Tuesday, September 28, 2021

The Best Kept Secrets of Laurel Hill State Park



Like its sister park, Linn Run State Park, one county to the west, Laurel Hill State Park area was a desolate mess a hundred years ago.



The lumber boom that swept through the hills and forests of Pennsylvania missed Laurel Hill Valley until 1886. But the lumber industry came for the old-growth forests of hemlock and white pine, which fed the growth of the United States: lumber to build the growing cities and towns; smaller logs to reinforce the mine shafts of the many coal mines throughout southwestern Pennsylvania and West Virginia; and hemlock tree bark as a source of tannin for the region's tanneries. 




What was left behind -- the slag and the tree tops -- dried to a crisp. Passing steam locomotives on the railroads often ignited this dry brush, causing massive wildfires that swept through the mountains and valleys.




But like Linn Run State Park, Laurel Hill State Park has slowly recovered and second growth forest now fills out the mountain slopes. Today, Laurel Hill State Park consists of 4,062 acres of mountainous terrain in Somerset County PA. Although Laurel Hill Lake is a focal point of the park, we focused on a hike and a scenic overlook, two of the park's best kept secrets.



We decided to hike the Hemlock Trail, 1.6 mile lightly trafficked loop trail which winds through a stand of original hemlock anchored to the steep slopes above the lovely Laurel Hill Creek, apparently inaccessible to the loggers over a century ago.




A fellow hiker had counted almost 200 rings on a downed hemlock tree, which had fallen over the trail, although the trail was now cleared.


 

Although narrow at times and running along steep banks at places, overall, the trail is well maintained and offers beautiful forest and creek scenery. The trail has some elevation gains, but isn't too strenuous, and makes a delightful hike if you only have an hour or two.



 

With some time and energy to spare after this hike, we decided to find the park's scenic overlook, which seems to be a local secret -- you see, we only learned about it because I happened to venture upon the porch of the visitors center, which was closed during our visit (although the restrooms were, thankfully, quite open). There was a flier for the overlook amongst the others, and we decided on a whim to go find this overlook. 



We're glad we did. 



Finding it wasn't easy -- it's not attached to the main part of the park -- although in theory the directions will get you there. It's just that not all the roads are marked. But after one backtrack, we found it. We were the only ones there, to our delight.



A short hike from the parking lot -- maybe a third of a mile? -- will bring you to the meadow, at the top of which sits a two-story viewing tower. Had we planned better, we'd have brought a picnic lunch to enjoy, as the tower simply invites you to rest a while and take in the view.



The park acquired the tract of land the scenic view is on -- known as Penn's Scenic View -- in summer 2016. The view from the viewing tower looks over into Laurel Hill State Park land.



Getting there: 1454 Laurel Hill Park Rd, Somerset, PA

Getting to the scenic overlook: From the Laurel Hill Park Office, via Laurel Hill Road: Follow Laurel Hill Park Road three miles through the park to the stop sign. Turn left onto Countryline Road (SR 3029) for 1.5 miles. Turn right onto Ream Road (T-493) for .5 mile. Then turn right onto Lyons Road (this one wasn't marked well) for .5 mile. Turn right and go halfway around the loop, where you'll see the parking lot on the left, before the gate. From there, it's a short hike following the signs to the viewing tower.

Hours: Dawn through dusk

Website: https://www.dcnr.pa.gov/StateParks/FindAPark/LaurelHillStatePark/Pages/default.aspx

Looking for more fun things to do in the Laurel Highlands? Check out the articles below:




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