Tower. This is a pretty leisurely pace, and it includes time to take in the news and get some photos. You'll want to bring your camera on this hike.

The hike

You will be hiking a section of the Mid State Trail north to south (east to west as the crow flies, but north to south on the MST maps), and if you have a trail guide, you'll find this in section 2, map 203 of the 1995 edition. The 1995 edition is getting a bit dated, so if you plan on exploring the MST, do your homework. It's easy to follow, but there are changes from the guide, as with any trail. This is an easy hike by anybody's definition, though.

You'll be hiking on the western side of the road (the side with the gate) and start out on a relatively grassy path. 

Watch for the double orange blaze on your right as you walk up Shingletown Road. The path is clearly marked, but if you're distracted, you could miss it. If you find yourself going downhill, stop and turn around.

From here on, follow the orange blazes. The trail is very well marked, and you'll pass a dry (meaning there is no water source) campsite or two and then a sign for the Sand Spring Trail, which leads down Tussey Ridge to the Shingletown Gap area to the north. Shingletown gap used to be a nice place to hike, but it is so overrun with people, bikes and dogs that it has become more of an annoyance than a place to relax. If you really want to get some exercise, though, you can climb up from there and it's not a bad hike once you start up the mountain.

Past the Sand Spring Trail, the path gets a bit rocky, and you may have to look around a bit for the blazes over the rock fields. If you miss one, just be aware that the ridge is only a few dozen feet wide here, so just remember that the trail tends toward the northern edge, and you'll pick it up soon enough.

After about a half hour, you'll see signs for the 1-2 link trail, which is an interesting side route if you're spending a day up here. There used to be a nice little sign (pictured here) but it seems to have been stolen. In its place you'll find an obviously human-stacked pile of rocks. For this hike, though, you'll stay to the ridge and leave the Link Trail for another day.

Just past the 1-2 link signage is the Mount Nittany Vista. This is a breathtaking view of the mountain and State College. Most of the urban development is hidden behind Bald Knob, a hill to the north of Tussey Ridge. Its a nice hike in its own right, but you'll not find it on many maps. It's about a half hour or so to get to this point.

If you're short on time, or you're already tired, stop here and head back the way you came—you've seen the best of the views. If you've got more time and you're up for a little more exercise, then continue on to the Roman Tower.

The trail up to now has stuck to the ridge, but here it descends to the southern side for a bit. I haven't bushwhacked to the ridge from there, but it does look like a fairly rough knife edge on the top.

After a kilometer or so, you'll reach the Roman Tower. The signs seem to get stolen quite often, so I've taken a picture of where the trail splits. It's fairly easy to find, but this is what you're looking for. 

This tower is a nice piece of work, and obviously took a bit of time to construct. Perhaps the tower was the work of either the Penn State Outing club or one of the hiking associations in the area, like the Mid State Trail Association, Keystone Trail Association or the Ridge and Valley Outing Club. It's been vandalized over the years, and it stands several feet shorter than it used to. The trees in front of it have also grown, so this is not nearly as nice of a view as it was 15 years ago, but it's still quite nice.

If you are looking for something a bit more interesting, longer and challenging, you can continue this ridge for the next 8 miles or so, and you'll come out at the Jo Hays vista on PA route 26 near Pine Grove Mills. This is an excellent hike, and uses the Jackson Trail, also described at HikePA. It takes the better part of a summer's day to complete this outing, but if you like the Skyline Trail, you'll definitely want to check it out.

Regarding this hike, since I'm off on a tangent, the MST runs for a bit more, then it descends the ridge. I prefer using the blue-blazed Jackson Trail instead of the MST (orange blazes) because it offers some really nice views, keeps the trail level, and you'll not run into many people. The trail is also easier to follow since it hasn't changed its path to avoid erosion like the MST. There are some exceptional views past the Roman Tower, and a very nice raptor lookout, so bring your binoculars. I've seen a lot of different birds on this section including ravens, a pileated woodpecker, downy woodpecker, hawks and the ever-present turkey vultures. Vultures are easy to tell apart from hawks because they seem to struggle to fly, where the hawk is a graceful bird.

Since you can pack in all the water you need, you can easily stick to the ridge on the Jackson Trail--there's really nothing much to see down the valley, and the terrain is extremely rocky. If you are not a 'vista person' and you want to see what's in this valley, there is a better route to take starting from the Jo Hays vista and ending in Stone Valley Recreation Area. This hike does have some interesting spots like the old beaver pond recreation area and the ruins of the Monroe iron furnace.

 

The Mount Nittany Vista near dusk.
Purchase this and other Mount Nittany Photos at William Ames Photography.