Golden Eagle Trail: Best Day Hike in Pennsylvania
Elevation Profile of Trail
Golden Eagle Trail Guide & Map
by Scott Adams
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|Trailhead:||N 41° 26.35'
W 77° 30.60'
|Trail Length:||9.2 miles|
|Hike Time:||5.5 hours|
|Near:||On PA414 north of Cammal and south of Slate Run.|
|* Note regarding hike time and elevation traversed.|
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Trip Report and PhotosLocated just north of Cammal Pennsylvania, on route 414, is the challenging Golden Eagle Trail. Coming in at just under ten miles, the Golden Eagle Trail, or GET as it is commonly called, makes for a strenuous but rewarding day hike. Tom Thwaites in his book 50 Hikes of Central Pennsylvania called the Golden Eagle "the most beautiful day hike in Pennsylvania", and though I have limited hiking experience, I would have to whole-heartedly agree with him.
The trailhead for the Golden Eagle Trail is located on route PA414. It can be reached, coming from the south, by taking route PA44 north at the intersection of US220 in Jersey Shore. Just past Waterville, you will take a right off of PA44 onto route PA414. Once you turn onto route PA414 set your odometer and drive for 11.2 miles. You will see a parking area on your left, directly after passing over a small bridge (this is Bonnell Run and you will get to know this stream on a first name basis by the end of this hike). If coming from the north, once you enter the town of Slate Run, travel for an additional 2.9 miles and you will see the parking area on your right.
The start of this trail in on the northern side of PA414, across from the parking area. Before you start off on your journey, make sure you have adequate supplies. There are many sources of water (Wolf and Bonnell Run) along the trail, but make remember to bring a water filtration device as you need to be wary of most streams in and around central Pennsylvania. Also, there is no camping permitted along the GET as it winds through State Game Lands, so make sure you have adequate daylight to complete this hike before the sun sets. You begin the hike by slowly ascending along Bonnell Run. At about 0.4 miles into the hike, the loop of the trail begins, with the trail branching sharply off to your right and also continuing straight ahead. It was recommended by John, one of our fellow hikers on this hike, to take the trail to the right. We questioned him at first but soon realized after the initial climb and several vistas, that this was the best direction to hike the trail.
So off we went following John on the first climb of the day. The trail is blazed orange and well marked. The initial ascent was not all that bad. John must have had an extra bowl of Wheaties for breakfast that day, for after 10 minutes we did not see him again, aside for a quick glance of his backpack bobbing through the woods, until we reached the summit. About 0.7 miles into the hike the trail emerges from the woods and follows, for a short distance, along the edge of a grassy meadow. Enjoy the level hiking while you can because the hardest part of the hike is about to begin. For the next 0.6 miles you will be ascending to the top of the first summit, following grassy Jeep trails, as well as narrow footpaths traversing up the side of this mountain.
After much heavy breathing and sweating, along with frequent stops to quench our thirst, we arrived at the first summit. Once you reach the summit, you begin to walk down the ridge back, and about 0.25 miles along the top you will reach the Raven's Horn. The views from here our outstanding and you can see down Pine Creek as well as view your next ascent along Wolf Run.
The hike down the ridge back breaks off to your left at about 2.0 miles into the hike. At this point you begin a steep descent on a switch back trail to Wolf Run below.
With what I considered the hardest part of the hike behind us, we began our leisurely stroll along Wolf Run. The grade here was very gradual, and though the climb was steady, it wasn't all that bad. Depending on the water levels at the time of your hike, you may get your feet wet. The trail makes many stream crossings, but all are manageable and if you are equipped with a good pair of water proof hiking boots, your feet will stay nice and dry. When making the stream crossings you need to be wary of moss covered rocks. You will also see many small waterfalls on this part of the hike.
Towards the top of Wolf Run you will enter an area of large hemlocks. During our hike in April, on a day when the temperature was in the lower 70s and had been that way for the previous 5 days, we ran across the last remnants of winter. There were a number of snow drifts, some as deep as 6 inches and as long as 50 feet, nestled in amongst the hemlocks.
After a quick snowball battle, we soon left Wolf Run behind us and reached the top of the ridge dividing Bonnell Run and Wolf Run. As we walked across this ridge line we were treated with another nice vista. This vista at, 5.1 miles into the hike, is called the Beulahland Vista at an elevation of 2180 feet. From here you can see in the distance a large field situated in the middle of the forest. In the 1800s land in these mountains was very cheap, almost free, and available for anyone that wanted to clear it and try their hand at farming. Beulahland is the remnants of an attempt at farming in this area.
After pausing at the Beulahland Vista, Waxman, John and I began the slow descent back to the trailhead. Aside for the one steep descent at the top of Bonnell Run, which caused a little pain in my "aging" knees, the hike along Bonnell Run was of the same grade as the hike up Wolf Run. Like Wolf Run, there were many crossings of Bonnell Run during our descent and several opportunities to test out the stated "waterproof" claims of your hiking boots.
After 4 hours and about 45 minutes we found ourselves back at the end of the loop. I gave a short pause and looked up the trail that we had hike only a few hours ago and thought of doing it again. However, those thoughts were quickly wiped from my mind as often happens during temporary lapses in sanity. After nine miles of hiking the GET I was ready to call it a day and rest my aching legs. Did I hear someone say "Mountain Burger and a beer at the Waterville Hotel"?