Allegheny Front Trail: A Hidden Gem Backpacking Loop in Central Pennsylvania

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Are you looking for a new backpacking trail in Pennsylvania? Check out the Allegheny Front Trail! It is an excellent backpacking trail that provides hikers with a wide variety of forest environments and scenery, including views over valleys to the east, trout streams, and marshlands.

The yellow-blazed trail surrounds Black Moshannon State Park and crosses a main road PA 504 twice, though there is next to no road walking. Since its inception, the Allegheny Front Trail has changed very little. The one exception to this is with the addition of bog bridges through Black Moshannon Swamp in the state park, a welcome addition.

You can explore this nearly 42-mile long backpacking trail in western Centre County, Pennsylvania by foot year-round! This hike takes you up and down ridges along steep hillsides where you’ll see beautiful vistas of surrounding valleys, as well as have the chance to view abundant wildlife like deer and wild turkey. If you love the outdoors, then this is definitely a great place to visit!

Continue reading on to learn more about how to best explore this great hiking experience!

Where is the Allegheny Front Trail?

The Allegheny Front Trail is located near Philipsburg, PA, which is about 30 minutes northwest of State College in central Pennsylvania. There is fairly easy access provided to the area by Interstate 80. You can arrive at access to the Allegheny Front Trail within 15-20 minutes after exiting the interstate.

How long is the Allegheny Front Trail?

The Allegheny Front Trail covers nearly 42 miles and loops around the entire Black Moshannon State Park.

If you’re looking to cut down on distance, Black Moshannon State Park has a trail where it is possible to divide the Allegheny Front Trail into an east loop and a west loop. Each of these two loops comes in around 30 miles.

How long should it take you to hike the full almost 42-mile loop of the Allegheny Front Trail? We’d recommend 3-4 days, though some very quick and ambitious hikers have hiked it in 2 days.

Complete Trail Description

Much of the trail crosses along gently rolling terrain, but with just a couple of exceptions!

The section to the northwest, along the river before crossing Casanova Road is quite rocky and has plenty of elevation change both up and down. If you’re crossing this section towards the end of your hiking day, it feels like quite a feat!

You'll have to cross a few miles of rocky trail similar to this terrain on the Allegheny Front Trail.

The other section which should be considered more on the difficult side is between the vistas and the Tram Road parking lot. Loose rocks and steep inclines and declines keep things interesting.

The trail follows yellow blazes. In some areas, especially in the northeast corner, the trail overlaps with other trails and may be double blazed in sections. Follow the yellow blazes!

The Allegheny Front Trail is blazed in yellow.

The trail is fairly well marked. We had no trouble following the trail for the most part. The one spot where we could imagine people getting hung up is on the northern part of the loop if going counterclockwise.

After crossing Meyers Run Road, and walking along the wide trail/dirt road for some time, the trail takes off down over the hillside on a single track towards the Red Moshannon Creek. There is a stack of rocks on the ground to the left side of the trail, which is marked with a yellow blaze. We almost missed it ourselves, but happened to see a yellow blaze on the next tree just down the hill, or who knows how long we would have walked off trail!

Logistics: Planning Your Trip on the Allegheny Front Trail

Here is everything that you need to know to plan your adventure on the Allegheny Front Trail! Parking can be found close to the trail, campsites are plentiful, and a spot to refill your water is generally not too far away.

Parking to Access the Allegheny Front Trail

There are multiple places where the Allegheny Front Trail can be accessed. One of the most popular parking lots, and previously mentioned, is the Tram Road lot, located on Rt 504/Rattlesnake Pike east of Black Moshannon State Park. It’s right on the main road and there is no hike to access the trail; it runs right through the parking area!

Tram Road Parking Trailhead for the Allegheny Front Trail
Entering the Allegheny Front Trail heading north from the Tram Road Lot

Please note that there are no parking areas directly on Rt 504 west of Black Moshannon State Park where the trail crosses over the road. We wouldn’t recommend using this as your access point.

Some of the most commonly used parking lots for accessing the Allegheny Front Trail include:

  • Tram Road Lot
  • Underwood Road Lot
  • Interection of Beaver Road and Shirks Road
  • Intersection of Shirks and Dug Rd
  • Six Mile Run Road near Wolf Rocks

Alternatively, if you are taking one of the shorter hikes, the east loop or west loop, parking is available in Black Moshannon State Park. Just be sure to notify the park office ahead of time that you will be heading out on the trail!

Trail Water Sources

There are plenty of sources of running water along the Allegheny Front Trail, but some are much safer to drink from than others! As a safe bet, don’t drink water from the red stream!

The exception to the plentiful water sources is along the 6-mile section of trail spanning between Smays Run and Benner Run on the southern side.

Along the northern section, for a stretch, you’ll travel along the Moshannon Creek, nicknamed the “red Mo.” The water in this creek has stained everything a bright red-orange color, due to pollution from abandoned mine drainage.

The water is extremely acidic and full of heavy metals, so much so that fish cannot live in the water. This classifies it as a “dead waterway.” Would you want to drink that if fish can’t be sustained in it?

We definitely wouldn’t recommend it.

red tinged Moshannon Creek on the Allegheny Front Trail

While hiking this trail, plenty of time is spent hiking along creeks and streams, including Six Mile Run, Black Moshannon Creek, and Rock Run, among others. There is little planning required to ensure that you have enough water at all times.

The work of beavers is very much evident along the trail, so with that being said, it is important to filter water along the trail, just to be safe and avoid any possible water-borne illnesses.

We’ve had great results with our Katadyn Hiker Microfilter!
The best part is the hose hooks directly to our water bladders, and we don’t have to remove much of anything from our packs to replenish. Also, refilling is very quick!

Campsites and Hiking along the Trail

There are plenty of campsites along the trail. Most are located near the best sources to refill your water, making it convenient to cook a hot dinner or begin your day with a full water bottle or bladder.

campsite set up among the Allegheny Front Trail
We wrote a full review of the NatureHike Cloudup2, including what we loved and what we’d love to change.

On our most recent trip around the AFT, we began on the eastern side of the loop at the parking area known as the Tram Road lot on route 504 and headed counterclockwise.

Here is the main pro and con of taking this route:
Pro: Saving most of the beautiful vistas for the end kept us motivated
Con: The 2 hardest sections of the trail were crossed while we were hiking tired, at the end of the first day, and the last few hours of our journey.

Typically, two campsites on the trail are no more than 5 miles apart, with many being much, much closer together than that. This is not an all-inclusive list, either.

We love our NatureHike Cloud backpacking tent for these types of trips. It is so easy to set up and tear down. The rainfly works extremely well to keep you dry, even in a downpour, and repel wind. On beautiful summer nights, leave the rainfly off to enjoy the fresh air and gaze up at the stars through the completely mesh top.

Anyway, here are the approximate distances to the campsite clusters from the route 504 trailhead, known as the Tram Road lot, so that you may plan appropriately depending on your abilities.

The easiest way to find the commonly used campsites is by looking for rustic rock circle fire rings just off the trail. You’ll know them when you see them.

The first campsites will come around between miles 3-5 along Rock Run. You’ll be able to find 4-5 campsites in this 2-mile stretch.

Near miles 8-9, a couple of campsites can be found on the left side of the trail along Benner Run.

Around mile 9.5, you’ll pass by a small cabin nestled in the woods and cross the Black Moshannon Creek on a small footbridge. Initially, you’ll see a great campsite with tons of room right across the footbridge, on the opposite bank from the cabin. If this one is already occupied and you prefer to have your own space, continue along Black Moshannon Creek, and over the next mile or so, you’ll find a couple more options.

looking back towards the cabin along the foot bridge

At just over 10 miles, you should find a trail mailbox register near the junction with the Shingle Mill Trail, leading to Black Moshannon State Park. There are numerous campsites along this stretch before the state park boundary if you’re still looking for somewhere to turn in for the night.

The next campsites will require a little more of a hike, and you’ll reach them near miles 14-16. These are found on the difficult stretch traveling along the “red Mo,” so you will need to scope out the water situation a little more closely if this is where you stop to spend the night.

Around mile 17, you’ll cross the small country road, Casanova Road. There is a very short stretch of road walking here.

After crossing the road, you’ll head down along the stretch of trail weaving along Six Mile Run. There are multiple campsites along this stretch of trail, nestled under tall trees and among patches of rhododendrons. The large campsites here can accommodate multiple tents and are right along Six Mile Run for water.

Six Mile Run along the Allegheny Front Trail

We settled in at one of these campsites for night #1 of our trip and estimate we hiked around 18 miles on day #1.

One thing to note regarding these campsites along Six Mile Run: Six Mile Run Road is just on the other side of the creek, on the hillside. While you cannot really see the road from the campsites, if cars pass along the gravel country road, you will be able to hear, and possibly see the vehicles. If this will hinder your hiking experience along the trail, we wouldn’t recommend planning to stay at these campsites.

Continuing along the trail, you’ll come to the west Route 504 crossing around mile 20. As you cross the road, it will seem like you are trespassing on private property heading towards a cabin on their driveway, but you’ll stay to the left and head back into the woods along the creek, then up the hillside.

easier sections of the Allegheny Front Trail

The trail eases off and you’ll pass through some of the easier, more gentle sections. Camping is sparse in this stretch, and you won’t find another one until just before reaching Shields Dam Road, around mile 23. This would be a campsite we’d only recommend in a pinch, though. There are much better ones along the trail.

When you reach Shields Dam Road, take a right and walk up to the T in the road, where it meets Six Mile Run Road. You’ll find the trail continues into the woods across Six Mile Run Road. This section we found just a little confusing, as what is labeled Clay Mine Road on the map could be mistaken for a trail.

Around mile 27, cross over Horse Hollow Road and through Wolf Rocks.

Rock formations along the AFT

After Wolf Rocks, the trail dips down into the Hemlocks along another stream, and there are beautiful campsites around mile 28.

Next comes a long stretch without great camping that heads towards Black Moshannon State Park. There is a stretch of road walking on a dirt/gravel road just before the state park, where you will exit the woods and continue right on the gravel road, past a cabin on your left, and across a bridge/section with a guard rail. The trail will continue on your left about 100 yards past the guard rails.

This marks the 3 miles or so stretch through the state park. This section can be quite wet and muddy, even in the driest of times. Boardwalks have been installed over some sections of the marsh, but you still may get wet or muddy feet. No camping is permitted along the trail in the state park.

When you cross over Julian Pike, a paved road, around mile 35, this marks your exit from Black Moshannon State Park. You’ll notice that there are trail post markers with distances back to route 504 on this section. It feels kind of like a countdown, a welcome sight.

As you continue, you’ll see the Smays Run Trail intersection, with the Underwood Road Parking lot just up the trail to the right. You’ll want to continue straight.

Head through this easy section, and you’ll also find a few beautiful campsites along Smays Run, nestled among the hemlocks after crossing a small wooden footbridge. This is where we spent night #2 on the trail, and we estimate that we covered another 18 or so miles on day #2.

After this stretch of trail through the hemlocks, prepare for a climb, where you will head towards the edge of the Allegheny Front. You’ll reach the first vista around mile 37, Ralphie’s Majestic Vista.

There will be a few more vistas over the next couple of miles. From the vistas to the crossing of 504, where you return back to your car, is probably the most difficult section of the trail, as it is very rocky and covers some steep climbs and drops.

There are a few campsites along this section near the vistas, around mile 38 or so, but you’ll have to work a little harder to get water here. It would probably be a beautiful spot to watch a sunrise, though!

One last climb up a wide, grassy path, and you’ve made it back to your vehicle!

Celebrate a little! You’ve completed your hike on the AFT!

Splitting the AFT into Sections

It is possible to split up the Allegheny Front Trail into 2 sections, the east loop and the west loop. If you are looking for a shorter trip for backpacking beginners, or only have a short weekend to explore, consider splitting the trail up into two smaller loops for two separate occasions.

Both sections are about the same distance, landing you around 30-ish miles for each trip.

The eastern loop highlights include the vistas along the edge of the Allegheny Front and hiking through thickets of rhododendrons.

Through the western loop section, you’ll be treated to views of the “red” Moshannon Creek and along Six Mile Run, as well as a few rock formations at Wolf Rocks.

To make these loops possible, you’ll need to take the Moss Hanne Trail on the southern side, blazed in orange, and Shingle Mill Trail on the northern side, blazed in blue. These trails cut through Black Moshannon State Park, an easy spot to begin and end each of these loops.

Beware, no camping is permitted along these connector trails in the state park. The only camping permitted on Black Moshannon State Park grounds must be done in the designated campground.

Where else can you backpack in Pennsylvania?

Pennsylvania has a ton of options for overnight, multinight, and thru-hike-type trips!

For a shorter backpacking trip, head to the north-central part of the state, to the Pine Creek Gorge. Also known as the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon, the West Rim Trail is a beautiful trail that is 30 miles long. The trail skirts Colton Point State Park through the Tioga State Forest.

The Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail begins on the southern end in the town of Ohiopyle and Ohiopyle State Park. This trail is 70 miles long, and it travels east through the Laurel Highlands region towards Johnstown. This trail is particularly beautiful in the fall. It’s also known as part of the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail (PHT).

The Standing Stone Trail is not far away and runs from Cowans Gap State Park to Greenwood Furnace State Park, south of State College. This trail crosses central PA ridges and has numerous stunning vistas. It’s not an easy trail to hike. It’s 84 miles long now and spans 3 counties!

When it comes to long thru-hikes, trails such as the Appalachian Trail, North Country Scenic Trail, and the Midstate Trail all traverse the state in one way or another!

The AFT: Final Things to Know Before You Go

  • We prefer to get out on the trail early in the morning. If you prefer to arrive a day ahead if time (like we did, arriving late on Friday night and setting out on the trail early Saturday morning), the established campground at Black Moshannon State Park has a nice tent camping loop with 9 sites. Its a great place to set up camp for a night, especially if you plan to arrive after dark.
  • Sturdy, waterproof footwear is recommended for this trail, due to the rocky sections in the northwest and southeast. Blisters from wet boots and socks are no joke.
  • Although hiking this trail in 2-3 days is doable, we think spending 3 nights out here would be perfect. There are so many beautiful stream-side campsites that we could have stopped and enjoyed a little longer. Take advantage of the beautiful settings!
  • If you have to travel any distance home after your hike on the AFT and you’re visiting during the summer months, head back to the beach at Black Moshanon State Park. There is a bath house with showers by the beach where you can shower and change clothes before traveling.

Should You Plan A Trip on the Allegheny Front Trail?

If you’ve ever had the urge to get out of your normal routine and experience life from a different perspective, hiking in nature is one great way to do it. Have you ever considered taking a backpacking trip?

The Allegheny Front Trail provides stunning vistas, beautiful waterway views, and is a great introduction trail for backpacking.

Anyone could backpack this trail with planning and preparation!

Is there anything else you need to know before heading out on your Allegheny Front Trail?