TRAILS CHANGE! Note that much of the information on this site has not been recently updated.Your experience may not match that of the descriptions on this site. Always have a map and use your judgement before hiking a trail.
About a year ago, I had heard about a new trail that opened up in Rothrock State Forest, near State College, PA. The trail is a stretch of land, about 423 acres, donated to public use in 2007 by the Clearwater Conservancy. It is now managed by the State Bureau of Frestry. Apparently, the evil housing developers were eying up the property, so your tax dollars and donations helped to buy it. I'm an avid hiker, but demonizing people who build homes isn't right, in my opinion. Still, this area was something of a missing link, and it's a welcome addition. It's good land, and this is probably something I don't mind my tax dollars going to.
After all this time, I was happy to get a look at this stretch of land, a T shape, really, bordered on both sides by fences and farmland, then by the state forest to the south. Finding the entrance was a chore just by itself...
I had scouted the area before, and knew roughly where the entrance to the parking lot was, but I still missed the thing twice, and there are no easy turnarounds nearby on either side. The entrance is just a little gravel patch heading up the Tussey Ridge side of PA Route 45 near Pine Grove Mills, just a few miles east of where it splits with PA 26. If you're heading in from State College, take PA 26 (College Ave.) west to PA 45 and head East, toward Shingletown and Boalsburg.
Keep a sharp eye for the tiny sign that reads "Rothrock State Forest" that you can't see until you're on top of it. As I said, I knew roughly where it was and what it looked like, but I still drove past it twice.
Once you find the parking lot, there's plenty of room, and the trailhead isn't hard to find. Just head toward Tussey Ridge past the 4x4s planted in an obvious "enter here" fashion. The grass was worn pretty well from here, but there are no blazes along this path. Since it's not built as a trail, per se, I guess nobody figured on painting blazes. Maybe that will keep it from becoming overused, like Shingletown Gap, but I doubt it.
Follow the worn out grass along the treeline in the meadow, or follow the old road at this point, it's your pick, and both will get you where you're going. Along the way, be sure to check out the excellent views of Mount Nittany. I'll post some photos and a full review of the trail on the trails section of this site pretty soon, but the path follows a small stream or "run" that leads up the hill.
The "trail" is just an old access road that leads gradually up Musser Gap to an old reservoir. I'm sure Tom Thwaites and other trailblazers can tell you the history of this place, but it's been abandoned a long time ago, probably infected with giardia cysts and the like. Unlike Shingletown Gap, though, this reservoir was left dry, and it's not something you'd care to fall into. Use caution if you decide to cross it.
At the reservoir, you will find a split in the trail. At this point, my GPS told me that we were at about 1500 feet altitude, which is very nearly at the top of what I believe is called "Egg Hill", which is the foothill to the north side of Tussey Ridge. My GPS also told me that we weren't very far from the Mid State Trail, and one of these days, I'm going to see where they can connect, if there isn't already a sign there. This would be a great place to get water, if you're hiking the Jackson Trail or MST, assuming, of course, that you have some way of purifying it.
After the reservoir, Erin and I followed the obvious path as far as we could. It leads about 100-150 yards upstream and gets smaller and smaller, drying out, eventually. From there, there was no obvious path, so we headed back. I suspect that there's a trail that connects to Shingletown Gap. I have hiked it from the that side, and I think I might have been on private property, so I never explored it further. I'll have to re-examine that path and see if it leads to this trail. Now that I have good GPS data, it should be a cinch to hook up the two ends if they're now on public land.
We did not take the other path, which leads uphill to the west, but that's on my short list of places to explore. I suspect it hooks up with the power line access road that's on the local maps, but that's just speculation on my part.
All in all, this is a good hike for several reasons. First, it's not overused, although we did see about five other people. Second, it's new! Third, while the climb is over 600 feet vertical, it's very gradual and the footing is good.
The DCNR has an online map of the Rothrock State Forest, in case you'd like to explore more of this area.
For more information on Musser Gap, check this link.
View Musser Gap Tract in a larger map