Written by Danielle Taylor | Intro photo courtesy of the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
Did you know a trail more than twice the length of the Appalachian Trail runs right through the Pennsylvania Great Outdoors region? The North Country Trail (NCT) is the longest path in the National Trails System and one of only 11 National Scenic Trails in the U.S., and it traverses more than 4,600 miles on its route through the “red-plaid nation” between North Dakota and the New York/Vermont border. Along the way, it meanders through Clarion and Forest Counties in the Pennsylvania Great Outdoors region alongside scenic rivers, through hemlock forests, and amidst beautiful farmlands. The North Country Trail Association (NCTA), which serves as the nonprofit organization behind the trail’s development, and its Pennsylvania chapters have extended a few challenges to all trail users for this year, and you may want to join in.
The trail enters Clarion County from the southwest just south of Foxburg, a resort town full of culture and art on the banks of the Allegheny River. The NCT travels north from there and exits Clarion County near Emlenton, then reenters along the county’s northwest border and carries on southeast to the charming university town of Clarion. At that point, it continues northeast to Cook Forest, where it runs concurrent with the Baker Trail for several miles through and beyond the park. As the trail continues north, it enters Allegheny National Forest in northeastern Clarion County and traverses almost 100 miles through the forest to the New York border.
If you’d like to tackle the NCTA Hike 100 Challenge, the Pennsylvania Great Outdoors region is a great place to do it. Start by going to the NCTA website to sign up and get resources for your adventure. As you hike, track your miles. You can trek over a 100-mile segment in one go, or hike smaller sections throughout the year, or just cover the same one-mile stretch over and over — it’s up to you! Once you complete 100 miles, send in your documentation to receive your certificate and an exclusive patch.
For a more strenuous adventure on the NCT, consider entering the lottery for the Allegheny 100 Challenge. This one-weekend, 50-hour event challenges hikers and trail runners to trek 100, 50, or 25 unsupported miles on the Allegheny National Forest section of the trail in one go. This year’s challenge will be held June 7-9 and will start at the Willow Bay trailhead near the New York border and end at the trail’s intersection with Route 66 near Vowinckel. The lottery to enter will be open March 4-10, and more information is available on the Facebook page for the Allegheny National Forest Chapter of the North Country Trail Association.
If 50 miles over the year seems more feasible, the Pennsylvania Trail Council of the NCTA will be hosting a PA Hike 50 Challenge that may interest you. Information for the 2018 event is available on the Pennsylvania page of the NCTA site, and the rules for the challenge relaxed a bit for 2019. Hikers participating in the challenge must cover 12.5 miles in each of Pennsylvania’s four chapters of the trail, but they no longer have to be unique, so you could, for example, hike the same 6.25-mile section in one area twice. Finishers earn an exclusive patch in this challenge as well.
Regardless of whether you seek to cover a certain number of miles or just enjoy getting out for a stroll on the trail from time to time, the North Country Trail is a true gem of the Pennsylvania Great Outdoors region, and it’s a public amenity that’s always open and available for everyone to enjoy. Learn more and find other interesting places to visit in the Pennsylvania Great Outdoors region by going to VisitPAGO.com or calling (814) 849-5197.