The Minister Creek Trail is a group of circuit hikes comprised of a south loop, middle loop, and north loop. From the parking area at the trailhead, a circuit hike of a little over 7 miles can be done hiking the entire north loop. The trail is marked with white diamonds. Longer circuit hikes can be done by hiking the north, south, and middle loops in series. The Minister Creek Trail offers challenges to a wide range of skill levels as it climbs to the plateau within the Minister Creek Area. The trail joins the North Country National Scenic Trail along the northern segment of the north loop. This was our first hike in the Allegheny National Forest for Shari and I.
|Trailhead:||N 41° 37.23'
W 79° 9.23'
|Trail Length:||4.5 miles|
|Hike Time:||3 hours|
|Near:||Allegheny National Forest,
Minister Creek Rec. Area
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The trailhead for this hike is located across from the Minister Creek Campground in the Minister Creek Recreation Area. This is found along route PA666. From I80, take the Clarion exit and head west on route US322. At the intersection of US322 and route PA66, turn right and head north. While traveling on route PA66 you will pass through towns such as Leeper, Crown and Marienville. Once you leave Marienville, drive for approximately 5.25 miles and keep an eye open for Bluejay Road on your left. Turn here and drive for approximately 5 miles when the road ends at a tee with route PA666. Turn left and drive for about 6 miles. The road will make a sweeping right turn followed by a sharp left. This is the Minister Creek Recreation Area and the parking for the trail is located to your left.
This was the first time that Shari and I had hiked in Allegheny National Forest. There were a number of trails we could have chosen, but this one looked to be a manageable length and offered some vistas along with a nice stream to hike alongside. Another feature of this hike, which we didn't discover until doing the hike, were the interesting rock formations found along the ridge tops.
The day was mostly cloudy but the temperatures were comfortable for a fall hike. There were a large number of cars parked at the trailhead: at least a dozen from my estimates. This parking area also provided access to Tionesta Creek to the south, so some of the cars may have been fisherman. However, in the first half mile of hiking we did pass nine other hikers, so it is possible that all the cars did belong to hikers.
The hike started with us crossing route PA666 from the parking area and had a small climb onto an old, abandoned forest road. After a quarter mile of hiking we saw signs point to the left indicating the direction for accessing the south loop. We continued straight and at about 0.6 miles we came upon the intersection with the middle loop. We turned right at this intersection to follow the north loop.
After passing the intersection with the middle loop the trail descended towards Minister Creek. On the west bank of Minister Creek the trail makes a sharp left as it merges with another, unmarked trail coming in from our right. I believe this trail links up with the camping area located across from the trailhead parking area. After a tenth of a mile we crossed Minister Creek on a well built, sturdy foot bridge.
It was at this point that we got a little off the trail. As we were crossing the bridge I spied two trees leaning against each other to our left, spanning the creek. I thought it was neat as the angle of the trees mirrored the angle of the support beams of the bridge. I hurried down along the creek side to get a picture of the bridge framed by these leaning trees. If I wouldn't have been in such a hurry to get this picture I probably would have notices that the blazed trail climbed up the ridge away from the creek once crossing it. As it was Shari and I continued to follow a well worn path along the east bank of Minister Creek.
We continued our hike on the well worn trail northward as we followed the creek upstream. At about 1.3 miles into the hike we came upon a large clearing and two small ponds that were formed where a small tributary flowed into Minister Creek from the east. I looked at our map, which only showed the trail in relation to Minister Creek (the presence of contour lines on the map would have made it easier to follow the map), and thought that the trail should be heading up the south-east side of this feeder stream. However, after looking around a bit we could not find the trail that followed this feeder stream so we decided to continue following the trail along Minister Creek.
Shortly we passed two backpackers that were following the trail back to the trailhead. This set my mind at ease a bit knowing that we were at least on a trail that sees regular activity. At 1.7 miles we came across four other hikers. They asked how far it was until the trail turned up the ridge. I mentioned that we were looking for that turn ourselves, sort of figuring we past it by. One of the gentleman in the group confirmed my suspicions that this was not the Minister Trail North Loop that we were hiking but he assured us that in about 500 yards we would come across it.
Finally, at 2.1 miles into the hike we were once again on the white-diamond Minister Creek Trail. We joined the trail just a bit south of it junction with the North Country National Scenic Trail. We turned left here to continue following the north loop south back towards the trail head.
At 2.5 miles we began to climb the face of the western ridge of Minister Creek valley. This was our first climb of the hike since we got a bit off trail and stuck to the stream bank. The trail then makes a sweeping turn to the right at 3 miles before it turns back to the left and crosses a small stream at 3.2 miles.
After the stream crossing we once again climbed towards the top of the ridge, steeply at times. It was at about 3.5 miles when we entered the rock formations. These formations stood nearly 100 feet above the trail. Some were cliff sides but other rocks were separated from the cliffs with slot canyons of 8 to 12 feet wide. This was probably the most interesting part of the hike. The nice thing about it was that it came completely as a surprise. I can't believe I did not read anywhere in the write-ups about this trail that you would hike through these large and impressive rock formations.
After a bit of exploring and climbing, we came out of the rock formations and made our final climb to the ridge top at about 3.7 miles. About 500 feet after reaching the top of the ridge we came across the intersection of the north loop, south loop , and middle loop trails of Minister Creek. Also located here is the Minister Valley Overlook. From here you have a panoramic view of the valley below. It was an enjoyable vista, with the puffy white clouds in the blue sky and the fall foliage just starting to emerge in the valley below.
Shari and I had a snack as we enjoyed the view before continuing on. We decided to head down the left leg of the south loop and began a rather steep descent from the ridge top. At 4 miles the south loop turned to the right but we followed the trail to the left, continuing our descent back to the trailhead. At four and a quarter miles we were back to the main entrance trail and a quarter of a mile later we were back at the trailhead.
I was a bit disappointed that this seven mile hike turned out to be only a 4.5 mile hike because of my lack of attention. Aside for the shorter route, our first hike in the Allegheny National Forest was quite enjoyable. I was pleased by the surprise presented to us with the rock formations found on the ridge tops. I plan on coming back to the ANF in the spring to see what the other trails in the Allegheny National Forest have to offer.