Route:  Big Hollow Runs
Mileage:  6.9 - 15.8 miles. (Featured runs are 10.3 and 11.2 miles.)
Hillage: The Big Hollow Runs contain a number of steep hills taking you in and out of the hollow. Hills that are in only one of the featured runs are color coded by the color assigned to that run (see below). Hills that are in route options are colored green.

Penn Stater:
A 107 foot drop seven-tenths of a mile from the fork in hte road near the Penn Stater to the gates in the hollow: Long 2.9% downhill.
Airport Climb:
A long climb of 184 feet in half a mile from the second gate in the hollow to the "T" in the road near the Air National Guard Center.for a nearly 7% grade.
Runway Descent: A drop of 213 in one mile from the road parallel to the runways down the hill to Big Hollow Rd, a 4% grade.
Orchard Rd Rise:
A rise of about 100 fit in 3/4-mile on Orchard Rd from Puddintown Rd to Park Ave.
Deer Pens Hill:
A steep rise of about 100 ft in less than a third of a mile from the intersection of the University gravel road and the gravel section of Big Hollow Road to the gate above the Deer Pens. A 6% average grade. Some sections are even steeper.
Rock Road Descent:
A steep drop of 237 ft in 3/4-miles on Rock Rd from Fox Hill Rd to Spring Creek, a 6.3% grade.
"4 Hills" Rise:  An 89 ft rise over three-tenths of a mile from the curve on Big Hollow up the four bumps to the gate: An intense 5.6% climb.

Description:  There are so many possibilities for great running routes that it's hard to know where to begin. I'll describe two long routes, and give some options off each route to make longer or shorter runs.

There are two basic ways into the main section of Big Hollow from Rec Hall. One is via Big Hollow Road and the other is via University roads behind the Penn Stater. We'll start with a route that takes the first option.

Big Hollow End-to-End: This route has the blue arrows and mileage markers on the map below.
Breakoff points for options are highlighted in blue. Leave Rec Hall and follow Curtin Rd east to Bigler Rd. Go left on Bigler. Cross Park Avenue and continue on Bigler as it bends right and becomes Services Rd. Make a left on Big Hollow Rd. Follow the road down the hill as the road bends right. About 2.5 miles into the run, Big Hollow crosses Fox Hollow Rd near the bridges for the Rte 322 Bypass. You'll have to zig-zag to the north east across Fox Hollow Rd to pick up Big Hollow Rd again. At this point, Big Hollow Rd becomes a dirt road. Follow Big Hollow Rd past a paved road that goes up a hill the left. (This road leads to the Penn State Deer Pens, about a quarter mile up the hill if you'd like to take a short detour. You can also continue on that road for a longer run described below.) Continuing on Big Hollow Rd, follow it as it goes over a small hill and down into the woods. About a mile past Fox Hollow Rd, Big Hollow takes a wide clockwise bend. About halfway through the bend, there are a couple of houses on the left and the road suddenly becomes more of a jeep trail. This begins the so-called "Bushwhacking Section" of Big Hollow Rd. For about half a mile, the road is rutted, rocky, and often poorly drained, as well as being a bit overgrown in the summer. A few hundred yards into this section you might be able to spot what looks like a trail to the left. This is "Tom Cali's 'short-cut'" to the Airport. If you brought your compass, you can follow the trail over fallen trees and through some brush and eventually end up near the Air National Guard Center at the Airport. Continuing on Big Hollow, complete the arc through the woods and you'll soon pop out in the clear at a fork in the road. If you look to your left, a road goes to a gate, then up a hill. This road leads to the Airport and is part of the "Runway Tour" described below. Following Big Hollow Rd, there is soon another fork. Going straight is a gate that leads up a hill. This road leads to the Penn Stater and is also part of the "Runway Tour" described below. Going left instead, you continue on Big Hollow Rd. The road soon comes to some houses and not long afterward becomes paved with macadam. Continue on Big Hollow Rd now all the way to Rock Rd, a bit over a mile away. On the way, just past a clockwise bend in the road, you will pass a Jeep Trail on the right that veers sharply back up the hill towards the Penn Stater and eventually meets up with the "Runway Tour" route.

Make a right on Rock Road. You will now be completing the last 4 miles of the Nittany Valley Half- Marathon. The road immediately goes over a steep hill, then winds down toward Spring Creek. At a fork in the road near the creek, bear right and take Houserville Rd. The road goes up a hill into Houserville. In town, make a right on Puddintown Rd. Follow Puddintown almost a mile to the base of Orchard Rd. Go right on Orchard and up a long hill. At the top is Park Avenue. Go left on Park, then left on Porter Rd. Pass the statue of Joe Paterno in front of Beaver Stadium, then make a right on Curtin Rd. and follow it back to Rec Hall.

Here are some mileages:
  • To the road to Deer Pens - 2.8 miles
  • To the "Bushwhacking Section" of Big Hollow - 3.7 miles. Out and back to this point makes a nice 7.4 mile run.
  • To the far end of the "Bushwhacking Section" by the two gates - 4.2 miles
  • To the Jeep Trail off Big Hollow Rd. - 4.9 miles
  • To Rock Rd. - 5.5 miles.
  • To Houserville Rd. - 6.0 miles.
  • To Puddintown Rd. - 6.8 miles.
  • To Orchard Rd. - 7.7 miles.
  • To Park Ave. - 8.4 miles.
  • Complete route: 10.3 miles
Here's the second route, with some options.:

Runway Tour:
This route has the red arrows and mileage markers on the map below. Breakoff points for options are highlighted in red. Leave Rec Hall and head east on Curtin Rd all the way to Porter Rd east of Beaver Stadium, Go left on Porter and then either cut through the baseball stadium parking area to Park Avenue (as shown on map) or take Porter to Park and go right on Park. Head across Park to the Ag Arena driveway. Take the dirt road that heads back from there. Go right on Orchard, left on Wiley Lane, right on Pastureview Rd, and left on Farm Services Rd, which heads to a tunnel under the Rte 322 Bypass. The road bears right after the tunnel. You are now heading toward the Penn Stater Hotel and Conference Center. At the fork in the road a quarter mile or so past the tunnel, take the dirt road to the left which slopes gently downhill. The road forks again a little under half a mile later. Take the left fork again and head down a steep hill. At the bottom of the hill is a gate which you can hop over or scoot under. The road that crosses here is Big Hollow Rd. Bear left and you'll see another gate ahead. Go over, under, or around that one and start up the hill. This dirt road is very steep and shaded most of the way by some very large trees. The road takes you directly to the Air National Guard Center at the University Park Airport, half a mile away. At the Air National Guard Center there is a "T" in the road. Go right. This is Minuteman Rd and it parallels the runways of the airport. The road winds a little. Continue for about a mile at which point there is a dirt road heading back down the hollow to the right. Go right here. The road comes to an end about 3/4 of a mile later at a hedge. Follow the hedge to the right. Soon you'll find a steep trail leading the rest of the way down into the hollow. You'll leave the trail on a drive leading to some homes off of Big Hollow Road. Go right on Big Hollow and follow it back to the gates, about a mile away. Not long after you start your way along Big Hollow, you'll see a jeep trail to the left that starts up the hill toward the Penn Stater. There's more on this jeep trail later. Continuing on Big Hollow, the first gate you'll see is the first gate you hopped earlier. Hop it again and head back up the hill to the Penn Stater. Retrace your way back to the Tunnel. At this point you can go back the way you came or, for a change of scenery, take the route described here. Just before the tunnel is a path that heads over the berm to the right. The path heads into the woods to the right. It's a little rocky at first, but then becomes a wooded path. A couple of hundred yards later, you'll emerge on a dirt road. This is Big Hollow Rd to the west of the "Bushwhacking Section" described above. Go left. The road heads back to Fox Hollow Rd. Cross Fox Hollow and zig-zag to the left then right and continue on Big Hollow Rd, which is now paved with macadam. The road heads to the left and up "4 Hills". At the top, turn right on Services Rd, then left on Bigler. Cross Park Avenue, continue to Curtin, and make a right there. Continue on Curtin back to Rec Hall.

Here are some mileages:
  • To the tunnel under Rte 322 Bypass - 2.5 miles
  • To the gates at Big Hollow Rd. - 3.5 miles
  • To Minuteman Rd. at the Air National Guard Center - 4 miles
  • To the turn off the road parallel to the runways back to the hollow - 5 miles
  • To Big Hollow Rd. - 6 miles
  • To the gates again - 6.9 miles
  • To the tunnel again - 7.8 miles
  • To Big Hollow Rd via the wooded path - 8.1 miles
  • To Fox Hollow Rd. - 8.6 miles
  • To Park Avenue - 10.6 miles
  • To Rec Hall - 11.2 miles

Here's a description of a few options that the jeep trail off of Big Hollow Rd opens up for you. If you take this trail, you'll start up a steep hill. Almost immediately, there's a fork in the trail. Bear to your right and you'll eventually end up back on the dirt road below the Penn Stater just up the hill from the gates. It's about the same distance to go this way as to head back to the same point via Big Hollow Rd.

Another option is to bear left as the trail goes up the hill to a clearing. There, you can follow your nose to the left and circle clockwise around a big patch of woods. You'll first overlook  I-99 and the hollow below. You'll eventually find a dirt road that circles the last bunch of trees and starts to head back to the Penn Stater. As the Penn Stater comes into view, you'll have the option of going straight on a road that goes directly through the Penn Stater campus, or to the right on a dirt road that takes the low road past the Penn Stater. The first choice leads you to a road that goes along the Rte 322 Bypass and then down to the tunnel back toward the main Penn State campus. The latter choice leads you to the dirt the road that comes up toward the Penn Stater from the gates. If you take the long clockwise loop around the woods as just described, either of the options just described add about half a mile getting back to the tunnel compared to taking Big Hollow Rd.

Here are some routes that are built from combinations of the options described above:
  1. Take the Runway Tour route up to the gates and back. - 6.9 miles.
  2. Take the Runway Tour route to the gates and retrace the Big Hollow End-to-End route back to Rec Hall. - 7.7 miles.
  3. Take the Runway Tour route down to the gates. Instead of going up to the Airport, go right on Big Hollow Rd to the jeep trail. Take the trail up the hill and do the long circle around the woods. Head back to the tunnel via the low road by the Penn Stater, then run back to Rec Hall. - 8.6 miles.
  4. Start the Big Hollow route, but turn up the road to the Deer Pens. Hop the gate near the top of the hill. At the top of the hill, make a left at the "T" in the road. The road bears right and heads to Fox Hollow Rd. Take Fox Hollow to Minuteman Rd and go right. Minuteman bears left half a mile later and heads to the Air National Guard Center. Hop the gate and continue. Make a right at the first dirt road, which takes you down to the hollow to the gates. Finish by way of the Penn Stater and tunnel. - 9.7 miles
  5. There are numerous roads and trails in the woods to up the hill and to the northeast of the Deer Pens. The map below shows a couple of them. You can make a pleasant addition of up to a mile and a quarter to the above run by exploring these roads.
  6. Start as in 3 above, but continue on gravel road along the runways and finish as in the Runway Tour. - 14.2 miles
  7. Start as 4 above. At the road leading back to the hollow from the runways, continue instead on the gravel runway road all the way to Rock Road. Make a right on Rock Road and head down the steep hill. When you pass Big Hollow Road on your right, continue on Rock Rd and finish as in the Big Hollow End-to-End route. - 15.8 miles.

Mixing in the various trails described here, or others you'll find along the way, will give you a huge variety of runs.

Remarks: Big Hollow is a group of ravines that form part of Spring Creek's watershed. It's also a wooded wonderland just a short run from Rec Hall. There are numerous trails through the area, many more than are shown on this map. The roads and trails shown intersect numerous other local favorite running routes, including the 4 Hills Loop, the Tunnel Loop, the Deer Pens Loop, and the Nittany Valley Half-Marathon route. Because the road and trail system in Big Hollow intersects so many favorite local running routes, it's possible to mix and match pieces to make a very Big variety of pleasant runs.

Sections of Big Hollow, particularly the trails in some of the ravines and "Bushwhacking Section" of Big Hollow Rd, have poor drainage. Not all the roads are plowed in the winter. Therefore, the Big Hollow Runs are recommended for the "good weather months".

If you are a guest at
the Penn Stater Hotel and Conference Center, Big Hollow provides some opportunities for wonderful runs right outside your door. Go ahead, explore and enjoy the woods!

[Special thanks to the Rec Hall Regulars, especially Tom Cali, John Domico, and Ken Davis,  for finding odd routes through Big Hollow, and to John Sheakoski and Tom Hilands for providing GPS data for all the trails and roads not shown on the USGS map.]


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Big Hollow

Runway Tour

A Walk in Big Hollow

        Added: 3/06