Been doing a lot of work east of town lately and exploring that area, so write-ups on Crooked Creek and the northern section of the Laurel Highlands Trail should be on the way. For today: Yellow Creek State Park in Indiana County along Route 422, about 90 minutes from Pittsburgh.
I ran the southern side of this park on a very muggy, muddy morning after the recent Irene-induced rains, but still found it enjoyable for the most part. Based on the official map, I'd planned on doing about 5-6 miles connecting the Ridge Top and Damsite Trails. I did that, and a bit more. With better research I would have realized that much more than a half mile separates the two trails, and it's a winding route between them.
This park is popular among mountain bikers for good reason, and they've done a nice job of mapping things out. Check out the RideYC.com web site before venturing out, and I'd suggest printing their map as well. Here it is.
What I ended up doing was the Ridge Top Trail to the South Shore Singletrack to the Damsite Trail to the Bear Cave Loop and back, which was about 10.2 miles.
The Ridge Top Trail is great. Lots of stretches through pine forest, some fun rolling hills, a few small creek crossings (or just runoffs from the prior day's rain) and good, mildly technical terrain.
The rest of the trails were a mixed bag, though generally on the positive side. The South Shore Singletrack meanders a bit too much in its easternmost sections, but is very fun as you move west. The biggest creek crossing of my run--roughly shin-deep and about 8 feet wide--was somewhere along there, and was very refreshing on a hot day. The Damsite trail is pretty standard fare, and same goes for the Bear Cave Loop with a tough climb thrown in there.
I did get a bit off-track onto one sticky, buggy, disgusting stretch of mud on my way back around, which I suspect might have been the Billygoat Trail. I reckon you'd best avoid that area unless you find yourself there during a drought.
I looped through the Ridge Top Trail again at the end, and enjoyed it even more the second time around, knowing where to let loose and where to exercise a bit of caution.
Finally, I was thoroughly pleased that I'd parked near the beach, as a dip in the cold lake (with a Power Ade from the nearby pop machine) was the only proper finish to this slow, poorly planned jog.
The takeaway: a very nice park that I'd be open to exploring again. As for the trails themselves, certainly not on par with Laurel Highlands or McConnell's Mill but, then, there's a lot to be said for ending your run in a deserted lake.
(And I should mention the birds. If you're into fowl, put another in the plus column for this park. I saw several falcons, some wading birds (Heron?) and a huge owl along the way.)