How can an almost 13 square mile lake be considered hidden? It’s Raystown Lake and it’s nestled in a mountainous area of south central Pennsylvania. Unless you’re heading to the hills, you might never know it’s there and some residents might like to keep it that way.
It’s not that Raystown Lake isn’t full of friendly, hometown folks. I met plenty of people that chose to move to the area, even opting for a longer commute, so they could avoid a hectic life and slow things down a bit. It’s just that Raystown Lake is unspoiled area comprised of small towns and outdoor adventure and people want to keep it that way.
The lake itself is an attraction to campers and boaters who are looking for family-friendly outdoor recreation. But if you only focus on the lake, you’re missing out on so much more that the area has to offer.
Although there are many places to stay, ranging from rustic retreats to family resorts, I spent my time indoors at the local historic mansion, better known as the popular bed & breakfast, Gage Mansion in Huntingdon, PA. I braved the chilly fall air and mountain mist in a variety of outdoor activities but came home each evening to a nice warm bath and a beautiful, luxurious room. If you like roughing it, by all means, you can. But I need a little luxury with my outdoor adventuring.
After settling in at Gage Mansion, I met with local experts to help me determine the best activities for my short stay in the area. It was clear that the area attracts serious outdoor enthusiasts for everything from biking and hiking to boating. So I thought I’d try a bit of each.
Biking at Raystown Lake
Although I own a mountain bike, I have to admit that those tires have never left the pavement. But if they did, I know where I’d take them The Allegrippis Trails near Raystown Lake attracts over 25,000 mountain bikers from all over the world each year. The 24 trails at Allegrippis are easily accessed near the Raystown Lake Visitors Center which is worth a visit, especially if you’re not sure of your skill level.
These trails are designed by mountain bikers and built by the International Mountain Bicycling Association. So it’s serious. They’re even rated like ski slopes: color coded for beginner, intermediate, and expert. And if you’re not sure what you can handle, you’ll want to check out the Raystown Mountain Bike Skills Park. It’s a chance for you to take your bikes on sample trails rated at each level. You can practice, build your confidence, and decide when you’re ready to brave the trails.
Although I didn’t have a bike with me for this trip, I surveyed the skills parks and determined that the beginner’s trail would be just fine for me.
Kayaking near Raystown Lake
If there’s a sport I do feel confident in, it’s kayaking. Instead of doing a formal kayaking tour, I rented a boat and met up with April and Matt, two prominent area residents and paddling enthusiasts. We convened at Jack’s Narrows River Access, a new spot on the Juniata River giving easy access for launching kayaks and canoes.
(The Juniata River, incidentally, is a branch of the Susquehanna River and with the Raystown Lake Dam forms the reservoir known as Raystown Lake.)
Our river tour took advantage of the recent rains and swift moving water allowing us to float much of the way down the river. Matt and April shared paddling tips while pointing out the history of the area including remnants of old river bridges and mills.
Hiking near Raystown Lake
The sport I’m probably best at is hiking, mainly because it only requires two good legs. And I’ll admit I saved the best for last. There was no shortage of hiking trails in and around Raystown Lake.
I actually started near the Visitor’s Center with a quick “hike” on a recycled rubber trail called the Greenside Pathway. It’s the perfect path for family treks down to the lake and delivered me directly lakeside with a beautiful view of the mountains and the largest marina in Pennsylvania.
After completing the loop, I jumped in my car and headed to an area on the southside of the lake known as Trough Creek State Park. This hiking get a little more serious but has some well-carved out paths with stunning attractions just a short distance from the parking area. I headed to the must-see attractions, Rainbow Falls and Balanced Rock. And luckily nature was cooperating and provided me some pretty spectacular views.
If I had more time, I would have spent quite a bit longer exploring the park (note: there is no cell service there!) but I had one more destination on my hiking itinerary.
When visiting the area, it’s almost a rite of passage to climb up a local landmark known as The Thousand Steps. The story is that quarry workers climbed these 1000 steps every day to arrive at their workplace in a ganister quarry.
The Thousand Steps were constructed about 1936 by Harbison-Walker employees. A challenging hike today, the steps were a commute to a long and difficult workday in Ledge Quarry.
I’m here to tell you that 1000 steps doesn’t sound like a lot BUT IT IS. I thought I was going to die but I was determined to do it. I even read on a website that the climb is equivalent to a one hour workout on a Stairmaster. It actually took a few days for my leg muscles to recover but it was worth it for that view.
More to See and Do in Raystown Lake
I covered the Big Three when it comes to outdoor adventuring but there’s so much more to see and do, from the local college scene to cute coffee shops to hometown industry to an amazing cavern. It’s a a perfect little secret nestled in the heart of Pennsylvania but the secret’s out now!