10 PA Wilds trail races not to be missed
10 trail races not to be missed
By Katie Weidenboerner
Nothing can test or inspire quite like brutal and beautiful (brutiful, if you will) landscapes of the Pennsylvania Wilds.
Trail runners here are grateful for the gifts that nature has provided us and use them as a playground for some of the greatest races in the state — and the country.
The sport of trail running is booming.
There are hundreds of races annually from 5ks to 100 milers, but I’ve taken some time to compile a list of some of the most rightfully notorious events in the region.
I promise they will not disappoint.
1. Hyner View Trail Challenge
Hyner, Clinton County
“Get ready for the ride of your life,” its website says —and they’re not kidding. The PA Trail Dogs put on the infamous Hyner, which has three major climbs and three major descents over a course filled with vistas, stream crossings, and single track paths. Part of Trailrunner Magazine’s Trophy Series, this race is known for being punishing. The payoff is sharable war stories, a finisher’s hat racers historically take across the country and post photos of throughout the year on its Facebook page as bragging rights, and a notoriously RIGHTEOUS afterparty.
This race is so popular — it sold out 11 months before next year’s event. So, if Hyner is on your bucket list, check out its sister race — the Hyner Half in August.
2. The Frozen Snot
McElhattan, Clinton County
The Frozen Snot is a gnarly and punishing winter adventure race that takes you through 13.5 miles and 5,600+ feet of elevation gain (or 8.5 miles and 3,775+ miles of elevation gain, if you choose the short course) on what is historically the coldest day of the year. Mile for mile, it ranks with the most challenging in the nation. The rules are stringent for survival — all runners must have a traction device to cross the starting line, no cotton clothing —whatsoever — is tolerated due to the risk of hypothermia, and trekking poles are recommended to stay upright. The official sponsor of this race is the City of Lock Haven.
3. Elk County Boulder Dash
Ridgway, Elk County
What other race starts with a Jimi Hendrix style rendition of the National Anthem in the shadow of a beautiful, historic courthouse before musket fire releases 200 runners on State Game Lands? This race is known and named for its unique rock formations and is advertised as a “bone crushing 20-mile hustle through the woods, boasting of about 4,000-plus feet of vertical rise.” Your reward? A handmade “finishers rock,” an ice cold beer from local Straub Brewery (the third oldest family-owned brewery in the United States), and a winner-winner’s chicken dinner. The race is run by the county’s running group — The Elk County Striders.
4. Sinnemahone Ultra Marathon
Emporium, Cameron County
Held on the third Saturday of October each year, this race, which winds through the Elk State Forest using DCNR trails, gives runners a remarkable and colorful view of the PA Wilds and the animals that call it home. Runners can choose a 10k, 25k, or 50k race. Many sections of the race follow the Bucktail Path, which has been called the most isolated of Pennsylvania’s wilderness trails.
5. Green Monster Trail Challenge
Wellsboro, Tioga County
Many say it’s “one darn tough race.” Nestled in the mountains of the Tioga State Forest — just north of the PA Grand Canyon — runners can choose its 15k, 25k, and 50k course. There they will be confronted with challenging single track trails, steep climbs, stream crossings, log hurdles, and technical descents, all of which are unforgiving. Not for the faint of heart, the 25k boasts of a 4,000 foot ascent and the 50k of a 7,800 feet of ups. The icing on the trail running cake? A post-race lunch with music and entertainment!
7. Sproul 10k
Hyner, Clinton County
This 10k run through the mountains of Sproul State Forest has been touted as “the toughest 10k in PA.” It’s three miles of uphill to the top of Mccluskey mountain, and then a challenging 3.7 miles down to the finish with vistas, steam crossings, and technical single track in the blistering heat of July. Open to 300 runners, registrants receive a tech shirt, trail socks, and post-race meal.
8. Rothrock Trail Challenge
Boalsburg, Centre County
The RTC will take 400 runners and hikers through tunnels of rhododendron, towering Hemlocks, blooming mountain laurel, seas of fern, and mini boulder fields. The 17.2 mile course features mostly single track trails with 3 aid stations strategically spaced about every four miles. The signature section of the course remains the ever daunting Shingletown Gap cliff trail. Bring a change of clothes and and stay for food, beer, and a dip in the spring fed pond at the finish.
9. Pine Creek Challenge
Wellsboro, Tioga County
Pine Creek Challenge is a single runner 100 mile and 100k course, or relay run, on the scenic Pine Creek Rail Trail in September. The area of the race is listed as a “Natural National Landmark.” Advertising itself as “beginner friendly,” 100 mile runners are encouraged to finish in 30 hours and 100k runners in 29 hours. The event is put on by the Tyoga Running Club with the support of DCNR and Laurel Health.
10. Marilla Trail Race
Bradford, McKean County
Nestled among the rolling hills and dense forest of the Marilla Reservoir in Bradford, this race offers two different course distances (7 & 14 miles). While the courses are non-technical, runners can expect intense elevation changes on the rolling trails. An added bonus? All the proceeds of to benefit the Tuna Valley Trail Association which develops and maintains the local trails.
BONUS: For the truly adventurous —
Eastern States 100
Waterville, Lycoming County
Not for beginners, this race circumnaviagates Pine Creek, a Pennsylvania scenic river and the largest creek in the United States. It is full of single track, old logging roads, abandoned stone quarries, hills, and endless views with over 20,000 feet of elevation. Deer, bear, bald eagles, and rattlesnakes may be seen. Racers must meet qualifying standards to enter this event, including completing within the last two years at least one 50 mile race within 16 hours or any race beyond 50 miles by the designated cutoff time.
Pictured below, the author and fearless trail-runner, Katie Weidenboerner.