Notice! As of early 2024, there is again a push to approve hunting on ALL Sundays of the year. This would effectively end use of State Game Lands for safe outdoor recreation by hunters. Please contact your state representatives and tell them you believe one day of the week should remain non-hunting in Pennsylvania to enhance outdoor recreation opportunities!
State Game Lands 174 near McGee’s Mills, Pennsylvania, offers more than 30 miles of horseback riding trails. We believe this is the most of any game lands.
In the 1870s this remote area was called “The Wilderness” and even today it is remote. It contains the mining ghost towns of Sidney and Keal Run.
State Games Lands 174 is nearly 4000 acres of land. It lies along Rt 36 northwest of the village of McGee’s Mills, which is the intersection of US 219 and PA 36. This is 25 miles southwest of Clearfield and 13 miles southeast of Punxsutawney at the corner of Jefferson, Clearfield, and Indiana counties.
Much of it was mined for coal, so it’s not pristine forest, but it’s still nice open space. There are areas that are clearly disturbed, and some areas of coal waste. Much is returning to deciduous woods; some reclaimed areas are open meadows or planted pines. Most of the acreage is wooded; the southern portions were more recently mined and parts are more open.
There are lots of gas wells, and many trails are well access roads which often don’t go too far. The land is by no means boring or flat: there is actually quite a bit of terrain.
We haven’t ridden horses here yet, we just scouted it out during hunting season and hope to visit with a group in the spring.
We created a slippy map of the area, with some of the larger parking areas marked.
The access road through the lands (Harkleroad Road – Bennett Road – Sidney Road) is also quite practical for riding. It is dirt or gravel and seems unlikely to have much traffic.
Bits and Pieces
The area contains two named locations, Sidney and Keal Run, which were probably mining villages at one time. It might be fun to explore and see what traces of these towns can be found.
A branch of RJ Corman railroad passes through the land, but this line has been out of service for some time and seems unlikely to ever be active again. You probably don’t have to worry about coal trains!
The north branch of Bear Run is a native trout stream and scenic, although the west branch is contaminated with Acid Mine Drainage.
Most trails are gated woods roads, with grass or dirt footing. Some of the trails are gas well access. These are usually dirt. They may be muddy in certain seasons due to service truck access.
Most trails are gated at roads. Some are easy to get past with horses, others may require some effort. Horse driving is probably not an option, other than on the main road and some well access roads that are not gated.
The main access road through the lands (Harkleroad Road – Bennett Road – Sidney Road) is practical for horse riding or horse driving. It is dirt or gravel and unlikely to have traffic. It is very useful for connecting different trails and completing loops.
Outside of hunting, it’s unlikely the area gets many visitors. A modest number of horses stand in fields on the borders of the lands, so there is probably some local use. One aerial view we examined showed a horse trailer at one of the lots.
Because of the large acreage and the location away from cities, probably not many hikers or bikers use these trails. Chances are you will find this area to be very quiet and secluded for much of the year.
Like all state game lands with “designated trails” for hiking, biking, and horseback riding, you cannot use the trails during certain hunting seasons.
The rules are confusing. We’ve tried to clarify:
- You can always ride on roads open to public travel
(maybe not the safest idea, however)
- Riding on Sundays is permitted year-round
(except the new Sunday-hunting days)
- Riding is NOT permitted from…
last-Saturday-in-September through third-Saturday-in-January
(but is permitted on non-hunting Sundays).
- Riding is NOT permitted before 1 pm from…
second-Saturday-in-April through last-Saturday-in-May.
- Designated trails for horse riding should be marked with horse symbol
Remember, these are first and foremost hunting lands. It seems wise to ALWAYS wear fluorescent orange when riding in these areas.
Unlike so many state parks and forests, parking areas that fit horse trailers are numerous at SGL 174. Many are big enough to hold two smaller trailers. Some lots could easily hold a number of large trailers.
We’ve marked a few more promising parking areas on the map. If we get more information, we will add it. Don’t worry about parking; it shouldn’t be a problem.
Some larger parking areas we noted may be gated at times of the year. Dates of access seem needlessly complicated! Just be flexible and know you may not get to park exactly where you expect.
As with most State Game Lands, there are no facilities on site, and location is in the middle of nowhere. Bring your lunch, and be prepared to water the bushes.
There is a tiny store north of McGee’s Mills on Rt 219. No fuel, sketchy food, NO public restroom.
Mahaffey (a few miles further north on 219) has a store with gas. There is a pizza and sub shop, but it may not be open all days. Burnside (south on 219) appears to have a store with gas.
Grampian (13 miles north on 219) or Puxsutawney (13 miles north on 36) are your next closest options for anything more.
Clearfield is 25 miles and has lots of stores and a few restaurants. The Toasted Monkey along the way in Hyde PA is kind of amusing after a day of harness racing at the Clearfield Fair.