Onward & Outward: Alan Seeger Natural Area & Greenwood Fire Tower
This post is part of a series highlighting a number of local day-trip destinations in and around the State College area, focusing on places off the beaten path.
As the temperatures in Centre County start to drop, fall colors blanket the region’s mountains and valleys. To experience this seasonal change in full, however, you’ll need to venture out of the bubble of State College. In this edition of “Onward & Outward”, we take you to two hidden gems in Rothrock State Forest: the Alan Seeger Natural Area, and Greenwood Fire Tower.
The Alan Seeger Natural Area is about a 40 minute drive out of State College, following PA-26 S nearly 13 miles before following some back roads into Rothrock State Forest. As you enter Rothrock, you will begin to see signs for Alan Seeger Natural Area. Before you get to the main parking area, you will come to a picnic area with restrooms. Although this is not the parking area for the Natural Area, and there are much more scenic picnic areas down the road a bit, this is the last sign of plumbing you will see, so take advantage of this pit stop if you need it.
About 200 yards down the road, you will find the main parking area and trailhead for the Alan Seeger Natural Area. The area is one of three “old growth” forests in the area that survived the logging clears in the late 1800s. It has been suggested that some of the oldest trees in the area are around 1,000 years old — some of the oldest in the state. Filled with towering hemlocks and lush rhododendrons, the area along Standing Stone Creek is one of the most unique in the region.
After the leaving the parking area, you will find the trail has two heads, as it is a short, half-mile loop following Standing Stone Creek around the flat. If you plan on continuing up to the fire tower, however, follow the left-hand trailhead when facing the trail map sign. This walk can barely be considered a hike, as it is entirely flat and well-developed for the most part. The trail follows the creek, and crosses it at a few points on recently completed footbridges.
The dense foliage and the rushing creek create a cool, damp atmosphere which attracts both healthy plant life and a variety of wildlife species. You are likely to encounter any number of snakes, turtles, salamanders, and other aquatic species along the edge of the creek, which is typically full of small minnows. The density of the forest also forms tunnels of rhododendrons, creating a very sound isolating atmosphere, leaving you alone with the sound of the rushing water. And snakes, lots of snakes.
As you make your way to the end of the trail, you’ll see signs directing you to the Mid-State Trail. Part of a 325 mi trail through Central PA, this section will take you up the mountain to the Greenwood Fire Tower. The trail climbs 1,400 ft. in about 2 miles, and is very rocky. While not an extremely difficult climb, it is not for the easily winded.
As you make your way further up the mountain, the trail will become less visible, and at parts, becomes a scramble over piles of rocks until you can find the next trail marker. When it levels off at the top, you still have about a half-mile until the clearing at the fire tower. Greenwood Fire Tower and Little Flat Fire Tower were both built in the 1920s, and are two of the first fire towers in the state.
The tower has been “disabled”, and the first two flights of stairs have been removed. With a bit of gymnastic ability, however, it is still climbable, and provides a tremendous panoramic view of the valley and region beyond. There are a few missing stairs, and the structure is probably not quite as sound as it was 90 years ago, so exercise caution when climbing.
After descending the tower, it’s time to head back to the trailhead. To avoid the steep, rocky descents down the mountain, follow the service road down at the first trail crossing you come to. The gravel road takes you through a more densely wooded section of the forest, and provides a very scenic return hike to your car.
And with that, your adventures in Rothrock State Forest have come to a close. Stay tuned for the next installment of “Onward & Outward”.
Quick Facts: Alan Seeger N.A. to Greenwood Fire Tower Hike
- Time: Approx. 4 hours.
- Distance: 5.2 miles
- Elevation change: 1400 ft.
- Items to bring: map, sturdy shoes, water, rain gear, camera