Saturday, June 03, 2023

The 1,108-acre Trexler Nature Preserve, in Lehigh County, Pennsylvania (about 10 miles northwest of Allentown) is one of the few places in eastern United States where you can observe bison and elk in a natural environment. General Harry Trexler established the preserve in the early part of the 20th century, and Lehigh County took it over in 1935, but the preserve was not opened to public use until 2006.

It’s worthwhile visiting the preserve just to see the bison and elk, and you need not hike to do so (the bison and elk can be seen from the paved roads that traverse the park), but there is a network of over 20 miles of hiking trails in the preserve, which features many open areas. The elevations range from about 350 feet to nearly 800 feet, and this hike involves several climbs and descents, with an overall elevation gain of over 1,000 feet. Most of the trails in the preserve are also open to bicycles and horses, but they are wide enough to accommodate these uses. The trails are blazed mainly at intersections, and it is important to obtain a map (to find the map online, Google “Trexler Nature Preserve trail map”). This seven-mile hike should take about five hours, allowing time to view the elk and bison along the way.

To get there, take I-80 West to Exit 43 and continue on I-287 South. Take Exit 21B and continue on I-78 West, crossing into Pennsylvania. Take Exit 53 and continue north on PA 309 for about 9.4 miles. Turn left onto Game Preserve Road and follow it for about 2.0 miles. Turn left onto Park Road and proceed for about 0.7 mile to a small parking area on the left. GPS coordinates: 40.65238, -75.62660. The trailhead is about 110 miles from Teaneck, and it should take about two hours to get there.

From the parking area, cross the road, bear left, and proceed downhill on a yellow-blazed trail that follows a wide dirt road. When you reach a paved road, turn right onto the road and continue downhill until you reach Jordan Creek. Here, the road crosses the creek on a paved ford, but you should turn left onto another road and head north, parallel to the creek. You’ll pass a pedestrian bridge over the creek (do not cross it). When you reach a fork in the road (not shown on the park map), bear right and continue to follow a level dirt road along the creek. 

After walking along the stream for about half a mile, you’ll reach another pedestrian bridge over the stream. Turn right and cross the stream on this bridge, with the historic Schlicher Covered Bridge on the left. On the other side, follow a blue-blazed trail uphill on switchbacks. The trail soon joins a dirt road and continues to climb the ridge. 

At the top of the ridge (the elevation here is about 775 feet), you’ll reach a paved road. Turn right and follow a footpath just to the right of the road. Soon, you’ll come to two benches which offer panoramic views to the south over Jordan Creek and the Lehigh Valley Zoo. You’ve climbed over 400 vertical feet to reach this point, and this is a good place to stop and take a break.

Just past the second bench, turn right onto a footpath and begin to descend along the ridge. The elk range is located below on the left, and you should be able to observe the elk as you continue along the ridge. At the base of the descent, you’ll notice a footbridge across Jordan Creek on the right. Continue ahead (do not cross the bridge), but turn left onto a green-blazed footpath before reaching a short footbridge that leads to a parking area.

Follow the green-blazed trail uphill, crossing a stream on rocks along the way. After crossing a paved road, you’ll pass an abandoned cabin below on the left. At the top of the climb, you’ll reach a junction with the red-blazed Perimeter Trail. Turn left onto this trail.

Just ahead, the trail crosses a dirt road. Turn left onto this road, which leads to the Trexler Environmental Center. This “green” building has interesting exhibits, and there is a panoramic west-facing view from an open deck atop the building.

After viewing the exhibits and taking in the view, return to the red-blazed Perimeter Trail, turn left, then immediately bear right at a fork. Bear right again at the next fork (the left fork is a side trail that soon rejoins the main trail). Soon, you’ll pass a marker that indicates you have covered 0.5 mile on the Perimeter Trail.

A short distance ahead, you’ll reach a junction with a paved road. The bison enclosure is just to the left, so you’ll want to walk a short distance to the left to observe the bison in their natural setting. When you’re ready to continue, follow the red-blazed trail as it bears right, away from the road, and climbs to a high point. It then descends and parallels a park road on the left.

After passing a 1.0-mile marker, the trail begins a steeper descent and again parallels the park road. It crosses the road, which curves to the left, and proceeds downhill along the road. Beyond a gate, where the road curves to the right, continue ahead on a footpath.

A short distance beyond, follow the trail as it crosses the paved road and continues on a gravel road. You’ll pass a gate and bear right at a fork. Soon, you’ll reach the 1.5-mile marker, with houses above on the right and a valley below on the left. The road goes around several curves, with views of the valley below. After passing a bench on the left, you’ll reach the 2.0-mile marker.

A short distance beyond, you’ll come to a kiosk numbered N-15. Turn left here, leaving the red-blazed Perimeter Trail, and follow a green-blazed trail which heads south. Soon, you’ll pass a lean-to numbered N-14. Continue ahead at junctions N-10 and N-11, then bear left at a fork and pass kiosk N-7 (at the top of a hill). Continue ahead, passing kiosks N-6 and N-5 on the way down.

When the green trail ends at a junction with the red-blazed Perimeter Trail, turn left onto the Perimeter Trail and continue to descend. You’ll pass the 4.5-mile marker and turn left onto a footpath at a marker with a black arrow. Then, at the base of the descent, you’ll cross a footbridge over Jordan Creek.

Follow the green-blazed trail as it climbs to cross a paved road at a crosswalk. It turns left onto a dirt road, then turns right when it reaches another paved road. After passing the 5.0-mile marker, the trail reaches the parking area where the hike began.

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