Destination Rides: Episode Two – Michaux State Forest Gravel Extravaganza
Who: Gravel Grinders, off the beaten path explorers, anyone with a loose definition of what constitutes a road.
Where: Michaux State Forest
What: 40 miles of gravelly goodness with 4,500 feet of climbing.
The Route: https://ridewithgps.com/routes/22696704
Michaux State Forest is a wilderness wonderland covering more than 85,000 acres of south-central Pennsylvania. Named for the French botanist, Andre Michaux, sent by Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette to gather specimens for their royal garden. Later its old growth timber was clear cut to provide fuel for the furnaces of several iron companies. Today under the management of Pennsylvania’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources it is a thriving second growth forest for everyone to enjoy.
It is about an hour and a half drive out of the city to the start. There is no good address for GPS directions. Google “intersection of Rattlesnake Run Rd & Mentzer Gap Rd, Pennsylvania” and you can get a pin. Once you turn onto Rattlesnake Run there will be some places to pull off the side of the road and park. Strong riders will finish this loop in about two hours. Wilderness camping is permitted (requires a free permit for stays longer than one night).
The course I mapped out is a figure eight of sorts taking you up and down South Mountain. The climbs are long but not terribly steep. The surface is hard packed dirt with loose gravel for 95% of the distance. Equipment choice will be a matter of personal preference and discretion. I have ridden this route with folks on a variety of bikes and tires. I suggest the Specialized Diverge or Sequoia as archetypal bikes for this ride. A tire in the 38 to 42mm range will be perfect. Tire pressure is a bit harder to make a blanket recommendation so let’s chat more about your specifics when you are getting ready to go.
So I said the climbs are long but not terribly steep. This is true. But consider Liberty Ski Resort is just down the road. There will be climbing. A lot of climbing.
Max grade is around 10% and average grades are in the 4% to 6% range. Most of the climbs will be between two and three miles long. Remember too, what goes up must come down. There are some long, fast extended descents that are challenging in their own right. Disc brakes are highly recommended. The charm of this ride destination to me lies in its ability to provide almost continuous off-tarmac riding for miles and miles.
I put the 40 miler together to give me a ride that was long and hard enough to be worth the drive but not so difficult it wouldn’t appeal to a wide audience. If you want to up the ante and double down on the climbing challenges it will be easy to put together a metric century or more of the rough and bumpy back woods riding. Feel free to come by the shop and I can make some suggestions.
Some things to consider when riding this route:
- Many of these “roads” are poorly marked. A GPS loaded with the course is recommended.
- You are in the woods. Rattlesnakes and bears live here. Be prepared.
- Cell coverage is spotty for much of the ride. Be prepared.
- Flats happen. Gravel riding amplifies the risk. Be prepared (for multiple flats).
- There is a water stop at mile 15. You are in the woods for the majority of the ride. There is no easy access to food and water for much of the ride. Be prepared.
If you have questions, feel free to call or come by the shop. I am happy to help. If you rode this route let me know what you think. I love sharing ride stories and look forward to hearing yours.
Thanks for reading, now get out there and ride!