Weekend Backpacker: Pittsburgh
Deeply wooded riverbanks, roaring streams, and meadows reclaimed from coal strip mines await along the path of the Baker Trail as it wanders 141 miles from the outskirts of Pittsburgh to the Allegheny National Forest. Starting at Garvers Ferry on the east bank of the Allegheny River across from Freeport, it meanders by farms and fields along hemlock-lined streams, passing through state parks and two major recreation areasCrooked Creek Park and Mahoning Creek Reservoiron its northward journey. Eventually it links up with the North Country National Scenic Trail in Cook Forest State Park.
Cook Forest State Park: Twenty-seven miles of trail wander through Pennsylvania's largest stand of virgin timber, with white pines and hemlocks more than 250 years old. The Baker Trail and the North Country National Scenic Trail merge through the park; look for wooden signs with the NCNST blue-and-white logo. The eight miles of Baker Trail can be combined with several state park trails to form a weekend's worth of loop hiking; camping is permitted at the state park campground and on two group sites. Permission must be obtained to leave your vehicle overnight in the state park. For information, contact Cook Forest State Park, P.O. Box 120, Cooksburg, PA 16217; phone (814)744-8407.
Crooked Creek Lake Park: After the Great Pittsburgh Flood, the Army Corps of Engineers set out to regulate every stream flowing into the Allegheny River. The dam at Crooked Creek is one of these flood control measures, creating a vast recreation area open for fishing, boating, and swimming. The Baker Trail passes through the length of the park, creating an enjoyable hiking corridor as it follows Crooked Creek upriver to the reservoir. You may use either the shelter along the trail or the Crooked Creek campground (user fee and registration required at park office) for a weekend in the park; there are 22 miles of various trails within the park.
To Cook Forest, 2.5 to 3 hours: Follow I-79 north to I-80; I-80 east to PA 36 at Brookville; PA 36 north to Cooksburg. To Crooked Creek, 1 to 1.5 hours: Take PA 28 north to US 422 east into Kittaning; head south on PA 66 past Ford City, watch for signs for a left turn into the park.
If you're thinking of taking an extended trip on this lightly traveled trail, be sure not only to pick up a copy of the guidebook but to check with Hostelling International, Pittsburgh Chapter, on current trail conditionsthey maintain hiker alerts on their website. Trail maintenance is spotty due to a lack of volunteers, and landowner issues have often been a concern. Although you'll want to bring a tent for any long trips, there are nine shelters along the route.
You'll need a copy of A Hiker's Guide to the Baker Trail to figure out where and when you can camp, to pick out water sources along the trail, and to avoid getting lost. Portions of the trail are well-signed, but many sections aren't well-maintained, and the topographic maps in the book will help you keep from losing your way. Since there are no signs indicating the side trails to shelters, you need the book! The guide is sold by Hostelling International, Pittsburgh Chapter, and at some local outfitters.
Who to Contact
Hostelling International, Pittsburgh Chapter
6300 Fifth Ave
Pittsburgh, PA 15232
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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