Hiking the John P. Saylor Trail

I recently backpacked the John P. Saylor Trail in Pennsylvania’s Gallitzen State Forest. This 17-mile, double-loop trail could have easily been hiked in a single day,  but I was really in the mood to spend a night outside. I met Tom from Berks-Lehigh Hiking and Backpacking at a parking area off of PA56 near Windber. We walked about about a tenth of a mile down a forest road and then turned left onto the JPST. The trail started out very gently. It was wide and devoid of Pennsylvania’s infamous rocks. We plodded along chatting as we followed the obvious orange blazes. Before too terribly long, we crossed a suspension bridge over a creek, which turned out to be Shade Creek.

After crossing the bridge, the trail became very muddy. At one point, the mud actually sucked the shoe right off one of my feet! We chatted and followed a boggy railroad grade for some time, before I asked the inevitable question: “When was the last time you saw a blaze?”

Tom and I split up in search of the trail, and eventually we discovered that we had walked right by a well-blazed 170-degree turn. As we inspected the map, it took us a while to figure out exactly where we were. The first few miles had passed so easily under our feet, that we had gone farther than we thought. After orienting ourselves we continued on another mile or two before reaching the campsite at mile 5(ish).

The site we chose had a small, dirt-floored shelter with an obviously leaky roof, but the campsite itself was very large and had a picnic table. Tom and I spent the afternoon playing around with my new hammock setup. Neither of us had never hung one before, so it was fun to experiment with different angles and methods. I wasn’t completely happy with the final result, but at least I know how I want to hang it next time.

After we ate and the sun went down, the dark skies gave us excellent views of the stars. The planets Jupiter and Mars were exceptionally bright, and we even caught glimpse of a few satellites orbiting by. Eventually, it started to get a bit chilly, so we hung our bear bags and hit the sack. I slept very comfortably in my ill-hung hammock. I slept through almost the entire night, which is unheard of for me.

After breakfast the next morning, we hit the trail again for the remaining 12 miles. The trail was just more of the same, with alternating boggy and smooth sections of trail. After our only “big” climb (a whopping 300′), the trail became rockier near Wolf Rocks, but it eventually smoothed out again.

There really isn’t a whole lot to write about this trail. It’s very easy, and water is abundant. The trail is perfect for beginners or those who might be a bit out of shape. Summer might be a better time to hike it, after the mud has a chance to dry up a bit. Like I said before, it lends itself very well to day hiking, too. Check it out sometime!

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