Weekend Backpacker: Pittsburgh
In its sweeping route across the northerly portion of the United States, the North Country National Scenic Trail dips down from New York State into the popular Allegheny National Forest, forming more than 470 miles of continuous footpath in New York and Pennsylvania. This stretch of the NCNST ends just southwest of Cook Forest State Park; the next segment kicks off south of Slippery Rock, leading hikers into a string of state parks and wilderness areas just north of Pittsburgh.
Jennings To Hell's Hollow (28 Miles): This trip starts from the wooded Jennings Environmental Education Center, which is noted for its large nesting owl population, profuse spring wildflowers, and a unique prairie dotted with the vivid purple blooms of the blazing star in early August. The trail proceeds from here along Glacier Ridge, a low ridge classified in geological terms as a terminal moraine, because it marks the southernmost extent of glacier movement in western Pennsylvania. You'll soon find yourself in Moraine State Park. Visit in early April to catch migratory waterfowl, or in late April to enjoy the profusion of spring wildflowers, including swamp irises and marsh mallows.
Skirting the park's vast reservoir (a way station for migratory waterfowl in late March and early April), the trail continues southwest to McConnell's Mill State Park, a thick boulder-strewn forest hugging the banks of Slippery Rock Creek. Crossing the creek on a covered bridge just downstream from a historic grist mill, the NCNST continues on to Hell's Hollow Falls along the creek through rugged but beautiful foothill terrain. The deep ravine and unusual jagged ledges of Hell's Hollow come alive in spring with bursts of color from columbine, trillium, and violets.
North end: I-79 north to US 422 east; PA. 528 north to Jennings Environmental Education Center. The NCNST heads southbound on the opposite side of PA 528 from the parking lot.
South end: Hell's Hollow is located off of Shaffer Rd.; follow US 422 west from I-79 to the McConnell's Mill State Park entrance, to the left just beyond the US 19 overpass, then drive down to the covered bridge, cross it, and watch for the signs to lead you to Hell's Hollow.
Permits and Maps
Camping is not permitted in the state parks, but there are campground options along US 422 on the three-mile roadwalk between Moraine and McConnell's Mill. Check with the parks for permission on leaving vehicles overnight.
Simple line drawing maps (no topos) and information on campgrounds are available from either park office:
Moraine State Park
225 Pleasant Valley Rd.
Portersville, PA 16051-9650
McConnell's Mill State Park
R.R. 2, Box 16
Portersville, PA 16051-9401
Be sure to line up a campsite along the roadwalk in advance of your trip. Both the 14-mile stretch of the Glacier Ridge Trail and the 11 miles along Slippery Rock Creek are rugged; plan accordingly. The upside of hiking in a ravine carved by a stream-water is rarely a problem!
Who to Contact
North Country National Scenic Trail Association
PO Box 2968
Butler, PA 16003-2968
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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