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Black Forest Trail, PA – April 2014 (Backpacking Trip Report)

Black Forest Trail Backpacking Overview

View all of my Black Forest Trail pictures

  • Location – Tiadaghton State Forest, Pennsylvania
  • Trail – Black Forest Trail
  • Trailhead – On Slate Run Rd about 1 mile northwest of Hotel Manor in the town of Slate Run
  • Fees & Permits – None needed (Backpackers only need permits to camp along Pine Creek or Slate Run)
  • Length Of Time Hiked – 4 Days, 3 Nights
  • Trail Type – Loop
  • Miles Hiked – 39.3 Miles
  • Trail Difficulty – 6.5
  • Solitude – 3
  • Fires Allowed – Yes
Total distance: 39.86 mi
Max elevation: 2182 ft
Min elevation: 771 ft
Total climbing: 9921 ft
Total descent: -9865 ft
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black forest trail miles hiked and elevation gain/loss

map of th e black forest trail tiadaghton state forest pennsylvania

Map of the Black Forest Trail

the weather during our hike

Getting There

I left home around 6am after meeting up with my buddy Ryan. It’s about a 7.5 hour drive (440 miles) to Slate Run, PA. We escaped rush hour traffic and where soon into Ohio. Ryan was set on Chick-Fil-A, so we made sure to stop at the first one we found. We don’t have them in Michigan.

On the way into Slate Run, coming heading north on 414 from 80, we passed a Tiadaghton State Forest building. Although they did have some maps, they did not have any for the Black Forest Trail.

Day 1 – Wednesday April 16th, 2014

Miles Hiked – 6.8
Route – Slate Run Trailhead to campsite near Little Slate Run along the BFT

picture of the trailhead for the black forest trail in slate run, pa

We arrived in Slate Run around 2pm as anticipated. The trailhead is located on Slate Run Rd, less than one mile north of Hotel Manor. It’s marked by a brown sign for the Black Forest Trail, and the road has pull off spaces for parking along side it. There was a large “church van” parked here, but that was it. We weren’t expecting to see many people out here.

Heading down to the trail from the trailhead, almost instantly you are faced with a choice: left or right? We planned on hiking clockwise, but we actually had to make a left. It makes more sense when you are looking at the map. The first 1.5 miles parallels Slate Run Rd. The trail was well maintained here, with lots of logs that looked somewhat freshly cut. The trail also parallels the river (Slate Run) here, but just out of sight mostly.

Once on the trail, it took 20-30 minutes for my GPS to find satellites and get a proper signal. It often takes a while when it’s first turned on somewhere far away from the last time it was turned on. Also, even though I had cleared all the previous trip data, my current trip odometer stated 404 miles from the start. There must have been remnants of a previous trip that didn’t get erased somehow.

After about 1.5 miles, the trail turns northwest and crosses Slate Run Rd and heads uphill. It’s a 1,000ft climb out of the gorge in less than a mile. As soon as we started heading up hill, we lost sight of the trail. We didn’t notice for a few minutes since there was a path up the drainage, but soon it faded. Rather than backtracking, we bushwhacked our way up the hill until we crossed the trail. This was pretty strenuous, especially since we were less than an hour into the first day of the hike after a 7 hour drive. On top of that, I was throwing up only 48 hours earlier from a 24 hour bug, and still not feeling 100%.

black forest trail view april 2014

Once at the top of the gorge, we had our first view. Being mid April, everything was still bare and brown, and has a way of looking rather plain. In forested areas, I personally prefer to hike when things are in bloom, when everything that lush green color. Not that I am a big fan of the heat of the summer, but that’s when I find everything to be the most beautiful. It’s funny though, because I was reading through some Black Forest Trail trip reports before this hike and came across someone who has the opposite view on this as I do… he actually prefers to hike when the trees have shed all their leaves, because of the ability to see farther.  I wasn’t able to find it again after the trip to get his exact words, but it was something along the lines of “I’ve got to get out there and hike more before everything turns into monotone green”. Monotone green? What about monotone brown, that’s better? While I can see the appeal of being able to see farther, it doesn’t make up for the lack of beauty compared to late spring/summer/early fall hiking in my mind. Ryan and I got a bit of a chuckle out of this every time we came across a vista, commenting on the monotone brown landscape. Laughs aside, we were just glad to be out here regardless of the season.

We walked by a white cabin not long after hiking out of the gorge. There was nobody here, but looked like it was maintained fairly well and still in use. Farther down the trail we ran into a group of maybe 7-10 people camping. We spoke with one of the guys for a few minutes and found out that it was his van that was parked at the trailhead. He ran a group that takes “troubled boys” out on hikes instead of them going to juvenile detention. He mentioned that he had lost his map somewhere along the trail earlier near a specific mile marker (which are only printed on the map he had). I had a GPS track of the trail to follow, but having a physical map to refer to is always nice. Especially with those mile markers.

It was now early evening and time to start looking for a campsite. Today’s high was only 45 to begin with, and the temps were starting to drop. We found a decent campsite along Little Slate Run shortly thereafter. This area had received some rain and snow in the last 48 hours, and the ground was still pretty damp in spots. There was also not a great deal of level ground for tents, but we were able to find room for two one man tents.

campsite along little slate run - black forest trail, pa

Getting a fire going was a pain tonight due to all the damp wood around, but we made it happen. Good thing too, because it was really cold. However, the fire never got very big and required constant attention. No cooking over the fire tonight. After eating some food and huddling around the fire for a while, it was time for bed around 9pm.

Day 2 – Thursday April 17th, 2014

Miles Hiked – 13.9
Route – Little Slate Run campsite to Blackberry Trail campsite

little slate run morning day 2

Last night was a calm night. The sound of Little Slate Run trickling nearby was soothing, but the bitterly cold temperatures could not be ignored. The overnight low was 24°F, well below the comfort level of my sleeping bag. I still use a cheap 30°F bag, the Silver City by Eureka. I had all my extra clothes on inside the bag last night and was still cold, mainly my feet. I really need to get a better bag, just putting it off due to the $400+ price tag of the one I want.

black forest trail pennsylvania view april

pine creek gorge in april

I didn’t eat much for breakfast, all I wanted to do was get moving and warm up. Immediately after leaving camp, the trail climbs about 900ft to the top of a ridgeline that we would follow for a while. There were a few clearings here and there with some good views of monotone brown. At one of the vistas, I found the map that belonged to the guy we spoke with last night. Man, this thing was great compared to our map! Of course, we had no way of getting this map back to the guy we saw yesterday, so we kept it for the remainder of our hike.

bft pine creek gorge

along the ridgeline above naval run

The trail on the ridgeline is actually a two tracker road for a while before heading back into the woods. The trail then starts dropping in elevation and passes through an area with a lot of downed trees. We lost the trail here for a moment, our fault by not watching for the orange blazes on the trees like we should have. We had to backtrack a little way, uphill of course. Thankfully, it was only a few minute detour and we were now descending into the right valley.

along naval run black forest trail pa

small waterfall on naval run

After hiking the switchbacks down to Naval Run, trail crosses the stream. We decided to stop here for a food break as this was the nicest spot we’d seen in a while. Still not having much appetite, I just grazed a little. There was a small waterfall here, maybe 6 feet high.

view of pine creek gorge in pa

The next section was one of the toughest climbs on the trip at around 1100ft in a mile. Although the grade may have been steep at times, the trail was always maintained well and easy to traverse. This was true for the entire length of the Black Forest Trail. Having eaten only about 25% of my normal calorie intake over the last several days, I was feeling really weak. I just couldn’t eat anything, and that’s frustrating. Ryan was also not feeling like himself, as had a more serious sickness about a week before me and was still sort of recovering. We made good time up out of the gorge but it was tiring. Fortunately, that was the last big climb of the day. Now up on another ridgeline, there were a couple of good views of the Pine Creek Gorge. This is what they call “Pennsylvania’s Grand Canyon”. Impressive, but still monotone brown!

The Black Forest Trail now follows the ridgeline west towards 44. Looking at our map, we discussed our route options. We had a campsite in mind already based on mileage. But we had 2 options: hike along 44 north and then head west on the Blackberry Trail to our intended campsite, or hike the route as normal. The normal route would have us crossing 44 and continue west, in and out of the Baldwin Branch drainage, and looked longer. We figured a road walk would be much faster than our alternative, and that’s what we chose.

The ridgeline dumped us out onto Big Trail Rd, then Trout Run Rd before hitting 44. After an uneventful 2.5 mile road walk, we hit the Blackberry Trail. After following the trail west for a short distance, the trail emerges from the woods and into an open, soggy area. Our map showed the campsite along the trail as it starts to descend into a drainage just past this field. As we headed down into the drainage we heard some voices and eventually saw a group of people camping in the distance, through the trees. This was the campsite we were looking for, but it’s taken. I was a little surprised to see another group of people out here. We scouted around and found another decent site nearby. Good thing, because we were both pretty tired, and there were no more campsites in this area on the map.

bft camp night 2

The campsite was situated at the fork of two small streams, on the inner portion of the “V”. It featured an elaborate stone structure, a firepit/bench/dining area thing. I don’t know why I didn’t take a picture of it, as I have never seen a campsite with something as elaborate as this for a firepit.

tiadaghton state forest camping black forest trail

Ryan took a nap for an hour after setting up his tent, while I relaxed by the creek under a tree and filtered water. I grazed more heavily on my food now, which was about the only time of day I could actually eat anything.

For dinner, I cooked some italian sausages over the fire. The wood was dry enough tonight to allow a larger fire. Last night, the wood was too damp, and there was no way I would have been able to cook them then. Our stone structure kept the wind out of the fire, mostly, and gave us somewhere to sit and put our stuff.

 

Day 3 – Friday April 18th, 2014

Miles Hiked – 11.3
Route – Blackberry trail campsite to Red Run campsite

Last night was another cold night, with a low of 28°F. I did a lot better job of keeping warm last night by filling the area around my feet with spare clothing, that was a big help.

hiking the blackberry trail

pennsylvania backpacking tiadaghton state forest blackberry trail

Instead of following the BFT down to County Line Branch up up that drainage, we backtracked .7 miles to a trail (don’t recall the name) that heads north, and runs in between 44 and County Line Branch. After hiking about a mile and passing Grade Rd, we ran into a local and his daughter out for a walk. He was a nice guy, gave us some history on the area and info on the trails. We passed several cabins as the trail paralleled a road at times. Other times the trail followed an old railway. South of 44, we saw a deer near a logging area.

gorge view northern side of black forest trail

The next section of trail was rather boring. After crossing 44 again on the northern side of the loop, the trail follows close to roads and passes by many more cabins, and there isn’t much to see. There was one or two good views of the gorge but for the most part, like most of the trail, the view is obstructed by trees.

black forest trail stream

crossing a footbridge on the black forest trail

After being teased with views just out of sight for a while, the trail descends into another gorge. At the bottom is Slate Run (the creek, not the town). This was a pretty cool little area, with a few drive in campsites along the road. We took our time hiking through here, and ultimately stopped for a while near a small waterfall. Ryan wanted to jump in the water but had second thoughts after feeling the temperature. It was a nice day out now, with the sun shining and all, but still only in the low 50’s.

campsite along red run on the balck forest trail

We were thinking about campsites now at this point but were still a mile or two away from our intended site. Our map shows a campsite at the junction of Red Run and an unnamed creek at the last possible point before the trail starts heading out of the gorge again. We were starting to see more people on the trail now so we were worried about the site being available, but we found the area to be empty. However, several other groups of hikers came down the trail after we set up camp, so we may have lucked out.

red run creek black forest trail pa

waterfall on red run blackforest trail

two waterfalls tiadaghton state forest backpacking

There were two smaller, but still photographable, waterfalls next to the campsite which was pretty cool. We got to camp a bit earlier today than previous days, and actually had time to hang out and relax. The sun was hitting one of the waterfalls just right and I decided to take out my tripod and play around with manual mode on my camera. Ryan was off doing much of the same on his own, and that’s how we spent the afternoon/evening.

ryan sitting on a rock in red run

Day 4- Saturday April 19th, 2014

Miles Hiked – 7.3
Route – Red Run campsite to Slate Run trialhead

Like day 2, as soon as we hit the trail in the morning we were faced with a big climb. This one is the last of the trip, but always hard in the morning. At least it warms up the body quickly!

algerine wild area tiadaghton sf

After reaching the top of the 600’+ climb, we were presented with a nice view of the gorge below. After marveling at the monotone brown for a while we moved on.

BFT View

BFT View Day 4

Much of the trail up here today was rather boring. There were only a few scenic vistas, the majority of the trail just passed through nondescript woods. Ryan had mentioned a mine that was alongside the trail coming up, but that proved to be uninteresting as well. There was no evidence of any opening, and even the dump around the mine was just the same slate rock as everywhere else along the trail.

a huge and elaborate cairn on the black forest trail

The trail then proceeds to head downhill and towards the town of Slate Run. The trail here was an old road at one point, probably leading to the mine above. Then we passed an interesting outcrop of rocks marked by one of the most elaborate cairns I’ve ever seen. This thing was neatly constructed and huge. We dropped out packs and hung out in this area for a while, checking out the various areas tucked away behind a multitude of rock formations.

nice section of the black forest trail

a view of pine creek and slate run from the black forest trail

After leaving the rocky area behind, we saw a snake on the trail. Not sure what kind but he slithered away and we let him be. Thankfully we saw that snake because otherwise, we didn’t see crap for wildlife besides the deer yesterday. As the trail dropped in elevation even more, Pine Creek and the town of Slate Run is visible through the trees. I wish the trees would clear for a view at some point but they didn’t.

getting ready to ford slate run

Once we got down off the hill, we had one more obstacle to face before reaching the car. We still needed to ford Slate Run, which was a decent sized creek due to the recent rains. There is no bridge here which is surprising given the popularity and condition of the rest of the trail. However, I found it to be knee deep at the most, without scouting for a better crossing location.

turquise water of slate run

beautiful slate run creek

After crossing the stream, we passed some really beautiful sections of water before the trail heads up the banks. Definitely some good looking fishing holes right here, but there were also signs for fly fishing only and I believe catch and release only in one spot as well. When we made it back to the car, there were at least 10 other vehicles parked here. We saw a few guys with fly fishing gear, not sure if the rest were here to hike or what. Either way, we were glad to be back at the car and ready for some hot food!

Final Thoughts

I liked this hike, but it would have been a whole lot nicer if we had done it when everything was in bloom. I’m glad I didn’t bring my fishing gear, there really wasn’t any good spots along much of the streams except where the trail intersects Slate Run. Those spots were near the bridge on the northern crossing and where we forded the creek right before making it back to the car. There were a lot of roads, cabins, and other signs of human activity here and there along large portions of the trail. However, there were a couple of views when up on top of the gorge where I couldn’t see anything but trees.

It was nice to be able to get away for a few days and do this hike, even if it wasn’t on par with my trips out west. I was dealing with a lot of stress at the time and getting my mind off things for a few days was nice. Hiking really is great for that. No matter what I am dealing with “back in the world”, none of it matters out here.

As always, questions and comments are welcome!

If you found my trip report useful, please don’t hesitate to leave a comment! Alternatively, if you feel you have any information you’d like to share with others regarding this hike, please feel free to leave that below in a comment as well.

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