Places We Protect

West Branch Forest Preserve

Pennsylvania

Four mountain ridges roll across the landscape into the misty distance. Heavy white fog fills the valley in the background. The foreground is filled with low plants with green and gold leaves.
Fall Views Fall is an excellent time to visit the West Branch Forest Preserve to witness stunning views like the one at the McCloskey Island overlook. © Geroge Gress/TNC

Situated in the heart of Pennsylvania’s High Allegheny Plateau, the West Branch Forest Preserve offers an unspoiled view for 50 miles.

Overview

Description

The Nature Conservancy's West Branch Forest Preserve links two large forest tracts to make up one of the largest blocks of forest in the northeast connecting a total of 18,000 acres. It is situated near Hyner View State Park (a popular hang-gliding area) and offers many opportunities for outdoor recreation.

The preserve features 14+ miles of hiking trails and several opportunities to enjoy the outdoors. In addition, it serves as a research and demonstration project for sustainable forestry, earning Forest Stewardship Council® FSC®-C008922 certification—the global gold standard for forest management—in 2008. Since then, TNC has implemented many activities designed to restore degraded forest and establish new, high-quality early and late-successional forest at the preserve.

Access

OPEN TO THE PUBLIC

Hours

Daily, from dawn to dusk

Highlights

The area boasts abundant wildlife. A system of trails features hiking, birding and unspoiled views that stretch for nearly 50 miles. Seasonal hunting in cooperation with Pennsylvania Game Commission regulations.

Size

3,034 acres

Explore our work in Pennsylvania

Visit

  • Hiking:

    The West Branch Forest Preserve boasts 14+ miles of hiking trails, immerse yourself in nature as you explore trails.

    Star Gazing:

    Give star gazing a try! The West Branch Forest Preserve is located in one of the darkest sky areas in Pennsylvania, making it an excellent place to witness the wonders of the constellations. 

    Panoramic Photography:

    Bring your camera and capture Pennsylvania’s beauty from one of the six overlooks at the preserve featuring views of Johnson Hollow, the west branch of the Susquehanna River, and McCloskey Island.

    Birding:

    Spring is the perfect time to bring your binoculars to the preserve as many migratory birds can be seen and heard through the forest, like warblers. You may also spot the Pennsylvania state bird, Ruffed grouse, and the unique Whip-poor-wills.

    Hunting & Fishing Opportunities:

    • West Branch Forest is enrolled in the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s Forest Game and Deer Management Assistance Program is an active participant in the Quality Deer Management Association.
    • Public access hunting is permitted, aligning with PGC regulations and promoting responsible wildlife management. 
    • Fishing is permitted, in accordance with Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission regulations, at Johnson and Ritchie run.
    • These two designated streams, have been rated “Class A Wild Trout Waters” designation due to healthy populations of naturally reproducing native brook trout.
  • Sustainable Management Practices:

    Witness a harmonious balance between human activity and nature. West Branch Forest exemplifies sustainable forest management, where activities like vegetation control, mowing, prescribed fire, herbicide application, and planting of warm-season grasses come together to create a sustainably managed, working forest.

    Don’t miss the one-acre American chestnut orchard, a collaborative effort with the American Chestnut Foundation. Here, the past meets the future as we work towards restoring this iconic tree species.

    Historic Stone Craftsman Cabin:

    Step back in time and explore a historic Depression-era stone craftsman cabin. Originally serving as a fire tower, the cabin now serves as the preserve’s base camp.

    Wildlife:

    Keep an eye out for a diverse array of wildlife. West Branch Forest and its neighboring Sproul State Forest provide a haven for: white-tailed deer, black bears, wild turkeys, timber rattlesnakes, bobcats, a recently reintroduced elk herd and the Pennsylvania state bird, Ruffed grouse.

  • While visiting West Branch Forest Preserve please:

    • Take precautions against ticks, mosquitoes, chiggers and sunburn.
    • Take precautions against rattlesnakes in warm weather.
    • Wear sturdy footwear.
    • Tuck pant legs into socks/shoes to avoid ticks.
    • Apply insect repellant and sun protection.
    • Bring drinking water.
    • Watch for poison ivy.
    • Stay on marked trails.
    • Remove all litter. 
    • Please leave pets at home.
    • Enjoy nature!

    Please aviod:

    • Feeding or disturbing wildlife.
    • Releasing animals or introduce plants.
    • Bringing motorized vehicles, ATVs, bicycles or horses.
    • Bringing alcohol.
    • Camping.
  • We are creating a community science database of all kinds of life—from lichens to ants, mushrooms to plants, birds to mammals and everything in between for our preserves in Pennsylvania and Delaware.

    TNC's roots began with local citizens and scientists concerned about special places and species. That legacy continues today. Across our lands, we are utilizing iNaturalist—a digital platform that gives users an opportunity to share and discuss their findings.

    Of the 14 preserve projects in iNaturalist, nine have observations recorded; help us increase that number and our understanding of the species—good and bad, native as well as invasive—that can be found on TNC lands across the state. This information can also help guide and inform our conservation staff's management and monitoring decisions.

Views of West Branch Forest Preserve

From scenic overlooks to unique wildlife, there is so much to see and explore at the West Branch Forest Preserve.

A night sky with swirling stars.
Several pink flowers bloom on a green shrub.
A person stands with their back to the camera looking over a misty overlook.
A chestnut grows on the branch of a tree.
A vista overlook feauting blue mountaints and pink flowers.
A rattle snake curling up on the ground.
several clear eggs with black dots sit in a shallow pool of water.
A view from an overlook of large mountains covered in fall colored trees.
A brown and white speckled bird sits on a falle log in the forest.
A view of a misty forest with a shallow body of water in the foreground.

Find More Places We Protect

The Nature Conservancy owns nearly 1,500 preserves covering more than 2.5 million acres across all 50 states. These lands protect wildlife and natural systems, serve as living laboratories for innovative science and connect people to the natural world.

See the Complete Map