Getting’ Outside in Happy Valley, Pennsylvania

– by Teresa Mull

Exercise and spending time in nature are both scientifically proven to improve people’s physical and mental well-being, so it’s no wonder a place known as “Happy Valley” is a wonderland for all types of outdoor recreation. It’s also a great place to meet and befriend outdoor recreationalists of all stripes. Below, we talk to a handful of outdoor adventurers about how they enjoy the natural paradise that is Happy Valley:

ClearWater Conservancy

‘So many different types of landscapes’

“We are located among so many different types of landscapes, terrain, and wildlife habitat, making central Pennsylvania a fascinating place to explore, experience, and learn about the region,” says Andrea J. Murrell, Strategic Communications Coordinator for ClearWater Conservancy. “From forests to fields to wetlands and local parks in town, there’s always something new to discover about the natural places here.”

ClearWater Conservancy is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to “conserve and restore our natural resources through land conservation, water resources stewardship, and environmental outreach across central Pennsylvania.”

“Our community values its outdoor natural places and goes above and beyond to protect and care for them,” says Murrell. “ClearWater Conservancy and partnering organizations continually involve the community with efforts to keep these natural places clean and healthy not just today, but for future generations.”

"ClearWater Conservancy and partnering organizations continually involve the community with efforts to keep these natural places clean and healthy not just today, but for future generations"

- Andrea J. Murrell, Strategic Communications Coordinator for ClearWater Conservancy

Countless free outdoor opportunities

Murrell emphasizes how affordable and easy getting a dose of nature is in Happy Valley.

“One thing that can be easily taken for granted here is how many public places there are to visit at no cost,” Murrell says. “For example, all Pennsylvania State Parks are free to visit during the day throughout the year, and there are countless other local areas such as Rothrock State Forest and nature centers like Millbrook Marsh and Shaver’s Creek Environmental Center that are open to the public and free to visit all year.”

Choose your ‘flavor’ of nature and enjoy with good company

“There are lots of activity options depending on the season and your preferred activity level and ‘flavor’ of nature!” Murrell adds. “Whether you prefer to walk, hike, run, bike, hunt, fish, ski, sled, birdwatch, kayak, swim, photograph or paint, observe, picnic, read, or just simply play outside, central Pennsylvania offers countless places to do all of this and more!

“Explore the outdoors with good company! For those who are interested in exploring this region with others during educational nature walks and events, ClearWater Conservancy’s Centred Outdoors program offers free, guided group outings for all ages and fitness levels between May-September. Learn more at"

Clearwater conservatory

Time outside, good conversation, nourishing food, and a tasty IPA

Claire Peters’ flavor of nature involves exploring the Centre Region as a member of the Happy Valley Women’s Cycling team. She shares her journey with us here:

“My perfect day involves as much time outside in nature as possible, good company and conversation about things that matter, nourishing food and ideally a tasty IPA to top it all off. Since my family moved to Happy Valley last July, I’m getting to enjoy these days more and more.

“I’m a working mom of two young boys — carving time out for me and my bike takes careful planning and committed effort, and benefits tremendously from the unwavering support from my adventure buddy-turned-spouse. I’ve been an outdoor go-getter and nature-lover since I was a kid, and my passions have taken me from bug’s eye level in my own backyard to the Himalayas and back.

“Growing up in Ohio, I felt the mountains calling and took my first post-college job in Wyoming, where I bought my first road bike, learned how to ski, and enjoyed countless hikes in the majestic Wind River and Teton mountains. My next chapter took me to Colorado, where I met the love of my life, dove into mountain biking and trail running on flowy Front Range trails, and took up backcountry skiing in addition to riding lifts. My Colorado days solidified my thirst for craft brews and rocked me with a few injuries, too. Career pursuits took us to Coastal California next, and with this phase came foggy mornings, epic hikes overlooking the ocean in Big Sur, and the birth of our two sons.

"I became a member of the Happy Valley Women’s cycling team last fall and am proud to be learning and growing alongside this crew, as well as giving back to the community who welcomed me in with warmth and generosity"

- Claire Peters

“As the years passed, I struggled to get outside as much as I wanted to and longed for a solid community of friends to get out with. My spouse and I have solidly entered the turn-taking phase of our adventures, each hanging with the kids while the other gets out for a ride or run. As many of my fellow female athletes can attest, it can be a lonely (or dude-filled) path at times (no offense, dudes!). I have been lucky to call some amazing adventurous women my close friends throughout the years for which I’m eternally grateful. And, with each of my moves, I’ve had to start over.

“Last July we landed in State College eager and had trepidation about new beginnings. Having made similar moves in the past, I knew exactly what this meant, and spent a few nights Googling what the area had to offer. This is how I stumbled up on the burgeoning cycling community here, and quickly realized that Happy Valley is an outdoor paradise. Our first week here, I joined Happy Valley Women’s Cycling for one of the women’s mountain bike rides they host all summer long. That night, I knew that I was finally home.

“A few more weekly ladies’ rides and a bike retreat later, I was totally hooked on cycling any surface I could find here, and relieved to be in the company of inspiring and accomplished women. I became a member of the Happy Valley Women’s cycling team last fall and am proud to be learning and growing alongside this crew, as well as giving back to the community who welcomed me in with warmth and generosity.

Claire Peters

“Whether you long for smooth country roads, grinding gravel for hours through forests and fields, or popping over roots and rocks while the sounds and smells of nature fill your senses, there really is something here for every rider. Rivers to fish, woods to hunt, trails to hike, mountains to ski, lakes to swim — the list goes on and on. This place is a hidden gem, and I don’t take it for granted for a single day. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do, and don’t forget to spread a little joy on the trails with a smile or a wave — as amazing a place as this is, it’s the people who keep it that way.”

‘I smile over and over’

Brad Fey has taken his love for Happy Valley’s outdoor recreation and turned it into a job. Through his company, Dronediculous, Fey creates video content of mountain bikers, gravel cyclists, hikers, real estate, sunrises, sunsets. Fey’s services have been utilized by mountain bike races, local bicycle shops, non-profits, realtors, beer/bike company, local university, local business school, and other businesses.

“What I enjoy most about the region’s outdoor activities are the premier forests within a few miles of any town in our area,” Fey says. “These forests are top-notch for hiking and biking. They are steep, rugged and beautiful. Every time I'm in Rothrock State Forest I feel so lucky that I live this close. The forests here are really special. I’ve been covering races here for several years and people come from all over the world to race in our forests. I smile over and over when I hear them say how beautiful they are. One time when I was up on the Tussey Mountain Ridge Trail waiting for racers to come by at the Transylvania Epic Mountain Bike Race. A team from Spain came by and when they got to where I was, which is a big overlook that looks down into a valley towards Colyer Lake, they all just said ‘Wow!!!’ And I get to ride here all the time!”


‘Your opportunities are better than ever’

The Nittany Mountain Biking Association (NMBA) has existed for more than 20 years, and the scope of what the non-profit organization does continues to evolve, which is why Rob Brawley has changed his title from “president” to “chief enabler.”

What NMBA does “depends upon what our members and volunteers want us to be,” Brawley explains.

Promoting biking in the Centre Region is clearly a main goal of the group, but NMBA also spends a lot of energy and resources on trail-building and maintenance to support not only the ability of bikers to ride but also respecting and aiding other trail users. When NMBA works on trails, members keep in mind fellow outdoors folk, including horseback riders, hikers, bird-watchers, and so forth.

Brawley says that the Harvest Fields Project, a series of multi-use community trails NMBA spearheaded, “opened my eyes to what could be done.” There are people who just want to ride bikes, and people who just want to clear brush and do trail work. NMBA is welcoming to anyone who wants to be involved in any sort of capacity. “All trail users are good for us,” Brawley says. “NMBA has people who want to preserve certain things, and people who want to change things. We want both people to show up. And we want to promote better trails for everybody. We’re happy to bring you in any door you want for as long as you want.”

"We have hundreds of miles of existing trails out there...that are just phenomenal and accessible"

- Rob Brawley, chief enabler of Nittany Mountain Biking Association

NMBA itself is home to people with diverse biking interests, from beginners to downhill and BMX, casual riders, hardcore, cross-country racers, and everything in between.

Brawley notes that communities generally are very good at supporting traditional sports — government resources are dedicated toward stick and ball fields close to towns, for instance, but, “it’s a lot more challenging to find those sorts of resources for lifelong sports,” such as biking and swimming.

What Brawley loves about biking is its ubiquity. He brought his daughter with him on rides on a strider bike when she was three years old. He’s taken her out in a trailer, and as she grows up, she can ride on her own. Brawley says that with electric bikes becoming more common and affordable, people can now ride with their grandparents.

“Ninety-nine percent of the time, bikes can travel on [the surfaces we come across],” he says. With NMBA offering plenty of trail and riding events open to the public, and with so many groups now catering to different demographics (Sticks and Stones Youth Mountain Biking Development and Happy Valley Women’s Cycling team for the ladies), “Your opportunities are better than ever.”

Brawley shares his experience in coming to appreciate all that Happy Valley offers outdoor enthusiasts:

Man biking

“I had the opportunity to travel and ride bikes all over the place, and at one point, it dawned on me that all of this is free to me, but it’s not free. And that’s where volunteering comes in to help maintain the infrastructure. When I sat down and realized I was going to give back, I thought — I could live wherever I wanted to and realized State College has so much. The beauty of State College when it comes to biking is I can ride on a bike path with a three-year-old and we have bike paths in our town, and you can ride that bike path to a greenway, and you can ride that greenway to the forest, and you can ride fun trails in the forest that are not-quite entry-level and continue back into the forest and challenge yourself for hours on end. We have hundreds of miles of existing trails out there and gravel trails that are just phenomenal and accessible.

“When people think about going on a big vacation and seeking adventure, their minds often automatically switch to the west coast. It dawned on me that I can exhaust myself five miles from my house, and when I’m riding through those trees, I don’t know whether I’m in the Rocky Mountain National Forest or Rothrock State Forest.

We have so much, so close. State College is wrapped with Black Moshannon, Bald Eagle, Rothrock State Forest and we are in the center of one of the most populated places in the world, with DC and New York and Cleveland and Pittsburgh and Philadelphia; it’s actually super easy access for folks to get here.

If you have a long weekend, you can spend half of it getting out west, but if you spend a few hours getting here, you can make yourself feel like you’re on the greatest planned, out-west excitement ever, and it doesn’t have to have National Park on the back of it to make it feel good.”

The Happy Valley Adventure Bureau publishes up-to-date event information at