Backpacking on the Black Forest Trail

An Excellent Adventure in the Pennsylvania Wilds

The Black Forest Trail is a 42-mile loop in north-central Pennsylvania. We set out on an early June weekend and covered five miles of the trail, or about 10 miles out and back. We planned the trip using the Black Forest Trail Guide from the PA Hikes website. The website and the guide book were very helpful in selecting our route.

We started at the southernmost parking lot shown above on PA Rt. 44, at the intersection with the Ruth Will Trail. Our ultimate destination was the Barrens overlook at mile 19 on the map. There were multiple stream-side backcountry campsites along the way, including one at mile 21.2. There's another nice site on the Ruth Will Trail between mile 21.5 and Rt. 44, but it requires a five-minute walk to the Baldwin Branch stream to collect water.

I like to know about the history and natural features of an area before I go backpacking. That way I can bore my fellow backpackers with my extensive local knowledge. The stone building pictured below was built in the late 1800s as a pump station for an oil pipeline that traversed PA, and many PA backpacking trails, including those on the Black Forest Trail, follow old logging roads or rail grades from the infamous "Pennsylvania Desert" clear-cut that occurred at the turn of the century.

The photo below was taken at one of the established campsites on the Black Forest Trail. Like many backcountry sites, this one was somewhat level, close to a water source, had a stone fire ring, table and chairs, and was shaded. Most PA backpacking trails allow camping anywhere along the trail (within certain guidelines and subject to specific forest area rules), but using established campsites leaves a smaller impact on the natural area and is just downright easier on slackpackers like us.

The boys filtering water from the stream...

Ramen noodles are one of the most delicious foods ever when you have no access to a fridge or pantry. Just ask Max.

Shown below: Max on his first-ever attempt at hanging a bear bag. I give him points for climbing skills, but a deduct on rope skills.

Max and his weekend home. He said he was pretty comfortable in there, but it did get down into the 40s on our first night.

We day-hiked to the Barrens overlook. This section of the trail was easy, wide and grassy, while other sections were very rocky and rooty. Except for some hikers at the trailhead that were headed in the other direction, we didn't see anyone on the trail during our three days out.

There were a couple of breaks in the canopy and we had nice views of the surrounding valleys.

There were all kinds of interesting plants along the way, like mountain laurel, sassafras, tea-berry (also known as wintergreen) and bleeding heart flowers, which really do look like a bleeding heart.

Below: Grandpa Tadd and Max on our lunch break at the Barrens. The weather was beautiful and so was the view.

Max told me I'm to old for a "selfie." Whatever.

We broke camp on Sunday and headed home. On our way out we stopped in Waterville, a scenic village built in the early 1800s at the confluence of Pine Creek and Little Pine Creek. We had an excellent lunch at the historic Waterville Tavern.  

A rails-to-trails bridge in Waterville offers a nice view of the Pine Creek confluence.