Oil Creek State Park (Gerard Trail)
March & April 2007
TRAIL DISTANCE - 38 miles
TYPE - Day Hike
We hiked the entire 36 mile Gerard Hiking Trail in three consecutive weekends. The total distance covered was a little over 38 miles because we used a few connector trails as well as back-tracked a couple of sections of the trail to allow for convenient parking. This is essentially 3 trip reports, so this may get a little long winded.
3/25/2007 Gerard Trail North Loop
Total miles: 11.2
Today's day hike started out at the canoe launch at the Northern Trailhead, and headed South along the Eastern side of Oil Creek. Traveling South, the trail passes Boughton Falls, which presents a nice scenic overlook. We reached the Southern end of today's hike, Miller's Bridge, and waiting for us there was something that made this probably our best hike to date. Looking north from Miller's Bridge we see a Bald Eagle soaring high above the water! What a beautiful majestic bird! Unfortunately, by the time we got the camera out, it had flown out of sight, so no pictures.
After crossing Miller's Bridge and a short
walk on the paved bike trail, we are back on the trail and pass the Wolfkiel
Run shelter area heading North. We encounter a small herd of 5 or 6 deer,
and shortly after that a flock of wild turkeys. We were almost as surprised
as they were when we spooked the turkeys and they took off flying! By
this time, even without any rain falling today, the trail conditions have
worsened, and the trail has begun to resemble a continuous mud pit. After
a short walk through a very swampy area we arrive back at the parking
area for the Canoe launch safely, but tired and hungry. We didn't see
another hiker all day long; the only humans we saw all day long were some
riders on the bike trail at about the mid point of our hike.
3/31/2007 Gerard Trail Middle Loop
Total Miles: 14.5
Today's hike starts and ends at the Park Office. After taking the white blazed connector trail up a minor switchback, we get on the yellow blazed Gerard Trail. We're greeted by a rather serious switchback, which led to a scenic vista overlooking the rail bridge and the Benninghoff Farm Tableau, a historic site. We then enter the area where the Gerard Trail and the cross country ski trail overlap, cross Hemlock Run then a road, and arrive at the Cow Run shelter site. Another mile along the trail and we stop on a large boulder near the railroad tracks for a nice quiet lunch.
Another few miles and we arrive at Miller's Bridge, but no Bald Eagles were out today. Another serious switchback was waiting for us after crossing the bridge, leading to a beautiful view of the creek and bridge we had just crossed. Several more hours of hiking and we crossed the creek again, this time on the bike trail, and we join the white blazed connector trail to the park office. No wildlife was encountered today, and we only saw two other hikers all day.
4/6/2007 Gerard Trail - Southern Loop
Total Miles: 12.3
Today is the third of our day hikes to complete the Gerard Hiking Trail at Oil Creek State Park, PA. The most obvious difference with today is the weather. At 8:30 am, our arrival time at the Park Office parking lot, it is 20°, with from 1 to 3 inches of fresh snow to make the trails a little more challenging. Fortunately, the ground was warm and a lot of the snow that fell melted, because there were closer to 5 inches on some of the wooden bridges along the trail.
Once reaching the trailhead, we decided to hike the southern loop in a clockwise direction and headed out. Like the previous week, we begin on the white blazed connector trail from the Park Office to the Gerard trail. What was a slippery mud field the week before is further enhanced by the fresh layer of snow, creating some truly challenging footing. The connector trail consisting of a small switchback led us once again to the Gerard Trail intersection, where this time we turned right and crossed the Park Road, continuing along the edge of a swamp. Climbing away from the swamp, we crossed over Rattlesnake Run, then gradually descended to the creek edge. From there we climbed and descended another long gradual hill, taking a quick detour off the trail to visit the Ice Control Dam. While there, we found the first of many wild turkey tracks which were the only signs of them we saw this day. Another long gentle climb led to the Hiker Sign-In box, where we found more evidence that this southern loop is not as popular as the rest of the trail. The last entry in the log was from the "Over the Hill Gang" doing trail clean-up in January, the entry before that was a turkey hunter in early December.
This Western side of the trail held some of the longest and steepest climbs we encountered on the Gerard Trail. It was here at a scenic overlook that was not on the map, that we saw what made this another truly unforgettable day. In a break in the driving snow, we spotted another Bald Eagle, this one even closer than any we had ever seen, soaring on the wind currents. Again, by the time we could get the camera out it was out of sight, the snow was back and visibility was once again dropping rapidly. Energized by that sight, we continued the hike, heading north to the Wildcat Hollow area and on to the Petroleum Center, then a long climbing and descending section of the trail leading to the vicinity of Pioneer Run, where we crossed the creek via the bike trail bridge, and climbed the white blazed connector trail back to the East Side trail. Another fairly long climb through a section of the trail that we had hiked the previous week brought us back to our starting point.
All in all, the entire Gerard Trail was
an awesome place to hike, even when the weather and trail conditions took
a turn for the worst. It's easy to understand why the southern trail is
not as popular, considering the location of the shelters on the other
trail sections. The trails were all clearly marked and for the most part
well maintained. The scenery and wildlife was wonderful, and the company
couldn't have been better.