Centre County’s Best Vistas – by car or hiking

– by Mark Nale

We left Underwood Road in the Moshannon State Forest, walked up through the forest and then down a very rocky area – following a well maintained, but sometimes rugged trail. Lindera’s Siberian husky Timber led the way. We started to gain altitude again, and at about 25 minutes into our hike, we came upon a break in the trees overlooking a beautiful view to the valley below. It was aptly named Ralph’s Majestic Vista.

My daughter, Lindera, and I took advantage of one of the cooler August evenings to hike the 3.8-mile section of the 41.5-mile Allegheny Front Trail (AFT). This is the most rugged section of trail and the one that provides the most scenic views over the valleys below the Allegheny Front. We arrived at Ralph’s Pretty Good View about five minutes after the first vista. From here, we had an excellent view of the foothills, on toward Bald Eagle Mountain and then Tussey Mountain about 14 miles away. It should be noted that both of these vistas were named after trail visionary Ralph Seeley, who designed and helped to build the AFT.

Centre County, Pennsylvania has many beautiful vistas, with the Allegheny Front to the north and several ridges running through the area. Several can be found with an easy drive to a parking lot, whereas some require some rubbernecking while driving, and still others can only be viewed after a challenging hike. What follows is not a complete list, but rather a taste of what is available.

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Lindera and Timber enjoy Ralph's Majestic Vista on the Allegheny Front Trail.

- Photo by Mark Nale

By Car

The easiest to locate -- and most popular -- vista in Happy Valley is Jo Hayes Vista, located at the top of Tussey Mountain on Route 26 south of State College, about two miles south of Pine Grove Mills. This vista overlooks Happy Valley farming country, with State College on the right and Bald Eagle Mountain and the Allegheny Front in the background. This vista is usually marked with a large brown and white state forest sign. Unfortunately, that sign was recently stolen and a new one is being made.

Rothrock State Forest has several other vistas that can be driven to. Two at or near the Centre County line include a beautiful forest valley view from Bear Gap Road, which looks north into Centre County. Another nearby vista is on Wampler Road and provides a view into the valleys of Detwiler Run and Standing Stone Creek in Huntingdon County. Wampler Road is very rugged and almost 4-wheel-drive worthy, but the vista is only a short distance on Wampler from Bear Meadows Road.

Another worthwhile Rothrock State Forest sight is the view overlooking Bear Meadows Bog from Bear Meadows Road. Park at the large stone sign commemorating the 1966 recognition of Bear Meadows Natural Area as a National Natural Landmark. The best view here is during the winter.

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Ralph's Pretty Good View - a scenic vista on the southern part of the Allegheny Front Trail. Bald Eagle and Tussey mountains are in the distance.

- Photo by Mark Nale

Travelers on I-99 have excellent views of Bald Eagle Valley and the Allegheny Front. Unfortunately, no one had the foresight to create an overlook with a public parking area. The best views can be had while traveling north on I-99 from the village of Bald Eagle (Exit 52) towards what is locally known as Skytop, where I-99 crosses the top of Bald Eagle Mountain. These views from I-99 North are some of my favorites.

A very different type of vista can be found on the Sandy Ridge Trail on State Game Lands 33, northwest of Port Matilda. Traveling north, just as the 4-lane section of Route 322 ends, Sandy Ridge Trail (a gravel road) turns left (west). Approximately 3.3 miles from Rte . 322, the forest to the right opens and affords a look across the top of the Allegheny Plateau. It is not a view into a valley, but rather shows the viewer the topography of the Allegheny Plateau.

One last by-car vista that I enjoy is the overlook at Bald Eagle State Park. There is ample parking and a stone wall bordering the overlook. This vista is located along Route 150, north of Milesburg, and just beyond where Route 26 goes over the causeway into Howard.

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View north across the Allegheny Plateau from the Sandy Ridge Trail on State Game Land 33.

- Photo by Mark Nale


Five vistas are found along a very rugged 3.8-mile section of the Allegheny Front Trail, east of where it crosses Underwood Road in the Moshannon State Forest, described at the beginning of this blog. Underwood Road is a gravel state forest road between the Julian Pike (SR 3032), southeast of Black Moshannon State Park, and PA 504. The AFT crosses Underwood Road 1.2 miles from SR 3032. The trail crossing is marked by a brown AFT post with a yellow blaze. Starting from the west end, one of the best vistas is the last. It overlooks the Allegheny Front – looking back on the area just traveled on the AFT. My daughter and I left the AFT and walked back to my pickup by taking Stagecoach Trail to Underwood and then back to where we were parked. It was nearly a 6-mile loop.

Another section of the AFT, this one north of Black Moshannon State Park, affords peeks at the West Branch of the Susquehanna River below. We parked at the bridge over Six Mile Run on Casanova Road. Look carefully for the trail crossing just south of the bridge. We walked 1.5 miles east on the AFT to a narrow vista overlooking the West Branch. This section is mostly flat, with two sections of rocky, steep trail.

Mount Nittany is a Happy Valley landmark, and seven vistas await people who hike to the top. The short walk to enjoy the Mike Lynch Overlook is approximately .7 of a mile in length on a white-blazed trail, but it climbs 650 feet in elevation. The hike is strenuous, but a beautiful view of the campus and Beaver Stadium rewards those who climb the mountain. The blue trail to the top is less strenuous, but longer. Once on top, gentle trails take you to six additional vistas – looking toward the Nittany Mall, Penns Valley, Boalsburg and others. The address for the trailhead at the base of the mountain in Lemont is 500 Mount Nittany Road, Boalsburg 16827. Maps are usually available at the trailhead.

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Helpful maps and guides for those seeking vistas.

- Photo by Mark Nale

Several Rothrock State Forest vistas are available by taking the Mid State Trail east or west of the Jo Hayes Vista. Another excellent vista is found by hiking the now-closed North Meadows Road. One DCNR employee described it as the best view in Rothrock State Forest.

A photo with this blog shows state forest maps and other maps and guides that will help you locate the vistas mentioned here.

Note: If you are reading this after 2022, vistas change with each season, and even more so each year. Often the clear view that I observed in the summer of 2022 is partly blocked by ever-growing vegetation a few years later, or maybe the vista received maintenance work and now provides an even better view. While I love fall foliage, most vistas provide the best views during the winter when the leaves have fallen from the trees.

The Happy Valley Adventure Bureau publishes up-to-date event information at HappyValley.com/events