Pennsylvania: Roaring Run Natural Area

A precious backcountry jewel amid the hardwood forests.
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A precious backcountry jewel amid the hardwood forests.

Little-Known Fact: Roaring Run Natural Area features a complete mountain stream protected entirely within its boundaries.

Even though the sun kept me comfortable in just a cotton T-shirt, I knew there wouldn't be enough warm daylight hours left to dry out my boots if I gave them a thorough dunking. I was being especially careful on the 3.9-mile Roaring Run Trail as it crisscrossed its namesake stream. But then I saw it, across the stream, not 30 feet from where I paused to survey the steep valley walls ~ a miniature waterfall gushing from the rocks. I shrugged off my pack and plunged across the shin-deep pool, forgetting my resolution to keep my boots dry.

Roaring Run is a pristine, spring- and rain-fed mountain stream that originates entirely within Roaring Run Natural Area. The area covers 3,593 acres in the rolling mountains of southwestern Pennsylvania. Its location, layout, and terrain make it ideal for spontaneous weekend trips and shakedown hikes designed to break in new gear.

The area contains five trails that connect at 17 points to form a 15-mile loop system. About half of the system covers level terrain (popular with cross-country skiers in winter), although some of the steeper trails can rise more than 150 feet in a quarter mile. This loop arrangement is ideal for solo outings because you don't have to retrace your steps to your car.

Some of the trails are poorly marked, and there are enough water runoffs and old jeep trails to confuse easily distracted hikers. I usually spend about a quarter of my time getting lost and the other three-quarters finding my way back. But the area is small and surrounded by roads, so there's no need to panic if you do get confused. Just hike in one direction for a few miles until you hit an identifiable road, or head downhill to the bottom of the valley and pick up the stream and Roaring Run Trail.

The best vista in Roaring Run Natural Area is at Painter's Rock, which looks south over the valley. The only sign of civilization is a single house and fire tower more than three miles to the west, mercifully obscured by vegetation in the spring and summer. The entire valley stretches below you, and it's easy to forget you're only a mile from the nearest parking area.

The last time I was on Painter's Rock, I laid down to take a nap in the Indian summer sun. As I closed my eyes, a shadow passed over me, and I looked up to see a hawk gliding off ~ proof that enjoyable backcountry doesn't have to be big or far from home.

Contact Information:

Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources

Forbes State Forest

Box 519

Laughlintown, PA 15655

(724) 238-9533

Location:

Roaring Run is located in southwestern Pennsylvania, about 23 miles southeast of Pittsburgh and 25 miles northeast of Morgantown, West Virginia. Nearby towns include Somerset (10 miles) and Donegal (5 miles).

Getting There:

From the Pennsylvania Turnpike, take the Donegal exit and follow Rt. 31 east. Turn right on Fire Tower Road near the summit of Laurel Ridge. This road forms the eastern and southern boundary of Roaring Run Natural Area. Fire Tower Road eventually merges into County Line Road and becomes part of the western boundary of the area.

Seasonal Information:

The area is heavily used during summer, lightly used during fall, and rarely used during winter. Like all natural areas in Pennsylvania, it is open to hunting from about the end of September through the middle of January. Summer temperatures can range from the 50s at night to the 90s in the day. With Mt. Davis, the highest point in Pennsylvania nearby, winters can bring severe weather. The area receives many of the first hits of storms from the west.

Wildlife:

Common are deer, turkeys, black bears, raccoons, squirrels, and chipmunks.

Insects:

Contact park office for information.

Plant Life:

Because of logging in the early 1900s and the 1960s, most of the forest consists of second- and third-growth hardwood stands of oak, birch, and sassafras. In autumn there are plenty of wild blueberries. Winter is the most tranquil season, when the loudest sound is the crack of hardwoods shedding frozen branches. Fiddleheads adorn the loose, dark soil in the spring.

Facilities:

Camping is primitive backcountry. Most people camp along the trail. If you hike in from the western or southeastern parking areas, you can be at a campsite after three-quarters of a mile. This is especially convenient for families.

Parking:

Five parking areas have been constructed for visitors. Two areas are located along the Fire Tower Road. Another is located near the Nedrow Cemetery and is reached via the Fire Tower Road and Township Road No. 301. One more parking area is located along the County Line Road.

Permits:

A free permit for overnight visits is required.

Policies:

  • Pets are allowed.
  • Campfire regulations can vary depending upon area conditions, but the current regulations will be enclosed with your permit.
  • Vehicles are not permitted in the Natural Area with the exception of Township Road No. 301.
  • Hunting and fishing are permitted during appropriate seasons; check with forest office.

Hazards:

  • If you stray from the trail, watch out for dense greenbriar.
  • There are scattered rattlesnakes in the area.

Leave No Trace:

Pack in, pack out.

All LNT guidelines apply.

Maps:

Call ahead for a free topographic map.

Other Trip Options:

  • Bear Run Nature Preserve, about 15 miles south, boasts Fallingwater ~ a Frank Lloyd Wright design that allows a creek to run through the house. Fallingwater has been called one of the ten engineering wonders of the world. But if you plan to visit, tour reservations are highly recommended.
  • One of the trailheads is 0.2 miles west of the 70-mile-long Laurel Highlands Trail.
  • Seven Springs and Hidden Valley resorts, with skiing and mountain biking, are other places to visit. For more information, contact:
  • Laurel Highlands, Inc.
  • 120 East Main St.
  • Ligonier, PA 15658-1297
  • 412/238-5661