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The Black Forest Trail is said to be one of the toughest in Pennsylvania. It’s got several 1000 ft elevation changes with beautiful views of the valley and Pine Creek. There are lots of stream crossings, and even some slightly challenging rock scrambles. It’s not recommended for beginner backpackers unless you’re just doing a smaller section hike. The most important thing however is to be in good shape, and prepared with all the right backpacking equipment!
The name of the trail comes from dark evergreen forests that used to cover the area. Due to logging in the past, there are not many of those conifers left today. It’s mostly deciduous trees surrounding the trail, and when I hiked it in the spring it was anything but “black”-so bring your sunscreen!
Length: 43 Mile loop, blazed orange.
Location: Tioga and Tiadaghton State Forests, Lycoming and Potter Counties, which are in North Central Pennsylvania.
Trailhead: The main trailhead is located in Slate Run, just off Slate Run road next to a hotel and the stream called…Slate Run! However there are many other access points to the trail all along Route 44 and elsewhere. There are even trails that connect up with the Susquehannock and Donut Hole trails. You can check the DCNR map below for parking areas.
Water sources: Many streams including Slate Run, Little Slate Run, Naval Run, County Line Branch, etc. I backpacked this in May and never had a problem finding water. Perhaps that’s different at others time of the year.
Permits: None required for groups less than 10 that are only spending one night at each campsite (as per state forest guidelines). You can stop by the Tiadaghton state forest office and get a permit anyway. It’s good to let them know you’re out there if you’ll be gone several days/nights.
- Official DCNR Map – This map is actually really great as it depicts all the viewpoints and campsites, as well as parking areas! You can pick up a physical copy at the Tiadaghton state forest office.
- My GaiaGPS track
Trail Photos: I posted a couple hundred photos from my hike that you can check out in my full photo gallery here.
My experience backpacking the Black Forest Trail
Me and a friend backpacked the trail in 5 days, 4 nights, going counterclockwise in May 2022. It was 46.8 miles total. We went at a nice pace. I’m the type of person that likes to take my time, take tons of pictures, and enjoy the journey. If you’re that way too, I wouldn’t recommend doing the trail in less than 5 days unless you’re in really good shape and can speed through some parts faster.
Day 1 – Route 44 & Trout Run Rd. to Hemlock Mountain.
3:15pm – 7:45pm. 6.6 miles.
I met up with my friend and started the Black Forest Trail at Route 44, right next to Trout Run Road. There was a nice sized gravel lot off of 44, room for plenty of cars. Thankfully we had no problems leaving our vehicles there for the 5 days.
The trail in this section, hiking counter clockwise, starts out nice and easy. You walk for about 0.4 miles along the gravel Trout Run Road. You’ll come to a trail sign on the left “Naval Run Canyon” along with a nice view. Right after that you’ll turn off the gravel road onto the footpath to your right.
The trail was narrow here, and covered with leaves, surrounded by lots of waist high bushes and shrubs. We came across one campsite, a garner snake, and a cabin at the intersection where the trail meets back up with Trout Run Rd. and Boyer Mill Rd. There were more trail signs there pointing out the way.
Continuing on another half mile or so, we came onto another dirt road(Big Trail Scenic Road). We didn’t have to go far along it, and again encountered a beautiful view! We turned back onto the trail to our right, and followed a stream along a gradual 1.3 mile 1,000 ft decent down the mountain to Callahan Run. This section going down was beautiful! There were small flowers, ferns, and little waterfalls flowing over moss covered rocks. The sun was starting to go down and the rays of light coming through the trees made everything glow.
At the bottom there were not one, but two waterfalls! One on each of the streams connecting up with Callahan Run. We did have to cross the stream here, and it was little too deep to not get our feet wet, so we changed into our water shoes and crossed easily. There also is a campsite right here, so we stopped for a small snack break before starting the 1000 ft. ascent back up the other side of the mountain.
We followed another stream going back up. The ascent was just as gradual as the descent thankfully, but not being in the best shape we took our time. There were a couple other stream crossings along the way, so we kept our water shoes on the rest of the way. When we reached the end of the stream(also about 1.3 miles) the trail made a turn to the right, you make a 180 and continue up another mountain ridge, for another mile or so, to the top of Hemlock mountain.
This was where we made our home for the night, and it was the most beautiful campsite along the whole trail with a view of Pine Creek that was worth every ounce of sweat to get there! The only downside is that there is no water at this site, so be sure to fill up at the stream with all you need for the night and next morning if you overnight here.
Day 2 – Hemlock Mountain to camp nearby Foster Hollow Rd.
7:30am – 4:30pm. 11.4 miles
I woke up bright and early, there was no way I was going to miss seeing the sunrise at this location! The sun came up over the mountains to the left of the overlook, and as it rose the golden light hit the western side of the canyon, spilling down into the gorge further and further each minute. The birds were chirping, and an Eastern Towhee came and greeted us on a small tree, right in front of the view!
We packed up our things and headed out at 7:30am. We almost immediately began descending down the north side of this mountain. The trial was covered with leaves, and very steep. It was quite slow going in some spots. Thankfully we had our trekking poles to help stabilize ourselves, and made it down to another beautiful section following Naval Run.
Most of the trail here was actually above the stream, so there was no easy access until we got to the part where we had to cross. We changed out our shoes again to not get our boots soaked, and filled our water bottles up.
We put our hiking shoes back on after the crossing, because it would be a while till we encountered a stream again. Also, this next section was a very steep 800 ft. climb. Up and up we zig zagged ascending the switchbacks, in the bright mid morning sun. A couple of older ladies past us going downhill. They were on their way up to Hemlock, from where we came from.
The steep ascent gradually slowed down around 1600ft thankfully, and the next 400 ft. of elevation gain was a nicer walk along the mountain ridge as we headed northwest. There were some really beautiful views along the way, complete with benches to have a rest if needed. We kept going however, wanting to make up time on the easier parts.
Our next decent took us down another 800ft or so, to Little Slate Run. The trail here can go right or left. Stay to the right to continue on the Black Forest Trail, to the right is Little Slate Run Trail. Also to the right, just a little ways, was a nice big campsite complete with stone chairs and tables. The perfect spot to stop for lunch! We took a good break there, as well as filtered and refilled our water, before starting back out.
We followed Little Slate Run for a short while heading north west. There was another campsite along this section near the stream that looked nice, and I also spotted another garner snake along the trail(don’t worry, wasn’t near the campsite!).
After another climb up about 700ft to the top of the mountain, we arrived at Manor Fork Road. For the next 2 miles it was a nice, relaxing, easy going walk on top. There would be one more steep decline and incline before getting to our campsite. However if at this point you feel too tired to do that, you could always take a shortcut along the dirt roads to the same camp.
We were really tired, however we were determined to stick with the trail. I always push myself unless I feel there’s really something wrong and I can’t do it. I’ve been more than amazed at what I’ve been able to achieve in life, things I never thought I could do!
The descent was a little rocky but not bad. I’d say the worst part about it was as we were descending, the mountain in front of us that we were going to have to climb next kept getting taller lol. I was tired and it was a slog as we headed back uphill, following a stream that was at least quite picturesque!
At the top we came to a clearing with a small pond. There was plenty of room for many tents right there, and being as tired as we were we dropped all our stuff and relaxed, cooling our feet off in the pond(the water was cold!), and set up camp.
Two other hikers came by after we’d been there a bit, and they set up camp near the picnic table and fire ring which was across the pond. There was also room for tents in a clearing in the woods a little ways off to the right. Directly in front of the pond was a yard with a cabin. Foster Hollow Rd. lead to it coming from the right.
It was a beautiful place to spend the night. The only thing disturbing us was a loud whip-poor-will. It was the first time I ever heard one of those night time birds, and the best I can describe it would be that it sounded like a car alarm going off! Thankfully it didn’t last all night, but it did wake me at least twice.
Day 3 – Foster Hollow Camp to Red Run in the Algerine Wild Area
8:45am – 6:45pm. 11.5 miles
We got a later start this day, as we wanted to head into the town of Slate Run and pick up some fresh food and were hoping the places would be open and serving lunch by the time we got there.
The trail started off nice and easy. We walked past the cabin, then through a lightly wooded path which led to a beautiful view of the mountains on the other side of us, which the Black Forest Trail also runs along top of. There was also a small campsite right at the view, but by small I mean you’d be lucky to fit one tent there. It’d be a great stop for lunch however, or just a nice resting break if you were going in the opposite direction and just made it to the top.
We were headed down however. Down a very rocky steep path about 1000 ft for one mile. It was actually quite fun going down however, there were lots of rocks and lots of views along the way. Nothing dangerous or scary, however if you’re climbing up it instead of down I hope your cardio is in good condition!
After reaching the bottom we walked for about 3 miles on flat terrain, alongside Slate Run. The trail also paralleled with Slate Run Road that ran through the hollow. It was a very pretty shaded stretch with lots of hemlocks. We were up on a bank above the stream however, so there was no easy access to get to water along this stretch until we reached town.
As we got closer to town, some cabins along the right hand side started popping up, and even an old cemetery.
Just before the bridge over Pine Creek, the trail takes a turn to the left, right next to a restaurant and hotel. Unfortunately the restaurant wasn’t opened yet when we arrived, so we decided to take a chance at the general store across the bridge that we saw on the map.
Pine Creek is a famous river for fishing, and I counted 11 fly fisherman alone in just the parts I was able to see as we crossed over the bridge into town. We made a left, and walked a short ways over to Wolfes General Store. They were open, as well as a full service deli counter serving sandwiches, yay!
The general store had a variety of snack foods and drinks, as well as a lot of misc. items including sunscreen(which I needed to pick up), and even maps of the area. If you’re into fishing there was a whole fishing gear store in the back of the place too.
I purchased a full sized turkey hoagie, big bottle of Gatorade, and a bag of chips. We ate out back near some picnic tables in the shade facing the river. Gatorade never tasted so good, I downed the whole bottle! The sandwich was pretty good too. I ate half and saved the rest for later.
After lunch we headed back across Pine Creek, and down into the parking lot area of that restaurant, where the trail continued past. We refilled our water at Slate Run, there was easy access to the stream from here. I also drenched my hat in the cold water from the stream and put it back on my head. It was getting really hot out! So much for the cool, shaded, “black forest” trail… it was very bright and the opposite of cool on a hot and sunny spring day!
For the next 2.5 miles or so, we slogged up another 1000+ft. Fortunately this time the slope was pretty gradual, except for the very first couple hundred feet which were quite steep.
There were some pretty areas on that first stretch as well. Lots of large rocks, and even a sort of “rock garden”. Piles of slate rocks built up into different formations. I’d have liked to check that area out more, but we were hot and tired and needed to make sure we got to our next campsite before the sun went down.
The second stretch of this climb was long, hot, and boring. It was up an old gravel dirt road. There wasn’t much shade, and it just felt like it went on forever. We eventually came up to what felt like the top. There was a nice view and a campsite which we took a break at. We found a little bit of shade and I finished the rest of my hoagie.
There was still another 300 ft or so left to climb, but it didn’t take us much longer till we were up on top and got a break with some flatter terrain.
After about a mile or so we came across a nice campsite along with a spring. It was a beautiful little spot with the water flowing and bubbling over the rocks creating a small stream. We filled our water again(going up the slope in the heat we drank a lot), and took a small break, cooling our feet off in the stream.
I even got some photos of little birds that were drinking and taking a bird bath in the spring!
We kept walking along the mountain top for around 3 miles. It was an easy going stretch, but we were both tired and looking forward to relaxing at camp for the night.
The final hike for today was a descent down a very, very rocky slope to our campsite near Red Run. It was slow going-think lots of large stairs-and after a long day I wanted to take it easy on my knees so I really did take my time. Thankfully my trekking poles worked well and I made it down the whole way with no pain.
It was a really beautiful descent however. Almost any area near a stream is beautiful. The large rocks, small waterfalls, plant life, sun filtering through the trees… I wasn’t upset that it took me a while just because I enjoyed taking it all in!
We made it to a campsite for the night around 6:45, which actually wasn’t the one we originally picked out, but it worked for us. There was space for at least 2 or 3 tents and a fire ring. We fell asleep to the sound of waterfalls rushing over the rocks nearby.
Day 4 – Red Run to Stream side Camp (top of mountain after County Line Branch)
8:45am – 6:45pm. 11.5 miles
After a long hard day yesterday I was actually feeling better when I woke up on the 4th day. My muscles were getting used to hiking all day! This was the easiest day for us, with the most amount of flat terrain so it was nice break. There was beautiful scenery and tons of water crossings.
The first section of the day was in the Algerine Wild Area. We hiked along side Red Run then Slate Run, which came to a bridge crossing over a small pretty waterfall. Right after we made a left onto Morris Run Road, and ran into a couple of car campers who were at some of the campsites you need to make reservations for.
The second road we made a left on and followed for a short time was Francis Road, which had a beautiful view just before turning back into the woods. There was another long, gradual, 600 ft. climb up a mountain that felt like it took forever in the hot and humid weather we were experiencing, but once we got to the top it was smooth hiking for the next 8 miles!
Hiking the top of the mountain really was a nice break. We cooled off, it was a lot less humid than down near Slate Run, and we made good time. There was a nice view looking north(at the northern most point of the trail).
From there we started heading southwest, and we were ready for a lunch break, but unfortunately there weren’t any good spots on or near the trail that we found. As we got close to Route 44, a cabin appeared with a picnic table nearby. No one was home so we decided to sit there and eat lunch. As our luck would have it, a truck pulled up after we were there maybe 10 minutes and the owner stepped out! Thankfully he was nice and let us sit there and finish our lunch. We chatted a bit, pet and played with his friendly dog who loved some of my tuna wrap! Then we cleaned up and headed back on our way.
After crossing 44, we walked along the trail that was bordered by tall evergreens. There was a different look and feel to this part of the forest. That’s one reason I love hiking so much, seeing all the different environments!
We soon reached the first out of the many stream crossings on County Line Branch. And by many I’m talking like around 10-15 or so! I took my hiking shoes off and switched to a pair of water shoes. They worked really well and I wore them for the rest of the way.
The crossings were slow moving stream water. Shallow, but deep enough you’d get your feet wet. A few spots had rocks to cross over but not many. This whole section was so beautiful. The picturesque meandering stream, colorful vegetation on either side, and farther down we were hiking through a wide gorge with several hundred feet mountains on either side of us.
We took a break at a nice campsite right by the stream. There were several good campsites in this section. But we were moving on to the top of the mountain for the night, so up we climbed a steep, rocky section of the trail.
As we were headed up we met a group of hikers on their way down, and they warned us of rattle snakes in the section with boulders up ahead. I took my time once I got to it, looking around everywhere, putting my trekking pole on the rocks before stepping, etc… towards the top there were a few giant boulders that required some scrambling to get up. It wasn’t easy seeing the best way to go and I stepped onto a rock trying to plan my route when all of a sudden I heard a hissing sound coming from the rock crevice somehwere near my foot. The snake hissed at me twice. I couldn’t see it. I didn’t hear any rattle, but I stood there, frozen and scared as I still wasn’t sure the best way to finish climbing up!
I called out to my friend that there was a snake, but she was already up at the top and didn’t fully hear me. I looked around as quickly as I could, trying to figure out the best way to get out of there, I was afraid of provoking the snake further and not knowing where exactly it was made where I stepped next even more important. Thankfully I found a foot hold and grasped some branches, pulling myself up and away from those rocks.
I was definitely shaken after that experience. I thought I was being safe and observing my surroundings, but you just never know. Always be extra careful around rocks!!
The last section of this part of the trail was through some more woods then we crossed over a marshy wetland area. Thankfully the ground wasn’t too wet or swampy but it did take time to cross as you had to find your footing on dry ground throughout the grasses. It was a neat area, again being a different environment to experience!
After crossing the wetland, we walked back into the forest and descended slightly, making camp next to another stream for the night.
Day 5 – Camp to Route 44-Trout Run Rd.
9am-12pm. 6 miles.
We took our time waking up on the last day. The campsite we were at was nice, with two fire rings and some stone chairs. I sat a while and did a quick watercolor sketch in my notebook, the only time I had on the whole trail to do a little painting. That’s the downside to long days with high mileage. You don’t get as much time in camp as you’d like unless you’re a fast hiker! I’m not lol. I like to enjoy the sites, stop to smell the roses, or take pictures 🙂
Around 9am we started out, heading uphill through some rhododendrons, then a flat stretch on top of the mountain for a few miles. We came to another view, and the sky was looking like it was going to rain at any minute. It did start sprinkling a little bit, thankfully we didn’t have any heavy rain or downpours!
After a few miles the trail started descending a bit, and I finally felt like I was on the “Black Forest Trail”. Dark, tall evergreens surrounded the trail as we headed down towards Baldwin Branch. This is what the trail should look and feel like, and perhaps most of it did in the past.
When crossing the creek we came across an old stone hut. An old loggers hut perhaps? If anyone knows post in the comments! I’ll update this if I find out for sure.
We walked farther along the trail on the side of a mountain with a stream below, rhododendrons and the view of another mountain across the valley showing through springtime trees that hadn’t yet fully bloomed.
The finally stretch was another uphill challenge for us who were tired and ready to be done. But we made it, and finished at 12 noon exactly!
If you are not in good shape, the Black Forest Trail will be a serious challenge for you. On day 1 I thought to myself what did I get myself into? On day 2 I wasn’t sure I was going to make it. Day 3 was tough, but…I was going to push myself through as best as I can. By day 4 I was feeling better and then knew that I would indeed make it, and feeling pretty proud of myself! Day 5 I was ready to be done. I was hot and sweaty from not having showered for 5 days, but I made the right choices on the gear I brought as well as clothing. They all worked out great! I was so happy I brought my Xero shoes water shoes, and waterproof hat for sure. Trekking poles were also another vital piece of equipment which saved my knees on the downhills!
If you’re new and need some help figuring out what to bring, check out my article on backpacking gear here!
My #1 recommendation if you want to do this trail: get in shape. At least a month or two before do some strength training for your knees, go hiking as often as you can, especially hikes with good elevation gain to prepare yourself if possible.
The trail has many challenges. It has many beautiful areas(views and the streams), but it also has many areas that aren’t that interesting either. Be prepared for long stretches of seeing the same trail, with the same type of tree on either side of you. I said to myself “ugh this sucks” while hiking many times, and I just about never say that. But I did feel the suck on this trail lol. I also said to myself I’m doing this once, never again. But now looking back, if I had someone else to go with who wanted to, I may return. But at a different time of the year to see new vegetation at least.
If you go, good luck! And share your tips and stories with us below!
*I took hundreds of photos while backpacking, and obviously couldn’t post them all here. If you’re interested in seeing more check them out in my photo gallery!