By Helena Kotala
It’s always been one of my favorite places — the rhododendron-filled gorge, sun filtering in through the pines, and the rushing of the rocky stream combine to create a vibe of serenity. The enchanting swinging bridge, curiosity-inducing Ice Mine, and gravity-defying Balanced Rock instill a sense of wonder.
This is Trough Creek State Park, a place that, in my opinion, is one of the prettiest in the Raystown Region, a spot definitely worth visiting. The 554-acre park surrounds the scenic gorge created by Great Trough Creek as it cuts through Terrace Mountain before emptying into Raystown Lake. The park is also enveloped by other public lands — Rothrock State Forest and Raystown Lake Recreation Area, creating a large tract of contiguous forested land.
The area is best known for its hiking trails, which take users past many spots of natural beauty. One of the most popular routes, Balanced Rock Trail, crosses the creek on a suspension bridge and winds along the hillside amongst rhododendrons for a short distance before crossing another bridge at Rainbow Falls. The Falls are named for the occasional rainbow created by the sun filtering in through the trees hitting the mist. The falls can be just a trickle during the drier times of the year, but in the spring and after a big rain, they are transformed into an impressive flow of water cascading down the hillside into Great Trough Creek. The trail continues past the falls up to Balanced Rock, an “erosion remnant” that is precariously balanced on a cliff high above the gorge. Though the rock looks like it will fall over the edge at any moment, it’s been there for many years, and has barely moved from its original position. Don’t be the tourist that tries to push it over.
From these must-see sights, there are a number of trails that branch off that can easily extend a hike and expose visitors to other beautiful parts of the park. Ledges Trail, Rhododendron Trail, and Copperas Rock Trail all traverse the western side of the Gorge, while Boulder Trail and Laurel Run Trail take hikers along the side of Terrace Mountain on the eastern side. The park can also be used as a trailhead for the Terrace Mountain Trail, a ~30-mile thru-hike that runs along the mountainside for the length of Raystown Lake.
Many of the trails are steep and rocky, so if you go, use caution and wear appropriate footwear.
You can pick up a park map at the park office, located on your left as you enter the park. The maps shows all the hiking trails, as well as other points of interest.
On your way into the park, be sure to stop and check out Copperas Rock, a large outcrop overhanging the river that is naturally dyed a yellowish-orange color. Further into the park, you’ll encounter yet another interesting geologic feature—the Ice Mine. The Ice Mine is not a mine, but an opening into the hillside that acts as a passageway for cool air. Walk down the steps into the little hole in the ground and you will feel a sudden burst of winter—a real treat on a hot summer day.
Trough Creek also has a rich history. American Indians inhabited the Gorge for years before white settlers found the area. Paradise Furnace was founded in 1827, and began producing approximately 12 tons of iron a day. During the twentieth century, the Civilian Conservation Corps came to the area as well, planting trees, constructing recreational facilities, and creating what is now Trough Creek State Park. Edgar Allen Poe is also rumored to have spent time in the area, and the ravens inhabiting cliffs above the gorge were supposedly inspiration for his famous poem, “The Raven.”
Trough Creek is an area that is great for day use, but also provides enough to see and do to warrant a longer stay. The park does have 29 campsites, which are open from mid-April to mid-December, offering accommodations for shoulder seasons as well as the peak summer months. The park is truly a treat to visit any time of year, and with its remarkable beauty and plethora of trails and outdoor recreation opportunities, you’ll quickly discover why it’s on MY list of favorite places in the Raystown Lake Region. Go and check it out for yourself!
Helena Kotala is an outdoor enthusiast and writer living between Huntingdon and State College. You can read more about her adventures in the Raystown Lake Region and elsewhere at http://helenawrites.wordpress.com/