Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail
The 70-mile hiking trail stretches along Laurel Mountain from the picturesque Youghiogheny River at Ohiopyle State Park to the Conemaugh Gorge near Johnstown. Seasoned backpackers challenge themselves on the steep, rugged areas of the trails. Casual hikers enjoy areas that are reasonably level and pleasant for walking.
The trail is the main feature of Laurel Ridge State Park. It 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.
Trail Markings and Trailhead
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.
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.
A Hiker’s Guide to the Laurel Highlands Trail is available from the Sierra Club Allegheny Group.
Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail Map (PDF)
Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail Shelters
Overnight trail shelters must be reserved in advance. Information on how to do that is outlined on Instructions for Making a Backpacking Reservation (PDF) and can be done on the state park reservation system. There are eight overnight shelter areas, one area every six to 12 miles along the trail. Each area contains five Adirondack shelters with fireplaces, two vault toilets, and space for 30 tents.
An overnight camping fee is charged per night per individual in the backpacking party. 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.
The trail has 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.
Shuttling services for hikers on the Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail are available from Wilderness Voyageurs in Ohiopyle.
Tour by Car Instead of by Foot
If you prefer to tour the Laurel Highlands region by vehicle instead of foot, fall is a great time. This area spans a four-county region including the counties of:
Beginning in October, the ridges and valleys come to life with color, with the peak near mid-October. A 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.
The approximately 70-mile Southern Loop (PDF)
offers meandering drives through the valleys between the ridges of the highlands
Get more information about the region and what’s near the trail from the Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau.