BY JEFF MITCHELL
Minister Creek is the most popular hiking trail in the Allegheny National Forest, and with good reason.
This valley features a pristine stream and numerous cliffs, rock outcrops and chasms. These giant sandstone monoliths rise through the forest and are often clothed in moss, lichens and ferns.
It had been several years since I’ve hiked at Minister Creek and it was great to return. We did a short hike on the South and Middle Loops and to the overlook. This loop is about three miles long. The trails have signs and are blazed with diamond shaped white/grey placards. The entire Minister Creek loop is over seven miles long and connects with the North Country Trail, which crosses the Allegheny National Forest for almost a hundred miles. It is popular with both dayhikers and backpackers. There are several beautiful campsites along the trail, often near creeks.
From the parking area, hike up the trail and turn left to start the south loop. Begin a steeper climb up an old grade. Enter hemlocks with some giant boulders. The trail veers left, passes an old oil well and reaches dramatic cliffs and rock outcrops. Take time to explore them. The huge sandstone outcrops tower into the trees, dripping with springs and covered in moss. If you run your hands over the rock, you can clearly feel the sand.
There are several overhangs and caves, and the rocks have unique formations and holes within them. The trail ascends to the top of the cliffs and veers left. Turn right down into a maze between the giant rocks into a corridor lined with moss, the scenery is superb. Continue along the escarpment of cliffs and ledges with large hemlocks. Climb to the top of the plateau and pass through laurel. Reach the Minister Creek Overlook and its fine views over the valley. This is a great place for a sunrise.
The bare trees in the valley reveal the countless other giant boulders and cliffs that make Minister Creek such a unique place. Continue on the middle loop and descend under dramatic outcrops, and even boulders stacked on top of each other, creating a room. The trail meanders down the mountain, passing more giant rocks. Follow a level trail to the end of the loop. Retrace your steps back to the parking area.
It is well worth your time to hike the entire Minister Creek trail system. However, if you only have an hour or two to spare, the south loop is a perfect hike and one of the most scenic in the Allegheny National Forest.
Parking is at 41.620578, -79.153603.
Jeff Mitchell is author of ‘Hiking the Endless Mountains,’ ‘Paddling Pennsylvania,’ and ‘Backpacking Pennsylvania.’