Located just outside of State College is one of the most interesting natural areas of Pennsylvania: the Scotia Barrens. This area is not only geologically unique but is also home to the hidden ruins of Scotia, PA.
The Scotia Barrens is located in a valley in Centre County, PA. It is home to a unique micro-climate that makes the area cooler than the surrounding region. This climate gives the barrens a unique variety of plants not often found elsewhere in the region. That alone makes it an interesting State College hiking trail.
However, in addition to a unique climate, this area is also rich in industrial history. In the mid-1800s, the land here was extensively lumbered to create charcoal for the nearby Centre Furnace. In the 1880s, Andrew Carnegie purchased the land and used it to mine iron ore for his steel mills.
In 1909, the mines closed and within a couple of years, Scotia was a ghost town. While some logging continued to occur on the land, it was finally protected by the Pennsylvania Game Commission in the early 1940s.
However, during World War 2, the mine was briefly reopened again to support the war effort only to be quickly shut down for the final time when the iron ore produced here didn’t meet purity standards.
It’s the remnants of this ire ore mining operation that are most evident today in the Scotia Barrens. Depending on where you look, you can see evidence of iron ore pits, the railroad, the community of Scotia, and even several structures that were part of the complex here.
The Scotia Barrens is part of State Game Lands 176 and is open for visitors to explore. Most popular with runners and mountain bikers, the landscape here is also great for birders and those that want to explore one of the more interesting abandoned places in PA.
The area is crisscrossed by miles of trails many of which are often ridden by local mountain bikers, though whether this is technically allowed is questionable. While it was out of production for a few years, a new version of the fantastic Scotia Map by Purple Lizard has been released recently. If you want to explore the area more, this is a great resource to have and the only map that I know of to the area.
Fortunately, if you know where to look, finding the ruins of Scotia is quite easy, and there are plenty of other great hidden gems that you can find on your own by exploring the area.
When visiting Scotia, the best place to enter is via Scotia Road in the northern reaches of State Game Lands 176. While the road is a bit rutted in places, it’s easy enough to drive in a car with a bit of care.
The hike to the abandoned ruins in Scotia starts behind a gate along Scotia Range Road. The gate is approximately at these coordinates on the right side of the road roughly 0.6 miles from the turn off of Scotia Road: 40.800420, -77.946291.
To reach the ruins, walk past the gate and take the trail to the left. Continue taking the left trail at every split until you reach the ruins. The entire hike back to the Scotia ruins should only take you about 5 minutes. For those that use a GPS, the ruins can be found at approximately these coordinates: 40.800368, -77.946305
There are two main abandoned structures at the Scotia Barrens.
The first that you’ll come to is approximately 15 feet in height and made of concrete. This is said to have been part of an ore washer from the 1940s. While all that’s left is a tall tower, it’s still pretty interesting to see, especially since it’s set aside in the woods by itself.
After passing a few smaller concrete pieces, the largest of the two main parts comes into view.
This second abandoned structure is probably my favorite spot in the Scotia Barrens. Given its location near the old train track, I’m assuming the building had something to do with the loading and unloading of coal, but honestly, I’m not 100% sure of its purpose (Please let me know in the comments if you know).
The building is comprised of two parts with only the concrete shell of the structure still intact.
The upper portion sits above ground and almost appears to be a garage without walls. The interior is filled with graffiti, which creates an interesting look to the site. This also served a nice spot to wait out a short spring hail storm during my visit.
The lower portion of the site may have once sat below ground and includes several supports and dirt that slopes up towards ground level. Portions of the wall here were moss-covered which was really neat to see.
While at this structure, you may notice two hillsides on either end of the building. I believe, but am not totally sure, that these were part of the railroad and that a bridge once spanned the hillsides here. The contours of the hillsides seem perfect for a railroad, and there was one that once ran right through this area.
Once you’ve finished enjoying the abandoned buildings in Scotia, you can either return the way you came or spend a bit more time checking out this interesting area.
There are many trails that crisscross the land, and it would be quite easy to get yourself a bit turned around here, even if you aren’t all that far from the roadway. I definitely recommend having some sort of GPS with you (or making sure your phone has good coverage) before venturing off the main trails.
While I didn’t discover any more ruins during my hike, I did see several old pits that were likely part of the mining operation here and a few beautiful ponds.
While the ruins of Scotia, PA, might be the highlight of State Game Lands 176, this is also an incredibly beautiful and unique area of the state. Because of this, I highly recommend at least driving further into the area.
About a mile further down the road, the forest opens up and you can see the full uniqueness of the barrens. If you’ve never visited a spot like this, such as the Nottingham Serpentine Barrens in southeastern PA, it’s a very interesting landscape to see and might remind you a bit of the US southwest in some respects.
Overall, the Scotia Barrens and its ruins are a hidden gem of Centre County, Pennsylvania. If you are looking to get into the outdoors this area is right up there with Mount Nittany and Shingletown Gap as a fantastic spot to explore.
[Click here for information on how to use coordinates to find your destination.]