Summer on the Allegheny National Forest

Mike Bleech Outdoors Columnist

Where is the best places to hike on the Allegheny National Forest?

Of course this depends on what you like. But if you are lost for an answer, I can make some suggestions. To help you along the way, get a copy of ANF recreation areas map, or buy a more detailed map, at Allegheny National Forest Headquarters in North Warren, or stop by the Ranger Station off Route 59 at Marshburg.

Maybe you are just looking for a pleasant place to get away from it all. No problem here. On more than a half-million acres of forest there are many places to fit this description. Perhaps the most serene place is Hearts Content.

Here among the towering stand of old growth trees it is an easy step for the mind to wander to a more primitive world. Find a good seat and contemplate your place in the universe. Erase all thoughts except for the surroundings. Problems can be forgotten for a while.

A loop trail about a mile in length will keep anyone from getting lost. Or if you do not want to walk that far, there is a much shorter cut-off trail that has little change in elevation.

Stay right in that Hearts Content parking lot to access Tanbark Trail near the midway point.

This starting point makes Tanbark Trail more manageable for a day hike. The entire length of the trail starting at Forest Road 116 trail head is about 11 miles in length.

Follow trail markers to Tanbark Trail then head north across Hearts Content Road. After a mild rise the trail drops over a steep slope, through a rock crevasse, past huge boulders and down to East Hickory Creek. The foot bridge over the creek is a nice place to pause. You may see brook trout in the hole beneath the bridge.

A moderate rise in the trail leads to a boulder city where you see some of the most impressive rock formations on the ANF. Atop the ridge just past the boulders, Tanbark Trail follows quite level, mundane ground to Sandstone Springs, across the blacktop road, then over more level ground before dropping the steep slope to the Allegheny River and the northern trail head along Route 62.

This final drop takes you through some of the least often seen land on the ANF. You know this because few cars will be seen at this trail head. Large hemlock trees dominate the wet slope, shrouding the trail in shadows. Here under nature’s air conditioners you will find cool places even on hot summer days.

One of wife Jeri’s favorite hikes is the section of the North Country Trail between Minister Creek Road and Forest Road 116 at the Tanbark Trail trail head. This trail section passes through the Minister Creek Valley. The trail conveniently follows the more gentle slopes, but still there is considerable change in elevation.

After a gentle hike from the road, the trail begins dropping into Minister Creek. Here you pass through a very interesting rock outcrop, and alongside a tiny tributary that babbles through boulders. This is the most scenic part of this trail section. You might want to turn around among the rock outcrop of at the creek, and return the way you came.

Though certainly not a place for busy hiking traffic, the foot bridge over Minister Creek is a place where you are most likely to encounter other people. A popular place for camping, Minister Creek Trail joins with the North Country Trail for a short distance. Also, this creek is a fine trout stream so anglers may be seen. A pack fishing rod may be appropriate gear.

Maybe you want to get off the marked trails and do some wilderness fishing for wild brook trout. If this is the case, take Pleasant Drive from Warren, keeping right where Hearts Content Road forks left, then park at Forest Road 111 and hike down this gated road to East Hickory Creek. An old railroad grade follows the creek.

You probably will want to park another vehicle where the creek flows under Forest Road 119, or arrange for someone to meet you there at a prearranged time. Forget about cell phone service.

This is a long stretch of creek through the Hickory Creek Wilderness, so you probably should plan to camp along the way.

There is nothing more relaxing than fishing this small creek with a 3 weight or 2 weight fly rod. One small fly box containing some dry flies including Royal Wulff, some tiny nymphs and a few bright wet flies is more than enough.