A great figure eight loop that offers great variety. Don't let the amount of road fool you, the trails are more than worth the effort. The trail surface pretty typical central PA, lots of rock in sections but then there are several wide open flowy sections that offer a nice change.
If rocks aren't your thing, you may only want only ride Middle Ridge and then return on Henstep Valley, as Little Mountain trail requires you to be on your game the entire time.
As far as when to ride, this trail is probably in the best shape in the winter and early spring. The area is pretty remote and doesn't get a lot of traffic. This means in the summer at the height of foliage, it may be difficult to see the trail in places. Also, dual sport bikes are allowed on sections of Middle Ridge during the Summer months, so if you are looking for peace and quiet, it's best to avoid the Summer.
This area is really remote, so don't plan on using your cell phone at any point. Also, be sure to carry everything that you'll need to get out of the woods as its unlikely you'll see another cyclist (or even a person) on many parts of this ride.
The ride starts from the Jacks Mountain ATV Trailhead on the top of 235. Currently, there is a deer exclusion fence that has screwed up the old trails, so your best option is to follow the ATV connector trail north around the fence (this is actually a signed trail). Follow the fence all the way around and past the intersection with Henstep Valley Trail
. At this point the trails starts to climb slightly and the the tread is a little bit loose because of the ATVs. Once you get on top of the ridge, there are several un-labelled trails to your right, but Middle Ridge is the only one that is signed. When you see the sign on the right, take it.
Middle Ridge Trail
starts out very rocky, and the rocks are pretty jumbled. Because this is one of the sections that motos use, there isn't always a defined line through the rocks. But don't let this section get you down, the trail gradually changes into a stable bed and becomes much easier to navigate. That doesn't mean that the trail is easy, as there are still challenges to be tackled. There are several rock outcroppings as well that have distinct lines that require balance and skill to navigate.
As Middle Ridge continues, there are several trails that intersect with it, including Summit Trail
. If you need to bail, any one of these are an easy down hill to the road and then a simple spin to the car. Although the trail isn't always marked, Middle Ridge Continues straight through every one of these intersections.
At the end of Middle Ridge, the trail drops steeply to Henstep Valley Trail
. This is one of the only sections that is washed out, but is still rideable. As you intersect with Henstep, Take a left and cruise downhill to Hunter Rd. At Hunter Rd, turn right and start pedaling as its about 4 miles to the next trail intersection.
Hunter Rd intersects several roads not at right angles, so be sure that you continue on Hunter at each of these (there are road markers at each). Finally, after about 4 miles, you'll begin a long climb out of the valley. When the forest on your left turns into an early stage pine plantation, begin looking for Buckhorn Trail (there is a trail sign, but the trail is unnamed on most maps).
Turn left on Buckhorn and start climbing. It gets very steep and is not in the best shape because of the clear cut that occurred about 8-10 years ago. Its also not very well used, as many people approach Little Mountain Trail
from the other side of the ridge. Buckhorn is not that long though, so your suffering is soon rewarded with a long stretch on Little Mountain Trail
Little Mountain Trail
is a gem that rewards those that worked so hard to find it. Maintained by the same folks who take care of the Cooper's Gap Trails in Rothrock State Forest, Little Mountain is one of the best ridge top trails in Central PA, full of challenging rock features. The ridge itself is punctuated with several short rock outcroppings that lines have been manipulated into. The last one of the entire ridge is referred to as "the slot", as you'll need to squeeze your bars through a 30" gap between two shoulder-high boulders. The Trail ends when it intersects with Little Mountain Rd, which you'll turn left on and descend back to Hunter Rd.
Once on Hunter Rd, you'll turn right and follow it back to where you turned off Henstep Valley Trail
. Turn left back on to Henstep Valley and follow this doubletrack all the way back to 235. At 235, its probably easiest to just cruise the less than a 1/4 mile back to the parking lot to finish your ride.