Black Forest Trail, PA

A 42-mile loop through America's version of the Black Forest.
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A 42-mile loop through America's version of the Black Forest.

Some days the aroma of mountain laurel in bloom is almost intoxicating, and the valleys fill with fog so thick you'd think you could ski across. Spring in Pennsylvania's "Endless Mountains" is a special time, but you can savor the Black Forest Trail's (BFT) big draw-the sweeping views-any season. Averaging one vista for each of its 42 miles, the trail could be considered the Keystone State's most panoramic pathway.

Virgin stands of hemlock and white pine trees once grew so tall and thick that sunlight couldn't reach the forest floor, hence the "black" forest. Some 100 years ago lumbermen clipped the forest primeval, but time heals all wounds and today the Black Forest is again a wild place, though its plateaus and mountainsides are cloaked with more mixed hardwoods than evergreens.

The BFT meanders through a network of trails and dirt roads, offering a full range of short and long circuit hike possibilities. Overlooks on the eastern side take in the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania, perhaps the state's premier wild spot.

TRAIL PLANNER

LENGTH: The 42-mile loop trail can be hiked comfortably in about three to four days.

RATING: Strenuous on the eastern half, moderate on the western half.

WHERE: Northcentral Pennsylvania, about 41/2 hours from Pittsburgh and 41/2 hours from New York City. The Slate Run trailhead is located northwest of Williamsport off of PA 414. At the village of Slate Run, turn left on Slate Run Road. In less than a mile you'll come to the trailhead and parking.

MAPS: A trail guide/map is available for $6.50 from the Tiadaghton Forest Fire Fighters Association, P.O. Box 5091, South Williamsport, PA 17701.

CONTACT: Tiadaghton State Forest, 423 E. Central Ave., South Williamsport, PA 17701; (717) 327-3450. Also, Chuck Dillon of Pine Creek Outfitters welcomes backpacking queries at (717) 724-3003.