Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail
The 70-mile hiking trail stretches along Laurel Mountain from the picturesque Youghiogheny River At Ohiopyle, Pa. to the Conemaugh Gorge near Johnstown, Pa. The trail features overnight trail shelters that must be reserved in advance. Seasoned backpackers challenge themselves on the steep, rugged areas of the trails. Casual hikers enjoy areas that are reasonably level and pleasant for walking.
This major 70-mile hiking and backpacking trail from Ohiopyle State Park to near Johnstown is the main feature of Laurel Ridge State Park. The trail traverses state parks, state forests, state game lands, other public lands and private lands. The Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail is a major segment of the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail, a network of trails between the mouth of the Potomac River and the Allegheny Highlands. www.nps.gov/pohe
The Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail is open year-round and is blazed approximately every 100 feet with 2-inch and 5-inch yellow blazes. Connector trails lead to and from trailheads and shelter areas and are marked with blue blazes. Mileage monuments are every mile. Yellow bands around trees mark the trail at every major road crossing.
A Hiker’s Guide to the Laurel Highlands Trail is available from the Sierra Club Allegheny Group. www.alleghenysc.org The guide describes the trail and aids in planning outings. Included in the guide are detailed topographic maps plus information on geology, climate, plants and wildlife.
The Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail is popular with trail runners due to the diverse terrain and unmatched beauty. Run a portion of the trail for a workout, or run the whole trail in one day. Some of the most challenging trail runs in the eastern United States are the Laurel Highlands Ultra races, which are held the second Saturday in June. www.laurelultra.com
Six trailheads provide 30-car parking lots, overnight parking and trash receptacles.
Voluntary day use registration mailboxes are located in each of the trailheads for day hikers to fill out information cards for vital park attendance data and for use in an emergency. For overnight use of the trail see the LHHT Regulations section.
Shuttling services for hikers on the Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail are available from Wilderness Voyageurs in Ohiopyle. 800-272-4141 http://wilderness-voyageurs.com
Shelter Area Layout
There are eight overnight shelter areas, one area every 6 to 12 miles along the trail. Each area contains five Adirondack shelters with fireplaces, two vault toilets and space for 30 tents.
In order to better serve you, please participate in our survey about backpacking trails.
Summary of Parking Lots and Trail Shelters
Make a reservation.
Every hiker’s pace varies but a suggested pace of 1.5 miles per hour is average.
In general, Laurel Ridge is cooler and receives more precipitation than the surrounding valleys.
Know the climate and weather conditions on the trail.
Dress appropriately and layer clothing. Bring extra clothing, rain gear, water, insect repellent, sunglasses, sunscreen, and poison ivy block.
Supervise children in you care. This is particularly important when hiking.
Leave a copy of your plans with friends or relatives. Include contact phone numbers and other important information.
Wear fluorescent orange when hiking during hunting seasons.
Familiarize yourself with the natural hazards of the trail.
Bring emergency equipment like a first aid kit, whistle, compass, matches and a blanket. Please be aware that you may be hours away from medical attention.
Don’t forget the camera.
The following regulations have been established to protect hikers and the trail:
Reservations for the entire trip are mandatory and can be made up to 11 months in advance.
Make a reservation.
An overnight camping fee is charged per night per individual in the backpacking party. current rates
Payment is required at the time of the reservation and may be made by credit card or Pennsylvania State Park Gift Card. The reservation process is not complete without the issuance of a confirmation/reservation number.
Additional information and reservations can be obtained by calling 724-455-3744.
Camping is only permitted in the shelter areas and overnight stays are limited to one night at each shelter area.
Backpacking groups are limited to the use of one shelter at each overnight stop. A typical shelter can accommodate from four to six campers. Areas adjacent to the shelter are available for setting up campsites for additional backpacking party members. All excavations for wet weather tent drainage must be filled in to the original grade before departure.
One responsible adult (18 years of age or older) is required to accompany each 10 campers. The responsible adult for each backpacking party must phone the park office prior to starting an overnight trail hike to register the backpacking party.
Please be prepared to provide the following information when you call the park office to register your hiking party:
Park rangers may verify your reservations each night at all shelter and tent areas.
Campers must clean and remove litter daily at toilets pump platforms and surrounding areas, parking areas and campsites. Dispose of dishwater in latrines and do not use sinks for personal hygiene. In no instance can dishwater be disposed of on a campsite or in an adjacent area. This causes unsanitary conditions for the camper and the next user of the site. Unsanitary conditions attract skunks, raccoons, mosquitoes, flies and ants.
Fires are only permitted in camp stoves, fireplaces or in designated locations. Fires must be extinguished when unattended. Leave all ashes in the fireplaces and do not rake them onto the ground which prevents ashes from entering the shelters during wet weather.
No horses, bicycles or motorized vehicles are permitted on the hiking trail or in the shelter area.
Alcoholic beverages are prohibited.
All garbage must be placed in provided refuse containers. Refuse containers shall not be removed from designated “pick-up” stations. Burying garbage is prohibited.
Climbing onto the roofs of buildings is prohibited. These activities not only damage park resources and facilities, but also can lead to serious or fatal accidents. When backpacking, hikers can be many hours from medical attention.
Please no frivolous 911 calls. Responding emergency personnel and equipment may be at your expense.
One of the most exciting reasons to visit the park is for its scenery. Spring wildflowers dot the forest floor in early April followed by a vibrant green forest, as leaf out begins in late April. Mountain laurel blooms in June and rhododendron blooms in late June and early July. Come to the park in mid-October and witness fall color in all its glory. Winter is spectacular when the park is covered in a deep blanket of snow and the occasional great horned owl calls through the moon-lit forest.
The wilderness nature of the park lends itself to harboring a diversity of wildlife. In early spring, look for toads and frogs crossing the Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail on their way to vernal pools to mate and lay their eggs. From spring to fall you can find the occasional red back or spotted salamander finding the cool undersides of rocks and leaf litter to their liking. The box turtle, easily camouflaged with its yellow mottled shell, hides and looks for food on the forest floor during the summer months.
The varied habitat of Laurel Ridge attracts a variety of bird life. Year-round forest residents include the black-capped chickadee, tufted titmouse, pileated woodpecker, ruffed grouse, turkey and great horned owl. Turkey vultures often circle above the park in search of a meal and the flute-like call of the wood thrush is a welcome addition to any summer voyage into the woods. The spring and fall months bring a variety of migratory birds through the area, including warblers and hawks.
The best way to see wildlife is to sit quietly and remain still. For the best results, use binoculars and keep a safe distance between yourself and wildlife. Please do not attempt to handle any wild animal. If an animal does not run away from approaching people, it might be sick or injured. If you observe any unusual behavior by wildlife, please contact a park employee immediately.
A Word on Pennsylvania Black Bears
Laurel Ridge State Park has excellent habitat for black bears. Bears roam freely throughout the park and normally avoid people, but bears can become slightly aggressive when people get between them and food. Never approach a bear and be especially wary of mother bears with cubs.
Aromatic scents from your food can attract a curious and hungry bear from a great distance. Usually, bears use their claws to tear apart rotting logs to find food, but those claws also work well at opening food containers. Store all food items inside your vehicle. If you are backpacking in the park, store food a good distance away from your overnight campsite. Suspend food between two trees, ten feet in the air and three feet from either tree.
If you come in contract with a black bear, try chasing it away by making loud noises like yelling, honking a car horn or banging a pot. Notify a park employee if you have difficulties with bears.
Discover Fall - Scenic Driving Tour
Welcome to the beautiful Laurel Highlands, filled with scenic byways, picturesque overlooks, and unique, quaint communities. This area spans a four county region including Westmoreland, Fayette, Cambria and Somerset counties. Beginning in October the ridges and valleys come to life with color, with the peak near mid October. The Discover Fall tour provides two distinct driving routes through the Laurel Highlands linking state forest and state park lands, small town community events and programs with scenic drives of fall color.
Northern Loop: This approximately 125-mile loop is the quintessential “leaf peeper” road trip. The tour closely follows the ridge offering views at every turn. Highlights include a stop at the third deepest gorge in Pennsylvania, a ride on the world’s steepest vehicular incline, a walk to a bog and a pleasant drive through and past five state parks and a state forest. Allow a minimum of four hours to complete the tour. Laurel Hill, Laurel Mountain, Laurel Summit, Laurel Ridge and Linn Run state parks.
Southern Loop: This approximately 70- mile loop offers meandering drives through the valleys between the ridges of the highlands. Highlights include stops within three state parks and views of the deepest gorge in Pennsylvania from both on top of the ridge and from the Youghiogheny River. Allow a minimum of 2½ hours to complete the tour. Ohiopyle, Laurel Hill and Laurel Ridge state parks.
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Join a Friends Group
The Friends of Laurel Hill State Park Complex is a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving, protecting and enhancing the Laurel Hill State Park Complex. It as an affiliate chapter of the Pennsylvania Parks and Forestry Foundation, and is a qualified 501(c)(3) organization, which means that your contribution is tax deductible. Any money that you donate to the Friends will benefit the Laurel Hill State Park Complex directly. The Friends coordinate a wide variety of volunteer activities that benefit the parks. www.friendsoflhsp.org
Pennsylvania Parks and Forests Foundation
Believing that each generation is responsible for leaving behind a better legacy of good conservation, the Pennsylvania Parks & Forests Foundation (PPFF) was created in 1999 to give supporters and users of Pennsylvania's parks and forests a positive way to contribute to the conservation of our publicly-owned properties. The Pennsylvania Parks & Forests Foundation welcomes the support of individuals and businesses who share a commitment to conserving, protecting, and enhancing the natural, scenic, and recreational areas of this commonwealth. www.paparksandforests.org
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We love when young people ask us how to get involved!
DiscoverE has programs for young people ages 4 to 17, provided by Pennsylvania State Park educators. By combining recreation and education, we hope to motivate children to learn more and return often, leading to a lifetime of outdoor enjoyment and conservation leadership.
In Watershed Education, teachers and students assess water quality of a local stream on a quarterly basis and develop strategies to solve local water quality problems.
ECO Camp - Exploring Careers Outdoors - is a week-long residential camp for a cross-section of high school youth from across Pennsylvania, sponsored by the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR). Participate in action-packed, hands on activities and recreational adventures in Pennsylvania’s state parks and forests that expose youth to conservation, recreation and careers in natural resources. Learn how people make a living working in the outdoors.
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Laurel Ridge State Park
Maps and Downloadables
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Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail North Map (.pdf) (2,429 kb, 5/13)
Laurel Ridge State Park is in Cambria, Fayette, Westmoreland, and Somerset counties, Pennsylvania.
Laurel Ridge State Park