On June 2nd, I had to take a business trip to Allentown, PA. A friend was named co-curator for an exhibit at the Allentown Art Museum and I agreed to videotape the opening premiere party. I looked on the map of PA and decided to drop in at Hickory Run State Park near the Interstate 80 and the PA Turnpike Northeastern Extension on my way to Allentown.

The Trailhead.

Stametz Dam

Initially I wanted to run on the eastern side of the park, but every course I mapped would be too long to the amount of time and the distance I like to run. It was a week before my first 50k and I needed a shorter taper run. I found a hiking blog that had a 10.6 mile course so I decided to retrace that route. I made it to the park at around noon with about a two and a half hour window. Starting at the lot at the park office, I began on the Shades of Death Trail. Although it has a gruesome name attributed to the thick forests and rough terrain experienced by the early settlers, it is a very picturesque trail in the park as it follows Sand Spring Run and meanders through rhododendron thickets, entangling roots and unique rock formations. It was also a rather difficult trail to follow with blazed trees few and far between. Also along this trail were a few dams and stone foundations of old saw mills.

Waterfall along the Shades of Death Trail

A natural waterslide.

After a mile and a half, the trail emerged out of the woods and onto the highway. After a short hop over a bridge on the highway, I turned right onto Beach Trail which was a very hard trail to stay on. It becomes obliterated as soon as it entered a tent camping area. I should have read the hiking blog but the trail blazes disappear in this section and you need to use the camp markers to navigate this section. I immediately got lost. Here, I met up with another trail runner who gave me some directions. About two hours before, there was actually a trail race held here at the park! I knew about the race prior to coming to the park but I didn’t feel like racing nor did I wanted to wake up to 4am to make it to the race. He was able to point to where the race course was, which at the beginning of the same trails I would be running on this afternoon.

I was back at the trailhead. The first trail, Sand Spring Trail is a wonderful trail with a decent stream crossing, moss and mountain laurel on the sides and pines on either side. I ended up taking this trail a mile further than I wanted. For some reason I thought I was already on Blue Trail since I saw blue blazes on the trees. It turns out the blazes indicate the trail use and not different colors for different trails. Blue blazes mean that this was a hiking/cross-country skiing trail. I noticed I went further when the trail started to descend the hill and bank right and decided to turn around. This error added almost two miles to my trip.

The beginning of Blue Trail

At 4.5 miles into my journey, I took a left onto Pine Hill Trail, an easy-doing, grassy double track through a spattering of ferns and and older oak and maple forest. Gorgeous! Soon, the grassy double track ends and now becomes more rocky/technical single track as it slowly descends into the Lehigh River Gorge.

The turn onto Pine Hill Trail.

Grassy Double-track on Pine Hill Trail

Pine Hill Trail with ferns on the edge.

The trail then turns to single-track

Along Hickory Run on Sand Springs Trail

At the bottom is a railroad grade and of all things, a gazebo between the railroad tracks that was only open to Norfolk Southern employees. What? The? Here, the trail now again mets up with Sand Spring Trail as it rises out of the gorge along Hickory Run in a sea of mountain laurel and birch trees. The ground was a rusty red, present an even more of a visual contrast. Soon, I cross a bridge across Hickory Run and climb up to the top of the hill on a twisty singletrack aptly named Switchback Trail. Again I was rewarded with beautiful singletrack on a plateau with pitch pine, beech and gray birch trees over top a ocean of ferns. I began to worry about the time but I knew I had already ran 8 miles and it should only be a few miles to the overlook and back to the car. I had to be in Allentown, at the hotel, shower, dress, drive to the museum, all before 5pm. It was 1:40pm now and I figured I needed to be in the car and on my way no later that 2:30pm.

Hickory Run

I cross Goulds Run, where thousands of years ago, marked the furthest southern advance of the glacier from the last Ice Age. Across the creek, I catch Skyline Trail, a loop that goes out to the overlook and back counter-clockwise. On the way, I ran into a giant pine, about 40 inches across. I never seen a pine tree that big before! I take a quick pic to marvel at this ancient tree and then pressed on. I had little time to sightsee. Then the trail begins to run along the edge of the gorge with the Lehigh River to my left. Finally the trail ended at a point and the overlook. I can’t believe how much elevation I climbed above the gorge.

Huge Pine!

The Lehigh Gorge

I made good time coming back on Skyline, then took a left onto Goulds Trail back to the main paved road and back to the park. I didn’t even cool down or stretch before getting into the car since it was exactly 2:30. It turned out that it took much less time to get to Allentown than I thought and had plenty of time to negotiate traffic, check-in, shower, go the the museum and such without being too rushed.

Hickory Run is an awesome park and it surely should not be missed if you are ever in that area.

Runkeeper Stats and Route for my run.

PA-DCNR State Park website, info and maps for Hickory Run State Park

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