Words by J.D. Keating and Images by Brad Morris @dads_that_wheel
Once the front of the JL crested over the top of the rock, I was immediately relieved. We were not really sure that we would make the climb, but once we did it was hard to keep our enthusiasm at bay.
“This Rubicon is incredible,” I mumbled to myself, knowing full well my buddies didn’t want to hear us bragging anymore. Grinning from ear to ear, we pulled off to the side of the trail to join our friends. Every time we think we’ve reached the limits of what the new Jeep JL can tackle, we are pleasantly surprised to be proved wrong, and our trip to Rausch Creek Off-Road Park was no exception.
Rausch Creek Off-Road Park is located in Pine Grove, PA, between Tremont and Tower City. It has more than 3,000 acres of off-road trails and challenges for all levels of drivers and various off-road vehicles. When ToyotaTim first suggested we all make the trip, our initial reaction was “sorry, we are busy that weekend” with (insert child-related excuse here). However, after some callous teasing about being afraid to scratch our “pretty” jeeps, we reconsidered. Before we knew it, we were packed and loaded for the nine-hour drive. Plus, the idea of getting away from (insert child related excuse here) made the nine hours of driving a much less daunting task.
Our typical mantra is “have Jeep will travel.” For this particular trip, we were joined by CruiserPierre and ToyotaTim, who both prefer to tow their vehicles to the trailhead. We were reluctantly convinced to join the trailer train and all three Ford pickups hit the road together.
We made quick work of the nine-hour drive by communicating with hand held radios, a long-distant road trip necessity. Thankfully, crossing the border was a cinch. No matter how many times we cross the American/Canadian border there is always a certain level of anxiety knowing we are at the full mercy of the U.S Customs and Border Protection. We tucked our passports back into the glovebox and settled in for the remaining miles, giddy and a little nervous with what may lie ahead at Rausch Creek.
ToyotaTim is our go-to guide for trail spotting and line picking, plus he adds just the right amount of Jeep/Toyota rivalry and comedic relief for long drives. CruiserPierre, who also joined us on this trip, is a seasoned vet in the wheeling community. Luckily, we were able to convince him to resurrect his classic, a GM drivetrain-equipped, 1989 Toyota Land Cruiser.
We arrived just after dark. Camping is included in a park pass and the sites are clean and easy to navigate with trailers in tow. To be honest, we had anticipated an off-road park to have a lineup of rigs like Easter Jeep Safari, with buggy after buggy skinny pedaling its way up each obstacle. Thankfully, we were dead wrong and Rausch Creek is truly an enormous, protected network of very well-mapped out trails and challenges.
True to form, we chose mostly difficult level trails right out of the gate. Fortunately, there are maps everywhere so there’s no need for a trail guide. Rausch Creek has a minimum of two vehicles required per trail run. You can also call ahead if you’re travelling solo and they will be happy to line you up with another truck.
If you can manage, it’s always helpful to have your most trusted spotter lead the way. Do not be fooled by ToyotaTim’s lack of a single straight body panel. His wheeling knowledge is the real deal. It was reassuring to have him alongside us as we navigated our way into what essentially was a 200-million year-old river bed.
With just enough trail maintenance to keep you on track, while still maintaining the impression you are deep in the wild, we had each area to ourselves at every junction along the way. The rocks of Pennsylvania are formed by volcanic magma having been spewed onto the Earth’s crust during the Jurassic period. Subsequently, they grab tighter than the grip I have on my son during rides at Disneyland. This can also quickly turn the ride from traction to axle-snapping torque. Tread traction and well thought out trails made for a very exciting afternoon, as we were able to crawl, scrape and climb our way up, over and through obstacles that surprised everyone.
Our first challenge had Brad’s JL on a 38-degree climb, showing us not only how well the Cooper STT Pros perform, but also the Pentastar engine’s pitch limit. The engine burns oil via the PCV valve (apparently aftermarket manufacturers have already addressed this issue).
Fortunately, the area is already bug-free. Otherwise our shiny new JL would have crop-dusted the local mosquito population in one fell swoop. Other than the light smoke show, our Jeep made it through the weekend unscathed. The same can’t be said for CruiserPierre, whose full-size rig took a bit of Rausch Creek home with it. He also lost a bead in the river bed, score one point for bead-lock rims. Nonetheless, I would say we made it through in great shape.
Challenge after challenge, we were impressed with both the landscape and trail obstacles. The low-lying vegetation gave our spotters ample sight lines, and we were able to crawl and grip our way up and over every obstacle in our way. The rock garden proved to be more like a game of chess, but provided you picked and stuck to your line from 7 to 15 m (25 to 50 ft) out, all was good.
The sheer size of boulders in this area made craters large enough to swallow our 40’s without a hiccup. The flex line was especially fun, which allowed each of us to push our rigs to the limit in a fun, yet tricky tech section of perfectly built rolling hills.
We spent two days exploring the hills of Pennsylvania. Surprisingly, over those 48 hours the only time we saw anyone was at camp. Our set up was simple and affordable. Plus, who doesn’t love an evening of wheeling recap around an open fire? The kids were free to roam and explore and had a blast climbing endless hills and rock outcroppings.
Suffice to say, Rausch Creek over-delivered on quality trails, and pucker-factor obstacles. In fact, we were so impressed with the experience we made a return-visit this past October. If you’ve never been to an off-road park, you need to go. If you have one in your local area, be thankful for what you do and help out with trail maintenance or trash cleanup whenever the opportunity presents itself.