Backpacking the Laurel Highlands Trail

By Barry Randall, Outings Chairman (Photos by Nancy Ball and Barry Randall)

While it doesn’t possess the dramatic overlooks or towering rock formations of some Outings destinations, a winter backpacking trip on the Laurel Highlands trail delivers in other ways – a serene sense of calm, quiet and solitude in a beautiful woodland setting. The 13,625 acre Laurel Ridge State Park hosts this popular 70 mile trail, stretching from Youghiogheny River to the Conemaugh Gorge in Pennsylvania.

This November, seven hardy Outings participants braved the 20 degree night time temperatures to hike over 25 miles of this trail, staying in semi-backcountry campsites that featured unique trail shelters with cozy fireplaces to help cut the chill. Along the way we encountered several whitetail deer, flushed a ruffed grouse and were serenaded by coyotes and horned owls. The bare winter trees allowed impressive views into Mill Creek Valley and Conemaugh Gap, while moss and ferns added splashes of green to the forest floor. Frequent Mountain Laurel thickets and Rhododendron tunnels reminded us that spring would also be a great time to visit, and the thick carpet of oak leaves on the trail hinted at the fall colors we had just missed. Definitely a destination with year-around attraction.

Exploring and enjoying the planet, along with great comradery, made for another rewarding MGSC Outing.

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