It’d had been a while since I’d been on a challenging hike beyond a leisurely day hike or an evening camp-out in the woods. I’d been craving a weekend trip with a loaded backpack and the burdens that come with hiking a long distance since September. A month ago, I spotted a clear weekend on my calendar, and plans were as good as made.
My pal Steve and I hiked a portion of the Loyalsock Trail this past weekend, commonly known as the Loyalsock-Link Loop. The Loyalsock Trail (the “LT”, for short – as designated by tree-markers) is a 59.3 mile trail in Pennsylvania’s Lycoming County, that runs east and west, from route 220 on its east side to route 87 at its western terminus.
We decided on the loop after some debate as to whether we’d would tackle 15 mile hike or one closer to 20 miles. Given our two day time frame, twenty miles seemed best, so the Loyalsock-Link Loop fit the bill. After obtaining maps we learned that the loop itself is 22 miles, and is formed by the Link Trail (designated by a red “X” on a circular yellow tree-marker) which connects to the LT at two junctures. The Loyalsock-Link Loop is evenly bisected by the Loyalsock Creek, which by my definition (at least during this soggy October) was a formidable raging river. The river runs east to west, and is sandwiched between two parallel ridges. Along the north ridge is the Loyalsock Trail, and along the south ridge is the Link Trail.
Our National Geographic topo maps and some hiker reviews indicated that most folks start at the west end of the loop in World’s End park (along the river), and hike clockwise, with the first half of their hike heading eastward along the northern ridge. We took an alternative route, and started at the parking lot marking the eastern terminus of the LT along route 220. This extra 1.5 mile loop access trail resulted in a 25 mile hike, which, while it was satisfying to complete, was probably biting off more than we were ready to chew in two days.
We hit the trail on Saturday at around 9:30am, and there was no doubt that it would be a cool weekend. Stepping out of my buddy’s truck made me laugh that I even considered my hammock over my tent, but as soon as we hit the trail, we warmed up.
There are two trails that leave the parking lot at 220, both of which provide quick access to the RX-7 connector trail which is the path we took to the loop. These are the LT and another trail called the Haystack trail. Leaving the lot, both trails head down the ridge and cross the RX-7 trail (marked like the Link Trail, with a red “X” on a yellow circular yellow tree marker). The RX-7 trail follows a railroad grade westward and is certainly the most level and direct way to access the loop. Optionally, from the grade, you could continue down the LT or the Haystacks Trail to an area called the Haystacks, where the trails run together along the river, and eventually climb back up the ridge and meet again with the railroad grade. Our hope was to complete more than half of the hike our first day, so we avoided the hike near the Haystacks and took the (very wet, but waterfall ridden) railroad grade until the LT returned from the Haystacks to join with it. At this point, we followed the two trails (now joined) down the valley which connected us to the Eastern-most point of the loop.
As the LT meets the river, there is a large bridge, which was closed to motorized traffic – likely due to the recent hurricane flooding. You can continue along the south shore of the Loyalsock Creek, along the Link Trail (“X”), or follow the LT across the bridge, and along the northern ridge. While our map and hiker reviews showed most hikers tackling the loop in a clockwise fashion, it seemed most logical for us to cross the river and follow the LT, taking us around the loop counter-clockwise. This proved to be the absolute best decision we could have made, as the entire northern ridge was soggy and littered with rocks that prevented tent camping in most areas (with the most notable exception being in the area of Soans Pond near the east of end of the ridge, which had a gorgeous forest, with a soft bed of pine needles and plenty of room for camping).
With our goal of completing more than half of the trail the first day, we knew early on we had to hike to the second river crossing (near World’s End’s park office), and up the southern ridge before we could setup camp. Fallen leaves forced us to poke at the trail with trek poles, which became necessity to negotiate any hidden puddles of water and mud. Knowing the distance we had left to hike kept our pace in check. By around 5pm, we made it to the west side of the ridge. By this point we had crossed about five streams, a few of which made slipping very probable. We were fortunate to not have any injuries or falls at the stream crossings, though after a careless step on a wet log early in the day, I had a good tumble down a hill, and am thankful to have landed on my pack without getting a scratch.
Hiking down the northern ridge to the river was treacherous. The trail was steep with many wet boulders and one challenging stream crossing. We descended the ridge with about 12 miles under our belts, so rubbery legs undoubtedly contributed to the complexity of the task at hand. We were thankful to reach the river, where there was significant flood damage (again from the hurricane floods), but we knew nightfall was approaching and it that would be four miles until we reached our destination. We hiked onward, with one more stream crossing (a bridge was washed out), and shortly later junctioned with the Link Trail, which would take us back east along the southern ridge. The cloud cover over the forest cover made darkness settle in quickly, and seeing trail markings on the trees became more difficult with every step. The Link Trail led us up along a slick narrow ledge just along the edge of another raging stream, the first we hiked along all day. Some of the falls would have been a beautiful sight during the day, but we were running low on steam, and needed to get up the ridge and call it a day. The trail climbed up and away from the stream, and after a bit of hiking with our headlamps, we found a good place to tent and call it a night. We were about 16 miles into the hike.
Our hike Eastward along the rest of the ridge on Sunday was no competition with the previous day on the soggy northern ridge: The trail was dry, with fewer rocks, and the weather was also teasing us with some sunlight.
Given the week of rain prior to our hike, we were in disbelief that the Link Trail along the southern ridge was as dry as we encountered it. I would encourage any backpacker tackling the Loyalsock Loop to camp on the southern ridge and avoid staying the night on the north side of the river, with the exception of the area around Soans Pond.
Wildlife during our hike was limited, except for a doe we spooked and an orange salamander we found during a stop for a slug of water. However, there were many different landscapes which include waterfalls, streams, Hemlock forests, Soans Pond, numerous vistas, caves and rock overhangs, and unforgettably, the Loyalsock Creek (river!).
All in all, I would recommend this hike to any hiker with some experience under their belt. I recommend taking a pair of hiking sticks or trek poles to help negotiate wet sections of the trail and use them to keep balance while crossing streams.