There are lots of naturally occurring features that make trail runs challenging. Rocky and root-y paths. Extreme elevation changes. Claustrophobic terrain.
During my 121 In 21 Challenge, I ran a mile in all 121 Pennsylvania state parks. Over the course of 224 days, I ran into plenty of challenging trails — some I ran while others I left to seasoned trail runners with strong ankles and an even stronger constitution.
If you’re looking to kick your trail runs up a notch, get away from home, or want to set a new challenge for yourself, here’s a list of some difficult trails to check out in Pennsylvania state parks.
Blue Knob State Park – Crist Ridge Trail
In the journal I kept for my running challenge, my entry after running a mile on the Crist Ridge Trail at Blue Knob State Park simply read: “I just got smoked.” This was the 23rd park I ran at in 2021 but it was the first to teach me a valuable lesson: Always, always check the elevation on the trail you plan to run on.
The Crist Ridge Trail is annoyingly described as “easiest hiking” but I can confirm that it’s 300-foot elevation gain will surely make you feel like it’s the “most difficult running.”
To get your lungs really pumping on the 1.9 mile trail, start on Forest Road near the Mowery Hollow Picnic Area and run straight up.
Tuscarora State Park – Lake View Trail
Looking at the map or at the description of the Lake View Trail at Tuscarora State Park provides little information for how difficult it is. Starting from the parking area and heading towards the dam, you will be met with absolutely hellacious terrain.
My good friend, Adam Bricker, joined me for this run and it destroyed us. The portion of the trail that leads from the parking lot to the dam is slanted at an angle that makes it feel more like you’re traversing a mountain than it does a trail run. There are roots and rocks and ever-changing elevation. The trail crosses two creeks and passes through a large rhododendron stand and a hemlock forest.
A 5.5-mile loop around Tuscarora Lake can be made by linking the Lake View, Spirit of Tuscarora and Crow Trails together.
Kings Gap Environmental Education Center – Maple Hollow Trail
Since the Kings Gap Environmental Education Center sits atop a hill, you could say that every trail from the top is going to have some brutal elevation changes. I chose the 1.3-mile loop Maple Hollow Trail for the last of my first four trail runs on the first day of my #121In21 Challenge. That was a mistake.
The moss-covered trail dips down then back up 250 feet. The terrain is rocky and root-y through a maple forest. It’s a tough run but not as bad as other trails. But, it’ll get your lungs pumping for sure.
Leonard Harrison State Park – Turkey Path
I would say anyone that can run the Turkey Path at Leonard Harrison State Park is a total savage and is possibly part mountain goat.
The Turkey Path starts at the top of the park and goes down 700 feet in a mile to the bottom of Pine Creek Gorge. The top half of the trail descends through a series of switchbacks to a view of Little Four-Mile Run. The trail continues downward along narrow switchbacks and the lowest sections of the trail are along a series of waterfalls.
A mile back up will have your legs and lungs screaming as you navigate the difficult terrain.
Kinzua Bridge State Park – Kinzua Creek Trail
How hard is the Kinzua Creek Trail at Kinzua Bridge State Park? They sell “I Survived…” merchandise in the gift shop. And boy, you will earn it.
“The steep and challenging trail should only be attempted by visitors with proper footwear and hiking experience,” according to the DCNR website. The 0.4-mile trail starts at the overlook and switchbacks to the valley bottom, giving close-up views of the supports for the skywalk and spectacular views of the fallen towers.
The trail ends at the far side of the footbridge. You will be huffing and puffing the whole way up. Then go inside and get yourself a “I Survived…” sticker, magnet and t-shirt to show off how badass you are.
Christian Alexandersen ran one mile in each of Pennsylvania’s 121 state parks in 2021 and has been sharing with us stories and tips from his journey. To read more posts from Christian and other PPFF guest bloggers, visit our News page.
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