Tuesday, October 12, 2010

In my sights

Unfortunately I have no excuse to head north for work anytime soon, but if one should arise I have two trails in mind to try:

Minister Creek Trail (~7 mile loop near Tionesta)

Morrison Hiking Trail (~11 mile loop near Warren)

Both are in the Allegheny National Forest, and both sound quite nice. 

Spent the weekend in Shenandoah National Park, which has got to have the highest scenery to proximity-to-Pittsburgh ratio of anywhere.  An easy 4-5 hour drive for beautiful mountains and great trails.  If anyone knows something comparable that's closer, I'd love to hear about it.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Raccoon Creek State Park: Raccoon Loop Trail(s)

I'd never heard of Raccoon Creek, but a friend had been talking this park up for sometime (all relayed hearsay, as she's never been there herself), and when I looked into it I saw that it's one of the DCNR's 20 "must-see" parks, so I thought I'd check it out. 

Maybe I missed something, but I'd rate it pretty average on the whole.  That pic above is from the park web site, and that's pretty much what you can expect to see on the trails.  Nothing wrong with that.  I like a good lowland eastern woods trail; I guess I just expected a bit more.  In any event, your map:

Raccoon Creek State Park

The Forest, Heritage and Appaloosa Trails all link up to create the Raccoon Loop, a 19.5-mile perimeter trail around the park.  A bit off-center of that loop cuts through Route 18, splitting it into two sections of probably 11 miles to the west and maybe eight or so to the east.  I set out from the main park office right along Route 18 and did the western half of the loop, then tacked on the Valley Trail at the end for some additional mileage. 

Sections of the Forest and Heritage Trails are fantastic.  I started out on the Heritage Trail, which is well-travelled for about the first mile, although it was by no means crowded.  After that, I saw only two day-hikers, two horseback-riders and three groups of backpackers the whole time.  A few miles into the western section of the Heritage Trail it gets into some really nice rolling hills as it crosses a few low ridges and nearly-dry creeks.  The inclines are very manageable, and the downhills are pretty open and really fun through this area.  Then things get a little thick.

I anticipated some overgrowth with an early autumn run on trails that probably don't see a ton of traffic, but there were sections where I completely lost the trail among all the thorns, burrs, bushes and downed trees.  Luckily, someone did a hell of a job marking the trees every 15 feet or so along these trails, so it never took more than a quick visual survey to get my bearings back. 

The Heritage Trail eventually dumps out onto the Appaloosa Trail, which is shared with horses.  Thanks to them, the trail is wider and generally pretty well packed down.  Nothing too exciting along this section.  This eventually leads you to Nichols Road, which you then have to follow for a brief stretch to get onto the Forest Trail.

At this point, you're as far as you'll get from the park's main attractions, so the first mile or so of the Forest Trail here is, despite being right by the road, like a labyrinth of weeds and branches.  Soon, however, it opens up into a really nice little pine grove through which you'll wind for less than a mile, unfortunately.  After that, pretty standard fare. 

After the Forest Trail crosses Route 18, I got a bit off track and somehow ended up on the Lake Trail very briefly, then on the road.  I consulted my map and figured the Valley Trail would be a nice finish to the run, and it was (notwithstanding a minor faceplant as I came too fast into a damp wooden bridge). 

All things tolled, nothing too technical, no serious steeps, no great vistas, but generally some nice woodland singletrack.  Also, the fact that the park office (with clean bathrooms) sits roughly in the middle of this trail (with a potable water station somewhere along the Appaloosa or Forest as well) means that the full loop would make for a solid marathon training run. 

If I return, I suspect it will be during spring or early-summer, before the ground cover has too much time to spread.   I also suspect I'll start with the eastern portion of the loop next time, in search of some grand view of the pond, which seems to be the park's main draw, and which certainly provided a great place to cool off after my run.