The Best Hiking in State College, PA (+ More Fun Things To Do!)
August 30, 2023
State College, and the entire Happy Valley region of Central Pennsylvania, is full of adventure. From rocky hiking trails to peaceful kayaking, you’ll never run out of beauty that this region has to offer.
Tip: Happy Valley refers to the region of Centre County, Pennsylvania. The region includes the cities of State College, Bellefonte, Philipsburg, Centre Hall and Milesburg.
While most visitors end up in the area to either attend or visit Penn State, there is much more to do beyond the college campus. This guide covers a few of the best hiking trails in the area, along with other fun, summer activities for those who love the outdoors.
Keep reading to discover the best hikes near State College, along with great restaurants and other gems! This is based on my experience visiting Happy Valley, PA in August, 2023.
Full disclaimer – This is a sponsored blog post by the Happy Valley Adventure Bureau. As always, my opinions are unbiased and my own. I want to thank the Happy Valley tourism board for their generosity!
When to Visit Happy Valley
Happy Valley, Pennsylvania has something different to offer year round. The winters are cold, but you can participate in activities such as snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, ice fishing and more. January is the coldest month of year with an average high of 33° F and low of 18° F.
Spring brings warmer temperatures, with lows in the upper 30° F’s and highs up to 70° F.
The fall brings fun seasonal activities and festivals, such as a pumpkin patch at Wasson Farm and miniature horses at the Talleyrand Fall Fest. It’s also a gorgeous time to see fall foliage in the surrounding mountains. October average temperatures are a low of 42° F and a high of 61° F.
The summer months, when I visited, are a great time for kayaking, attending the Grange Fair and spending lots of time outdoors. Plus, it doesn’t get extremely hot. Highs tend to be in the low 80° F’s and lows are in the low 60° F’s.
The Best Hiking Trails in State College
These are some of the best hiking trails in the Happy Valley region! I’ve described the trails that I was able to hike in detail. Plus, I listed a few that are on my list for next time.
Mid-State Trail to Jackson Loop
The Jackson Loop Trail has a little bit of everything, from expansive views of rolling hills to long stretches traversing a lush and green forest.
You’ll start the hike from Jo Hays Vista, which offers an amazing view looking down over State College. This is a great stop to enjoy whether you plan to hike the trail or not. Carefully cross the busy road to begin the hike.
I hiked the trail counterclockwise in order to save the best views for the end. From this direction, you’ll start by hiking down a steep hill, hike in a flat area for a while, then ascend back up where you’ll be rewarded with amazing views.
This will depend on time of year and current conditions, but most of the flat, lower part of the trail was quite buggy and muddy for me. Don’t forget your insect repellant!
The climb back up was the hardest part of the trail and involved a bit of rock scrambling at the end. However, I thought it was a fun challenge.
As you head back on the Jackson trail, there are several viewpoints and you’ll spend time climbing over craggy, white boulders. This was the best part of the trail in my opinion - there are several viewpoints back to back, so you’ll get to enjoy the views from different angles.
Overall, the Jackson and Mid State Loop offers a great mix of challenges with rewarding views. It makes for a fantastic moderate day hike near State College!
Mount Nittany is one of the most iconic trails in Happy Valley! The trail directly overlooks the Beaver Stadium, home of the Penn State Nittany Lions.
The overlook that provides the stadium view is called the Mike Lynch Overlook. It’s named after a former student body president who had a great passion for both Mount Nittany and Penn State. To reach this overlook, it’s about 1.4 miles round trip with just over 600 feet of elevation gain. The trail gets a bit steep but the terrain is relatively easy to navigate.
While this overlook is the most famous, you can continue on a loop all around Mount Nittany and enjoy several more views in other directions. Plus, the trails criss-cross across the center of the mountain too, so you can choose your own adventure.
I personally enjoyed the Nittany Mall Overlook because it had some interesting rocks that you could climb on to enjoy the view.
To complete the loop, you can hike down the way you came up, or take a different trail on the descent. I hiked down on the Blue Blazed Trail, which had a lot more rocks to navigate than the White Blazed Trail up to Mike Lynch.
Hiking Mount Nittany is free. The parking is somewhat limited, but there is an additional parking lot located just a quarter mile from the trailhead. There are signs that will direct you to the parking area.
If you only have time for one hike near State College, Mount Nittany is a great choice!
Allegheny Front Trail
The Allegheny Front Trail is a popular backpacking loop near State College, Pennsylvania. The entire loop is 42 miles and includes several beautiful viewpoints along the way.
As a short day hike option along the trail, I recommend hiking to Ralph’s Majestic Vista. I parked on Underwood Drive and hiked to Ralph’s Majestic Vista and Ralph’s Pretty Good View, for a 1.4 mile round trip hike. To extend the hike, you can begin at Beaver Mills for a 6.7 mile hike.
This trail is stunning. As you hike through the forest towards the viewpoints, you’ll get to see mossy-green boulders, colorful mushrooms and a healthy, lush forest. Both of Ralph’s Views are nice, but I actually thought that ‘Ralph’s Pretty Good View’ was better than ‘Ralph’s Majestic Vista.’ Make sure to see both, as they’re only about a quarter mile apart.
Whether you plan for a backpacking trip or enjoy the day hike, this is a beautiful area and worth a visit if you’re looking for beautiful hiking in Happy Valley.
Black Moshannon State Park
Black Moshannon State Park is a beautiful park known for its large lake with a black-tinted color. The lake is 250-acres and is fed by clear springs and small streams. The color comes from the plant tannins as the water flows through moss and wetland plants. The vegetation essentially acts as a giant tea bag that colors the water.
Not only is the park perfect for kayaking, canoeing and picnicking, but there are wonderful beginner hiking trails that surround the water too.
One trail not to miss is the Bog boardwalk Trail. This quarter mile boardwalk will take you through an area of marshland plants. You’ll likely get to see cattails, lily pads and even carnivorous pitcher plants. The plant life is beautiful and it’s a great area to look for birds too. You can also add on additional trails from either direction of the boardwalk area.
I also enjoyed the Star Mill Trail, located on the opposite side of Black Moshannon Lake. The trail has a nice mix of forested paths and views of the lake. The hike is a 2.1 mile loop that is rated easy.
Black Moshannon is the perfect family friendly park to enjoy hiking along with other activities. Plus, it’s free to visit!
Tip: All Pennsylvania state parks are free for day use!
Millbrook Marsh Nature Center
The Millbrook Marsh Nature Center in State College is a wonderful place to observe marsh wildlife and plants native to Pennsylvania. The 62-acre preserve is home to fish, reptiles, mammals, hundreds of bird species and a variety of plantlife.
The park offers over a mile of boardwalks and trails that allow you get up close and personal with the marsh ecosystem. The trails also connect to the Centre Region bike trail system.
Not only can you hike around the property, but there are sometimes opportunities for kayaking or canoeing on the Slab Cabin Run Stream.
This is a beautiful area to explore and enjoy a peaceful and easy hike.
More Hikes in Happy Valley
- Indian Steps to Tussey Fire Tower Ruins - 4 miles
- Whipple Dam Trail - 2 miles
- Scotia Barrens - 1.4 miles
- Tower Trail to Poe Lake - 3.9 miles
- The Throne Room, Standing Stone Trail - 6.5 miles
Other Outdoor Activities in Happy Valley
Here are are a couple more summer outdoor adventures in Happy Valley that aren't hiking!
Kayak on Black Moshannon Lake
If you visit Black Moshannon State Park in the summer, it’s very much worth paddling out onto the lake! There is a small rental shack that has canoes, kayaks and paddle boards to rent on a first come, first serve basis.
Tip: Arrive early to ensure you can rent the type of boat that you prefer! There were limited options during my visit.
Paddling out on the water allows you to get up close to the lily pads and flowers scattered around the lake. It also gives you a great perspective of the tea-colored water.
As an alternative, the park also has a beach area where you can swim.
Take a Walk Around Talleyrand Park
Talleyrand Park is a park in downtown Bellefonte with beautiful flowers in the summer months, a picturesque gazebo and a bridge. It’s also home to large numbers of duck and geese.
This is where the Big Spring originates. The spring provides drinking water for the area and produces 15 million gallons of ground water a day. It has even been used by Coca-Cola in their Dasani bottled water.
In addition to the spring, various sidewalks, and historic statues and memorials, Big Springs Spirits is right on the edge of the park. The distillery makes spirits sourced from the Big Spring. The taproom is a wonderful place to enjoy a craft cocktail with views of the park.
Stay at the Perfect Bed and Breakfast in Bellefonte, PA
The small town of Bellefonte is located about 12 miles northeast of State College. It’s a town known for fresh spring water, historic homes and a number of bed and breakfasts. It’s a great area to stay if you’re looking for a peaceful and quiet stay.
I must highlight my incredible stay at The Queen, A Victorian Bed & Breakfast. The home has a few different rooms to choose from and you can enjoy breakfast with the other guests every morning.
Nancy, the owner of The Queen B&B, puts so much care into the details around the home. From a vintage stereograph in the sitting room to Nancy’s mother’s actual wedding dress in Anne’s room, you could spend days observing all of the decor.
Plus, the outdoor gardens are stunning and Nancy even raises bees on the property. Breakfast features Nancy’s favorite recipes and is always delicious. Staying at The Queen is sure to provide you a memorable experience during your time in Happy Valley.
The Best Restaurants in Happy Valley
These are some of the best restaurants in the Happy Valley region! I’ve described the places that I was able to eat at in detail. Plus, I listed a few that are on my list for next time.
Webster’s Bookstore Cafe
If you’re a vegetarian or vegan, you must stop at Webster’s Bookstore Cafe during your time in State College. And it’s certainly worth the visit even if you aren’t.
Along with being a bookstore, the establishment is a cafe and a vintage store. On Sunday’s, they offer a brunch buffet for a great deal. But at any time, they also have a full menu featuring vegetarian breakfast and brunch items. Options may include vegan chili, a BBQ tofu wrap, rice bowls and more. The menu varies by season.
When I visited on a Sunday, there was live music and it was the perfect hang out space.
One aspect I loved was that some tables were even towards the back of the store within aisles of books. It was nice to have the choice to sit somewhere more secluded or sit next to the live performers.
I love the atmosphere and mix of uses in this space and highly recommend it to anyone who will be near the Penn State campus.
The We Are Inn
The We Are Inn is not only a hotel, but an iconic restaurant full of delicious comfort food. The restaurant is located in Phillipsburg, PA and is not far from Black Moshannon State Park. It’s also adorned with Penn State memorabilia, such as signed photos of football players.
I enjoyed a vegetarian pasta, while my partner enjoyed the famous Philly Cheesesteak - served Chef Pat’s Way. This cheesesteak is served up with cheese whiz, american cheese, fried onions, mushrooms, ketchup and hot cherry peppers. Head chef Pat Romano Jr. is always serving up creative new ways for cheesesteaks, as well as other menu items.
In addition to the cheesesteaks and pasta, the menu includes burgers, seafood, wings, a variety of sandwiches, and more.
This is a wonderful spot to check out if you enjoy cheesesteaks, pasta or the spirit of Penn State.
Duffy’s Tavern is the perfect establishment for a nice meal in a cozy atmosphere. Located in downtown Boalsburg, the tavern has been passed through the hands of various owners for over 200 years.
I really enjoyed the porcini mushroom ravioli with crispy garlic bread, while my partner loved the summer burger topped with pork belly, gouda cheese and house-made BBQ sauce.
The desserts were also fantastic; I fell in love with the creme brulee made with Bailey’s. You’ll want to make a reservation to sit inside at Duffy’s Tavern, but the outdoor patio is first come, first serve.
The Waffle Shop
For a classic diner breakfast, look no further than The Waffle Shop. The Original Waffle Shop has two locations in State College. However, there are two more locations that were sold off and now have different owners. I went to the Bellefonte location, which is no longer owned by the same original company. But it was still fantastic!
I enjoyed a classic breakfast with eggs and hashbrowns, plus endless coffee. It was quick with great service. Keep in mind that the Bellefonte location is cash only.
P J Harrigan’s
P J Harrigan’s offers classic cocktails and a variety of pub food. The restaurant attracts an eclectic mix of locals and visitors, as it’s attached to a hotel and conference center. The decor feels classic and vintage with stained glass lamps and tiled floors.
I enjoyed the spinach and artichoke stuffed mushrooms and the pub salad (a salad topped with french fries!). This is the perfect place to visit to watch the game or catch up with friends.
More Restaurants in Happy Valley
- Breakfast on Boal
- Axemann Brewery
- Pine Grove Hall
- RE Farm Cafe at Windswept Farm
Events in Happy Valley
Centre County Grange Fair
If you’re visiting during the late summer, the famous Centre County Grange Fair is a must. While this historic fair has everything you expect at a fair, including rides, food and livestock, the Grange Fair is most known for its gigantic tent village.
There are 1000 canvas tents at the fair and each one belongs to a different family. Many of the tents are equipped with beds, kitchens, couches, TVs and more. Some families stay in the tents for the entire 10-day duration of the fair, and many store their tent furniture in a separate storage unit for the rest of the year.
What’s really interesting is that it’s next to impossible to snag a tent. Most of the spots have been in the same family for generations, and they stopped taking new people for the wait list because it takes 30+ years for spots to open up.
When you visit, be sure to take a walk around one of the tent villages. Most of the folks are very welcoming and kind.
Along with seeing the tents, you can enjoy events such as a truck pull, live music, Bingo, line dancing and more. There is also plenty of delicious food. I particularly enjoyed the fried vegetables and the frozen chocolate-covered cheesecake on a stick.
In 2023, the fair ran from August 17 - 26 and cost $8 per person, plus a $7 parking fee. However, you can save money if you plan to attend multiple days!
If you visit the fair in 2024, they’ll be celebrating 150 years! The Grange Fair is a fantastic activity for the whole family.
More Annual Events in Happy Valley
Here are a few other annual events in Happy Valley that you may want to align your trip with.
- WingFest at Tussey Mountain - Every Thursday from late June to mid-August
- Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts - mid-July
- Penn State Homecoming - October
- Bellefonte Victorian Christmas - early December
If you enjoy hiking, a trip to Central Pennsylvania needs to be your list! I hope this guide helps you discover some of the best hiking trails in Happy Valley, along with more tips for your trip.
For more Pennsylvania and Eastern US Travel Guides, check out these blogs:
- The Best Things To Do in Ohiopyle, PA
- The Best Things To Do in New River Gorge National Park, WV
- How to Spend 3 Days in Asheville, NC
- A Guide to Buffalo, NY in the Winter
- The Best Hiking near Ithaca, NY
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