Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail, May 2008

Day 1

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Over the last several years my buddy and I have hiked exclusively at places in Michigan. So, this year we figured we'd try something new and hike the Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail in Pennsylvania. As usual, I turned to the internet to research the location before we hit the trail and what I discovered sounded intriguing.

The Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail is a 70-mile long trail located in southwestern Pennsylvania. It begins in Ohiopyle and generally heads in a northeast direction toward its terminus at the Conemaugh Gorge near Johnstown. The trail weaves its way through a total of five counties, a couple state parks, state game lands and small sections of private land. The trail itself is marked by 5" x 2" yellow blazes painted on trees every several hundred feet, while blue blazes mark connecting trails to places such as shelter areas and parking lots. There are a total of eight camp areas spaced approximately six to 10 miles apart along the entire length of the trail. Each camp area contains five Adirondack-style shelters each with their own stone-built fireplace and areas for tent camping. In addition, each shelter area contains two pit toilet bathrooms (men's and women's), a hand-powered water pump and a pile of firewood. The Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail is actually a side-spur to the much longer Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail. This trail is a work in progress and is comprised of a network of locally-managed trails stretching from the Potomac River to the Allegheny Highlands in Pennsylvania. As of the 2008 fall season there were a total of 830 miles on the Potomac Heritage Trail.

One impressive site associated with the Laurel Highlands Trail is at the beginning of the trail system - the Youghiogheny River. The Youghiogheny (don't butcher the name, it's pronounced, yock-ah-gain-ee) runs for approximately 122 miles from its origin in West Virginia through Maryland and then into Pennsylvania where it finally connects with another large river near McKeesport, the Monongahela. Downtown Ohiopyle sports an impressive 150-foot-wide waterfall where the "Yock" roars violently over a rocky 15-foot drop, churning the waters below into a menacing, frothy, white mass. Every year up to 100,000 people flock to the river to raft and kayak its Class II to Class IV waters. Due to the extreme danger, there is only one weekend each year when thrill-seekers are allowed to tackle the 15-foot waterfall drop. The Youghiogheny has always been an important part of life throughout Pennsylvania's history. The river proved to be a vital transportation route through the mountains for the early settlers. In fact, in 1754 George Washington actually scouted the river as a possible water route for his troops and supplies but abandoned the idea when he discovered the giant waterfall. So, with that little bit of history and information behind us, let's get onto the trip itself.

Ken arrived at my house around 2:20 p.m., we loaded the car and were on our way at 2:40 pm. We had to make a minor detour around the I-75 construction zone near Detroit but were soon back on track and heading east toward Pennsylvania. The drive to Ohiopyle took about seven hours which included a momentary stop along the Ohio Turnpike for gas and another stop for fuel and a Wendy's hamburger near US119 about 30 minutes outside of our destination. We encountered some fairly heavy rain for about 20 minutes but it stopped not long before we pulled into Ohiopyle.

We arrived at the entrance to the Kentuck Campground in Ohiopyle State Park around 9:30 p.m. The campground is situated at the top of a mountain area while the town of Ohiopyle is down in the valley. Before settling in at a site we drove down the twisty mountain road toward the town of Ohiopyle. We were hoping to find our way to Wilderness Voyageurs so we wouldn't waste time searching for it in the morning. A full moon was shining brightly in the sky above but very little light actually filtered through the trees to the roadway in front of us. As we drove down the steep grades, gingerly using the brakes to keep them from glazing over, the beams from the headlights created wide, sweeping arcs of light and shadows across the trees and greenery at the edges of the road. In the end, unfamiliarity with the area coupled with the twists and turns of the roads forced us to return to the campground without having found the business. As we were to discover the following morning we had been only two to three blocks away.

We were back at the campground 45 minutes after we left. We followed the self-registration procedures, picked out site #68 on Elm Road and stepped out of the car just as it began to drizzle. We quickly set up the tent and managed to get a fire going with wood we picked up at the self-serve woodshed and the damp kindling we scavenged from our site. We warmed ourselves next to the fire and discussed the upcoming hike as flames created shifting, shadow figures on the face of our tent and in the tree canopy above. We quickly discovered that there were railroad tracks not too far away down in the valley and they seemed to be fairly active. From the time we arrived at our site until we went to sleep we heard three trains pass by. At 11:30 p.m. nature forced our hand and we had to make a tactical retreat into the tent as the heavy rain made an encore appearance.

Miles Covered Today: 385

Day 2

This page last updated on 02-25-2016 @ 11:26 AM