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Black Forest Trail: Revisiting After Eight Years

From September 2003 to September 2005, I was able to section hike the entire Black Forest Trail with a number of fellow hikers. During this time I had stated that the Black Forest Trail was my favorite hiking trail in Pennsylvania. It offered challenging climbs, scenic streams and many breath-taking vistas, all on a well groomed trail. However, the hike in September of 2005 was my last hike on the BFT, which hardly seems appropriate since I referred to this as my favorite Pennsylvania trail. This past weekend I had a chance to right this wrong by heading back to the Black Forest Trail for an overnight backpacking trip. With Mike in tow, we headed up to Naval Run to rehike a section of the BFT that I had previously hiked twice before.

Trailhead: N 41° 27.48''
W 77° 30.86'
Total Elevation: 5970'
Trail Length: 12.8 miles
Hike Time: 8.5 hours
Hike Type: Loop
Difficulty Rating: 247
Near: Along PA44 and PA414 around
the village of Slate Run in the
Tiadaghton State Forest.

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The trailhead for this hike is located just along Pine Creek by the town of Slate Run. It can be reached, coming from the south, by taking route PA44 north at the intersection of US220 in Jersey Shore. Just past Waterville, you will take a right off of PA44 onto route PA414. Once you turn onto route PA414 set your odometer and drive for 14.1 miles. As you approach Slate Run you will turn left and cross Pine Creek. At the intersection after the bridge, turn left down the dirt road and follow it to the end, near Naval Run, and park in the parking area provided. If coming from the north, once you enter the town of Slate Run, turn right, cross the bridge, and then turn left at the intersection and follow the road to it's end.

The section of the trail that Mike and I were going to hike was the same section that I had hiked twice before. The first time was with Mark on my first hiking trip. This was a dayhike, accompanying Mark as he was attempting to hike the entire trail. The second time was an overnight backpacking trip with Mark, Cathey, and Shari. To mix things up a bit, Mike and I were going to hike this section of the trail in a counter-clockwise fashion as opposed to the previous two trips where I hiked clockwise from Naval Run to Slate Run.

The plan for this 12 mile hike was to hike 8 miles the first day and then finish up with 4 miles on the second day. After some thought, we decided that 8 miles with a pack on our backs would be a bit much, especially since this was Mike's first backpacking trip in over 18 years. We decided to head up on Friday and possibly camp at a campsite about 2 miles into the hike, making our first full day of hiking only 6 miles long. At the very least we would have an early start on Saturday so that we could take our time hiking the eight miles.

We camped Friday night at the end of our circuit hike, near Naval Run. After dinner, as we sat by the fire, Mike and I decided that we would attempt to hike the entire 12 miles on Saturday, coming back to this campsite for Saturday night. A slackpacking approach to our hike, this would allow us to hike without packs on our backs, only carrying water and food for the hike.

We woke at 6:30AM on Saturday. Neither Mike or I had a very restful sleep. From the sound of large animals running through our campsite to the hard ground and the fact that my arms fell asleep every time I tried to sleep on my side, I was a bit stiff and not as well rested as I would have liked to have been for our day of hiking. Regardless, we ate our breakfast and started our on our 12 mile circuit hike at about 7:30AM.

We hiked down the dirt road, back towards Slate Run. We crossed over Little Slate Run at 0.7 miles into the hike and then we hiked along the banks of Pine Creek. The sun was just coming over the mountain and the morning fog was burning off.

At 1.3 miles we were at the Hotel Manor where we began a short ascent up Slate Run Road. At 1.7 miles we reached the official trailhead of the Black Forest Trail. We turned right off Slate Run Road and descended on the small connecting trail where we soon reached the Black Forest Trail proper. There was a trail register here, so we signed in before continuing on our way.

The next mile and a half of hiking was pleasant as the trail followed the west bank of Slate Run. The trail follows old railroad grades as well as some single track trail along this portion. At 3.2 miles we climbed up and away from Slate Run, crossing Slate Run Road at the bridge over a small feeder stream. We paused here for a moment to eat a bit of a snack as we knew we had a heck of a climb ahead of us.

After our short break we crossed the road and began our climb. At first we followed the bank of the small feeder stream, but at 3.3 miles the trail made a sharp right and began its' ascent in earnest. We had a bit of break during the climb to take in a vista of the Slate Run valley about 3.5 miles into the hike. At 3.9 miles we reached the top of the ascent and reached another vista of the Slate Run valley where we sat down and enjoyed the view as we recovered from the climb.

After our short rest at the vista we were back on the trail. The hiking was relatively flat now. At 4.2 miles the trail made a sharp left as we headed towards Foster Hollow. At 4.5 miles reached the pond and very nice campsite that Mark, Cathey, Shari and I had used back in 2004. Just past the pond Mike and I began our descent down into Foster Hollow. Actually, this was the first time I had hiked this section of the Black Forest Trial. There was a 0.6 mile section of the trail that I had never managed to hike during my last two outings on this section of the trail. But now, I was finally completing the entire Black Forest Trail.

At 5.1 miles we reached the bottom of Foster Hollow where we immediately began climbing back out of. This section of the trail follows a dry creek bed, but the stones are slippery and moss covered. Luckily this was a short ascent, and after 0.4 miles we were back on flat ground.

At 5.8 miles we crossed a dirt mountain road and then descended a short distance to a campsite and water source, the first since the bottom of Foster Hollow. The trail turned sharply to the right to climb a bit and then pass through some very thick vegetation. After a while the vegetation cleared and we entered a stand of pine trees. We notice a trail camera on the left side of the trail and Mike and I posed for pictures in front of the camera. Finally at 6.6 miles the trail emerged from the woods at the intersection of Old Mountain Road (Manor Fork Road) and Pine Hollow Road. We paused here for a bit to wet our whistle before continuing on.

Hiking down Manor Fork Road, we passed a view of the Little Slate Run valley at 6.7 miles. At 6.9 miles, the trail leaves Manor Fork Road on the left. We began our gradual descent towards Little Slate Run. Near the top the trail was quite wet and muddy. At 7.5 miles we passed another vista. Finally, at 8.2 miles we reached the bottom of our descent.

There was a campsite here where Mike and I ate our lunch. This was to be our campsite for Saturday night. It was a very nice campsite, with multiple fire rings and some very nice seats around the fire ring, made of logs and large, flat rocks. After 20 minutes of resting and eating our lunch, we said farewell to the campsite and began our third ascent of the day.

This climb was quite steep at the beginning and really put a hurting on Mike and I. As we climbed we turned left at 8.8 miles to descend to the stream below. It was a cruel trick, making us climb, followed by a short descent, only to have to climb out of the stream bed below. This descent erased about 150 feet we had gained in our first climb, only to have to do it again following the stream.

Finally at 9.6 miles we finished our last climb of the day as the Black Forest Trail turned sharply to the left to follow Gas Line Road across the ridge top. At 10.3 miles the trail leaves Gas Line Road to the right as it makes it way to what I consider one of the nicest vistas on the BFT. At 10.6 miles the trail makes a sharp left at Canyon Vista. From here you can look down Naval Run and down Pine Creek. Mike and I paused here for a bit to take in the views before we continued on towards the end of our journey.

At 11.8 miles we began our final, steep descent towards Naval Run. Even though this descent was steep at times, it had many switchbacks and I was looking forward to this portion of the trail. Not only because we were now about a half mile from our campsite and the end of the hike, but also because this section of the trail made its way through a nice section of broad leaf forest. You can image my shock when in 0.2 miles we emerged into what looked like a war zone. In May of 2011, as I discovered after returning home and doing some research, some strong winds (not classified as a tornado) raked across the face of the mountain, downing many acres of trees. The Black Forest Trail meandered through the downed trees and open expanse, exposing us to the heat of the June sun. The trail was growing high with grass as there was no leaf canopy to prevent the growth of underbrush. The maintainers of the trail did an excellent job of removing the downed trees so that the trail was clear of obstacles, but it would require many, many years of constant maintenance to keep the brush at bay.

At 12.6 miles we reached the bottom of the descent, just above Naval Run. The Black Forest trail continues straight but we turned left onto a yellow-blazed trail. This trail follows high above Naval Run and after 0.2 miles it emerged at our campsite.

We completed the 12.8 mile circuit dayhike of a section of the Black Forest Trail in 7.5 hours. Both Mike and I were beat and we decided to pack up the tents and head home so we could enjoy a nice warm shower and a sound sleep in a soft bed. The hike was a challenge but it was quite enjoyable. Hopefully Mike thought so as well. I would like to head back the Black Forest Trail over the next few years to once again hike my favorite trail in Pennsylvania.

A look at our campsite near Naval Run.

Morning sun burns the fog off above Pine Creek.

Heading down to the Black Forest Trail proper.

We start our first ascent of the day.

Our first vista, looking down Slate Run valley towards the village of Slate Run.

The trail passes through some interesting rock formations.

Mike enjoys a view after completing our fist climb of the day.

The campsite near the pond at the top of Foster Hollow.

Starting our climb out of Foster Hollow.

The vista along Manor Fork Road, looking out over the Little Slate Run valley.

Mike enjoys one of the chairs at the campsite along Little Slate Run.

My favorite view on the entire trail.

This rock is a great place to enjoy a rest if you are climbing up the BFT from Naval Run below.

The grassy trail makes its way through the aftermath of a strong storm to hit the area in May of 2011.

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