[This is a continuation of the article about hiking from the Summit parking area to the Thunder Rocks parking area. This part describes in detail the hike from south (Thunder Rocks) to north (Summit) proceeding over Horse Trail #2, then the old hiking trail, then Ridge Run Ski Trail. See Part 1 for a general overview of the hike.]
It is possible to hike the ridge from the parking area for Thunder Rocks to the Summit Parking area, a distance of about 7.5 miles, using a combination of Horse Trail #2, an old hiking trail, and the western portion of the Ridge Run Ski Trail. At one time this was an official park trail.
Although the horse trail and ski trail are well maintained and marked, the middle section (the old hiking trail) is little used, not maintained, and difficult to discern in some spots. But it is doable. And it is destine to be elevated to an official trail in the future, to be called the “Firebush Ridge Trail.”
This hike starts at the parking lot for Thunder Rocks.
There are two ways to get to Thunder Rocks. If coming up ASP 2 from the south, turn right onto Ridge Run Road and follow it to the parking lot. If coming down ASP from the north, turn left onto Limestone Run Road (it begins just south of where France Brook Road comes in from the west), then turn left at the intersection with Ridge Run Road. Both of those roads are gravel roads maintained between April 1 and November 30.
You should arrive early enough to explore Thunder Rocks a bit if you have not been there before, but this article is about the trail, so on we shall go.
Look for a green metal gate across a forest road. This is the start of Horse Trail #2. It is the trail you want to take.
There is another trail to the east that goes to the New Ireland historic site, which will be the topic of a future article. For this hike head north on the wide trail that has the green metal gate across it.
300 yards up the trail you come to a Y. Horse Trail #2 continues to the left. A pipeline easement goes to the right. You can take either one because they meet again in about a half-mile. The pipeline easement is a bit shorter because it is a straight line while Horse Trail #2 curves to the left then back to the right.
If you take the pipeline easement, at about .35 miles you will see a single track trail going off to your right (east) with a horse trail disk on a distant tree. This is Horse Trail #6. It leads to Rice Brook and the base of Mt. Irvine (at which you can pick up another trail to the top of Mt. Irvine.) That trail is described in the article entitled “Allegany State Park: Hike from Thunder Rocks to Mount Irvine”. Do not take that trail at this time. Instead continue on the pipeline easement until Horse Trail #2 comes in from your left (west) in about .1 miles more.
If you follow Horse Trail #2 instead of the pipeline easement, at about the .5 mile mark this same pipeline easement will cross your path again because it heads in a northwest direction. At that point stay on Horse Trail #2 heading North Northeast. At about 1.5 miles from Thunder Rocks you will cross a second pipeline easement running east and west.
At this point you have a choice to make. 1. Start a bushwhack on the old hiking trail that goes north northwest up and over the hill directly in front of you and eventually connects with Horse Trail #1; or 2. Continue on Horse Trail #2 which turns right (east) onto the pipeline easement for a short distance, then turns north away from the pipeline easement, goes around the hill that the old hiking trail climbs over, and eventually connects with Horse Trail #1 near the spot where the old hiking trail emerges from the woods.
Option 2 (following Horse Trail #2) is much easier because this section of the old hiking trail is in very poor condition, with several overgrown areas and significant blow down. It appears not to have been used much in the last decade, probably because of the parallel horse trail. Taking option 1 (the old hiking trail) will be much slower and a bit exhausting because of the significant amount of zigzagging you must do around the impassible blow down. But if you chose option 1 then just remember to stay on the ridge which does an “S” curve between this second pipeline easement and Horse Trail #1. And if you decide to give up on the old hiking trail at some point then just descend off the ridge to your right (east) to pick up Horse Trail #2.
Either way, you will reach Horse Trail #1 at about the 2.75 mile mark from Thunder Rocks. Horse Trail #2 ends at the junction with Horse Trail #1. Horse Trail #1 runs east and west. Turning west on Horse Trail #1 will take you down a steep hill to the Equestrian Staging and Camping area (1.25 miles). Turning east will take you up a small rise and then on to Mt. Irvine. You want to go north into the woods to find the old hiking trail that will continue your journey over the ridge and eventually connect you with the Ridge Run Ski Trail that will take you to the Summit Parking area.
Unfortunately, the point where the old hiking trail enters the woods is not obvious.
But if you head due north into the woods across from where Horse Trail #2 ends, then in about 30 yards you will find pink flagging around a tree and you will be able to see the old hiking trail on the ground as well.
The best entry point is at the a tree with some initial carvings, a “Camp 10” yellow and green directional sign, and a circular horse trail sign with the number 1 as depicted in the picture below.
The blue and yellow flagging was there on October 21, 2012.
You will be on the side of a hill to your right (east) at this point.
That hill is not part of the ridge that you will take to the Summit parking area. Do not climb up it.
Proceed due north along the side of that hill until you find the pink flagging depicted in the picture below.
A few yards after the pink flagging mentioned above you will see a faint yellow blaze on a tree. You will now begin to see a variety of trail markers, including pink flagging, yellow flagging, yellow blazes, old metal trail disks, some metal snowmobile signs, and red blazes on the north sides of trees (for people heading south on the trail.) Here is what these various trail markers look like along the way:
At about mile marker 3.3 from Thunder Rocks will reach the top of a hill and encounter the first significant blow down. It is easier to walk around to your left:
Each of the hills you ascend will present some blow down that you either need to climb over or go around a few yards.
The double hump hill at the 4 mile mark is a bit more challenging on its north side.
It is located on the topographical map where the trail does an S-curve around a longitudinal line (that is not a pipeline).
At this point the forest is more open and the ground covered with fern.
There are few markers and not much depiction of the trail on the ground.
The trail heads northeast at this point. Look for cut logs indicating the old trail. Look back to find red blazes on trees marking the trail heading south.
When you reach of the top of the next hill the trail will turn to the northwest.
BE CAUTIOUS AT THIS POINT BECAUSE THIS HILLTOP JUTS OUT TO THE EAST. YOU DO NOT WANT TO FOLLOW THAT RIDGE. INSTEAD, YOU WANT TO FOLLOW THE RIDGE BEARING LEFT (NORTHWEST). [topo01]
The next point of concern is at the base of the second from last hill before reaching the Ridge Run Ski Trail.
This is the 2315-foot hill just north of the forest road from the east that is shown reaching its base.
That forest road is not apparent on the ground and no trace of it appears on the GIS aerial maps of the area, although there seems to be a road of some sort heading west from that point (guess where I’m going on my next exploratory hike.)
HOWEVER, JUST SOUTH OF THAT LOCATION THERE IS PINK FLAGGING THAT MARKS A TRAIL HEADED EAST.
YOU WANT TO CONTINUE HEADING WEST UP THE HILL STAYING ON THE RIDGE.
After traversing this hill the trail turns northwest and descends downhill until it emerges from the woods onto the Ridge Run Ski trail. Turn right (north) onto the Ridge Run Ski trail and follow it until it reaches the junction with the Leonard Run trail, marked by a picnic area and large trail directional signs.
Follow the sign back to “Summit”.
This picture was taken looking down the trail from the Summit area.
You will reach that sign from the trail shown in the lower right corner of this picture.