Moshannon State Forest is a 190,000-acre forest in the Allegheny Plateau region of central Pennsylvania, managed by the Commonwealth for both ecosystem preservation and the production of timber for sale.
The forest consists of two distinct segments. The larger segment covers wide areas of Clearfield and Elk Counties, with some parcels crossing into Cameron and Clinton Counties. This segment includes Parker Dam State Park, S.B. Elliott State Park, and several natural areas that receive additional protection from development.
A smaller segment of Moshannon State Forest lies entirely within Centre County and roughly encircles Black Moshannon State Park, and it constitutes the largest tract of protected lands in the county.
Slivers of Centre County are also protected within the nearby Rothrock State Forest. In the view of forest managers, western Centre County is a transitional zone between the hardwood-heavy forests of northern Pennsylvania and the predominantly oak-oriented ecosystems to the south. This zone has mini-ecosystems that are rare elsewhere in Pennsylvania.
The area was originally inhabited by the Seneca Indians. They named a nearby river Moss-Hanne, which means “moose stream.” After the arrival of colonists, that name evolved into Moshannon, and it is now applied to the state forest, two creeks, a town, and a state park.
By the late 1800s, most of the forests of central Pennsylvania had fallen to loggers, primarily for use in charcoal furnaces such as the Pennsylvania Furnace. Conservationists feared that the forests would not regrow without state protections for the land. Joseph T. Rothrock, the first commissioner of the Pennsylvania Department of Forests and Waters (now the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources), implemented state protections for the forest lands of the region, including the state forest that bears his name.
In 1898, the Commonwealth began to purchase lands that would later constitute Moshannon State Forest, beginning with small acquisitions from local landowners with delinquent tax bills. The state still add small parcels of land through such practices.
Centre County’s segment of Moshannon State Forest is known for its many cross-country skiing trails, taking advantage of the heavy snowfall in the area to the east of Black Moshannon State Park.
The tract also contains most of the 42-mile-long Allegheny Front Trail, which is the longest hiking trail entirely within Centre County. Many of these trails follow railroad grades left over from the logging era of the late 1800s.
The Centre County tract surrounds an important travel route that Native Americans had used for centuries. The Great Shamokin Path and Bald Eagle’s Path both passed through the area, and today’s Pennsylvania Route 504 roughly follows that long-distance trade route.
Cramer, Ben, Guide to the Allegheny Front Trail, second edition. Spring Mills, PA: Scott Adams Enterprises, 2014.
Seeley, Ralph, Foot Trails of the Moshannon and Southern Elk State Forests, fourth edition. Spring Mills, PA: Scott Adams Enterprises, 2014.
Seeley, Ralph, Greate Buffaloe Swamp: A Trail Guide and Historical Record for the Quehanna Plateau and the Moshannon State Forest, second edition, self-published, 1997.
Thwaites, Tom, 50 Hikes in Central Pennsylvania, fourth edition, Backcountry Books, 2001.
Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Black Moshannon State Park, https://www.dcnr.pa.gov/StateParks/FindAPark/BlackMoshannonStatePark/Pages/default.aspx (accessed Oct. 11, 2022).
First Published: October 25, 2022
Last Modified: February 10, 2023