State forests offers primitive, motorized camping

Remote areas of the 2.2 million acres of Pennsylvania state forest land, operated by Bureau of Forestry and DCNR, are connected by roads and trails leading into the deep woods.

For those willing to take to the big woods with just some basic equipment, opportunities are almost endless. Campers and hikers have two kinds of camping opportunities available to them, motorized and primitive.

These two forms of camping are actually free. The primitive and motorized vary a bit.

Primitive camping is mostly practiced by those who are out traversing long hiking trails and need a place to rest for the night. This form of camping can be done off any trail in the state forests.

Motorized camping involves drive-up sites. Numbered and marked inside a state forest, these sites allow a vehicle to be pulled up and parked and then campers walk into the site to set up.

“The drive-up sites need a permit to camp overnight, but its free,” said Gene Odato, district forester at Tuscarora State Forest.

State forest camping here is broken up into two blocks, north and south.

Campsites are numbered for motorized camping, Odato said, and people need a permit from the state forest office in order to camp there.

In the north area, 27 camping spots are equipped with a picnic table and fire ring. Odeto said they are very popular during deer season.

The south block sites are scattered from one end of the Juniata Valley to the other, Odato said. Most are just along the forestry roads, but far enough off not to be disturbed.

One site is located round the end of the mountain near the Juniata River. Odato said the site is very popular during the fishing season.

“Then there are primitive camping where you have to carry your stuff in,” he said. “If you are hike packing across the state forest and you are on the trail, you do not need a permit to stay one night. More then one night you need a permit.”

The Tuscarora Trail is very popular for these overnight hikers. Its a side trail of the Appalachian trail and goes throughout the state forest.

“It connects to the AP on the bridge on the Blue Mountain in Perry Countyit’s (Tuscarora Trail) about 180 miles,” Odeto said.

He mentioned other trails are shorter and offer one day trips as well.

When picking a site, primitive campers must stay away from a stream and be sure to be careful with their campfire, since there are no fire rings to keep it contained.

Permits are available by calling the state forest park office or stopping in, but only are needed if more than one night is spent in a spot.

Many take to the trails by horseback, and stay overnight at these sites just off the roads.

“We have a camping spot just for equine riders in Perry County. They have fire rings, hitching posts and a pull through gravel places to park their horse trailer,” Odato said.

Groups larger then 10 must call into the office. Odato said they will work with them for site information and setup.

“We want to make sure the area can handle that number of people,” he said.

Those who would like to try any type of these kinds of camping should remember a few things, Odato said.

“Well, if they are squeamish about going to the bathroom in the woods, they can bring a private privy. Some of the sites do require that because of being so close to the stream,” he said.

Otherwise, he recommends they dig a “cat hole,” which is a hole dug into the ground. Holes should be six-eight inches deep and four-six inches inches in diameter and as far away as 200 feet from a stream or water source as possible.

Campers should be aware of ticks, checking for them frequently and also dressing to help prevent them from contacting the skin.

Keep an eye out for “Rattlesnakes, copperheads … not that there are a lot but they are there. Also bears,” he said.

Bears and also other critters like skunks and raccoons are attracted to food. He recommends keeping it in the car if you can, or tying it up into a tree.