Friday, August 23, 2013

Hills Creek State Park: Yellow Birch Trail (Blog Hike #438)

Trail: Yellow Birch Trail
Hike Location: Hills Creek State Park
Geographic Location: west of Mansfield, PA
Length: 0.6 mile
Difficulty: 3/10 (Easy/Moderate)
Last Hiked: July 2013
Overview: A short campground nature hike.

Directions to the trailhead: From Mansfield, drive US 6 west 6.4 miles to Charleston Road and turn right on Charleston Road.  Drive Charleston Road 2.3 miles to Hills Creek Lake Road and turn right on Hills Creek Lake Rd.  Drive Hills Creek Lake Road 3.1 miles to Spillway Road and turn right on Spillway Road.  Drive Spillway Rd. 0.4 miles to the main park road, crossing the dam that creates the park’s lake en route. Turn left to enter the park.  Drive the main park road 0.8 miles to the campground entrance and the trailhead for the Yellow Birch Trail.  Park in the grassy area beside the road, taking care not to block traffic or a camping slot.

The hike: Established as a park in 1950, the land today comprising Hills Creek State Park has a colorful history.  Known historically as Kellys Swamp, the creek and hence park was named for a Captain William Hill, who settled in the area around 1820.  If that wasn’t colorful enough, the park’s swimming beach sits near an old pigment mine that provided raw materials used to make paint.
            No evidence of the pigment mine remains, so the most colorful part of Hills Creek State Park today may be the fall leaf color, which is excellent due to the diversity of trees in the park’s deciduous forest.  137-acre Hills Creek Lake provides swimming, boating, and fishing opportunities.  An 83-site campground and a cabin area provide lodging within the park.
            For hikers, the park offers 3 trails: the 2.5 mile Lake Side Trail, the 1.5 mile Tauscher’s Trail, and the 0.6 mile Yellow Birch Trail.  The first two of these options spend significant distance near park roads, so the best option and the one described here is the Yellow Birch Trail, which is located near the campground.  Note that although the park brochure lists this trail at 1 mile, the true distance is roughly half that number based on my measurements.
Trailhead: Yellow Birch Trail
            The yellow-blazed Yellow Birch trail exits the grassy campground area as a gravel trail that crosses a nice wooden footbridge bridge with hand rails.  Very quickly the gravel ends and the trail forks.  To hike the steepest section downhill, this description will turn left here and use the right trail as the return route, thus hiking the loop clockwise.
Hiking beside large pines
            The single-track dirt trail climbs on a gradual to moderate grade with the campground in view through the trees to your left.  Some large pine trees live on this ridge along with some smaller beech and maple.  At 0.2 miles, you reach the highest point of the hike as the trail curves sharply right.  Watch for the double yellow paint blazes that mark this turn.  A bench at this point gives rest for the weary.
Approaching the marsh
            The trail descends steeply on switchbacks but only for a short distance.  Ignore a side trail that exits left as you approach a marshy area.  Fortunately the trail is routed close enough to the hillside so that it stays dry most of the year.  This area also features some good-sized yellow birches for which this trail is named.  Too quickly you close the loop, and only a short walk remains to complete the hike.

No comments:

Post a Comment