Quehanna West Cross Connector & Bear Run trail

May 27-29, 2022

As Memorial Day was approaching this year, I was in need of a get-away. My daughters and one nephew had recently expressed an interest in doing some backpacking and, of course, my friend Cathy is always looking for some miles to help maintain her trail legs so there were 2 questions: 1) where to go and 2) who’s coming?

Honestly, the second question had some influence on the first as, with a large group of inexperienced backpackers, I’d probably opt for a few sections of the Laurel Highlands trail and take advantage of the shelters but, as the departure date drew closer, the list of possible participants began to dwindle and I decided to head for the Quehanna trail instead.

I am planning on thru-hiking the 73 mile Quehanna trail this fall so a trip this spring would be a good opportunity to familiarize myself a little with the area and also shakedown my pack / gear to trim out any non-essentials.

The logistics for hiking the Quehanna trail are also far easier than the Laurel Highlands Hiking trail as the QT is a loop while the LHHT requires either out and back hiking or spotting a car / arranging shuttle service. With the QT, you simply park at the Parker Dam State Park trailhead and the trail will (eventually) return you to your car.

Another huge difference between the two trails are the rules for camping. The LHHT is contained within a combination of state parks, state game land and private property so camping is permitted only in the designated shelter areas.

The QT, by comparison, is almost wholly within the Moshannon and Elk state forests and, in PA, state forests allow camping anywhere on a dispersed, minimum impact basis. The rules for camping are simple:

-All trash is to be packed out,

-Do not clear vegetation,

-Camp at least 100 feet from any water source,

-Dispose of any waste water (think washing you, your clothing or dishes) at least 200 feet from any water source,

-All human waste should be buried in a “cat hole” at least 6 inches deep and not within 200 feet of a water source.

-No standing trees (even the dead ones) may be cut and

-All campsites should be a minimum of 25 feet off of the trail and, preferably, not within sight of the trail.

There are many places along the QT where campsites have become established over the years and many violate one or more of the above rules. Personally, my criteria for use is: If I am planning to have a campfire, the least amount of impact to the area is probably to just use the established site as long as it is not directly on the trail (there are a few of these and I hate walking right through someone’s camp so I won’t make someone else do it either).

If my mileage for the day does not align with an established site (or that site is already taken), I’ll simply camp where it’s convenient and remove all evidence of my camp when I leave. (This usually means no campfire as it is VERY hard to hide all evidence of fire pits.)

Day 1

I had hoped to get on the road by noon and on trail by 2 but life had other plans and I wound up arriving at the trailhead a little after 6pm. I checked in at Parker Dam state park using their night drop and proceeded to the trailhead parking area to find that it was almost completely full.

Hoping that the number of cars would not mean a weekend of “people everywhere”, I started counter-clockwise on the QT so that I could hike the West Cross Connector (WXC) Northbound. Not only is this the way that my guidebook describes that trail but it meant that I would be going down the steep hill at the north end instead of having to climb it.

Around the trailhead there are some interpretive / educational displays and I did dawdle a bit reading some of these.

The southern part of the QT is relatively flat, traverses a large plateau of open forest and meadows and water is abundant. The trail, for the most part, was clear and readily apparent although it was narrow enough that I found that I was carrying my hiking poles instead of using them (they seemed to be dragging through the ferns & grasses that crowded the trail edges when they weren’t getting stuck in rocks and roots and they seemed to be more of a hindrance than a help during this section)

There were quite a few places where the trail crossed roads and several places where the trail was actually a road walk but traffic was extremely light and I saw neither a car nor another hiker.

The trail was also very clearly marked and was no problem at all to follow.

Getting to the WXC requires about 5 miles of hiking on the QT and then a bit of road hiking either on or parallel to Wallace Mine rd. I had originally hoped to get to where the WXC crossed Trout run (about 2 ½ miles N of the QT) but the late start and overcast skies had the daylight fading fast and I set up a dry camp in a small clearing a little ways off the side of the road around 8pm.

Day 2

It rained off and on during the night and I awoke early Saturday morning to a light drizzle. I still had a nearly full 1 liter bottle of water so I made oatmeal for breakfast and skipped the coffee until later when I could find a water source.

Packed up and on the trail by 8am, I hiked the remaining 2 miles to where the WXC crosses an upper tributary of Trout Run and again kicked myself for not having gotten away from the house when originally planned.

There is an established campsite here (two of them, in fact) and the upper one would have been an excellent place to have spent the night. As it was, I broke out the platypus water filter, filtered 4 liters of water and took the time to make and enjoy a pot of coffee as the intensity of the rain varied between a light drizzle and a light(ish) steady rain that required a rain jacket to remain comfortable.

The rain had pretty much stopped by the time the coffee was gone so I tied my rain jacket around the outside of the pack and headed onward.

I had brought along a GoPro camera to see if I could make a decent YouTube video and I soon came upon a nice looking section of the trail that I thought might work nicely for the seemingly obligatory “hiking past the camera” shot. There was even an old, very punky rotted stump that might hold the camera so that I didn’t have to unpack the tripod. I sort of wedged the camera into the stump and hiked a little ways back down the trail. I turned around and was rather proud of myself as I tried to look casual strolling past the camera until I glanced out of the corner of my eye and saw that the GoPro was missing.

As it turned out, the stump was hollow, the camera was insufficiently wedged into it and I got some great footage of me walking away before the scene tilted and the camera fell into a hole in the stump where it filmed about 3 minutes of black with just a tiny bit of daylight and then a voice saying “where the #*!! is the GoPro?”

I managed to fish the camera out of the rotten stump and tried the whole mess again so I’m hopeful that I got the “walking past the camera” shot AND a nice addition to the blooper reel. (I’ll post a link here if I can figure out how to edit all the clips into a cohesive and somewhat entertaining video)

Between the lengthy coffee break and the camera retrieval, it was after 11 by the time I crossed Shaggers Inn rd where Ben Cramer’s Guide to the Quehanna Trail said that I would follow an abandoned logging road downhill and past / through multiple frog puddles. That guide was written in 2015 and, while I found it extremely useful, there was no way that Mr Cramer could have known that the road was no longer abandoned. (In PA, state forests are “working forests” and are, therefore, periodically harvested)

I took a quick lap around the landing looking for blazes and, having found none, I proceeded down the muddy logging road. There were double blue blazes everywhere on both sides of the trail but although the terrain looked somewhat as Mr Cramer described it, I wasn’t certain that I was actually on trail for about a mile until I found a yellow-blazed tree that they had somehow missed when they cleared and widened the road for the current logging operation.

After about a mile and a half, I found the clearing that contained the old gas well just as the guidebook had described it and I was happy to leave the muddy road and return to the fern-covered forest. The trail wound through some large boulders and even larger rhododendron for a mile or so and then started to descend to a nice vista followed by a not-so-nice downhill section where the trail plunges over 750 feet in about one half of a mile.

The rain that had fallen that morning made the descent even more treacherous and I managed to land on my butt twice in this section as well as twisting my left knee. Luckily, the falls did not occur on the lower part of the hill as both sides of the trail are covered in stinging nettles and a fall in those areas would have been even more unpleasant.

At the bottom of the hill the WXC ended and I was back on the QT where it runs on top of Little Medix rd. I turned east and headed off in search of the original section of the QT that has now been relabeled as Bear Run trail. The QT was a road walk until it turned left on Medix Grade rd and then it soon left the road to climb steeply and run parallel to it.

I’m not really sure if there are signs or if the QT and Bear Run actually join. I was a bit worried about missing the junction so I jumped back onto Medix Grade rd where the QT came very close to it and continued the road walk looking for the trailhead. As it turns out, the trail markers are not on the road at all but you must actually enter the parking lot for the car camping sites (numbers 3 &4) in order to find the start of Bear Run trail.

Warning signs abound that this trail requires a shallow water wet foot crossing and this is, in fact, the reason that the QT was rerouted. There had apparently been a couple of attempts at building bridges over Medix Run but high water kept wiping the bridges out and the project was scrapped. A new section of the QT was built and the trail was rerouted onto the northern end of the WXC (shortening the WXC by about 3 ½ miles).

Having learned from my BWCA trip that my hiking boots are not very waterproof, I looked for a way to hop across rocks and avoid wading. I didn’t find a clear path but, while looking, I did find a large tree that had fallen across the stream and, unlike the previous bridges, had yet to be washed away. I used this tree to cross Medix Run and started up the hollow that had been carved by Bear Run.

This was easily the least-used trail that I had been on as well as the roughest. I had to watch for the next blaze carefully and the trail became steeper and rougher as I went up. About a mile (that seemed substantially longer) later the trail leveled off, crossed Caledonia pike and passed a nice (but dry) established campsite just before the view opened up to a nice vista on the left.

From there, the trail begins a fairly steady descent along a tributary of Laurel run. As I was carefully picking my way downhill (the knee that I twisted on the WXC made downhills painful at this point), I met a young fellow on a day hike coming up.

I was under the impression that there was a nice campsite about a half mile ahead and we must have miscommunicated somehow because I understood him to say that there WAS one but it was awfully close to some camps which were occupied & rowdy this weekend and there were some better prospects further along Laurel run.

The campsite turned out to be right where it was supposed to be and, if anyone else had been with me, that’s where we’d have stopped for the night. As it was, I was solo and it was still fairly early in the day so I continued on looking for the “better prospects” that I understood were ahead.

As it turns out, the section of trail that parallels laurel run is an old road grade cut into the side of a hill that is way too steep to camp (unless, perhaps, you have a hammock. Then you’d just have to be careful getting in & out of it).

On top of that, the trail led steadily uphill for what seemed like a ridiculously long time until finally topping off at a firepit that sits directly in the middle of the old road grade. At that point, I seriously debated just setting up another dry camp off to the side of the trail here but, upon checking the guidebook, I saw two entries that seemed intriguing: Mr Cramer said that there was an old car camping site by the bridge on Blackwell road (so, potentially a better campsite and water readily available) and, if it was occupied, there was supposed to be an excellent spring a quarter mile further on Blackwell (I figured I’d find a spot somewhere close and, if nothing else, I’d have good water).

I continued on to Blackwell and, sure enough, the “old” car camp was already occupied (Memorial day weekend, right?) so I trudged south on Blackwell to find the spring.

This spring is actually in the middle of a hairpin turn of Blackwell road and is also the point at which Bear Run trail rejoins the QT. There may very well be nice camping spots near this junction if I had gone a bit (the wrong way) on the QT but I wasn’t very picky at that point and there were a couple of car pull-offs nearby that were unoccupied so I figured that I’d just occupy one myself and I dipped a platypus full of water from the spring and proceeded to set up camp.

Day 3

I slept well and woke early but found that the knee that I’d twisted the previous day had really tightened up overnight. I limped around the campsite making breakfast and coffee while trying to get it to loosen up to where I could walk comfortably on it.

By 9 or so the coffee was gone and my knee felt as good as it was likely to feel, all gear had been packed and the water bottles were full so I once again shouldered my pack and started down the trail toward my truck.

I had almost a mile of road walk until the blazes led up a camp driveway and then along Saunder’s run. There were a few established campsites in this hollow and several more areas that would be nice for LNT camps.

After a beautiful 3 miles of hiking parallel to Saunder’s run, the yellow-blazed Cut Off trail comes in from the left and the QT climbs out of the hollow (another established campsite is atop the hill but it’s a dry site), crosses an old logging road and there is a mailbox which contains the trail register.

I dutifully registered and spent a little time reading through the entries as it’s often fascinating seeing who uses the trails and how far they’ve traveled. In this register, as in so many lately, there are quite a few hikers who list their YouTube site names and I made a note to check them out after I got home.

Shortly after the trail register, I came across a snowmobile trail bridge through a swampy area and had to look carefully for the orange blazes in order to stay on the trail (if you’ve read my Round Lake BWCA trip report, you’re aware that snowmobile trails seem to be my bane). I didn’t add miles to the trip this time as I spotted the blazes going off to the left soon after crossing the bridge.

About a mile later the trail turned left on a dirt road that soon became gravel and transitioned to pavement as it passed the campground at Parker Dam State Park. People were abundant once again and I finished the remaining mile of roadwalk to the parking area around 1:30. I loaded up and headed for home wishing I’d mapped out a longer route while, at the same time, thankful that I could properly rest my twisted knee for a full day before returning to work.


I really enjoyed the route and found it both challenging and surprisingly deserted for such a major holiday weekend. I’ll likely tackle the whole 73 mile QT trail in the 2nd week of October (for prime leaf color) and I suspect that I’ll see more people on it.

If doing it again, I would certainly leave earlier in the day with the intention of spending the first night at the established site at Trout run. Not only is it an outstanding site but it would split the mileage better to stay there the first night and aim for the second night at the camp I passed on above Laurel run.

Doing it this way would give me 7(ish) miles the first day, 9 or 10 the second and about 6 ½ to finish out. It would also put both camps in very secluded areas where fires would not be an issue due to the established fire rings. (fires are not at all critical for me but it’s nice to have the option)

I was very pleased with the amount of gear that I took as well as how everything worked. I’ll probably ditch a few items that I didn’t need and I may try to reduce weight a bit more by looking for a camping hammock but none of that is critical as what I had worked well.

Coming down off the WXC, I was actually glad that my friend Cathy had opted out of the trip. She sustained an injury this past winter that makes slippery conditions unwise and I’m not sure how we’d have managed that descent. Hopefully all will be better for the Fall trip and perhaps she (or my kids) will join me then.

Speaking of injuries, I’ll also need to pick up a knee brace before the next trip. I’ve broken my right ankle twice during my lifetime so I always carry an ankle brace (I think I have arthritis in it as it has a dull ache all the time but gets really painful if I twist it)... I’m pretty sure I’ll quit hiking when I need a back brace as well.

In the meantime, I shot some video with the GoPro during this hike so I’ll try my hand at editing video until I can get out again. If I can put anything together that I feel is worth watching, I’ll post a link here.

Note: there is little, if any, cell service throughout this area