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Exploring the Trails in the Allegheny National Forest

by / Monday, 23 June 2014 / Published in News

While opportunities for backpacking are somewhat limited in northeast Ohio, there are some great trails within a day’s drive. This past week the opportunity presented itself for me to take a short overnight trip, so I decided to check out a trail that was new to me. I headed out to the Allegheny National Forest in northwestern Pennsylvania, which is about a 3 hour drive from the Cuyahoga Valley.

Rimrock-Morrison trail at Allegheny National Forest

I chose the Rimrock-Morrison Trail

The trail I chose was the Rimrock-Morrison trail, which consists of two connected loop trails that form a figure-eight. The eastern loop is the 5.8 mile Morrison trail, and the western loop is the 8.8 mile Rimrock trail. The two trails together make a 10.8 mile loop that works well for an overnight backpacking trip.

No permit is required to camp, and dispersed camping is permitted as long as you’re at least 1500 feet from the tree line of the reservoir. Near the western end of the Rimrock loop, the trail passes the Morrison Campground, which is an established campground right on the shore. A $12 fee is required to camp at the Morrison Campground, and there are picnic tables, fire rings, and vault toilets there.

Note: I was glad I checked the ANF website before I headed out. The water system at Morrison Campground is no longer functional, so make sure to bring your own water!

The Morrison trailhead was well marked and very easy to find. It is on route 59, about 16 miles east of Warren, PA, just past a bridge over the picturesque Allegheny Reservoir. Parking was plentiful, and there were free maps available at a kiosk in the parking lot.

A beautiful hike through ferns, mountain laurel and tall trees

The trail itself was also well marked by grey diamond shaped placards, and easy to follow. It wound through fairly even terrain at first, through lots of ferns and trees. I was surprised when long stretches of the trail were surrounded by mountain laurel. It will be spectacular in mid to late June when it all starts blooming!

Ferns and trees along Rimrock-Morrison trail

Overall I’d say the terrain was moderately difficult. It transitioned from fairly flat, easy hiking, to more uneven rocky terrain and steep slopes as it neared the reservoir. There were numerous stream crossings, so be prepared for wet feet in some seasons.

Rocky terrain along Rimrock-Morrison trail

My goal for the trip was relaxation rather than a true backcountry experience, so I had planned to spend the cash and stay at Morrison Campground. A few hours in, as I started to catch glimpses of the reservoir through the trees, I figured I had to be close. Eventually the trail started heading up a creek and away from the reservoir.

I started to suspect that I might have passed the campground, and my suspicions were confirmed when I reached the intersection of the Rimrock and Morrison loops. I had overshot the campground by a few miles. Apparently the trail to the campground wasn’t well marked, or perhaps I just wasn’t paying as close attention as I should have.

A lovely evening, with the sounds of the creek surrounding me all night

By that point I was tired out, so rather than backtracking I found a campsite near the trail intersection. There was a spot that looked like it had been camped in before, and someone had even made a makeshift fire pit. It was right on the shore of the creek.

Following the creek near Morrison Campground

It made for a lovely evening, with the sounds of the creek surrounding me all night, and not another soul for miles. In the morning I decided to take the shorter loop connector trail back to the car. It was a bit steep and rocky at times, with lots of creek crossings.

Great views and sunning on the rocks… an excellent way to end my trip

On my way out of the park I stopped briefly at the Rimrock Overlook. It is less than a mile west by car from the Morrison trailhead, and worth the stop. The short hike leads to great views of the Allegheny Reservoir, and steep stone stairs lead down to trails at the base of the overlook. Spending some time on the rocks, in the sun, surrounded by blooming spring flowers, was an excellent way to end the trip.

Rimrock Overlook with views of the Allegheny Reservoir

I definitely recommend checking out some of the trails in Allegheny National Forest. Even though I spent almost as much time driving there and back as I did actually hiking, it made for a great short trip.

I will be going back to explore some more in the future!

– Nicole Chrusciel

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