I was looking for a 12 to 15-mile trail run. Looking at the The Alleghenies website I came across the John P. Saylor Trail. It looked like the John P. Saylor Trail was exactly what I wanted. (See my Runkeeper stats and map of this run)

The trail is named after John P. Saylor, a Pennsylvania congressman from 1949 to 1973. Mr. Saylor was a conservationist that sponsored and help enact many laws during his tenure, including the National Scenic Trails Act. (Wikipedia Entry) The trail is a 17.5 mile double loop that wanders across the Allegheny Plateau with the trailhead at the Babcock Picnic Area.

The picnic area was closed but across the road (Route 56) was another trailhead for the Lost Turkey Trail. Looking at the vehicles in the parking lot, I estimated that their were as many as 15 individuals hiking/running that day. When I headed out for this run I decided to run the larger loop of 12 miles. I crossed the road to the Babcock Picnic Area. I had decided to run the trail counter clockwise. This way I would get the roughest section of the trail, near Wolf Rocks, out of the way early.

Hemlock Glade - Typical View on the Trail

The trail was blazed with orange rectangles. The first 0.25 miles of hiking I slowly descended, following a stream for a good portion of the way. I soon crossed Verla Road and then began my first and largest ascent of the hike, climbing 300 feet in a little over one and a quarter miles. It was an easy climb but the wet and slippery rocks slowed my time. It was an unusually warm day in mid-November. It was in the 60’s in the valley but I swore it was about 15 degrees chillier on the mountain. The trail is on top of the Allegheny Ridge at about 2600ft. A light drizzle would fall on me for most of the run.

Approaching Wolf Rocks

Along Wolf Rocks

Half way along this climb is an outcrop of rocks called Wolf Rocks. This area was interesting as it had many fractures in the rocks that you could walk through as well as climb to the tops of some of the rocks. Unfortunately this areas beauty was diminished by the presence of graffiti on some of the larger vertical rock surfaces. It was a neat place but I pressed on. Leaving Wolf Rocks I had to climb over a number of small boulders and a couple miles of rocky terrain. Between mile one and two I could only do about a 15 minute mile – very slow. This was the most difficult section of the hike and I took my time so as not to slip on the wet, moss covered rocks. I was two weeks from a race and didn’t want to injure or over do it like I did prior to Rothrock this past summer.

Continuing on I began an easy descent at 1.9 miles into the run. This gradual descent of 350 feet would occur over the next 2.5 miles. At 2.4 miles I came across my first meadow and took a panoramic shot. The trail here was very wide but grown over with tall grass. I crossed the meadow and headed back into the woods. You must pay close attention here as the trail makes a sharp right into the woods as the wide grass covered path that you were running on continues straight ahead. There is a sign here that points you in the right direction.

Railroad grade crossing a stream

At 3.9 miles I crossed Crum Road and then continued down along a small stream – I could hear lots of repeating gunfire – probably hunters sighting in their rifles for the upcoming deer season. At 4.4 miles the trail makes a hard left as I crossed a stream on what seemed to be an old railroad grade. Back in the late 1800’s, this area was owned by the Babbock Lumber Company which blazed several narrow gauage railroads to ship lumber from these forest to the valley below. I would continue to run at a slight uphill grade on this old railroad grade for another mile, making my way back to Crum Road. Despite the climb, I was free of slippery rocks and was able to increase my pace into the 10-minute mile range.

Once on the other side of Crum Road I was once again running through some meadows, across a large flat area. It was very wet as I had to jump across dozens of water holes and bogs. After running and bog-hopping through more wetlands for three quarters of a mile the trail, following another railroad grade, headed back into the woods and started a steeper descent. There was one section were you ran along an elevated grade of ballast stone for about a quarter-mile. I really need to come back here with a friend to do some more picture taking. At this point the trail was descending down to Clear Shade Creek.

Around 6.6 miles into the hike I came across yet another meadow and met up with the only group of hikers I would meet on the trail. A short distance past this meadow I came across Clear Shade Creek. Clear Shade Creek is one of the most beautiful streams I have seen in this area. Wide and pristine as it winds in this high country valley and meadows, it has been untouched by mining that has poisoned many of the streams in this area.

Clear Shade Creek

At some point this trail meets up with a short connecting trail that connects the longer 12 mile loop with the shorter 5.5 mile loop. I really wanted to double back on this short trail and see the suspended bridge that crosses Clear Shade Creek. However, somehow while I was running I totally missed the blazed marker to my right. For 2 miles I ran up the small valley of Clear Shade Creek. Parts of the trail meandered through pines and stands of various hardwoods, while other sections were through grass filled meadows. I made my best time in this section.

About 8.5 miles I started my ascent up and away from the stream, this time following what looked to be an overgrown logging road. A large portion of the John P. Saylor Trail, especially the section south of Shade Road, is used for cross country skiing and are marked with blue blazes. Trails used for skiing usually mean that they are free of obstacles, have gentle ascents and descents, and have plenty of clearance both to the sides of the trail and above. Despite the climb, I made great time and it was only about a 300 feet climb in over 1.5 miles from the creek and to the top. Away from the rocks, I felt pretty good.

Observation Deck at a meadow on Bog Trail

I came across Shade Road at 10.1 miles into the run and started to hear Route 56 in the distance. Shortly after crossing Shade Road I came upon Bog Trail, blazed yellow. I ate my last Cliff Mini and decided to take Bog Trail which would add another 2 miles to my trip. Bog Trail circumnavigates a highland meadow. If there is anything locally that would remind you of the moors in Scotland, this would be it. A wet, grass, rolly-polly trail up and over rocks and down into swampy bogs. A quarter-mile in was an observation tower which I took a break to take some photos. (See panoramic shot from tower) Back onto the Bog Trail, I began to regret making the loop since at the far end the trail crosses the meadow and forces you to wade through ankle-high water. But with the run almost over, I pressed on. Suddenly I found myself in some pines and back onto the main trail, a rocky section until the trail merged onto an old forest roads and an old section of old Route PA56.

After 13.2 miles of running (see my run stats and map) I had made it back to the trailhead then crossed the road to my car. Amid several gawking onlookers who just finished hiking the much easier Lost Turkey Trail, I cooled down, stretched, and changed into some dry clothes. At just over 13 miles, I need to come back again since it was a nice distance, wonderful scenery and fairly easy terrain expect for the slippery rocks. And at that distance it is at the right distance for a half-marathon. Better still, on my way home, I realized I was only 15 minutes from the Windber Hotel which would be a wonderful reward after such a hike.