As a native resident of southwestern Pennsylvania, I must admit that I have never heard of this park! While most people visit Laurel Hill in autumn for the foliage along Laurel Hill Lake, I thought spring would be equally beautiful and I was not disappointed!
Laurel Hill is one of eight state parks tucked into the Laurel Highlands region of the Allegheny Mountains. During the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794, George Washington’s troops camped within the boundaries of this park.
The steep stream valleys and rugged hills of the Laurel Hill valley hindered much of the logging craze that swept through the rest of Pennsylvania. Laurel Hill was one of the last areas of the state targeted for lumber. Eventually, the forest was stripped of hemlock and white pine. From 1886 to 1940, steam locomotives hauled trees to the mills, causing a devastating wake of brush fires, hill erosion, and flooding.
The majority of this park is a second-growth forest, excluding a section of trees along the Hemlock Trail.
Laurel Hill is one of many parks founded by the efforts of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) established during the Great Depression as part of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. From 1935 to World War II, the National Park Service supervised the CCC’s endeavors, which included planting trees, clearing streams, and building roads, trails, bridges and recreational facilities. The conservation efforts of the CCC laid the foundation for most of Pennsylvania’s state parks.
Laurel Hill has more CCC architecture than any other Pennsylvania state park.
Twelve miles of hiking trails span the park. My husband picked our route and chose to make a four mile loop out of the Pump House, Tram Road, Pump House Extension, Martz, and Water Line Trails. Although the Pump House Trail is considered easy hiking, I thought that it was stressful on the feet because the terrain was very rocky throughout the majority of the trail. While we faced a couple of steep uphill climbs in the middle of our loop, I would still recommend these trails to intermediate hikers.
Remnants of the logging industry can be seen along the Tram Road Trail. The water along Jones Mill Run was too high to cross at the point of our visit, so we had to rule out fully exploring this trail, which has a few water crossings.
Jones Mill Run Dam
Laurel Hill is a hot spot for fishing. Bass, trout, catfish, sucker, bluegill, perch, crappie and sunfish are found beneath its waters.
Water Tower Along Water Line Trail
This rock and tree connect to each other.
We spotted this dog participating in a game of fetch.
Interesting burl on this tree
The more remote trails in the park are accessed off Buck Run Road.
63-acre Laurel Hill Lake is the main attraction of this park. We had excellent weather in late April during our visit and managed to have a picnic lunch at a private pavilion overlooking the lake. The area was not crowded and we were able to do as we pleased. We even had our own Adirondack chairs!
Laurel Hill Lake Dam
The Jones-Scott-Singo Cemetery has at least 25 graves, many dating back to the early 1800s.
We saw a nice variety of wildlife including red squirrels and chipmunks.
This was our first encounter with the short-winged blister beetle, also known as an oil beetle. When touched, they release oily droplets from their joints containing poison which interacts with the skin causing blistering and painful swelling. Parasites of solitary bees, blister beetles are rarely capable of flight.
Laurel Hill is also a haven for bird watching.
Many wildflowers were in bloom, including blue Appalachian violet and white trillium.
Overall, I was extremely satisfied with the timing of our visit, although I think that this park would be fantastic to visit in late May or June to coincide with the bloom of rhododendron, wild rose and mountain laurel.
On our way home, we made a detour to see The Walter’s Mill Covered Bridge, on the property of the Somerset Historical Center in Somerset, PA. It was a very worthy pit-stop indeed! The bridge, also known as the Cox Creek Covered Bridge, dates back to 1859, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Other outdoor exhibits of the Historical Center include a replica of a 1770s farmstead, 1830s farmstead, cider press, and maple sugar camp. There are also exhibition halls that were not open at the time of our visit, but can be opened by request. The Walter’s Mill Covered Bridge is one of ten covered bridges in Somerset County.
The Adam Miller Farmhouse, Circa 1795