With the semester coming to a close, many seniors are scrambling to cross items off of their Penn State bucket list. One trip that every Penn State student should make before they graduate is hiking Mt. Nittany.
Located about 10 minutes from downtown State College near Lemont, PA, Mt. Nittany has been a local landmark for decades. The name “Nittany” is derived from the fictional Native American Princess Nit-anee, and is more than likely a form of a Native American word for “single mountain”. The mountain rises about 800 ft above Penn’s and Nittany Valleys and stands at about 2,077 ft above sea level.
The trip to Mt. Nittany is fairly simple. Following PA-26 E out of State College, watch for the Lemont exit onto Elmwood St. on your right and follow it a little over a half mile to turn left on Pike St. At the first intersection, turn right onto Mt. Nittany Rd. The intersection is the first light you will come to and is the main intersection in Lemont, so it will be fairly recognizable. Follow this road back across a set of railroad tracks and you will wind up at a dead end road with impromptu parking along the sides of it.
After leaving your car, you will be immediately met by a sign explaining the (many) various routes available to explore the mountain. We took the most popular route to the top as seen below:
This route is a 2.8 mile loop trail with only a few short backtracks at the various overlooks. Traveling clockwise along this route, you will find a gradual (but still fairly steep) hike across the mountain to the northeast edge. The trail is divided into a somewhat confusing system of sections, the Blue Trail and the White Trail (clever, right?). The sprawling trail system is not well divided and the separate trails don’t seem to serve a real purpose, however, maps provided at the base of the mountain make navigation fairly easy.
The trail is rocky and steep in parts but is not super difficult if you are relatively in shape. This first stretch is the longest, at 1 mile, but is well worth the wait. At the top of the mountain you will find a trail intersection splitting in various directions across the mountain. Take the spur to the northeast (left) and you will find the first overlook, providing the best views of the vast area of Nittany Valley as well as the nearby Nittany Mall. The overlooks are great places to relax and take in the sights. There are large rock outcroppings providing places to sit (and take totally cool Facebook profile pics).
Backtracking to the main trail, you will continue along the top of the mountain to the southwest a little over a half mile to the next overlook. The path becomes much easier to traverse at this point as it basically levels out and becomes much less rocky. This overlook provides views out further into the valley through the I-99 corridor, leaving you in anticipation of the final overlook.
After about 4/10 mile further along the ridge you will reach your final destination, the Mike Lynch Overlook. Mike Lynch was an avid climber of Mt. Nittany during his time as a Penn State student in the 1940s and 50s and led many clean up and conservation efforts during his time as chair of the Lion’s Paw Mountain Committee. This overlook provides spectacular views into the heart of Happy Valley: downtown State College and University Park campus. On a clear day, almost all buildings over 2 or 3 stories tall are clearly identifiable from the peak, providing a unique perspective of the area we call home. Take awhile to sit and relax and take in the magnificent sights.
When you are ready to retreat back down the mountain, you will backtrack about 1/10 mile to the trail intersection. Following the short way back down is no easy task, as the trails becomes very steep and rocky. Be sure to exercise caution as you descend, and your calves will thank you for the workout.
At the bottom of the mountain you will meet back up with the section of trail you began on for a short period before returning to the parking area. Congratulations, you’ve just conquered Mt. Nittany! Since unfortunately there is no gift shop with bumper stickers and t-shirts to prove it, be sure to bring along a camera and document the trip. Here are some other essential items:
- Sturdy shoes w/ heavier socks (you can easily rub blisters descending the mountain)
- Plenty of water (the hike is definitely a workout, and there is no water available on the trail)
- Trail map (usually available at the trailhead, but bring your own just in case)
- Bug spray
There are dozens of other routes you can explore, so plan your trip ahead and decide which route is best for you. Remember to leave the trail the way you found it, and as the saying goes “leave only footprints, take only photographs”. Be sure to check out next week’s edition of “Onward & Outward”!