The English Christmas carol, Twelve Days of Christmas, might just serve as your inspiration to get the whole family out for some hikes — 12 to be exact — during the upcoming Christmas break.
Just think of it, the kids will go back to school next year full of great stories about the wonderful strolls that they took with you in the woods. We grown-ups will be able to tell tales to our coworkers about great vistas or even real-life partridges, which would be quail in our neck of the woods.
Here, in no particular order, are 12 day hikes that I’m suggesting for you, your family and your friends to consider between now and Jan. 6, which is the 12th day of Christmas.
1. Partridge in a pear tree
The Dale’s Ridge Trail that follows Buffalo Creek just off of Strawbridge Road west of Lewisburg might be a good first hike. My friends and I have scared a covey of quail several times while hiking on this trail. This loop trail follows Buffalo Creek where you can observe all the activity on this stream and on a small pond. You will likely see water birds moving about and trout and other fish rising in the stream.
Soon this hike will have you climbing along impressive switchbacks and you will find yourself in a beautiful forest. Before long, the trail goes along a meadow. This is where you just might see that partridge in a fruit tree. The loop leads back to the switchbacks and returns along the stream. There is a trailhead kiosk that contains information about the trail and you may want to pick up a brochure shows many points of interest along the trail.
On this hike, you and your family will enjoy scenic ridge-top views of the Buffalo Valley, birding within a variety of habitats, mature forests, and open fields all on this moderate two-mile trail.
2. Turtle doves
The Greenbelt Trail around Harrisburg is a recreational trail and much more. You can think of it as a 20-mile necklace that rings our capitol.
There are several good starting points and segments that you might want to consider. In Wildwood Park there’s a moderate 3-mile loop trail that includes several boardwalks that will open up a diverse world of flora and fauna for your hiking party. All along the Greenbelt Trail you will see many different bird species from the stealthy cormorants, to hawks and flocks pigeons and doves.
The Greenbelt is designed to provide visitors with an opportunity to hike, ride bicycles, skate, jog, dog walk and generally appreciate nature. The trail has some of the most beautiful and enjoyable natural surroundings that south central Pennsylvania has to offer.
3. French hens
Chances are that you may not have heard of the Henstep Valley Trail unless your Scout leader took your troop on a wilderness trek while at Camp Karoondinha. This three-mile moderate trail is best hiked in one direction with your vehicles parked at either end of the hike.
At the summit of Penns Creek Mountain along Route 235, you will see a small wooden brown sign pointing to the Henstep Valley Trail. This is where I suggest you begin your hike. Initially, the trail looks like an uninteresting forestry road, but you’ll be pleasantly surprised when it branches off onto a narrow and technically strenuous trail gradually running down into the valley along the Henstep Run.
This run, that forms the boundary between the Boy Scout Camp and the Bald Eagle State Forest, is full of deep pools that contain some monster native trout. It’s always fun to sneak up on these pools and try to spot the fish and other critters that live there. Make sure to keep as quiet as possible because if they see or hear you they will head for cover fast.
4. Golden birds
The Golden Eagle Trail is a circuit trail that is just less than nine miles in length that is located in the Pine Creek region of Lycoming County. The trail head is about four miles north of Cammal at the mouth of Bonnel Run on Route 414.
The trail is marked with orange blazes and features vistas overlooking the Pine Creek Gorge where there’s a good chance of seeing soaring eagles as well as interesting rock formations and remnants of old logging camps. The trail is labeled as strenuous due to some steep slopes. Take it a little easy and your whole hiking party should be able to make a great day out of this hike.
5. Gold rings
Maybe they’re not made of gold but the view of Beaver Stadium, the Jordan Center, the running track, Eisenhower Auditorium, and the bus testing facility from the many Mount Nittany vistas can bring to mind golden rings.
Hiking Mount Nittany is pretty easy since it’s so well used, well-marked and very popular. The climb up is a fairly short but you will be rising 600 feet in less than a half mile so take plenty of breaks to let your heart and your breathing catch up with each other.
This trail is open to the public, but it is privately owned, so please respect the wishes of the owners and don’t trespass or cut the switchbacks. Once at the summit, you might want go to the Mike Lynch Vista, about 100 yards to the right.
6. Nesting geese
There are probably few places better on the Earth to spot waterfowl and wading birds such as ducks, egrets, geese and swans then at the Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area near Kleinfeltersville.
This game commission facility includes many easy hiking trails. You may want to start by hiking around the Observation Area, which provides loaner binoculars to check out the impressive views at the impoundment as well as the songbird feeding station.
It’s still a little early, but on your first hike you may see tundra swans in the quiet area as migration season begins. Several lakeside hikes have excellent views of snags and dead trees that are great eagle spotting locations.
The mile-long, looping Millstone Trail affords an excellent view of the valley from a mountaintop vista. The nearby Deer Path is a half-mile trail that goes through wooded wetlands and once it gets cold enough will provide access to some good ice fishing.
7. Sept moulins a vent (7 windmills)
OK, I admit it — I borrowed Day 7 from the French version of the carol and not the English version. But it will be worth it because today we head up to the Bear Creek Preserve in the lower Poconos.
This preserve is north of Blakeslee and you can get a great view of the huge electric-producing windmills in this area. Newly opened to the public, the 3,412-acre Bear Creek Preserve is a vast expanse of forests and steep stream valleys that offers more than five miles of trails that range from easy to moderate.
The preserve is very serene and the swoosh of the windmill blades is about as audible as the sounds of nature from the Scarlet Tanager, Hermit Thrush, Kestrel, and Bald Eagle that live there.
To learn more about this preserve and others like it, please visit: www.natlands.org/preserves-to-visit/list-of-preserves/bear-creek-preserve.
8. Milking maids
Milk maids and dairy cows bring to mind two Union County trails. The trailhead for the Koons Trail in Mifflinburg starts at the Hassenplug Covered Bridge on North Fourth Street. This mile-long easy trail runs along Buffalo Creek both west and east of the bridge is great for a family stroll.
The Buffalo Valley Rail Trail goes through the fertile valley between Lewisburg and Mifflinburg. Interpretive signs along this trail give information the region’s history and heritage. The trail is mostly paved with a section of gravel so bicycling would be a great option on this trail.
9. Dancing ladies
The Silverthread Falls gracefully plunge through a narrow chute and you’ll easily be able to imagine them as dancing ladies on the mile-long trail at Dingman’s Falls in the Delaware Water Gap Park over in Pike County.
Much of your hiking here is on boardwalks as you meander through a hemlock ravine. As you continue through thickets of rhododendron you’ll reach the second set of falls are that the second highest in Pennsylvania.
10. Leaping lords
A person doesn’t need too much of an imagination to bring to mind “Lords-a-Leaping” when watching young people jump from rock to rock on some boulder field or outcropping.
Up at the R.B. Winter State Park there are some wonderful trails that include rocky patches. I suggest a strenuous hike of about three miles that begins at the Halfway Lake dam breast on the Bake Oven Trail to the very-rocky Old Boundary Trail and across the Rocky Corner Trail.
From here you can take the moderate mile and a half on the Boiling Spring Trail to observe the artesian springs as they bubble and “boil” and then head over on the Overlook Trail for a great view of the lake. Now you can begin to loop back on this trail down to the Rapid Run Trail and hike through the park’s “black forest.”
11. Piping pipers
The early railroads placed a rail line on the banks of Penns Creek through the mountains. Today, the multi-use Penns Creek Trail runs on this abandoned line from the Coburn railroad trestle to Cherry Run.
The section not to be missed, in my opinion, is the tunnel that is near the Village of Ingleby. Hiking from here to the east through the tunnel, anyone could marvel back to the Irish immigrants who built this structure and hear their pipes-a-piping as they put in long, hard days to cut the tunnel through the mountain.
There is a pedestrian bridge across Penns Creek downstream from Ingleby but the bridge over this creek upstream of Ingleby washed out years ago. Take caution with stream crossings because getting wet in cold weather can be very dangerous.
In the Hook Natural Area you can hear and feel the rhythms of nature. “The Hook” is created by the North Branch of Buffalo Run as it snakes its way between Jones Mountain and Buffalo Mountain.
The trailhead for this hike is at the camping site on top of Jones Mountain where the Buffalo Path Trail intersects with Jones Mountain Road. You can get to this location off of Route 192 by traveling a mile on Pine Creek Road.
The trail goes through thick underbrush and you’ll need a keen eye to make sure that you don’t miss a turn. Not surprising, there are lots of springs and small streams is this area.
Soon you will be on the Middle Ridge Trail and you’re strenuous hiking will be over for the day. This trail is partially an old rail bed that has been very well marked and is easy to navigate. If you’re not up for bushwhacking or steep grades, I suggest a moderate hike of less than five miles that would use Middle Ridge Trail out and the Molasses Gap Trail back.
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