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Girard Hiking Trail Pennsylvania

Pete’s World

Published: October 7, 2019

Now that autumn has arrived this just might be the perfect time for you avid fall backpackers to reacquaint yourself with all that dormant gear you’ve got stashed away. And I’m betting that might be just enough of an impetus to compel you to jump on the google machine for an early morning session of online wander lusting.

But before start your web-surfing session, let me give you a little tip: If you’re looking for a short and sweet autumn backpacking weekend, then enter “Pennsylvania’s Gerard Hiking Trail” into your search engine.

Running along the east and west sides of Oil Creek Valley, the Gerard Hiking Trail (GHT) is a 36-mile loop that’s located within Oil Creek State Park. This loop trail lies just north of Oil City, PA, and what’s really cool here is the fact that there are four connecting trails that allow hikers to create several smaller loops from the original GHT loop.

Now the thing that first drew me to this little backpacking gem was its close proximity to the Cleveland-Akron area––a paltry 2 hours and 20 minutes away. It’s close enough so as to require minimal drive time to and fro, yet far enough away to give you a nice little slice of Pennsylvania’s Allegheny Mountains.

Some 7,000 acres of gorgeous landscape make up Oil Creek State Park––wooded hills, fern-covered hollows, majestic waterfalls and tumbling cascades––and the GHT traverses darned near all of it.

Another nice thing about this trail is the fact that it’s definitely no cupcake hike, as it has a ton of ups and downs, with elevations that range from 950 to 1,650 feet. What’s more, one thing I learned decades ago about hiking and backpacking in Pennsylvania concerns the waterways. Pennsylvania runs more resemble Ohio creeks, and Pennsylvania creeks more resemble Ohio rivers. Then there’s Pennsylvania rivers…which are massive. So know that Oil Creek is more of a river than it is a gently flowing, babbling little creek.

Sometimes called the main trail, the GHT is marked with yellow blazes, while the connecting trails are marked with white blazes. As far as backcountry camping goes, another great thing about this trail is the fact that you actually don’t need a tent because it contains Adirondack shelters (three-sided wooden structures that hold 3-4 individuals).

There are two designated overnighting sites on the GHT––both requiring a camping fee––and both of which lie on the northern side of the park. Each site contains six Adirondack shelters in addition to tenting sites, vault restrooms and free firewood (water is usually available - check when you register). One site is located at Wolfkiel on the west side of the valley, and the other is located at Cow Run on the east side. Pets are permitted to stay at both the shelters and the tenting sites.

It’s also important to know that backpacking parties are only allowed to stay at each shelter for one night. And take heed of my advice: Don’t even think about trying to overstay your reservation or camp for free, because I absolutely guarantee the rangers visit these sites every evening. Play by the rules and you’ll be just fine on your trek.

Camping reservations for the Adirondack shelters and/or tent sites can be made in two ways. You can phone the Oil Creek State Park Office at (814) 676-5915. They’ll ask you for your address, telephone number, description of vehicles, license numbers, number in party, parking area, direction of travel and date(s) requested.

You can also make your reservations online by going to www.visitpaparks.com. From the home page click on the reservations icon and you’ll be on the Reserve American site, which handles Pennsylvania’s State Park reservations.

Finally, to get to the GHT, take I-80 E into Pennsylvania and get off at exit 29. Go north on Route 8, which will combine with Route 62, so make sure you stay on 8/62 until they split. At the split continue on Route 8 north until you pass Route 227. Once you pass Route 227 look for SR 1007, which will take you to the park office.

Hey, autumn’s here, so get out there and start your October wanderlusting missions with this great little backpacking trail.