Over the last few years I’d had my eyes opened to the wealth of public lands in Western Pennsylvania, and enjoyed discovering all the various hiking trails. One of my favorites is the Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail, a 70-mile route from Seward to Ohiopyle that winds through State Parks, State Forests, and State Game Lands. The diverse landscapes it connects include imposing rock outcroppings, tangled rhododendron tunnels, and quiet fern-filled forests. When I started a sabbatical a few months ago there were a lot of things I needed a break from — to stop doing — but one of the few concrete goals I had was to complete a thru-hike of the Laurel Highlands.
I’d never done any overnight backpacking, so this trip required a bit of planning, learning, and training to pull off. But last week I successfully completed the 70-mile hike, and really enjoyed myself! Below are some day-by-day notes for my own documentation that might hopefully help others who are interested in planning a similar trip.
The Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail map has been hanging on my office whiteboard for over a year, where I mark off the sections that Molly and I have completed together. These are 6–8 mile out-and-back hikes, so while we’ve seen a lot of the trail it’s been fairly slow going, and difficult to fill in some of the more remote gaps.
The trail runs from Ohiopyle, PA (mile 0) to Seward, PA (mile 70) and I hiked it in reverse because the segments worked out a bit better for me and it seemed more celebratory to end in a bustling small town full of outfitters and restaurants, rather than a quiet parking lot.
One of the things that made this trip seem doable, as a first-time backpacker, are the eight different shelter areas along the trail. Each one contains a handful of three-sided Adirondack shelters with integrated fireplaces, which can be reserved ahead of time. The shelter areas are well maintained by the PA DCNR, who provide cut firewood, bear-proof trash containers, and clean outhouses.
The spacing and number of shelters allows for a variety of different itineraries, and I decided to do the hike in five nights, starting Monday morning and ending on Saturday afternoon.Continue reading “Laurel Highlands Thru-Hike, May 2022”