|Susquehannock Trail System|
View from the Cherry Springs vista of the Susquehannock State Forest, which the trail is almost entirely within
|Length||85 mi (137 km)|
|Location||Potter and Clinton Counties, Pennsylvania, United States|
|Trailheads||Loop Trail: Northern Gateway: Susquehannock State Forest headquarters on U.S. Route 6|
Southern Gateway: Ole Bull State Park on Pennsylvania Route 144
|Sights||Vistas, Hammersley Wild Area|
|Hazards||Severe Weather, Poison ivy, Bears|
The Susquehannock Trail System (often abbreviated STS, and also known as the Susquehannock Trail) is an 85-mile (137 km) loop hiking trail in the Susquehannock State Forest in Potter and Clinton counties in north-central Pennsylvania in the United States. The trail goes through three state parks and passes within 2 miles (3 km) of three more state parks. Other highlights include a fire tower, vistas, and the Hammersley Wild Area, the largest area in Pennsylvania without a road. The STS was founded by William Fish Jr. in 1966 and is maintained by the Susquehannock Trail Club in cooperation with the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR). In the south it shares 8.7 miles (14.0 km) of its course in Clinton County with the 90-mile (140 km) Donut Hole Trail. The STS also connects to the east with the Black Forest Trail in Lycoming County via two short link trails.
The Susquehannock Trail System is a loop 85 miles (137 km) long, of which 83 miles (134 km) are within the Susquehannock State Forest. The trail has three main access points, all in Potter County. The "Northern Gateway" is at the Susquehannock State Forest headquarters on U.S. Route 6 between the villages of Sweden Valley and Walton in Sweden Township. Another access point for the northern section of the STS is at Lyman Run State Park in West Branch Township; an access trail runs 1.5 miles (2.4 km) west from the southern end of the lake to the main trail. The "Southern Gateway" is at Ole Bull State Park on Pennsylvania Route 144 in Stewardson Township.
The Susquehannock Trail System is so named because it uses several different trails in its course. Starting at the Susquehannock State Forest headquarters, the STS heads east on the Ridge Trail and forms the southern border of Denton Hill State Park. It continues east to the B & S Trail, where the STS heads south and passes Lyman Run State Park and its access trail. The trail continues south, then heads west a short distance on the Ewing Trail before turning south again on Crook's Trail. After crossing West Branch Road, the STS continues south on Fire Tower Trail to Pennsylvania Route 44, which it crosses to the Cherry Springs Fire Tower. The fire tower is 1.9 miles (3.1 km) southeast of Cherry Springs State Park and is just east of Cherry Springs Vista, which looks to the south.
South of the fire tower, the STS heads east, then follows Cross Fork Creek south to the Ole Bull Trail, where it heads southeast to Ole Bull State Park, on Pennsylvania Route 144. It continues southeast to where it meets the 8.5-mile (13.7 km) Northern Link Trail, which connects with the Black Forest Trail (BFT), a 42-mile (68 km) loop in the Tiadaghton State Forest in Lycoming County. Continuing south 2.3 miles (3.7 km) on the STS, there is a connection to the 6-mile (9.7 km) Southern Link Trail to the BFT. The path heads south on the Rattlesnake Trail, crosses into Clinton County, then heads west, sharing 8.7 miles (14.0 km) of its course with the 90-mile (140 km) Donut Hole Trail. The STS crosses between Potter and Clinton Counties several times, but returns to Potter County for good a short distance before the village of Cross Fork. Here the STS crosses PA 144 again, then heads northwest along Twin Sisters Trail into the Hammersley Wild Area.
The Hammersley Wild Area is the state's second largest wild area at 30,253 acres (12,243 ha), and is thought to be the largest area without a road in Pennsylvania. The STS follows the Hammersley Trail along the Hammersley Fork of Kettle Creek north to McConnell Road, where it leaves the Wild Area, and which has a vista. The STS follows Gravel Lick Trail west, then heads north along East Fork Road. The trail continues north and passes 0.5 miles (0.80 km) east of Prouty Place State Park (there is a link trail to the park itself), then continues north to Patterson State Park, where it crosses PA 44 again. It finally reaches the White Line Trail and returns to the state forest office where it began, completing the 85-mile (137 km) loop.
The DCNR recommends that people planning to hike the whole Susquehannock Trail System plan for at least a week. While primitive camping and campfires are allowed on almost all state forest land, the Susquehannock Trail System itself has no designated camping areas or shelters. Campsites are available in the state parks the trail passes through (Ole Bull and Patterson) or near (Lyman Run and Cherry Springs). Cross Fork is the only village on the trail, and is also a place where "food and lodging" are available.
The Susquehannock Trail System is marked with orange blazes, 2 by 6 inches (5.1 by 15.2 cm). The letters "STS" are also painted periodically onto trees along the trail. The Donut Hole Trail is also marked with orange blazes. In winter the northern parts of the trail are suitable for cross-country skiing. According to the Keystone Trail Association, the Susquehannock Trail System "passes few signs of modern civilization and reaches into very remote state forest areas with a particular sense of quietude and seclusion".
The Susquehannock Trail System and state forest are on the Allegheny Plateau, which formed with the Appalachian Mountains in the Alleghenian orogeny some 300 million years ago, when Gondwana (specifically what became Africa) and what became North America collided, forming Pangaea. Although the region appears mountainous, these are not true mountains: instead millions of years of erosion have made this a dissected plateau, causing the "mountainous" terrain seen today. The hardest of the ancient rocks are on top of the ridges, while the softer rocks eroded away forming the valleys.
Almost all of Potter County and Pennsylvania were clearcut in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In 1897 the Pennsylvania General Assembly passed legislation which authorized the purchase of "unseated lands for forest reservations" and the first Pennsylvania state forest lands were acquired the following year. The first land for the Susquehannock State Forest was acquired in 1901; the cost for the major acquisitions was an average of $2.50 per acre ($6.18 per ha). As of 2003, the Susquehannock State Forest covered 265,000 acres (107,000 ha), chiefly in Potter County with small tracts in Clinton and McKean counties. During the Great Depression the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), a work relief program established in 1933 as part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal legislation, operated ten CCC camps in the Susquehannock State Forest, of which eight were in Potter County. The young men of the CCC built roads and parks, fought forest fires, and planted trees.
The Susquehannock Trail System was founded by Bill Fish in 1966, making it "one of Pennsylvania’s oldest and most venerable backpacking trails". The STS uses old road and railroad beds from the lumber era, trails and roads built by the CCC, and modern state forest roads and trails. It is maintained by the Susquehannock Trail Club in cooperation with the DCNR. The Susquehannock Trail Club also publishes a guide to and map of the Susquehannock Trail System, and offers an award for hiking the entire trail.