My wife (Karen) and I are reaching our late-60s, but we’re thankful that our abilities and health still allow us to hike all but the longest and most treacherous trails. We recently visited Centre County, which has some of the best hiking trails for every skill set. Some pathways lead through flat marshes and fields, where visitors may view a wide variety of flora and fauna. Others lead up and down steep mountains, covered with lush forestation.
Those who conquer the challenge of mountainous hikes are sometimes granted access to an amazing overlook offering a beautiful view of the valley below. The trail at Mt. Nittany fits into that category. It is steep and challenging but offers not one, but seven great overlook vistas. The Mike Lynch Overlook is the most popular, granting onlookers a distant view of the Penn State campus and Beaver Stadium. The others are the Boalsburg, Little Flat Rock, Penn’s Valley, Spring Creek Water Gap, Nittany Mall, and the Northwest Overlooks
After locating the trailhead, we found a billboard with welcoming messages and declarations from previous hikers declaring the wildlife they had witnessed. The board also held an appreciated Lexan box, filled with free trail maps.
To the right of the billboard was a large, colorful device we’d never seen at any other trail. Someone created a large, half-moon, multi-colored gauge resembling the fire hazard warnings seen at many state and national forests. This display, however, is a “Bugometer”, and its obvious purpose is that exiting hikers may move the indicator’s arm clockwise or counterclockwise to advise entering hikers how numerous the insects were that day.
Nittany Mountain trail has a “blue” and a “white” trail; no doubt a tribute to Penn State’s blue and white, school colors! The white trail is shorter but steeper, whereas the blue trail is longer and more gradual. With limited time, Karen and I decided to make the shorter but steeper climb.
I slung my Nikon DSLR camera around my neck and grabbed my walking stick. The temperature was in the low 90s, and the humidity was thick, so before slinging my photography backpack over my shoulders, I replaced a camera lens with a round canteen filled with water. The need to hydrate would be undeniable.
Three college-age hikers were coming to the end of their journey, and they advised that Karen would be wise to borrow one of the courtesy walking sticks leaning against a sign at the trailhead. “There are many rocks up there”, they advised, so Karen wisely borrowed one of the courtesy sticks!
The trail’s start is mostly dirt and pebble, with logs strategically placed perpendicular to the path. After slogging our way one-third of the way up, we found that the trail changed to rocks as our acquaintance had warned. The passage became challenging, with 4 to 8-inch diameter, multi-shaped, loose stones providing the trail. Interspersed here and there are flat stones, but most stand vertically in the earth, forcing hikers to walk on the edges of the stones. I advise others to avoid one error we made. We own quality, high-top hiking boots that we didn’t think we would need, and foolishly left at home.
The Mike Lynch overlook did not disappoint. The vista of the Penn State College in the valley below was glorious, even if negatively affected by the thick humidity of the day. I can only imagine how spectacular the view would be on a cool, crisp morning.
Concerned that the rocks on the steep “white” trail might prove more treacherous while descending, we chose to take the “blue” trail down. By doing so, we were treated to the Northwest overlook. Again, the view was awe-inspiring. We found ourselves wishing we had time to hike the full trail and visit every outlook.
I rank this hike as a challenging trail, largely because of the footing on the face of both trails and the elevation gain. Proper footwear, along with trekking poles or a walking stick is strongly advised. Good health is a must!
Is the hike worth the effort? Being unaware of any other Pennsylvania mountain that offers seven spectacular overlooks to reward hikers who reach the upper limit, I must say YES!