West Rim Trail and the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania
Hiking in Pennsylvania does not get any better than the West Rim Trail. Others might disagree, but having been to many, not all, of the major hiking and backpacking areas in Pennsylvania we are at least qualified to make the assertion. In addition to hiking and backpacking, this trail offers spectacular views of the Pine Gorge and Pine River with many picture taking opportunities for both professionals and amateurs.
Where is the West Rim Trail Located?
The West Rim Trail is located near Wellsboro, Pennsylvania and encircles Pine Gorge. Pine Gorge is also known by its more familiar name The Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania. The canyon frames its founder, Pine Creek, which twists gently through the canyon floor and offers campgrounds along its banks for any pack rafters. While this canyon is arguably not as grand is some aspects as the actual Grand Canyon, it does have its own certain grandeur and some of the most wild hiking on the East Coast.
The area is abundant with wildlife, hiking, backpacking and other outdoor activities. The nearby town of Wellsboro offers all the amenities’ a tourist could want, but why stay indoors when the West Rime Trail offers abundant camping spots overlooking Pine Creek. If you are in the area and do not have time for backpacking, hiking in Pine Gorge is an excellent way to spend the day. Expect to see bald eagles suddenly appearing as they scan the Pine River. Not too long ago, bald eagles were absent from the area, but conservation efforts have brought the bird back. Currently, the bald eagle population is growing, but vigilance and more conservation efforts are needed in order to ensure the survival of this population.
Local outfitters can assist with any hiking or backpacking trip planning.
Pine Creek Outfitters
Wild Asaph Outfitters
Canyon Creek Cruises
Where to Camp on the West Rim Trail?
The surrounding area offers abundant camping both in managed camp areas and primitive areas. However, only primitive camping is allowed on the West Rim Trail. If you are planning to hike this trail, either for an evening or a complete backpacking trip, plan several options in case your first choice is taken. Definitely not the crowds of the more popular and in my opinion less scenic Pennsylvania state parks, but nothing sours a day backpacking than having to hike an extra mile after dark to find a campsite.
This is typically not an issue for solo hikers, but if going in a group plan ahead.
Contact Tioga State Forest Office (570)-724-2868 for permits and other information regarding hiking the West Rim Trail. The permits are free, but hikers and backpackers should register with Park Rangers.
How Long is the West Rim Trail?
The West Rim Trail is 30.5 miles long with an elevation gain of 5,648 ft that makes this hike moderately difficult. Typically, backpackers take 2.5 to 3.5 days to complete the entire loop, but multiple entry and exits points enable hikers and backpackers to plan the perfect excursion. So, go solo, take your family, or your grandmother because there is something for everyone.
However, the glacial activity that deposited the sediment, that led to a gravel streambed, that eventually led to said river carving the canyon, was kind enough to leave most of the elevation gain at the terminuses.
Popular West Rim Trail Entry/Exit Points
North Trailhead: Hikers can park at the base of Colton Point Road in the large gravel lot next to the forestry buildings. Bathrooms are available at this location, and Pine Creek Outfitters is one mile away in Ansonia.
South Trailhead: Hikers and backpackers can leave their cars in the Rattlesnake Rock Access Area Parking Lot, Rt 414. This lot is located in Blackwell which also has a small store, but not enough to resupply.
Is Water Available on The West Rim Trail?
There are abundant water sources on the West Rim Trail. In addition to streams flowing through the washes, there are spigots at some of the managed campsites. You will hike past several of these sites which usually have a covered pavilion, restroom, and water spigot.
Water sources are more plentiful on the north section of the trail near Astonia. During summer months, check to see which sources are flowing and be prepared to pack more water from when leaving the southern section.
GoHikeGo, and the park, recommends treating all water from this area either by filtering, chemically treating, or using an ultraviolet steri-pen. The area does not have the greatest track record for environmental safety because the mining industry decimated the rivers in the decades leading to the 20th century, but area is great for perspective on the amount of resources needed to clean up abandoned mining sites.
In the town of Blackwell, you will notice some historical signs and markers that detail the pollution and massive cleanup efforts. Since that time, dedicated organizations have painstakingly restored these waterways and now work tirelessly to maintain their purity. These efforts are now complicated by the local fracking industry.
I did not notice any negative effects of the oil and gas industry while backpacking the West Rim Trail, but locals spoke of bears being driven from the hills and other wildlife moving further down the mountain from the rigs. There was also mention of my kayaking abilities and a banjo challenge followed by some comment about swine.
How is the West Rim Trail Marked?
The West Rim Trail is marked with Orange Blazes painted on trees. These look similar to the White Blazes, and Blue Blazes, seen on the Appalachian Trail, but are orange. The same blaze placement rules apply for orientation as other trails.
In conclusion, the West Rim Trail is a great hiking or multi-day backpacking experience. We noticed a solitude that might be lacking from Pennsylvania sections of the Appalachian Trail. The return portion of our northbound loop was particularly peaceful without another person for almost 2 full days.