Laurel Highlands

I recently spent some time exploring the beautiful Laurel Highlands in southwestern Pennsylvania.  Most of the hikes were in the Forbes State Forest, but I also explored Laurel Hill State Park, Linn Run State Park, and the Bear Run Nature Reserve.

When you think of hiking in the Laurel Highlands, the popular Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail comes to mind, but some of the best scenery in this region is off of that trail.

Click here for pictures of the trip.

Cole Run Falls and the Blue Hole

Cole Run Falls

This three mile loop offer some great scenery.  We began on the Cole Run Trail, which soon took us to the falls, a double drop no more than 15 feet high.  Luckily, there was still some water going over the falls despite the lack of rain.  The glen below the falls was rugged and scenic as it was enveloped in a jungle of rhododendrons.  The trail followed the rim of the glen, offering glimpses of the creek.  The forest was scenic, with large hardwoods.  The trail soon reached another stream, which it followed closely.  The creek babbled over moss-covered boulders.

The next highlight was the Blue Hole, a deep swimming hole.  Unfortunately, it is tough to see the hole from the trail, which climbs above it on a steep bank.  The trail ascended over rocky terrain, followed an old grade, and soon returned us to the dirt forest road we took back to the car.  The Blue Hole is right next to the road, so we drove down to check it out.  It is a modestly sized swimming hole that is crystal clear, and refreshingly brisk.

For a trail map and brochure of Cole Run Falls and the Blue Hole, click here.

Laurel Hill State Park

Massive hemlock in the Hemlock Natural Area

I was impressed with Laurel Hill State Park.  It is a serene, beautiful park with miles of trails, scenic forests, old-growth hemlock, Laurel Hill Lake, and pristine Laurel Hill Creek.  It is a best-kept secret.  While it doesn’t have the waterfalls, vistas, or other stand-out features of other parks, there was just something special about this park.

Any hiker must check out the Hemlocks Natural Area; I’m surprised it isn’t more famous.  It is an impressive stand of old-growth forest, and the hemlocks look fairly healthy.  The forest feels ancient.  Some of the trees are truly massive, and Laurel Hill Creek flows next to this sylvan gem, which only adds to its beauty.

Laurel Hill Creek

The Tram Road Trail is another highlight, although we did not get to hike it.  This trail follows Jones Mill Run to a stone dam built by the C.C.C.  This dam complements its surroundings so perfectly, the falls over the dam almost appear to be natural.

Laurel Hill Lake is another highlight.  Surrounded by steep, wooded hillsides, the lake is perfect for paddling or fishing.

Laurel Hill Lake

It was a pleasure visiting this state park, and I hope to return.

Wolf Rocks

Wolf Rocks Vista

The vista at Wolf Rocks is a popular destination in the Forbes State Forest.  The trail is fairly easy.  It begins with thick jungles of rhododendron, pine, and hemlock.  The trail soon reaches a loop, where we took the southern route.  We soon reached the rocks, offering nice views of a narrow mountain valley carved by Linn Run.  Distant ridges were to the west.  It was a great place to relax in the bright sun.

We returned on the loop via the northern route which offered a nicer hike through more diverse forests.

Map and brochure of Wolf Rocks and the surrounding area.

Spruce Flats Bog

Spruce Flats Bog

A short, easy hike on a gravel path from the Wolf Rocks trailhead will take you to another gem- the Spruce Flats Bog.  This large wet meadow is surrounded by wind-blown pine and spruce.  The bog has thousands of flesh-red pitcher plants; I have never seen so many.  A short boardwalk and observation platform were under construction when we visited.  The bog is a remarkable place with incredible biodiversity.

A brochure about the bog.

Beam Rocks

View from Beam Rocks

Another short hike leads to Beam Rocks, a popular destination in the Forbes State Forest.  This prominent rock outcrop offers great views to the east, and is often visited by rock climbers.  Large boulders litter the forest below the main cliff face where there are rhododendrons, carpets of moss, and twisted trees growing over the outcrops.  The Laurel Highlands Trail traverse the bottom of Beam Rocks.

Linn Run State Park

Waterslide at Flat Rock

Linn Run is a secluded state park that occupies a narrow mountain valley adjacent to the Forbes State Forest.  I had been there many years ago.  The primary goal was to see Adams Falls, but the falls was reduced to a trickle as it sprinkled over its hanging ledge.  The remainder of the Adams Falls Trail was still a nice hike, with some huge oak trees.

We decided to hike the Flat Rock Trail, and I’m glad we did; it is the most scenic trail in the park as it follows Linn Run with thick hemlocks and rhododendrons.  It even features some old stone ruins from what appears to be a home or cabin.  Before reaching Flat Rock there is a wooden footbridge that serves no purpose, as the ground next to it was as high as the bridge itself.

Flat Rock is a beautiful spot where Linn Run cascades over hard, slick, sloping bedrock, creating slides and pools.  Blooming rhododendrons framed the setting.

Bear Run Nature Reserve

Arbutus Trail

This preserve is owned by the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy and is adjacent to Fallingwater.  The preserve is about 5,000 acres in size and features a network of 20 miles of trails; the preserve is unique in that backpacking is allowed and there are several backcountry campsites.  The trails meander through forests, rhododendron jungles, boulders, and pine forests; there are small mountain streams and some views of the Youghiogheny River.  We did a short hike along the Arbutus, Rhododendron, and Pine Tree Trails.

Click here for a map and brochure.

Fort Necessity National Battlefield

Replica of Fort Necessity

After so much hiking, it was time for some history.  We visited Fort Necessity National Battlefield, which was the site of the first battle in the French and Indian War.  This battle involved George Washington, who was fighting for the British at the time.  Apparently, Washington had a lot to learn.  First, he ambushes the French in Jumonville Glen, where a French general was killed.  Expecting revenge, Washington builds a rather pathetic timber garrison in a meadow; sadly, Washington builds it too close to the forest.  The French soon arrive, hide in the forest, and since the garrison is so close, have little trouble picking off the subordinates of our first president.  It was also raining, so Washington’s men could barely shoot back and their trenches were filling with water.  Needless to say, Washington did not have a good day and he surrenders.  To make matters worse, his translator did a poor job translating the French surrender documents, which stated Washington took personal responsibility for the assasination of the French general in Jumonville, even though Washington did not kill him.  Washington signs the surrender document and the French and Indian War soon erupts, which lead to the Seven Years War in Europe.  Who would’ve thought a skirmish on this obscure meadow would lead to a world war?  The lesson: think twice before ambushing somebody.  Another lesson: everyone makes mistakes, and the mistakes our first president made are probably a lot worse than yours.  Of course, all we remember is that he threw something (rock? apple?) across the Potomac.

The battlefield is also the site of the first national “highway”; there is an old tavern and tollhouse.   Apparently, people got tired of taking their horse-drawn wagons through the woods.

The national battlefield features a modern visitor’s center and several miles of trails through the woods and meadows.


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