Lassen Volcanic National Park Highway

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Lassen Volcanic National Park, July 2017

California Route 89—also known as the Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway or Lassen Volcanic National Park Highway—spends nearly 30 miles weaving through Lassen Volcanic National Park. In addition to circling the park’s namesake (Lassen Peak, 10, 457’), this scenic drive connects low-lying lakes with high-altitude meadows and geothermal features and provides access to more than a dozen hiking trails. While the northern reaches of the drive remain low in dense pine forest, the southern section flirts with the timberline, allowing for awe-inspiring views of California’s Cascade Range. (Note: Amazingly, upon our visit in late July, the highway was still closed between Summit Lake and Bumpass Hell Trailhead due to snow pack. The road opened July 27, 2017, the latest opening in the park’s history.)

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Hot mudpool at Sulphur Works

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Sulphur Works area

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Views south from the Lassen Volcanic National Park Highway

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Wildflowers in bloom in Lassen Volcanic National Park

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Emerald Lake

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View from the Bumpass Hell Trailhead

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Lassen Peak

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Lassen Peak and Hat Creek

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Mill Creek Falls Trail (Lassen Volcanic National Park, CA)

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Mill Creek Falls, Lassen Volcanic National Park, July 2017

At 75 feet, Mill Creek Falls is the highest waterfall in northern California’s Lassen Volcanic National Park. Situated just 1.7 miles from the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center, the Mill Creek Falls Trail is a popular half-day hike on the park’s southern side. Hugging the slopes of a broad valley, the trail winds up and down through dense pine thicket and open meadows, with fine views of the mountain scenery. There is no reliable access to the base of the falls, but a shady viewpoint near the end of the hike provides an excellent view of the rushing waters. Continue 1/10 mile farther to reach the top of the waterfall.

Mill Creek Falls Trail hike information Lassen

The hike

From the parking area at Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center, look for the start of the trail behind the small amphitheater, just east of the main visitor building. The path bears left on a dusty surface as a paved track bears right to the Southwest Walk-In Campground. A small sign marks distances—Mill Creek Falls, 1.6 miles.

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Start of the Mill Creek Falls Trail

The Mill Creek Falls Trail begins to descend immediately through a forest of lodgepole pines and red firs, weaving southeast at first. After around 150 yards, the path rounds a switchback and bears north, with obscured views of the valley below. After dropping another 100 feet in elevation, the trail crosses West Sulphur Creek at the ¼-mile mark. A beautiful meadow awaits on the other side.

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Wildflowers in bloom on the Mill Creek Falls Trail

Once across, the trail begins to climb along a sunny hillside, coated with yellow wildflowers in July. As the trail veers south, look back north for views of Mount Diller (9,085’) and the Pilot Pinnacle (8,886’) and, to the west, Brokeoff Mountain (9,235’). After cresting a minor ridge, the trail descends again, this time reentering the woods.

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Mill Creek Falls Trail, with views of Mount Diller

At around 8/10 mile, the Mill Creek Falls Trail bears east through a minor clearing, dropping to the lowest elevation of the hike (about 6,350’). Beyond, the path begins a slow and steady climb as it hugs the valley’s south-facing slopes. Cross a minor stream at 9/10 mile, then brace for a short but sharp ascent. After briefly descending again, the climbing returns as the trail clears a rock outcrop on the right. Cresting again at about 1.25 miles, the trail descends and enters another minor clearing; a brief window offers views of Mount Conard (8,204’) across the valley.

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Mill Creek Falls Trail

There are a couple more clearings as the trail continues northeast, reaching another local high point at around 1.45 miles. From here, the path descends steadily, dropping around 100 feet in around 1/10 mile. At 1.6 miles—perhaps 45 minutes to an hour into the hike—the silvery flume of Mill Creek Falls appears; you are at the viewpoint.

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Mill Creek Falls from the viewpoint

The falls were formed at the junction of two streams—East Sulphur Creek tumbles in from the left, while Bumpass Creek drops in from the right. The waters from the two creeks meet about 1/3 of way down the falls, then flow together as one into the valley below.

While there is no safe access to the base of the falls, the trail continues 1/10 mile past the overlook to the top of the flume. Two bridges come in quick succession—one over East Sulphur Creek, followed by a second over Bumpass Creek. From the former, you can peer down into the rock cut that gives way to the falls.

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Mill Creek Falls from above

The path continues beyond, becoming the Crumbaugh Lake Trail as it meanders through Conard Meadows, eventually joins with the Bumpass Hell Trail, and ends at Kings Creek Picnic Area. Unless you are ambitious and up for some steep climbs, however, Mills Creek Falls will be your end point; turn around and return the way you came.

The return journey is arguably more difficult, with two steep ascents—one from the falls to the overlook and a second from West Sulphur Creek to the trailhead. All in all, hikers should allot at least 2-2.5 hours for this out-and-back journey.

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Manzanita Lake Trail (Lassen Volcanic National Park, CA)

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Manzanita Lake Trail, Lassen Volcanic National Park, July 2017

Manzanita Lake in California’s Lassen Volcanic National Park brings together visitors of all stripes: photographers, casual hikers, anglers, and kayakers. Around the water, the 1.9-mile Manzanita Lake Trail offers a relatively easy stroll through pine forests and along lakeside beaches, while offering picturesque views of snow-capped Lassen Peak, the park’s volcanic centerpiece.

Manzanita Lake Trail hike information Lassen

Manzanita Lake Trail map Lassen

Map of Manzanita Lake Trail, Lassen Volcanic National Park; created using National Geographic Maps/AllTrails, alltrails.com (Check out the PDF version, interactive map, and MapMyHike track)

The hike

There are a number of access points for this hike, but the entry at the Loomis Museum—just past the park’s Northwest Entrance—offers the easiest parking. The museum also serves as the de facto visitor center for the area and provides a fine introduction on the story of Lassen Peak (10,457’) and its most recent eruptions in 1914-1917. The most significant flare-up came on May 22, 1915, when the mountain sent a huge plume of gas and ash more than 30,000 feet in the air; it deposited ash as far as Elko, Nevada, 280 miles away.

After exploring the museum, take a right out the front entrance and follow a large, paved pathway as it bears south toward Manzanita Lake. (Note: The restrooms will be on your left.) With the lake not yet visible, the concrete track gives way to dirt, and the path splits in two: left, across a footbridge, or right on a graveled path. Heading right, the Manzanita Lake Trail crosses relatively level terrain amid sporadic pine trees. The path soon begins a gradual descent, dropping to the lakeshore at the ¼-mile mark.

Manzanita Lake was formed around 1670 by a series of avalanches from nearby Chaos Crags, a large protrusion to the northwest of Lassen. As debris filled the valley, it dammed Manzanita Creek and formed the lake; a small, man-made dam was added in 1972, which added to the water’s volume.

After briefly bearing away from the lake, a spur trail at 3/10 mile offers access to the shores. Beyond, the trail becomes rockier and crosses a set of minor ravines. The buzz of cars can be heard up to the right, and the path approaches a small parking area at 4/10 mile. Around 175 yards later, the trail hugs the edge of the road as it passes the Northeast Entrance Station.

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Excellent views over Manzanita Lake to Lassen Peak (10,457′)

Taking a left at the station, the Manzanita Lake Trail enters a fantastic section that offers the first good views of Lassen Peak from a small and peaceful inlet in the lake’s northwest corner.

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Lassen Peak from Manzanita Lake

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Northwest reaches of Manzanita Lake

As the trail rounds a bend, it climbs slightly and crosses Manzanita Creek at 0.65 mile. Shady and cool, the pleasant trail meanders south and east around a small thumb of land that juts into Manzanita Lake. The south flank of the thumb offers fantastic views of Lassen Peak and Chaos Crags. Behind Lassen is the smaller Eagle Peak (9,222’), while the tree-lined Loomis Peak (8,658’) dominates the foreground further west.

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Chaos Crags and Lassen Peak

After bearing west, the trail climbs abruptly to the man-made bank built in 1912 to dam Manzanita Lake. By now you are in thick woods, where the fresh smell of pines predominates. After bearing southeast for 3/10 mile, the trail crosses a dry flat at the end of a shady inlet; stay straight at the trail fork. (Note: Turning right leads to the Manzanita Lake Campground.)

Beyond the inlet, the trail climbs and splits in two; the two paths rejoin each other, however, within 1/10 mile. Dropping out of the woods again, the trail approaches the popular boat launch, where dozens of kayakers head out onto the lake on summer days. Passing the parking area on the right, stay in the strip of woods that hugs the shoreline; eventually the path connects again with an upper parking lot and picnic area at 1.6 miles. Manzanita Creek reemerges again on the left after another 100 yards. (Note: A number of social trails head off in different directions in the section; in general, stay left at each fork until you reach the creek.)

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Eastern shores of Manzanita Lake

At 1.7 miles, the trail bears away from the creek and climbs up an old road; stay straight on the road until it merges with another track coming from in the right at 1.8 miles. Bear left, and cross the lengthy footbridge over Manzanita Creek; on the other side lies the start of the loop, with Loomis Museum just beyond.

Allot 1-2 hours for a casual stroll on this easy loop hike.

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Paradise Meadows Trail (Lassen Volcanic National Park, CA)

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Paradise Meadows, Lassen Volcanic National Park, July 2017

Lassen Volcanic National Park in northern California is most famous for its hellish and tormented volcanic landscape—but you would never know it on the park’s beautiful and green Paradise Meadows Trail. This 2.8-mile out-and-back follows a cascading tributary of Hat Creek as it tumbles through verdant hillsides and lush conifer forests and then culminates at its namesake sight: a sun-soaked field at the base of a rocky amphitheater between Lassen Peak and Reading Peak, often brimming with wildflowers.

Paradise Meadows Trail hike information Lassen

Paradise Meadows Trail Map Lassen

Map of Paradise Meadows Trail, Lassen Volcanic National Park; created using National Geographic Maps/AllTrails, alltrails.com (Check out the PDF version, interactive map, and MapMyHike track)

The hike

The Paradise Meadows Trail can be accessed from two points—the Hat Lake Trailhead (the bottom) and Terrace Lake Trailhead (the top)—though most hikers will probably start at the Hat Lake Trailhead and hike up to the meadows. (Note: The ideal is to hike downhill from Terrace Lake to Hat Lake, but this requires either a shuttle pick-up or a grueling return journey.) From the Hat Lake Trailhead, cross Highway 89 (Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway) to the south, where a sign and map mark the start of the Paradise Meadows Trail.

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Lassen Peak (10,457′) from the Paradise Meadows Trail

The path begins as a relatively wide and sandy trail, climbing only ever so slightly through the woods, which are dominated by mountain hemlocks. Hat Lake, although less than 50 yards to the right, is not visible from the trail. After passing a gargantuan boulder on the left, the path begins to climb more steeply, revealing occasional views of Lassen Peak (10,457’). At around 6/10 mile, the Paradise Meadows Trail drops into a shady ravine, then climbs again. At ¾ mile, a pair of wooden footbridges offer passage over a minor stream.

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Paradise Meadows Trail

Beyond, the trail ascends sharply to clear a ridgeline, and the main creek—a tributary of the West Fork of Hat Creek—emerges in the woody gully below. The sound of cascades deepens as the path approaches the first of two waterfalls on the right, now just over one mile from the trailhead.

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First waterfall along the Paradise Meadows Trail

A second waterfall at 1.3 miles is arguably more impressive, though its relative distance off the trail makes it harder to access. Here the creek drops 20 feet, gleaming in the afternoon sun as the hillside to the west gives way to open meadows.

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Second waterfall

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Second waterfall with meadows beyond

Less than two minutes from the second falls, the trail enters a clearing and then forks; the main Paradise Meadows Trail heads right, crossing a short bridge, but the meadows themselves are straight ahead. From here it’s a short and mostly level walk to the terminus, where the trees suddenly cease and beautiful, green grasses blanket the base of an amphitheater of rocky slopes.

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Paradise Meadows

Paradise Meadows is situated in a cirque, a bowl-shaped hollow formed from ancient glaciation. Reading Peak (8,714’) is visible straight ahead, on the horizon; Lassen Peak is visible if you walk a short distance into the boggy meadow.

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Paradise Meadows

From the meadow, turn around and retrace your steps, heading back downhill to Hat Lake Trailhead. Allot between 1.5-2.5 hours for this moderately difficult hike.

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Subway Cave Trail (Lassen National Forest, CA)

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Subway Cave, Lassen National Forest, July 2017

Northern California’s Subway Cave in Lassen National Forest is a relative newcomer to the area’s volcanic landscape; it formed less than 20,000 years ago as once-frequent lava flows drained away, leaving behind a wide, subterranean passage. Today it is a relatively popular stop on the way to or from nearby Lassen National Park, situated less than 15 miles to the southwest. Bring a flashlight (the lava tube is pitch black for much of the way) and a jacket, as the lava tube is a brisk 46 degrees year-round.

Subway Cave Trail Lassen National Forest hike information

The hike

The parking area for Subway Cave is roughly one mile north of Old Station, California, along California Highway 89 (a.k.a. the Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway). From the trailhead, the cave entrance is a short walk of less than 100 yards, though it requires scaling a set of metal stairs. At the first junction, bear left; the entrance will quickly appear on your right.

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Entrance to Subway Cave, known as “Devil’s Doorway”

The cave entrance—as well as the exit—was the product of an ancient ceiling collapse during the tube’s cooling process. Dropping into the lave tube, large blocks of basalt—remnants of the collapsed roof—litter the landscape on the left and right. Once at the bottom of the stairs, flip on your light and head into the cool, damp cave. The passage is wide and easy to follow.

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Entering Subway Cave

The first room in the cave is Stubtoe Hall, appropriately named for its jagged, uneven floor. The passage tightens as you enter the Wind Tunnel, where the darkness and cold chill begin to set in. Just off to the left, around 1/3 of the way through the cave, is a small room with low ceilings known as Lucifer’s Cul-de-Sac.

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Heading through the Wind Tunnel section

Beyond the cul-de-sac, the main passage opens up into a broader room known as The Sanctum, which boasts 15-foot ceilings and two mini-volcanoes formed from gases and molten lava that once bubbled up from the cave floor. Lavacicle Lane, the next section, is the best place to spot tiny stalactites up above. Just beyond is a jumble of rocks formed from a partial collapse of the cave ceiling.

By now, the light is beginning to creep back into the cave, and a broad opening appears ahead. The Rattlesnake Collapse serves as the exit point (even though the tube continues beyond). Back out in the sun, bear right at the trail fork, following a dusty path through the low scrub back toward the trailhead.

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Exiting through the Rattlesnake Collapse

This path crosses a number of times over the lava tube below and follows a wall of basalt that juts out from the flat ground. Off to the left, the scrub gives way to a sea of pines, while partly barren Sugarloaf Peak (6,552’) peeks in and out of view to the west. Turn around and look south as well for partly-obstructed views of snow-capped Lassen Peak (10,457’) in the distance.

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Lassen Peak from the Subway Cave Trail

After arriving back at the cave entrance, bear left and continue the remaining 100 yards, down the stairs to the parking area. Allot 20-30 minutes for the round-trip hike.

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Blackbird Knob Loop (Dolly Sods Wilderness, WV)

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Blackbird Knob Trail, Dolly Sods Wilderness, Monongahela National Forest, October 2017

Situated on a high plateau in the heart of West Virginia’s Appalachian country, Dolly Sods Wilderness in Monongahela National Forest offers alpine-like meadows and sweeping vistas that are virtually unparalleled in the mid-Atlantic. Once one of the state’s best kept secrets, Dolly Sods is now a popular backpacking destination and boasts a maze of interlocking trails. While not as popular as the stunning Dolly Sods North hike, the ecological diversity and differentiated terrain of the Blackbird Knob Loop surpasses that of its northern cousin. There are a number of variations, but the route described here—best completed as a long day hike or a 2-day backpack—visits both the forks of Red Creek and the westerly views across Canaan Valley, with plenty of Dolly Sods’ famed meadows in between.

Blackbird Knob Loop Trail Dolly Sods hike information

Blackbird Knob Loop Trail Dolly Sods map

Map of the Blackbird Knob Loop, Dolly Sods Wilderness, Monongahela National Forest; created using National Geographic Maps/AllTrails, alltrails.com (Check out the PDF version and interactive map)

The hike

Dolly Sods is remote, and prospective hikers should not count on reliable cell phone service as they climb Forest Road 75 to the various trailheads. Coming from the nearest town to the east—Maysville, West Virginia—the Blackbird Knob Trailhead is nearly 15 miles away; the final six miles are unpaved gravel, bumpy but suitable for two-wheel drive sedans. Once you top the ridge, it is another 2.4 miles from Bear Rocks (which boasts fantastic views that are worth a stop) to the start of the hike. The Blackbird Knob Trail begins just north of the Red Creek Campground. Park along the shoulder; if you pass the entrance to the campground, you have gone too far. (Note: It is also possible to reach the trailhead from the west, following Forest Road 19, then 75, for 10 miles from Lanesville, West Virginia.)

A large wooden kiosk on the west side of the road marks the start of the Blackbird Knob Trail. The first minute of the hike covers wooden boardwalk, which weaves through low scrub bearing northwest. Soon the boardwalk gives way to dirt, and the path darts in and out of spruce groves. (Note: Red spruce are a relatively rare find south of Pennsylvania; it is Dolly Sods’ high elevation and cool temperatures that allows these spruce forests—as well as a number of other species—to proliferate.) In between spruce groves are stands of deciduous trees, including oaks, maples, and hickories.

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At the Blackbird Knob Trailhead

Upon entering a dense forest dominated by tall hemlocks, the trail bears left and heads southwest. Shortly thereafter, views open up to the south and west over the Red Creek Basin. Like the foreground, the hillsides on the horizon are coated with a mixture of conifers and deciduous trees, a mélange of sub-Arctic terrain and classic Appalachian landscapes.

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Nice view from a campsite along the Blackbird Knob Trail

Weaving amid blueberry bushes, the trail approaches a spur to a campsite with a nice view at about 7/10 mile. Now heading firmly west at a steady downhill, the Blackbird Knob Trail passes through minor meadows lined with conifers and shrubby vegetation. After encountering a mud pond on the right, hikers then descend to a crossing over Alder Run at 1.1 miles. The traverse is short and relatively easy, barring recent snowmelt or floods.

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Crossing Alder Run

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Climbing a hillside on the Blackbird Knob Trail

Beyond the creek, the trail climbs a fern-dotted hillside, with views down to the left of a grassy meadow. The relatively open views end suddenly at about 1.5 miles, when the trail dives into a spruce forest and begins a gradual descent to Red Creek, which is first spotted on the right at about 1.65 miles. (Note: There is a social trail from here leading down the bank to an oxbow island with a couple of stellar campsites.) A minute later, the Blackbird Knob Trail drops steeply to a stream crossing; stepping stones offer passage over Red Creek, which is much wider and deeper than Alder Run.

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Crossing Red Creek

Beyond Red Creek, the trail climbs in earnest out of the woody ravine and emerges back out into the open at a junction with the Upper Red Creek Trail, which leads northward off to the right. Stay straight, continuing as the trail begins to skirt the slopes of its namesake peak: Blackbird Knob (3,950’). While the path does not lead to the summit, it does gain about 100 feet and enters yet another new ecosystem, this time a forest of American beech trees.

The loop portion of the hike begins about 2.2 miles from the trailhead, at the junction of the Blackbird Knob Trail and the Red Creek Trail. (Note: While heading either way is fine, it makes for nice timing to head left on the Red Creek Trail first, hitting a small waterfall around mid-afternoon before approaching the overlook of Canaan Valley closer to sunset.)

From the junction, the Red Creek Trail drops sharply, and the beech forest gives way to spruce and a series of open meadows. Back in the woods, large rhododendrons appear on both sides of the trail. At about 2.8 miles, the route begins a sharp and rocky descent into the Red Creek Valley, losing about 150 feet in elevation over the course of 300 yards. The Left Fork of Red Creek appears on the right, followed quickly by a stream crossing at 3.1 miles.

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Meadow on the Red Creek Trail

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Skirting the Left Fork of Red Creek

Just past the crossing, listen for rushing water over to the left and follow one of many social trails down to the water’s edge. This is a popular destination known as “The Forks,” where two branches of Red Creek come together. (Note: You will have crossed the right fork farther north back at 1.7 miles.) The right fork spills over a small, 5-foot waterfall into a deep pool. This is an excellent spot to stop for a snack—or to settle in to one of the many nearby campsites.

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Waterfall at The Forks, Red Creek Trail

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Minor waterfall in October, far from its full strength

Beyond The Forks, the Red Creek Trail climbs gradually to a position well above the stream below. Now 3.4 miles from the trailhead, take a sudden right on the Breathed Mountain Trail, leaving the Red Creek Valley behind.

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Start of the climb on the Breathed Mountain Trail

The Breathed Mountain Trail gains 200 feet in around 3/10 mile, making it the steepest climb of the hike. Once back atop the plateau, the terrain levels out and the trail traverses a sandy meadow that, when flooded, becomes a small lake. From here the route climbs gradually to surmount a small knob then drops to a brushy pass between the Stonecoal Run Valley and the upper basins of Dolly Sods. A large meadow is visible on the right. Then it is back to climbing again, as the Breathed Mountain Trail approaches the western slopes of the Allegheny Front, the high plateau where Dolly Sods is found.

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Beautiful stand of hemlocks on the Breathed Mountain Trail

By now some degree of monotony has probably settled in—but it is broken soon enough by a four-way trail junction at 5.9 miles. Following an old fire road, bear right on the Blackbird Knob Trail.

You will not be on the Blackbird Knob Trail for long, as the trail forks again after 3/10 mile. Turn left onto the Rocky Ridge Trail, arguably the best in Dolly Sods due to its splendid views of Canaan Valley. At the beginning, the vistas are shrouded by dense spruce forest, but soon the trail emerges into a clearing with views back to the south. Around 6.5 miles from the trailhead—and 3/10 mile up the Rocky Ridge Trail—look for a well-trodden social trail heading off to the left. This is the short spur to a terrific overlook, one of the highlights of the hike.

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View of Canaan Valley and the two lakes

From the viewpoint, Canaan Valley unfolds in all its majestic beauty, with the heights of Canaan Mountain beyond. On the near side, the bald to the south is one of the many summits of Cabin Mountain (4,298’). Straight ahead, in the valley, are two small, man-made lakes. To the north, it comes as a surprise to see houses, high up the slopes of the mountain: prime real estate with close access to the extraordinary vistas of Canaan Valley. Rocky Ridge continues several miles to the north; the western end of the Dolly Sods North hike can be seen from here. To top things off, there is now a small bench at the viewpoint, a perfect spot to observe the sunset.

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Sunset over Canaan Valley

Once you’ve soaked it all in, head back down the spur trail and bear left on the Rocky Ridge Trail as it continues north. After 2/10 mile, bear right on the Harman Trail, which heads back across the Sods to the east. Most of this 1.4-mile trail covers high ground with low scrub, offering views of Blackbird Knob and the valley carved by the Left Fork. At 8.1 miles, the path rejoins the Blackbird Knob Trail; bear left.

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Sun sets on the Harman Trail

Shortly after the junction, the Blackbird Knob Trail crosses the Left Fork of Red Creek as it weaves through a beautiful meadow. From the east bank, the path runs gradually uphill as it climbs the slopes of Blackbird Knob; sporadic breaks in the trees offer views south over the Red Creek Basin. Just before the end of the loop, the trail skirts a sloping meadow, with the knob summit to the north.

Finally, at 9.1 miles, it’s back to the junction with the Red Creek Trail and on to familiar territory: the Blackbird Knob Trail continues straight, dropping to the crossing over Red Creek again. From the stream, it’s 1.7 miles—through meadows, bogs, and spruce and deciduous forests—back to the trailhead.

The stem-and-loop is 11.3 miles in all, worthy of a 2-day backpack. For those looking for varied terrain and ecological diversity at Dolly Sods, the Blackbird Knob Loop has virtually no equal.

Extra credit

Try the 10.6-mile Dolly Sods North Loop hike, which features excellent views of Canaan Valley from Rocky Ridge, as well as rolling meadows much larger than those encountered on the Blackbird Knob hike.

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Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial, PA

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Thaddeus Kosciuscko National Memorial, July 2017

– Revolutionary War Series –

At just 0.02 acres in size, Thaddeus Kosciuscko National Memorial in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania is the smallest unit in the National Park Service system. A short walk from Independence National Historical Park, this rarely-visited site commemorates the life of one of America’s two most famous Polish-American war heroes (the other being Casimir Pulaski, the “father of American cavalry” for whom Georgia’s Fort Pulaski is named). Before going on to lead a failed revolt in Imperial Poland, Kosciuszko played a critical role in constructing many of the Continental Army’s fortifications during the American Revolution; in 1778, he was appointed chief engineer at West Point, which would go on to host the US Military Academy. Release from prison after serving time for his role in Poland’s 1794 insurrection, Kosciusko returned to Philadelphia in 1797 and occupied this modest, brick home at 3rd and Pine Streets. Today’s Kosciusko House features a small room of exhibits and a video—upstairs—on Kosciusko’s life and contributions.

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Kosciuszko House in Philadelphia

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Independence National Historical Park, PA

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Independence National Historical Park, July 2017

– Revolutionary War Series –

Independence National Historical Park comprises more than a dozen historical sites scattered across Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, tied together through the thread of the American Revolution. Frequented by the Founding Fathers, Philadelphia was the epicenter of revolutionary activity in the lead-up to the American War of Independence. While the Liberty Bell is the park’s most iconic attraction, Independence Hall—where the Declaration of Independence was signed on July 4, 1776—was arguably the most consequential. Several other historical sites dot the Philadelphia cityscape, however, including the Old City Hall, the foundations of Benjamin Franklin’s home, and the home where Thomas Jefferson drafted the Declaration.

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Independence Hall

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Liberty Bell

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Fragments of Franklin Court, a housing complex managed by Benjamin Franklin

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Outline of where Franklin’s former home stood

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Recreation of Franklin’s printing press shop

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Old City Hall

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Inside the Declaration House, where Thomas Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence

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River Trail Loop (Valley Forge National Historical Park, PA)

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River Trail, Valley Forge National Historical Park, July 2017

– Revolutionary War Series –

While the majority of the historical sites are across the river, the north side of Pennsylvania’s Valley Forge National Historical Park offers some quiet hiking along the gentle Schuylkill River. Those looking for a circuit hike can find tranquility on a roughly 3-mile stroll along the River, Commissary, and Walnut Hill Trails. Highlights include a riverside jaunt for 1.5 miles, followed by a woodsy walk and a traverse of Pawling Farm, which hosted the local commissary for General George Washington’s troops stationed at Valley Forge in 1777-78.

River Trail Loop Valley Forge hike information

River Trail Loop Valley Forge Pennsylvania map

Map of River Trail Loop, Valley Forge National Historical Park; map courtesy of the National Park Service, https://www.nps.gov/vafo/planyourvisit/hikingtrails.htm (Also check out the MapMyHike track)

The hike

Begin the hike at Pawling’s Parking Area, situated at about 1511 Pawling’s Road, just before the street crosses the river heading west. The River Trail (not to be confused with the nearby Schuylkill River Trail) begins at the southwest end of the gravel lot, where a pair of signs offer some limited interpretation of the hike. The Schuylkill River is visible right away on the right.

In December 1777, Washington’s Continental Army used the Schuylkill River to its advantage, retreating across it and destroying the bridge to escape British troops. For the rest of the winter, Washington’s forces took up a defensive position west of the Schuylkill.

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Schuylkill River and railroad bridge

Continue down the path for 3/10 mile, where a side trail leads off into the brush to the left. Stay straight for another 1.25 miles as the path gradually narrows and bends eastward. (Note: At 0.9 mile, look for a short railroad bridge along the opposite bank; just beyond is the site of Washington’s headquarters during the winter at Valley Forge.) Pay attention at around 1.5 miles, where an unmarked but apparent trail bears left into the woods, leaving the river behind. (Note: If you reach a footbridge on the River Trail, you have gone too far.) Follow the dirt footpath—the Commissary Trail—as it bends westward and approaches the edge of a field at 1.65 miles.

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Commissary Trail

After crossing a bridge at 1.75 miles, the trail bears north and emerges suddenly onto an open plain, where the path cuts westward toward Walnut Hill, also known as Pawling Farm. Walnut Hill was purchased by the Henry Pawling in 1719 and remained in the family through the Revolutionary War, when the site was used as a market for the Continental Army that was lodged across the Schuylkill. The large stone barn on the property—which remains today but is closed to the public—was constructed by the Wetherill family, which purchased Walnut Hill in 1826.

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Barn at Walnut Hill

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Farmhouse and barn at Walnut Hill, Valley Forge National Historical Park

The Commissary Trail spills into an old road at a spot just south of the barn. Bear left on the road—heading south—then follow the track as it makes a 90-degree turn to the west. After briefly following the farm on the right, the road reenters a dense forest and ends at a lonely cul-de-sac of sorts. Continue past a metal gate to an overgrown dirt track, now the Walnut Hill Trail. At 2.6 miles, the trail passes through a tree cut and then curves northward. With a residential neighborhood in sight straight away, cut left at the trail junction at 2.7 miles. Here the trail follows a grassy downhill slope and weaves in and out of the woods, returning to the River Trail at about 2.9 miles.

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Walnut Hill Trail

Bear left and retrace the original 3/10 mile of the hike, ending where you started at the Pawling’s Parking Area. Allot 1-2 hours for this easy stem-and-loop hike.

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Valley Forge National Historical Park, PA

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Valley Forge National Historical Park, July 2017

– Revolutionary War Series –

Valley Forge is by far the most famous of the Continental Army’s winter encampments during the Revolutionary War. Just a day’s march from British-occupied Philadelphia, Valley Forge hosted thousands of George Washington’s soldiers during the winter of 1777-78; here the temporary residents endured brutal cold and disease, as well as the constant threat of a potential British assault. While the attack never came, the elements contributed to the death of around 2,500 American soldiers. The upside? The long winter contributed to Army that—with the training of former Prussian officer Baron von Steuben and others—coalesced into a formidable fighting force that would eventually go on to defeat the British at Yorktown in 1781.

Today, Pennsylvania’s Valley Forge National Historical Park covers much of the land occupied by Continental troops and preserves a handful of historic structures from the time period. The best way to explore the park is by foot or by bike, but if time and energy are running low, the 10-mile Encampment Auto Tour offers a fine introduction to the park. Highlights include reconstructed army huts, old redoubts and artillery parks, a massive Visitor Center, and the National Memorial Arch.

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Reconstructed huts at the site of General Muhlenberg’s brigade (stop #2 on the auto tour)

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Refurbished redoubt at Valley Forge

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National Memorial Arch at Valley Forge

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Looking out on Washington’s Headquarters

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Washington’s room during the winter at Valley Forge

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Artillery park (stop #7)

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Panorama of the Grand Parade, where General von Steuben marched the Continental forces each day

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