Hiking the Fred Woods Trail in Cameron County

Hiking through the rock formations along the Fred Woods Trail in Cameron County

The Fred Woods Trail in the Elk State Forest is a 4.57 mile-long hike that takes you past two fantastic vistas, as well as one of Pennsylvania’s finest rock formations.

Water Plug Vista along the Fred Woods Trail in the Elk State Forest.
Water Plug Vista along the Fred Woods Trail in the Elk State Forest.

How to Find the Fred Woods Trail

The Fred Woods Trail is located near the small town of Driftwood in Cameron County.

Fred Woods Trail map.
A map to the Fred Woods Trail and associated overlooks.

From Route 555 in Driftwood, turn onto Mason Hill Road and proceed 4 miles uphill on this rugged forest road.

The Mason Hill Road sign along Route 555 in Driftwood Pennsylvania
The Mason Hill Road sign along Route 555 in Driftwood.

The drive to the trail head may be the most difficult part of hiking the Fred Woods Trail.

Mason Hill Road in Cameron County PA.
Mason Hill Road in Cameron County, PA.

It may look any other forest road at first, but the further up the mountain you get, the narrower and rockier it becomes.

And although I’m sure people do it, I personally cannot recommend driving this road in a standard passenger car – truck or SUV with some decent ground clearance only would be my advice.

Approximately 1.75 miles up Mason Hill Road from Route 555, you’ll come to a Y intersection.

Bucktail Overlook sign along Mason Hill Road in Cameron County.
Bucktail Overlook sign along Mason Hill Road in Cameron County.

To get to the Fred Woods Trail you’ll want to stay to the left, but the road to the right is a 400 yard-long drive that dead-ends at an incredible vista – Bucktail Overlook, also known locally as the “Top of the World”.


Bucktail Overlook

Bucktail Overlook is named in honor of the Bucktail Regiment, a volunteer infantry regiment composed of men from this region who fought bravely for the Union in the Civil War.

Bucktail Overlook informational sign.
Bucktail Overlook informational sign.

You may even have noticed a statue dedicated to the Bucktail Regiment in “downtown” Driftwood.

Bucktail Regiment memorial in Driftwood, Pennsylvania.
Bucktail Regiment statue in Driftwood, Pennsylvania.

The views from Bucktail Overlook are spectacular, particularly when valley fog forms below in the early morning hours.

Bucktail Overlook Elk Viewing Area in Cameron County Pennsylvania.
Bucktail Overlook in Cameron County.

The fields around Bucktail Overlook are PA Game Commission food plots, which means there’s always a chance of seeing deer, elk, and other wildlife here as well.

Elk as dawn breaks over Bucktail Overlook in Cameron County.
Elk as dawn breaks over Bucktail Overlook in Cameron County.

Whether you check it out before or after hiking the Fred Woods Trail, you don’t want to pass up a chance to explore Bucktail Overlook as well.

Bucktail Overlook on an early spring morning.
Bucktail Overlook on an early spring morning.

Arriving at the Fred Woods Trail

Approximately 2 miles past the Y intersection at Bucktail Overlook, you’ll find the Fred Woods Trail parking area on the right side of Mason Hill Road at GPS coordinates 41.36286, -78.18318.

Fred Woods Trail parking area along Mason Hill Road.
Fred Woods Trail parking area along Mason Hill Road.

On the opposite side of Mason Hill Road, you’ll see an informational kiosk, and the trail head next to that.

Fred Woods Trail informational kiosk.
Fred Woods Trail informational kiosk.

Who Was Fred Woods?

This trail is named in honor of Fred Woods, a Forestry Foreman fatally injured in an accident while working on nearby State Forest land in 1975.

Fred Woods biography near the trail head.
Fred Woods biography near the trail head.

In addition to learning about Fred Woods and the trail named in his honor, this is a good place to pick up a trail map, assuming there are some available the day you visit.

Informational sign about the Fred Woods Trail at the trail head.
Informational sign about the Fred Woods Trail at the trailhead.

To the right of the kiosk, you’ll see the trailhead, and this 0.76 mile section leads you to the loop portion of the trail.

Fred Woods Trail trailhead.
Fred Woods Trailhead next to Mason Hill Road in Cameron County.

Hiking the Fred Woods Loop

As the main section of the Fred Woods Trail is a 3.05 mile loop, it really makes no difference in which direction you hike it.

Main loop of the Fred Woods Trail in Cameron County.
Main loop of the Fred Woods Trail in Cameron County.

The entire trail is well-blazed with yellow markers, and is well-maintained as well.

The yellow-blazed Fred Woods Trail in the Elk State Forest.
The yellow-blazed Fred Woods Trail in the Elk State Forest.

I will say if you hike it clockwise (when facing the Fred Woods Trail sign below) the first part of your hike will be rockier and more undulating, whereas if you hike it counter-clockwise, the first part of your hike will be smoother and you’ll get to some of the “good stuff” sooner.

Fred Woods Trail Informational sign along the main loop trail.
Fred Woods Informational sign along the main loop trail.

So if you want to get the more challenging portion out of the way first, hike it clockwise, if you want instant gratification, hike it counter-clockwise.

The Rock Trail spur of the Fred Woods Trail.
The Rock Trail spur of the Fred Woods Trail.

I prefer the counter-clockwise route, so I’ll describe the hike that way.


Rock Formations along the Fred Woods Trail

Hiking counter-clockwise from the start of the loop portion of the Fred Woods Trail, you come to the incredible “rock city” along the Fred Woods Trail in approximately 0.75 miles.

Adjoining passageways between rock formations along the Fred Woods Trail.
Adjoining passageways between rock formations along the Fred Woods Trail.

Here gigantic boulders form moss-covered canyons and crevices that rival nearby Bilger’s Rocks in Clearfield County.

The author in one of the canyons formed by massive rock formations along the Fred Woods Trail.
The author in one of the canyons formed by massive rock formations along the Fred Woods Trail.

Equally massive hemlocks seem to defy Nature as they grow out of and up the sides of the rock formations.

Hemlock growing out of a rock formation along the Fred Woods Trail.
Hemlock growing out of a rock formation along the Fred Woods Trail.

The rock formations along the Fred Woods Trail would be a worthy hiking destination on their own merits, but here they are just one of several sights to be seen.

Tree roots clinging to a rock formation along the Fred Woods Trail.
Tree roots clinging to a rock formation along the Fred Woods Trail.

And people have been coming to see these sights for many, many years, as evidenced by rock carvings dating back 120 years!

Carving from 1901 along the Fred Woods Trail in the Elk State Forest.
Rock carving from 1901 along the Fred Woods Trail in the Elk State Forest.

Although a trail sign along the main stretch of the Fred Woods Trail indicates there is a Rock Trail, this is really more of a self-guided, wander-amongst-the-boulders spot.

Rock formations along the Fred Woods Trail in the Elk State Forest.
Rock formations along the Fred Woods Trail in the Elk State Forest.

Once you’ve had your fill, hop back on the main trail and continue on towards Water Plug Vista.


Water Plug Vista along the Fred Woods Trail

A few minutes after leaving the “rock city” portion of the trail and resuming the loop hike, you encounter Water Plug Vista at GPS coordinates 41.35422, -78.20418.

Water Plug Vista in Cameron County Pennsylvania.
Water Plug Vista in Cameron County.

This vista offers an exceptional view of Bennett Branch of Sinnemahoning Creek and Route 555 alongside it.

The view from Water Plug Vista along the Fred Woods Trail.
The view from Water Plug Vista along the Fred Woods Trail.

This is a pleasant rest spot, and I’ve had good luck getting cell reception here, if you need to check in with anyone.

Water Plug Vista makes for a great rest stop along the Fred Woods Trail in Cameron County PA
Water Plug Vista makes for a great rest stop along the Fred Woods Trail in Cameron County.

Continuing counter-clockwise past Water Plug Vista, the next significant point of interest will be Huckleberry Vista, another 0.75 miles down the trail.


Huckleberry Vista along the Fred Woods Trail

Huckleberry Vista, located at GPS coordinates 41.34563, -78.20258, also looks out over Bennett Branch of Sinnemahoning Creek and Route 555, although in a more southerly directions.

Huckleberry Vista along the Fred Woods Trail in Cameron County.
Huckleberry Vista along the Fred Woods Trail in Cameron County.

Huckleberry Vista makes another good rest spot before completing the Fred Woods Trail, roughly 1 mile back to finish the loop, and then 0.76 miles back to the parking area along Mason Hill Road.

The author at Huckleberry Vista along the Fred Woods Trail.
The author at Huckleberry Vista along the Fred Woods Trail.

Nearby Attractions

The 20 Best Scenic Overlooks in PA Elk Country will introduce you to even more amazing views in this rugged part of Pennsylvania.

The Square Timber Wild Area in the Elk State Forest.
Square Timber Vista in the Elk State Forest.

If elk viewing is what brings you to this region, be sure to check out The 15 Best Elk Viewing Destinations in Pennsylvania.

Elk on an autumn evening near Benezette.
Directions to the 15 best elk viewing destinations in Pennsylvania.

The 5 Best Roadside Attractions in the Quehanna Wild Area will show you some of the best points of interest in this nearby wilderness region.

A September view of Table Falls, flowing high and clear on Paige Run.
A September view of Table Falls on Paige Run in the Quehanna Wild Area.

For something totally different, check out the abandoned nuclear jet engine bunkers in the Quehanna Wild Area, remnants of a secretive Cold War-era base.

Abandoned nuclear jet engine testing bunker entrance.
One of the abandoned nuclear jet engine testing bunkers in the Quehanna Wild Area.

If you want to see what happens when a tornado collides with one of the world’s tallest railroad bridges, be sure to check out Kinzua Bridge State Park in McKean County.

The tornado damaged remains of the Kinzua Viaduct.
The tornado damaged remains of the Kinzua Viaduct.

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Rusty Glessner is an award-winning photographer, lifelong Pennsylvanian, and creator of the PA Bucket List travel blog.

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