Explore, Enjoy, and Protect the Planet

On The Trail — July 2012

Black Forest Trail

by Gary Thornbloom

Black Forest Trail

Vista from the Black Forest Trail · Photo by Bill Mertens

Hiking on a plateau should be easy, right? Well, the Black Forest Trail on the Allegheny Plateau runs across ridges between drainages cut by streams, then drops into those drainages and climbs back out only to repeat this multiple times. When you are feeling rested by walking on the plateau get ready for the next descent, and know that you will be climbing one more time.

The rewards are silence, streams in the hollows, and the subtle beauty of the many mountains receding in the distance from the numerous vistas. At times you will also be walking through thick, dark, coniferous forest — the black forest. 

Black Forest Trail

Vista from the Black Forest Trail · Photo by Gary Thornbloom

Other trails in this area make it possible to hike a loop that is less than the 42.1 miles of the entire BFT. The 11-mile loop includes many great vistas of the Pine Creek Gorge, mountains throughout the area, and on a clear day a vista that recedes all the way to Bald Eagle Mountain.

The trailhead is in Lycoming County 12.6 miles north of Haneyville, just off of PA44, in the Tiadghton State Forest, Manor Fork Road parking lot. Begin hiking on the blue blazed Gasline Trail. This section of trail is what you would expect on a plateau, and the going is easy.

After about one mile, the orange-blazed BFT comes in from the left. Follow the orange blazes to your right. The short walk out to each of the vistas — White Birch, Moss Hollow, Canyon, and there are even more unnamed vistas — are highlights of this trek. As the ridge narrows numerous views through the trees complement the more expansive vistas. There are great views of Pine Creek Gorge, Half Dome (the highest direct rise from Pine Creek to the rim) and Hemlock Mountain, which is where you will be standing later on this hike. See if you can identify Pyramid Mountain, which is visible in many of the downstream views.

Hiking the entire 11-mile loop is strenuous and will include a steep descent and a steep climb. Hiking about 3.5 miles from the trailhead and then retracing is an easy hike, and will include several of the vistas.

If you are prepared for the tough part of this hike continue on the BFT as it drops over the edge and into Naval Run. Take a moment to appreciate the trail work that reopened the path through the tangled mess of wind-felled trees.

Black Forest Trail

Vista from the Black Forest Trail · Photo by Bill Mertens

Naval Run flows through a beautiful steep-sided hollow with numerous campsites. The stream has a few small drops with one nice falls not far from its mouth. At low water levels it is easy to rock hop across and continue up the other side.

Eventually a steep ascent through thick hemlocks — part of the black forest — mitigated by switchbacks ends with a gentle walk to the top of Hemlock Mountain. Approaching the top there is a view up Pine Creek Gorge that includes several of the ridges that the BFT follows.  A little further and there is a campsite, and here is one of the best views: downstream, flat plateau topped ridge after ridge dropping into Pine Creek Gorge and Bald Eagle Mountain at the horizon.

After a lunch stop or break, continue west. There is a short, steep, rocky drop to a saddle between Naval Run and Callahan Run. On our recent hike we encountered a surveyor’s stake and “CCG Veritas” flagging. This is one of the many out-of-state — in this case Texas — companies that are engaged in carving up our State Forests for natural gas development.

At the point where the BFT turns sharply to the south continue walking straight ahead on the Old Cutoff Trail — yellow blazes. This trail ends at Big Trail Scenic Road. Follow the road to the right to Trout Run Road, and then follow this road to the right. Both roads are State Forest gravel roads, and are plateau flat.

In a short distance, the BFT returns onto Trout Run Road from the left. Continue on to PA44. Manor Run Road, where you parked, is a short distance north from here. Either follow the highway or walk a short section of the Ruth Will Trail — blue blazes — which parallels the left side of the highway. After the trail passes the fire tower, it approaches PA44. Follow PA44 north to Manor Run Road.

Hikers with a wide range of abilities will be able to enjoy the first part of this hike. Hiking the entire 11-mile loop will provide a challenging day in the woods, enjoying and exploring one of Pennsylvania's finest trails. The black forest, the hollows, and most of all the vistas, are worth the walk.

Gary Thornbloom is the Chair of Sierra Club Moshannon Group and can be reached at bearknob@verizon.net