Bear Meadows bog
Awaiting the installation of air conditioning in my apartment, I spent my summer leaving town at least one day each weekend to go for a hike. If I’m going to be dealing with the heat, I’d prefer to do so in the open, airy, and often shaded wilds of Pennsylvania. Growing up in the South Central part of the state the western half has always just been Pittsburgh, my Grandma’s house in Meadville, my aunt’s house in Erie, and a lot of space in between.

Outside of the remarkable in Falling Waters, Meadowcroft, I didn’t even know where to begin when looking for excursions. Cheap and easy day trips were my design, and I began by searching the web to find some of PAs best preserved “old-growth” forests. I put old-growth in quotes because while it doesn’t seem fair to compare them to old growth forests elsewhere, they do stand-out when compared to the average forests along the eastern coast of the United States.

Rhododendron lining the trail
I began with Bear Meadows Natural Area, not a location of old growth forests, but a well-preserved boreal swamp in a remote mountain valley south of State College. Rhododendrons line the trail for about a mile of the 3-mile loop.

Located within Rothrock State Forest, about a 30-minute drive south of State College in Centre County, Bear Meadows is protected as a National Natural Landmark for it is a unique ecological setting featuring many plant species not seen this far south. Boreal swamps and bogs, along with trees like Hemlocks and Black Firs, are more commonly associated with the northern United States and Canada.

Entering Rothrock State Forest from the north, you’ll continue driving along Bear Meadows Road for 3.5 miles to reach Bear Meadows Natural Area. I prefer to park near the bridge which crosses the stream which runs through the bog. This is about .5-mile past the first sign you’ll see for the Bear Meadows loop, and is located near a large sign and a plaque describing the landmark natural resource.

Bear Meadows loop trail marker Crossing the bridge to the south, you’ll see a well-worn path marked by a wooden post signifying the Bear Meadows loop, a trail stretching 3.6 miles through Bear Meadows Natural Area. The trail is level, but very rocky and often muddy or flooded depending on the season. It is also serenely beautiful with a dense hedge of rhododendrons lining the path and creating a dense green jungle around you.

Mountain Laurel flowers along the Bear Meadows loop
If it’s not rhododendrons surrounding you, it’s a thicket of mountain laurel which bloom in late-May and June interspersed with towering black spruce, red spruce, and balsam fir trees above. In the spring and summer you’re bound to find something flowering, but don’t stand still for too long unless you’ve brought bug spray – mosquitos also love it here.
Continuing along the trail, at around the 2-mile mark you’ll run into a gravel access road. Don’t be concerned, this is the continuation of the loop. Turn right and follow the road until you see a sign for the Jean Aron trail. This .6 mile spur will take you back to the bridge and your parked car.

Bear Meadows Natural Area was recognized as a National Natural Landmark in 1966 for its value to science and education. Consisting of 320 acres of boreal swamp it is unlike any other setting in the state of Pennsylvania. In total, the natural area preserves 896 acres of land within Rothrock State Forest including the old-growth forest which surrounds the bog. Protected by the natural barrier of the bog, Bear Meadows Natural Area is one of a select few isolated areas in the State Forest that wasn’t logged to exhaustion during the 1800’s when the production of charcoal was a major industry in the region. Thanks to a concerted effort towards conservation, the forests have recovered and are being managed in a more sustainable way.

Rhododendrons along the Bear Meadows Trail Loop
If the flowers of Spring and early-Summer aren’t for you, maybe the plenitude of wild blueberries which grow in and around the bog will get your attention. They tend to bloom later in Summer around the month of August. Beware, it’s called Bear Meadows for a reason, and bears also enjoy picking fresh wild blueberries, so you might want to go with a friend or two.

Rothrock State Forest and the Bear Meadows Natural Area within it are 4-miles south of Boalsburg which makes it easy to hike in the morning before grabbing lunch in town if picnics aren’t your thing. I recommend stopping by Duffy’s Tavern which features a contemporary menu in a Victorian tavern established in 1819.

Getting There:

From Indiana, take US-422 E toward Ebensburg and continue on US-22 E toward Hollidaysburg. Keep left, following signs for U.S. 220 N/Altoona and merge onto I-99 N. Stay on I-99 N until you reach State College where you’ll fork to the right to get on US-322 E towards the University and Boalsburg. Less than a mile after the exit signs for Boalsburg, turn right onto Bear Meadows Road. From here, remain on Bear Meadows Road for 5-miles passing Tussey Mountain and entering into Rothrock State Forest. You’ll know when you’ve arrived from the commemorative markers and the presence of a large bog to the West on your right.

Mountain Laurel flower buds

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