Experience the Trails of Pennsylvania

John P. Saylor Trail: Last Hike of the Year

Wanting to finish up the John P. Saylor Trail for my upcoming trail guide, I headed back to Gallitzin State Forest for the last hike of the year. I was a bit concerned because of the snow on the ground upon the Allegheny Plateau and I wasn't sure I was going to be able to make it to the trailhead. Upon my arrival I discovered that it wasn't snow that blocked my way to the trailhead but a locked gate. Apparently Shade Road is closed during the winter so that cross country skiers can use it during the winter. So I parked my car at the end of Shade Road and began my last hike of the year, albeit it bit longer than I had originally planned.

Trailhead: N 40° 12.89'
W 78° 43.64'
Total Elevation: 1842'
Trail Length: 9.6 miles
Hike Time: 5.5 hours
Hike Type: Loop
Difficulty Rating: 133
Near: Windber, PA, on
Route PA56

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In order to reach the trailhead you will need to find route PA56. The easiest way to reach route PA56 is to head towards Johnstown. You will probably approach Johnstown on route US219, either traveling south from Ebensburg and route US22 or north from Somerset and the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Once on route US219, look for the route PA56 east exit. Coming from the south, you will encounter this exit prior to reaching the west PA56 exit that takes you to Johnstown. Coming from the north, routes US219 and PA56 will merge for approximately 2.6 miles before you exit route US219. Once you take the PA56 east exit, travel for 8.9 miles, passing through the town of Windber. You will see a sign for the Babcock Picnic Area on your right. Continue on route PA56 for another 1.2 miles and look for the Clear Shade Wild Area sign on your right. Pull in here at Shade Road and continue back the dirt road for about 300 feet. Here will be parking on your right. This is the trailhead for this hike as just a short distance past this parking area Shade Road is gated for the winter season. If coming from the east you may want to find your way onto route I99. Just north of Bedford is the intersection of I99 and PA56. Exit here and travel west on route PA56 for 17.9 miles. Access and signage for the Clear Shade Wild Area will be on your left. Turn here and follow the dirt road for 300 feet to the trailhead and parking on your left.

With the hike not starting where I was hoping to, I had to rethink my plans for the day. I was going to hike the southern loop of the John P. Saylor Trail and then hike the Bog and Boulder Trail. I decided I would wait until I finished the hike on the southern loop and then see if I was up for the hike on the Bog and Boulder Trail.

The hike started easy enough. It was a nice simple stroll down Shade Road. The road was icy in places, but I was able to avoid the sections as a part of the road was always free of ice and snow. It was a gradual descent for most of the hike on Shade Road, with the descent becoming a bit steeper at 0.9 miles into the hike as the road drop down towards Mile Run.

At 1.2 miles the road crossed Mile Run on a newly constructed bridge. I paused here a moment to enjoy the view of Mile Run as it flowed into the surrounding woods. About a tenth of a mile beyond the bridge, as the road began a slight ascent, the Ski Trail (as signed) is located on the left. I turned here and left Shade Road behind as I continued my descent towards Clear Shade Creek.

I followed the blue-blazed Ski Trail for a half a mile and then emerged on the orange-blazed John P. Saylor Trail at 1.7 miles into the hike. I turned right here and followed the trail west towards the connector trail. I came across the connector trail at 1.9 miles and turned left here off the old railroad grade.

Less than a tenth of a mile had me crossing Clear Shade Creek on the cable suspension bridge. I then trekked again for about 300 feet when the trail came to a tee. This was the Middle Ridge Trail and southern loop of the John P. Saylor Trail. I turned right at this junction and continued on a westerly direction.

This section of the trail is quite flat as it follows an old railroad grade. It was quite wet in sections, with water pooling on certain sections of the tail and flowing across in small streamlets on other parts. I managed to keep my feet dry as I hiked along. I came to one of the larger streamlet crossings at about 3 miles into the hike. This was large enough to be classified as a stream and took a bit of time until I could find a point to cross with minimal difficulties.

At 3.2 miles the trail makes a very sharp left as it follows another railroad grade as it climbs away from Clear Shade Creek. This was probably the steepest ascent on the entire hike, but as it followed an old railroad grade, the ascent was quite manageable.

About 3.6 miles the trail turns to the left and crosses a small stream that it had been following for the last 0.4 miles. Once I crossed the stream the trail emerged into a large clearing. Located in this clearing is a shelter equipped with a fire ring and picnic table. Looking into the shelter, I came to the conclusion that I would only set up a tent in there if it were raining or snowing quite hard. It did not look all that inviting. The good thing is that there is plenty of places surrounding the shelter that are flat and clear, making ideal spots for setting up a tent.

My gradual ascent up the ridge ended at about 4.5 miles as the trail began to level off. The hiking was quite flat for about 0.4 miles before the trail makes a sharp left and begins another descent. This descent is short lived as the trail makes a sweeping u-turn at 5.2 miles and then climbs once again.

A short climb of a tenth of a mile and the trail turns to the left and traverses across the northwest face of the ridge. At 6.1 miles the descent becomes quite steep, but luckily it is short lived as well. At 6.3 miles the trail levels out as it is once againg back in the Clear Shade Creek valley.

The trail doubles back on itself here and heads west once again. The trail follows the old railroad grade for a bit, but breaks off to the left at about 6.8 miles. The trail follows the east bank of a small stream, crossing at 6.9 miles and meeting up with yet another railroad grade at 7 miles into the hike.

Finally, after 7.3 miles of hiking I was back at the suspension bridge over Clear Shade Creek. I turned right off the southern loop here, crossed the stream and then made another right onto the trail of the main loop. I turned left off the John P. Saylor Trail at 7.5 miles and followed the blue-blazed Ski Trail back to Shade Road. Turning right upon emerging on the road all I needed to do now was follow the road back to the car.

On my trek back to the trailhead the rain started to pick up. For the duration of most of this hike, even though the sky was overcast and threatening, I had stayed dry. Up until now. The rain got harder the closer I got to the car. At 9 miles I turned left off the road and onto the John P. Saylor Trail. I had entertained thoughts of hiking the Bog and Boulder Trail. But once I reached the intersection with the trail there was a steady falling rain so I decided to turn right on the yellow-blazed Bog and Boulder Trail and follow it for the last 0.4 miles back to the trailhead.

This hike was a nice way to end a year of hiking. I was a bit disappointed by the gate on Shade Road and the fact that it through a wrench into my hiking plans. But I was able to recover and make a nice hike out of the circumstances. I would like to go back once again to hike the Bog and Boulder Trail. Perhaps this can be my first hike of the new year.

The parking area and starting point for this hike.

Shade Creek Road crosses over Mile Run on a newly constructed bridge.

A view down Mile Run from the bridge.

Making a short cut on one of the ski trails.

On the Middle Ridge Loop, the John P. Saylor trail heads into a large clearing where a shelter is found for use by backpackers and tenters.

The trail meanders across the top of the ridge.

This picture does a good job showing the remnants of the old railroad grade which the John P. Saylor Trail follows for a good portion of this hike.

With the southern loop finished, I headed back to the trailhead, crossing Clear Shade Creek on the cable suspension bridge.

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