I recently went on a roadtrip to the Allegheny National Forest (ANF) in northwest PA. It had been several years since I took the time to explore the region. I love this area of PA, with its scenery, countless trails, and historic towns. Once the epicenter of resource extraction, whether it be oil or timber, these communities have also begun to embrace the outdoors by building extensive networks of trails.
One such community is Bradford. With the help of the Tuna Valley Trail Association, trails connect the town, watershed lands, University of Pittsburgh at Bradford (beautiful campus, the modern glass chapel is amazing) and even the ANF. The highlight is the Marilla Reservoir. I had been to the reservoir when I was writing Hiking the Allegheny National Forest. Back then, there was only a trail around the reservoir itself. I’ve wanted to return to hike the new trail system.
Marilla is a gem. A 20 acre lake surrounded by spruce trees with a stone dam. Bridges adorn the shore line where the trail crosses creeks or the outlet. Marilla is a Celtic word for “shining sea”.
What trails should you hike? Do not miss the Marilla Bridges or White Pine Trails. The Hidden Valley Passage Trail is also excellent. The Marilla Rock Trail goes into a huge rock city covered with moss and ferns, but the trail is a bit overgrown. A great loop is to connect all of those trails with the Marilla Overlook Trail and Marilla Ridge Road.
I parked along PA 346 at a large pull off and walked down to the Marilla Reservoir. The wide trail around the reservoir is obvious, and you can go either way. The whole trail is beautiful. If you go left and cross the dam, the views are better. If you go right, you will enjoy the deep spruce forests and cross two long, wooden bridges.
Continue on the Marilla Springs Trail. This trail explores creeks and springs under a stunning forest of hemlock, maple, pine, and birch. Some of the trees are massive. It is hard to believe this old growth forest isn’t more famous. The sound of the creeks fill the deep, wooded valley. Incredible serenity. I then turned right onto the White Pine Trail and crossed some footbridges over small creeks and drainages. The stunning forest continued. The trail threaded through this sylvan wonder and then passed a grove of gigantic white pines that towered through the canopy. I could’ve been in Cook Forest. I climbed to an open meadow area where the trail was more overgrown. This area had been logged, but many large hemlock trees were spared. The trail followed the edge of this meadow and then returned to the woods to meet the Marilla Overlook Trail. If you turn right and continued on the White Pine Trail, it would return you to the Marilla Reservoir.
The Marilla Overlook Trail followed a logging road through the open logged area. Many trees were spared, so it wasn’t an eyesore. It looked like a meadow with trees. Expect sun exposure on this section and there were some views of the surrounding hills, but I could not see the reservoir. Blazes are few. I then turned right onto the Marilla Ridge Road, another forest road but it was more wooded. Pay careful attention to the Marilla Rocks Trail on the left, it is easy to miss and there wasn’t a sign. The brushy trail descended to impressive rock and boulder outcrops with overhangs and narrow passageways. The Marilla Rock Trail returned to Marilla Ridge Road, where there was a sign. Follow the road to PA 348 among some pine plantations.
I crossed PA 348 and hiked the Hidden Valley Passage Trail, another great trail. It threads its way across streams, drainages, and climbs to an old railroad grade under hemlocks. A number of footbridges were along the trail. It was a pleasure to hike and ended at a gravel road very close to PA 348. If hiking counterclockwise, this trail can be a little hard to find. Hike up the gravel road a short distance to some stone steps on the left; this is where the trail begins.
I crossed PA 348 to my car, ending a great hike. If you’re looking for a new place to hike in northwest Pennsylvania, check out the Marilla Trails.
Length: Approx. 5 mile loop
Terrain: Moderate and hilly. Several wet areas.
Blazes: Infrequent in places but most trails are well established. Blue is the most common blaze color.
Signs: Most trail junctures have signs. The southern juncture for the Marilla Rocks Trail does not have a sign and is easy to miss.
Highlights: Impressive old growth forests, streams, many footbridges, massive rocks, some views, Marilla Reservoir, spruce forests.
Issues: Roadwalk on Marilla Overlook Trail and Marilla Ridge Road. The latter is wooded.