By Helena Kotala
Whatever your flavor of outdoor adventure, the woods and waters surrounding Huntingdon, Pa. probably have it. Nestled on the shores of the Juniata River, minutes from Raystown Lake, and surrounded by the ridges and valleys of the Allegheny Mountains, Huntingdon is well-poised as a base camp for outdoor enthusiasts.
The town is also uniquely situated as a rural destination that can be reached by public transit. Located along the Amtrak Pennsylvanian line, Huntingdon is accessible by train once a day from Pittsburgh. Leave Union Station around 7:30 in the morning, and you’ll arrive in Huntingdon around 10:45 a.m., just in time for the local outfitter to open up its doors to offer bike or boat rentals, shuttle service and helpful hints for making the most of your time in the area. For the return trip, the train leaves Huntingdon daily at 4:23 p.m., arriving back at Union Station at 8 p.m.
“A person can step off the Amtrak Pennsylvanian at the Huntingdon station, walk around the corner to Rothrock Outfitters and within minutes be on a rental bike riding on the Flag Pole Hill Trails, or in less than an hour on roads to the Allegrippis Trails at Raystown Lake or the IMBA Epic trails in Rothrock State Forest,” says Matthew Price, executive director of the Huntingdon County Visitors Bureau. “The same shop can also get a rail traveler in a kayak on the Juniata River in minutes with a plan for shuttling back to town.”
Rothrock Outfitters rents bikes as well as boats and paddleboards. The Juniata River is just a few blocks away from the shop, and popular trips spanning a variety of lengths and distances conveniently start or end in town. The outfitter also operates a rental location at nearby Raystown Lake during the summer months. For car-free travelers, they are also willing to provide shuttles out to the Allegrippis Trails, Lower Trail or other local spots.
In town, the Huntingdon Borough Trails, also known as the Flagpole Hill or Peace Chapel trails, offer more than 5 miles of hiking, trail running or mountain biking opportunities. Single-track trails are arranged in loops around a main double-track path that runs the length of the park, so you can do figure eights and ride or walk each loop in different directions for more variety.
Check out the cultural curiosities of the Peace Chapel and Meditation Point, an environmental landscape site designed by architect Maya Lin, located at the intersection of Peace Chapel and Loop trails.
Other walkable outdoor activities in town include a 9-hole disc golf course on the Juniata College campus, the Blair Trail, which follows Standing Stone Creek for about 2 miles on the east side of town and several different guided walking tours, including a walking tour event series hosted each summer.
Or just take a stroll on your own, a cup of Standing Stone Coffee in hand, and check out the 18th- and 19th-century architecture and the Standing Stone site at the corner of 2nd and Penn. Legend has it that before the official founding of the town in 1767, the area’s original inhabitants, the Susquehannock, erected a 14-foot-tall stone covered in pictographs at the confluence of Standing Stone Creek and the Juniata River.
This icon marked the beginnings of what is today known as Huntingdon, hence references such as the local coffee shop’s namesake and the story behind the pillar that stands today.
With a bike, the possibilities open up further.
It’s just a few miles to gravel roads and endless mixed-surface cycling options in almost every direction. Rothrock State Forest is close by, and most of the local municipal roads are also great for riding with rolling hills and relatively little traffic.
Ambitious mountain bikers can even ride out to the Allegrippis Trails from downtown Huntingdon. It’s about 10 miles one way, with one significant hill, but it’s a nice ride through mostly farmland. The Allegrippis offer more than 30 miles of flowing, single-track trails, and the stacked loop system offers infinite possibilities to shorten or lengthen your ride.
For rail trail and/or history enthusiasts, the Lower (rhymes with “flower”) Trail is 9 miles from town on back roads and follows the towpath of the Pennsylvania Main Line Canal, which operated in the 1800s.
Along the trail, which also parallels the Frankstown Branch of the Juniata River and connects to Canoe Creek State Park outside of Hollidaysburg, you can see remnants of old locks, dwellings and the Mt. Etna iron furnace plantation, as well as tipple piles and rock crushers from abandoned stone quarries. Much of the trail has been designated an Important Bird Area and hosts a number of rare plant species.
If you can get a little farther from town, be sure to check out the Thousand Steps, the most iconic hiking destination in the area. It is what it sounds like — 1,043 steps to be exact, hand-built into the side of Jacks Mountain in 1936 for workers to access a quarry at the top. The steps gain over 800 feet in less than a half mile — imagine that as your commute to work every day! It is a challenging hike but worth it for the views.
The 82-mile-long Standing Stone Trail uses the steps and continues northward (and upward!), so you can hike as long as you’d like, all the way to Greenwood Furnace State Park and beyond to the Mid State Trail.
For fly fishermen and rock climbers, opportunities abound as well.
“Donation Rocks, Hunter’s Rocks and Martin’s Gap are great areas for bouldering, top-rope or lead climbing, and all are within a short drive of Huntingdon,” Price says. “Spruce Creek, the Little Juniata River and Standing Stone Creek are all high-quality trout streams popular with fly anglers from all over the world.”
There aren’t many places, especially in western Pennsylvania, where you can get “away from it all” without a car. Huntingdon is one of them, and it just so happens to have an outdoor activity for everyone.
The folks at Rothrock Outfitters sum it up well: “Huntingdon is a small town surrounded by opportunities to create adventure. If you look in the right places, you’ll have a hard time keeping a smile off your face.”
For lodging in downtown Huntingdon that offers an intimate local experience, try the Gage Mansion Bed & Breakfast. A more budget-friendly option is the Comfort Inn located just across the Juniata River which is still an easy walk to downtown and the train station.
For more information on the region, including events, lodging and food options, and other things to do, check out raystown.org.
This story is part of the new Outdoor Guide series for NEXTpittsburgh focusing on outdoor recreation within a roughly three-hour drive from Pittsburgh.