I planned to hit the trail during the foliage season. There seemed to be a good mix of leaves starting to change, fallen leaves, and green. The day before I left was full of gusty winds. Many of the leaves that changed early lost their leaves in the wind. The low groundcover vegetation often ran near peak color.
|Hiking through colorful ground cover|
|A good look at the flat plateau|
|Sun almost in the bottom of the drainage|
|Brief rocky section near edge of the plateau|
|Looking across Slate Run |
|Looking toward north end of Slate Run|
The trail generally travels along the plateau except when it descends ravines, hollows, and drainages where water carved out the land. The first descent from the plateau occurs after 6 miles when the trail descends Red Run, eventually reaching Little Morris Run. Dropping from the plateau, the trail negotiates steep, rocky terrain. Fallen leaves makes the descent tricky as they hide the ground and best places to step. The steepness doesn't last long and soon the descent becomes more gradual as it follow close to Red Run.
The first 8 miles give a pretty good taste of the remainder of the trip. The trail travels the plateau over easy terrain broken by climbs in and out of drainages. About half the elevation changes are abrupt, while the other half run more gradually as they follow gentler slopes of hollows.
|Downed leaves made the rocks more challenging|
|Leaving the Wild Area|
I quickly noticed that a long, dry summer left its mark on the trail. The various creeks and runs along the trail barely trickled. Numerous smaller runs were completely dry. Near the 8 mile mark, the trail crosses Little Morris Run. A series of small waterfalls trickled over rock. The falls were quite pretty, but merely a trickle of what I imagine they normally flow
|Pretty despite very low volume|
|Bridge just below the falls|
The trail is generally well-marked throughout its route. Orange paint blazes on the trees mark the route. Most intersections feature a sign or double blaze. Even so, a few spots were met with a little confusion. The trail utilizes a road for a short distance after crossing Little Morris Run. The blazing on the tree was somewhat ambiguous. My instinct based on the blaze was to turn right. The blazes seemed to become less frequent and the paint looked different. Within a quarter mile, I reached a sign for a different trail. I checked the guide book and realized I took a wrong turn. Luckily I didn't go more than .25 miles before realizing my mistake. The red paint blazes along the trail are easy to confuse with the orange blazes of the BFT.
After a brief stretch off the plateau, the trail soon regained its elevation. This time the climb followed an old grade and climbed less steeply on a smooth trail. Back on the plateau, the trail continued to pass several lookouts. The miles went by quickly on the easy terrain along the plateau.
|Roughest section of rock on the BFT|
|Hiking through mountain laurel|
|County Line Branch drainage|
Another long stretch along the plateau follows the climb from County Line Branch. The trail crosses several open areas along this stretch over flat terrain. A short drop along a stream breaks up the flat terrain, but the trail doesn't leave the plateau very long.
|Hiking through a clearing|
|In summer I would think this is much brushier and full of ticks|
|You can see how flat hiking is over the Plateau|
|Nearing the end of the clearing|
The trail enters an area burned at the turn of the twentieth century called The Barrens. Upon entering the Barrens, the BFT passes a series of vistas. The trail passed through colorful ground cover along the Barrens. Less than a mile later another series of viewpoints is reached at Baldwin Point. The trail finally begins a gradual drop below the plateau as it descends toward Baldwin Run.
|County Line Branch Drainage|
|Colorful ground cover|
|View from the Barrens|
|Nice layers of clouds|
|The color is faded in this ravine|
|Nice color over mountain laurel|
|Old pump house from 1880s|
|Trail through mountain laurel|
A steep climb from Baldwin Run becomes more gradual as the trail approaches PA 44. Beyond paved PA 44, the BFT utilizes a dirt road for a short distance and eventually reaches the plateau for another couple miles. It's within this stretch that the BFT reaches its high point at an elevation of 2,145'.
|Road walk along Trout Run Road|
|Nice texture in the clouds|
|One of the few landforms that looks like a mountain|
in contrast to the flat plateau
Not long after the high point, the trail begins a steep descent for nearly two miles to Callahan Run. I was starting to get hungry by this time as the day rolled into the 5PM hour. Although I initially didn't plan on such a long day, the miles continued to fly by. The descent into Callahan Run is followed by another long climb. I decided to make my home for the night at Callahan Run. I reached the trail's low point along Callahan Run about 530PM. For a trail with a reputation of being challenging, I didn't expect to cover 27 miles, let alone so quickly.
The guide book indicated several small waterfalls near the campsites on Callahan Run. The main branch of the creek with the falls was essentially dry. I could see where the waterfalls stood, they just didn't have any water to fall. The main branch had enough water to flow and gather water for cooking at least.
About an hour or so after I arrived, another hiker that I crossed paths with a couple times the past 7-8 miles arrived and camped nearby. We exchanged hiking stories until we turned in for the night in the pitch dark around 730PM. I always find it unusual going to sleep so early. I woke up at one point and looked at my watch. It was only midnight, but felt like it could have been 5AM. A few times through the night a very loud barred owl called from its nearby perch.
|Hiking through a tunnel of spindly coniferous trees|
|Camping along Callahan Run|
Callahan Run- Slate Run
In October, the sun rises late, especially when tucked in a deep ravine. I rolled out of my tent just before 700AM in twilight. I felt quite refreshed from the long night of sleep. The temperature felt like it was into the 30s with a good nip to the air. I was back on the trail around 750AM.
Despite a good amount of elevation gain, the climb from Callahan Run remained relatively gradual as it followed a hollow to the plateau. Back on the plateau, the trail started passing viewpoints. One of the nicer vistas along the entire BFT is found at Hemlock Mountain. The view takes in the Pine Creek to the south. Fog rising from the valley added to the view
|Fallen leaves obscure the trail|
|Easy climbing along the dry upper Callahan Run|
|More trail obscured by leaves|
|View Across Callahan Run drainage|
|Pine Creek from Hemlock Mountain|
|Fog lingering in the valley|
Beyond Hemlock Mountain, the BFT begins another long descent toward Naval Run. Since leaving the trail's high point after mile 25, the trail became increasingly tougher. The BFT's reputation as tough was a little easier to see. The trail's last 18 miles feature roller coaster terrain with more consistent climbs and descents. The time on the plateau is much shorter with more dramatic elevation changes. The drop into Callahan Run was the first in this stretch and the drop to Naval Run seemed steeper and longer with a few swithchbacks to take some of the edge off the challenging descent.
|Hiking through hemlocks|
|Descending toward Naval Run|
Upon reaching the deep valley of Naval Run, the air was noticeably cooler. Along the run, the trail utilizes an old skid trail and shares a route with other trails. The BFT crosses the run before climbing steeply out of the valley. At one point a group of backpackers were sitting along the run but I didn't pay much attention.
At this point, Scott, the other hiker that camped by me, was hiking along with me. We started to question if we missed a turn since we only saw red blazes of the Naval Run Trail, not the orange blazes of the BFT. The guide confirmed crossing the run ahead. Sure enough a crossing of the run was just a few tenths of a mile ahead and a sharp left confirmed the BFT's course. Soon we saw orange blazes again. Within a couple minutes we descended to the run where the other hikers still sat. Apparently, the BFT diverted off the skid path at that spot. The BFT wasn't obvious from the direction we were traveling. However, now we realized our mistake and the other hikers confirmed the route since they were traveling the opposite direction. We turned around and in a few feet saw the abrupt turn of the BFT climbing away from the run, The blazes weren't visible from the other direction. Either way we were back on course adding maybe a quarter mile to the hike.
|Nearly dry Naval Run|
From Naval Run, the BFT climbs steeply toward the plateau over a series of switchbacks. The vistas quickly follow as the trail gains elevation. This section of the trail had one of the densest concentration of views on the entire trail. Many of the outlooks had log benches to take a break.
|View above Naval Run|
|View from plateau beyond Hemlock Mountain|
|Pine Creek |
For the most part of my hike, the foliage was mixed. Sections of trees still held green leaves, many of the changed leaves fell in the wind, and other trees were in various stages of color. The last eight or so miles, the trees seemed to hold more color. Much of this seemed relative to the slope direction. and deep ravines. The trail seemed to follow several north facing hollows and ravines which allowed the colorful leaves to hang on longer. The bright, blue sky backdrop seemed to give the color extra pop.
|Easy hiking on the plateau|
|Good look over Pine Creek at |
Moss Hollow Lookout
|Birch View Vista|
The last few drops off the plateau seemed more gradual as the trail tended to follow the gentler slopes of the hollows. The drops didn't lose nearly as much elevation as Naval or Callahan Runs. Less elevation loss meant shorter climbs back to the plateau. Some of the hollows were rather rocky with more leaves on the ground. At times the rocks were obscured by leaves making footing a little tricky.
|Gradual elevation change in the hollow|
|Descending a hollow|
|Denser section of forest|
|Leaves just starting to turn|
The majority of the trail along the plateau was dry, except for a short stretch about six miles from the end of the loop that traversed a muddy spot. A couple branches in the mud provided a spot to place your feet without sinking. One of the branches abruptly shifted as I stepped on it. I ended up with both feet in the mud up to my ankles. A little of the moisture seeped into my shoes and socks. Fortunately I only had a couple hours of hiking left.
|Ground cover starting to change color|
|Another easy hollow with leaves obscuring the trail|
|Looking at the forest canopy|
|Variety of trees in different stages of color change|
The last major drop of the trail comes with the descent back toward Slate Run. This felt like the roughest drop on the entire trail. The trail descends along a steep spine with loose footing. Steep slopes falls from either side of the spine. Several good view points look down toward Slate Run. The steepness finally eases when the trail drops to a hollow with a more gradual pitch to the valley.
|View across Slate Run drainage|
|Slate Run drainage|
|Slate Run visible below|
Finally the trail crosses a road and follows just above Slate Run on an old rail grade. At one point the trail diverts from the rail grade on a short but punchy climb to another flat grade directly above the original path. After leaving the grade for good, the BFT rejoins Slate Run Road for an easy downhill finish past the trail's start on pavement. At this point you can see the parking lot on the opposite side of Pine Creek, another .2 miles away.
|Old rail grade|
|Near the end of the loop|
|Crossing Pine Creek at the end of the hike|
I arrived at my car about 2:05PM on Friday. While the BFT had its share of steep sections, I felt the trail was much easier than anticipated. I didn't find it significantly more difficult than the Loyalsock Trail or Susquehannock Trail System. With the short October days, I thought I would struggle to finish the trail in two days. The miles passed quickly thanks to the long stretches of easy hiking on the plateau. My baseline for the past fifteen years of hiking has been the terrain of northern New England, the Adirondacks, and Colorado. In comparison, the elevation changes on the BFT are modest. That's not to say some sections weren't challenging, just that the gentle hiking of the plateau seemed to balance out the rough sections.
|One of the countless views|
I enjoyed the Black Forest Trail and would recommend it to others. I appreciated the plentiful vistas. Although the leaf color was not quite peak, the fall foliage enhanced my trip. I was a little disappointed at the lack of water. This was just a timing issue on my part. Due to the dry summer, many of the plentiful creeks ran at a tiny fraction of their normal flow with many completely dry. I enjoy the small creeks in Pennsylvania's forest and would have liked to have seen some of the waterfalls that were marginally flowing or dry, at a higher volume. Hiking in October not only gave me foliage, but also allowed me to hike without brushy sections that can be common in sections of Pennsylvania's trails such as ferns and stinging nettle. I still managed to find a tick on my leg despite the lack of underbrush. Hiking in October, I also missed out on haze and humidity common in summer. Cooler temperatures made for comfortable hiking.
|Nice red ground cover and blue skies|
|View over red ground foliage|
|Color among the green|
|Morning fog above Pine Creek|
|Leaf color in the ravines and northern slopes|
|Pine Creek |
For those planning to hike the Black Forest Trail below are a few useful links. For the best info and details on the trail, I highly recommend the most recent edition of the Black Forest Trail Guide which includes a map by Chuck Dillon which can be found in the various links below.
Black Forest Trail, Slate Run PA- Facebook page dedicated to the trail and good source of trail conditions and updates.
PAHikes Black Forest Trail-Website dedicated to Pennsylvania hiking and there info on Black Forest Trail and info on the trail guide for the BFT. (Trail Guide is available at other retailers)
KTA-Black Forest Trail-The Keystone Trails Association is a Pennsylvania specific hiking organization and the is their page for the BFT.
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This was great and love all of the photos! I have done about 7 miles from Slate Run going counterclockwise on the trail. I am thinking of going clockwise from Slate Run on the next trip, so having your photos helps see what I'll be able to experience.ReplyDelete
Thank you for this very informative post. I've also read your posts describing your hikes on the Susquehannock and Loyalsock trails. I am planning to hike the Susquehannock Trail starting this Sunday. I have about 4-5 days to hike total. I'll be driving from Indiana. This was a fairly spur of the moment decision. I could instead hike the Black Forest Trail or the Loyalsock Trail. I hiked the Appalachian Trail for two months back in 1997, from Maine to Massachusetts, but have not had the opportunity to do any long distance hiking since then. I've put on a few pounds since then, but semi-regularly take a 3 mile hike over nearby hills. Any recommendation on whether I should do the Susquehannock, the Loyalsock, or the Black Forest Trail this coming week?ReplyDelete
Thanks for reading. 7 days seems to be a typical Susquehannock Trail itinerary. Given you are out of practice for backpacking, I’d recommend the Black Forest Trail or Loyalsock. The shorter Black Forest Trail would probably be better given the short amount of daylight right now. 5 days is fairly common timeframe for Loyalsock but short days could be limiting if you are not in shape. Hope that helps.Delete
Yes it does. Thanks!Delete
Looksmuch more scenic than the NPT. Also looks like a better time of year for PA hiking, given that the ticks aren't jumping out every other step. 27 miles on that terrain? Having hiked with you, I'm not too surprised, but... wow.ReplyDelete
Troy- I made it, but ended up having some IT band issues that I am still getting over. I practically limped the last couple of miles. I still can’t believe you did 27 miles in one day; that is serious stuff. Thanks for the company on the trail; I enjoyed it. Stay well!ReplyDelete
Glad you made it but sorry about the IT issues. Hope you recover soon It was nice to have some company. Keep me posted of any future trips you take and check my website or FB page for the blog to read about any of my outings.Delete