Login | June 19, 2018

Black Forest Trail backpacking trip

Pete’s World

Published: July 17, 2017

If you've had the itch lately to get out there into the backcountry to try something that’s definitely on the wild and adventurous side, well, I have just the ticket. And it just so happens to be in the very place I featured in this column back on 8/29/16: Little Grand Canyon Escape. So get that dusty backpack out of the closet and listen up, because I’m going to talk about one of my favorite three to four-day backpacking trips, the nationally recognized Black Forest Trail (BFT). What’s more, this 43-mile loop is what I’d consider a “Bucket List” trail, famous because of its two distinctly different faces: the harshly untamed face and the dramatically beautiful face.

The BFT starts and finishes within an old pine plantation in the cozy little hamlet of Slate Run, Pennsylvania. In between is some of the most rugged terrain you’ll run across within the entirety of PA. Matter of fact this track contains dozens of extremely steep climbs, demanding descents, wet stream crossings, and rocky, root-infested sections of trail that will test your balance and stamina in a myriad of ways. Add to that the potential for encounters with rattlesnakes and black bears, and it’s no wonder the path is considered one of the most challenging backpacking trails east of the Mississippi.

Okay, so that’s the BFT’s wild and adventurous side, its gnarled, untamed face. But remember, there’s also the other side, that spectacularly beautiful face. And let me tell you, oh what a captivating face it is. Traversing an exquisite blanket of forest that contains pine, oak, chestnut and towering stands of hemlock, the BFT also passes through dozens of amazingly picturesque runs and creek valleys chock full of rapids, waterfalls and tempting skinny-dipping pools. Yet the icing on the cake is the BFT’s host of stunning vantage points scattered along the its rugged ridge tops, most of which provide absolutely breathtaking views of the surrounding Pennsylvanian countryside.

The highest point on the BFT is 2,145 feet, which is reached twice, while the lowest point is 760 feet, which is down along Slate Run. With that in mind, my suggestion is to hike the trail in a clockwise direction, where you’ll encounter eight ascents that take you up more than 500 vertical feet each. And these are all solid climbs when hiked with a full backpack. The good news here is that when done in a clockwise orientation, the steepest section of the trail ends up being a crazy long descent from Hemlock Mountain down to Naval Run. Do keep in mind though that no matter what direction you hike, the eastern half of the trail will always be much more rugged than the western half.

Now despite my contention that the BFT is one of those Bucket List treks, I still feel compelled to repeat the mantra: This is a very difficult, rough and tumble trail which requires thru hikers to be in darned good physical condition, in addition to having several years of backpacking experience under their belts. I say this because to keep the trip within a three to four-day timeframe, ones daily trail mileage must be in the ten-plus range. And remember, the total elevation gain of this loop is just under nine-thousand feet.

Lastly, don’t forget to treat yourself to some awesome gourmet food and cold brews at the Hotel Manor after trek’s end - it’s strategically located several hundred yards from the BFT trailhead.

Happy trails.

Directions: Slate Run, Pennsylvania is a five hour drive from Akron-Cleveland. Take I-80 east to Rt. 220 north to Rt. 44 north to Rt. 414 north. The primary trailhead is just off of 414 on Slate Run Rd. in Slate Run.

MAPS: Trail guides/maps are available for $6.50 from the Tiadaghton Forest Fire Fighters Association, P.O. Box 5091, South Williamsport, PA 17701

Trail Marking: As with most long-distance trails in PA, the BFT is blazed with orange for both directions of travel.

Camping: Primitive (tent), non-permit camping along the trail is free, but backpackers must obtain permits for camping along Pine Creek or Slate Run. Contact Tiadaghton State Forest Office (570)-753-5409 for camping info, permits, etc.

Water: Water is available along the trail at any stream crossing and at several natural springs. Note though that all water must be purified via filters or tablets in order to be considered safe to drink.