Laurel Highlands Hiking Guide

The 70-mile Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail (LHHT) is an outstanding resource for hikers and backpackers from all over the Middle Atlantic States, and many thousands visit the trail every year. But you might not know that the three main ridges of southwestern Pennsylvania – Chestnut Ridge, Laurel Ridge and Allegheny Front – offer far more than that in terms of outstanding hiking, backpacking and ski-touring opportunities on their abundant public lands. These ridges contain the bulk of the scenic public lands in the region. Nowhere else in southwestern Pennsylvania can one find large expanses of nature-oriented and outdoor-recreation-oriented public lands. The best way to gain access to the scenery and natural values of the region is by way of the roughly 620 miles of foot trails that blanket the 218 square miles of state forests and state parks of these three ridges (collectively called the “Laurel Highlands”).

Allegheny Front is the “backbone” of the Appalachian Mountains in this part of the US. It is the highest, the most rugged, and the most remote from major centers of population. Laurel Ridge is closer to population centers and contains an amazing wealth of public lands — state forests, state parks, and state gamelands. It is probably the most popular region for outdoor recreation in western Pennsylvania. Chestnut Ridge is closest to major population centers but contains less public land so it is not as popular among outdoor recreationists as Laurel Ridge on average, although there are some outstanding recreational opportunities on Chestnut Ridge. All three of these ridges are heavily forested, largely because the steepness of the ridge slopes makes them poor sites for urban developments.

Many foot trails on Laurel Ridge meet, or cross, the LHHT. Their broad views and scenery are easily comparable to what the LHHT has to offer. Being off the ridge crest, their streams are bigger and are often more interesting than the streams that the LHHT crosses. Many foot trails in the Highlands are streamside trails – something LHHT cannot offer. State Forests (Forbes State Forest and Gallitzin State Forest) also offer the option of camping almost anywhere. Trails in state parks and state forests are generally as well marked as the LHHT, and offer trailhead parking and trail maps – same as the LHHT.

“The Laurel Highlands: A Hiking Guide”, gives you all the information you need to enjoy these major recreational and natural resources. This 288-page Guide provides 26 pages of detailed, annotated topographic maps that are keyed to the descriptive text to make using this guide easy. It also offers 32 photos and descriptions of opportunities for hiking, backpacking and ski-touring on 446 miles of foot trails on the public lands of the Laurel Highlands. It omits the 70-mile Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail because that is described in another guide. It also omits some trails in the Mt. Davis area of Forbes State Forest, the 26-mile Lost Turkey Trail on Gallitzin State Forest (which offers a map and brief guide), and some trails on State Gamelands #51 just north of Ohiopyle State Park. Covered in this guide are the foot trails of the following public lands in the Laurel Highlands:

State Parks

Area
(sq. miles)

State Forests

Area
(sq. miles)

Ohiopyle Park

30

Forbes

86

Laurel Ridge

24

Gallitzin

30

Coopers Rock **

20

Other Public Lands

.

Blue Knob

9

Bear Run Nature Reserve

8

Laurel Hill

6

Lower ICV Trail

4

Linn Run **

1

.

.

Kooser

0.4

Total Public Lands

218

** State Park and State Forest

Below is an annotated list of some of the more interesting areas for hiking on each of the three ridges of the Laurel Highlands.

Chestnut Ridge

White Tail Trail: (a 11.0 mile foot trail along the top of Chestnut Ridge from Quebec Run Wild Area to Pine Knob Overlook and Lick Hollow Picnic Area) This trail wanders through mainly through heavily forested ridgetop, much like the LHHT, with trailhead parking at the ends and middle. Side trails lead down to White Rocks and ruins of an old factory complex. The spectacular Pine Knob overlook offers a great vista overlooking all of Uniontown and surrounding countryside. Lick Hollow Picnic Area at the northern trailhead is a delightfully scenic area that relatively few people know about.

Quebec Run Wild Area: (26.1 miles of trails on 7.44 sq. miles) This is one of the most popular hiking and backpacking areas in the Highlands. The main attractions are the scenic streamside trails along Mill Run, Tebolt Run and Quebec Run. The area offers five trailhead-parking areas. The area is on the upper east slopes of Chestnut Ridge.

Cooper’s Rock State Park and Forest: (West Va.) (30.6 miles of trails in the State Park + 20.7 miles in Coopers Rock State Forest on 13,000 acres) This area is just over the border in West Va. But it is such an outstanding area that we couldn’t resist including it. Major 4-6-lane highways lead from Pittsburgh right past the park entrance. It draws over 350,000 visitors/ year. It offers spectacular views up, down and across Cheat River Canyon and Cheat Lake. It also offers trails along the bottom of deep rock crevices (“rock cities”), down to the shore of Cheat Lake, and along a streamside trail to a well-preserved, ancient, iron furnace.

Laurel Ridge

Charles F. Lewis Natural Area: (6 miles of trails on 384 acres): While on the northern few miles of the LHHT did you ever look across the Conemaugh gorge and wonder what that huge forested area on the ridgetop on the opposite side of the river is? It is the Charles F. Lewis Natural Area and it is a part of Gallitzin State Forest. It, too, has an outstanding trail system, a scenic stream valley and some outstanding views of Conemaugh Gorge.

Laurel Mountain: (27 miles of trails not including the part of the Laurel Highlands Trail running through it) The area offers a huge, well-marked trail system that intersects the LHHT in numerous spots (between Mileposts 37 and 46). Most of it is in Forbes State Forest, but parts of it are in Laurel Summit State Park and Linn Run State Park / State Forest. Camp anywhere (except in State Parks). The area’s trails are extremely popular with XC skiiers. A warming hut and latrines are about 0.3 mile off the LHHT. (Near Milepost 43 take a snowmobile trail to the hut.) The best-known attraction is Beam Rocks and its outstanding views northeast and east to Allegheny Front. Rock climbers often visit Beam Rocks. The delightful streamside trail along Spruce Run is also a major attraction.

Laurel Summit State Park: (24.2 miles of trails, not including the part of Laurel Highlands Trail running through it) An interesting bog with short boardwalk is near the Laurel Summit State Park picnic pavilion. Wolf Rocks offers spectacular views of the upper reaches of Linn Run valley. The trail system is being expanded to better link the trail system of Linn Run to the trail system of Laurel Summit State Park. Maps should be available in mid-to-late summer of 2008 from Linn Run State Park office or Forbes State Forest office in Laughlintown.

Linn Run: (16.1 miles of trails) The main attractions of this area are the Linn Run stream itself and various trails permitting one to overlook the deep cut through Laurel Mountain made by the Pa. Turnpike. A number of trails climb steeply up to the top of Linn Run Valley.

Mountain Streams Area: (19.4 miles of trails) The main attractions of this area on the western slope of Laurel Ridge are the streamside trails along upper Indianhead Creek — Little Run and Camp Run. One can climb from the bottom of Laurel Ridge to the top via the trails along Little Run and Camp Run. The trail system of the Mountain Streams Area joins the trail system of the North Woods Area on the opposite (east) side of Laurel Ridge. A trail along the west bank of Upper Indianhead Creek is one of the more recent additions to the trail system. Trailhead parking is available at locations near the top and bottom of Laurel Ridge.

North Woods Area: (11.4 miles of trails) The Area is also on top of Laurel Ridge, and its extensive trail system intersects the LHHT in several spots between Mileposts 32 and 35. The area is also popular with XC skiiers. A warming hut, plus latrine, is near where Mountain View Trail crosses the LHHT. It is always open but overnight stays there are not allowed, even though it is on Forbes State Forest land. Two long, delightful streamside trails – Camp Run Trail and Little Run Trail in the Mountain Streams Area – are easy to get to from the LHHT. A new trailhead parking area was opened in 2007 off Tunnel Road by Forbes State Forest people. A new trail joins the parking lot to the overall trail system.

Kooser State Park: (2.3 miles of trails) This scenic trail system is primarily of interest to XC skiers and to people who visit the park to swim at the beach on the lake in the park. Trails circle the lake and also lead to the trail system of nearby Hidden Valley Resort/ downhill skiing area.

Laurel Hill State Park: (13.7 miles of trails on 6.14 square miles) This popular state park and its lake and beach also offers an excellent, though heavily used, system of foot trails. The most popular attractions for hikers are the trail through the virgin hemlock grove along Laurel Creek, the trail past an old stone dam and backwaters, and the trail around the lake.

Roaring Run Natural Area: (31.8 miles of trails on 5.61 square miles) The area extends from the top of Laurel Ridge to the bottom. One trail offers an outstanding overlook on a large rock outcropping. From there one can see the bulk of the stream valley. Short side-trails off the LHHT (between Mileposts 29 and 32) lead into Roaring Run. One of its longer and most popular trails is a streamside trail along Roaring Run (28 stream crossings). Trails of the area are well used and easy to follow. Trailhead parking lots are found along the east edge of the area and along the south edge of the area (County Line Road).

Laurel Ridge State Park: (16.8 miles of trails) The trails in this area are those used in winter by XC skiers, so trails tend to be wide and easy, except for the more advanced XC ski trails which tend to be narrow and steep. The park is one of the most (if not the most) popular XC skiing areas in southwestern Pa. At the far northern end of the loop trail north of Rt.653 one can walk a short distance through open woods to a spectacular rock overlook on the top of Laurel Ridge. On clear days one can look through one of the gaps of Chestnut Ridge and see the US Steel Building in downtown Pittsburgh.

Bear Run Nature Reserve: (23.4 miles of trails) There are some delightfully scenic streamside trails in the part of the trail system on the east side of Rt.381. On the west side of Rt. 381 is mainly a loop trail with an overlook over the Youghiogheny River Valley where it makes a deep cut through Chestnut Ridge.

Ohiopyle State Park (74.7 miles of trails on 29.9 square miles) The park is right at the south end of the LHHT. The spectacular views along the first four or so miles of the LHHT look down into Ohiopyle State Park. The state park offers numerous scenic streams-side trails and trails overlooking the Youghiogheny River and its outstanding rapids and waterfalls. At various spots along the bike path (one of the world’s 10 best bike paths) hikers can drop down to the shoreline of the Youghiogheny River at a number of spots and watch hundreds of rafters and kayakers run some exciting rapids. Perhaps the most outstanding, and popular, streamside trail is Meadow Run Trail. It has flumes carved through solid rock that people enjoy using as natural water slides. The trail down into the gorge of Cucumber Run Falls is also very popular. It leads to a riverside trail along the banks of the Youghiogheny River. Another popular trail system is on the Ferncliff Peninsula where one can get close to Ohiopyle Falls and to overlooks where one can watch rafters and kayakers run some of the rapids of the Youghiogheny River. One can spend quite a few weekends enjoying the foot trails of Ohiopyle State Park without repeating any trail.

Allegheny Front

Clear Shade Creek Area: (20.8 miles of trails) Trails in this area tend to start at Babcock Picnic Area. Allegheny Front is a rather rugged, thinly populated, high-elevation area, and the vegetation shows the difference. At one point a swinging bridge leads hikers across scenic Clear Shade Creek to a loop trail in Clear Shade Creek Natural Area.

Lost Turkey Trail: (26.2 miles of trail) This trail leads from Blue Knob State Park to Babcock Picnic Area through some very rugged and wild territory. It is probably not for beginner hikers. The nature of the terrain creates lots of opportunities for great views of natural settings.

Blue Knob State Park: (19.9 miles of trails) This park offers an exceptionally large amount of relief, creating lots of opportunities for great views in natural settings. The downside is the numerous long hills that hikers must deal with.

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