The Quehanna Wild Area, which covers portions of Elk, Clearfield, and Cameron Counties in the Pennsylvania Wilds is one of the least-explored regions of Pennsylvania.
I’d previously visited this area and uncovered the small, but fantastic Table Falls, Kunes Camp, and the abandoned jet bunkers of the Quehanna Wild Area. However, there was another area that had always drawn my attention in photos: the Marion Brooks Natural Area.
The Marion Brooks Natural Area covers over 900 acres and is known for its white birch trees. While white birch is an abundant tree in the US, northern Pennsylvania is the furthest south they grow. This strand of white birch is not only one of the largest in the state, but it’s also one of the most beautiful and accessible.
For those traveling along the Quehanna Highway, seeing the white birch for the Marion Brooks Natural Area requires only a quick stop as they are located adjacent to the parking area.
There is a short trail into the white birch grove behind the stone monument to Marion Brooks, a local environmentalist. Walking this 100-yard-long trail offers the best chance to see these birch up close from the middle of the forest.
For those wanting to explore this area more, the Marion Brooks Trail might be one of my favorite hiking trails in Pennsylvania.
This is saying a lot because not only have I hiked hundreds of miles of trails in Pennsylvania, but the Marion Brooks Trail features no overlooks or waterfalls, which are common features along my other favorite trails. However, along this three-mile loop trail are a stunning number of landscape changes, creating a diverse hike that’s not only beautiful, but also easy enough for the whole family to hike.
My wife, three-year-old son, and I set out on our hike of this trail. While I had seen the trail marked on the Moshannon State Forest Map that Purple Lizards Maps was gracious enough to send me, I could find very little information about it online.
However, being adventurous, we decided to hike the trail, hoping that we could not only follow it without getting lost, but also that it would provide beautiful scenery.
To be honest, I expected that the trail would pass by many of the white birch trees that the Marion Brooks Natural Area is known for. However, within a few minutes of hiking, we had left nearly all of the white birch behind. Fortunately, the rest of this beautiful scenery made up for it.
The first bit of hiking on the Marion Brooks Trail is along Losey Road. However, after about five minutes of hiking, the trail turns off of the road and remains on forested trails for the remainder of the hike.
Make sure to look carefully for this turn as it isn’t well marked. The trail proceeds to travel through the forests and fields of the Marion Brooks Natural Area. While blazes are a bit sparse in places, the trail is very easy to follow, though somewhat overgrown in a few spots. Despite how amazing this trail is, the lack of information about it clearly means that it’s not very heavily trafficked.
About halfway through the hike, the trail crosses the Quehanna Highway. Use extreme caution when crossing the road as cars travel at a high rate of speed. Once across the road, the trail continues through some of the most beautiful forest land in all of the Pennsylvania Wilds.
I said it above but I’ll say it again. While the Marion Brooks Trail lacks a major landmark such as a waterfall or vista, and doesn’t even feature many of the area’s famous white birch trees, it is still one of the most stunningly beautiful trails I’ve hiked in Pennsylvania.
It’s also quite amazing how many different landscapes the trail passes through, and it feels like every 10 minutes of this hike is through a different type of scenery. All of this combined with the trail being relatively flat (my three-year-old son was able to hike most of the trail on his own), makes it a winner in my book.
If you are looking for a beautiful, but fairly easy hike in the Pennsylvania Wilds, don’t miss the amazing Marion Brooks Trail through the Marion Brooks Natural Area.
How to Get to the Marion Brooks Natural Area
The Marion Brooks Natural Area is located in the Quehanna Wild Area of Elk County along the Quehanna Highway. The parking area is located just off the highway along Losey Road. It can be found at the following coordinates: 41.265255, -78.278132.
The white birch trees of the Marion Brooks Natural Area are concentrated next to this parking area and the nearby stone monument.
Further exploration along the three-mile Marion Brooks Loop Trail is highly recommended for those with time. There are no markers for the trail at the parking area, though it is blazed yellow and relatively easy to follow if you know where to look.
To start the trail, walk up Losey Road. After about five minutes of walking, you’ll see yellow blazes and an obvious trail on a tree to your right.
The Marion Brooks Trail can be found on the map of the Quehanna Wild Area put out by the state or on the Purple Lizard Maps for the Moshannon State Forest. Purple Lizard’s maps can be purchased on their website.
Note: I was given a copy of the Moshannon State Forest map by Purple Lizard. However, I wasn’t asked to write this article and all opinions are my own.
[Click here for information on how to use the coordinates in this article to find your destination.]