Rocks and Rills and Rhododendron, Oh My
If “Pennsylvania is where hiking boots go to die,” then, make no mistake, the John P. Saylor Trail in Gallitzin State Forest, Babcock Division, is the High Executioner. But don’t let the rocky pathway deter you from discovering the luscious landscape that awaits. Among the high points of the Saylor Trail, literally and figuratively, is the Pottsville conglomerate outcropping known to locals as Wolf Rocks.
Wolf Rocks, for decades and longer a favorite destination of midnight revelers, moonlit lovers, and orange blazed hunters, also attracts ramblers and hikers and nature lovers of all sorts. It’s also a challenging destination for photographers. Thick brush, briers, and brambles, and encroaching new forest growth can make photography difficult, especially from mid-spring to late autumn when the forest is in full bloom. Twenty minutes from my home in Johnstown, and just a few minutes from Windber, nature’s masonry is easily accessible to locals.
Photography is why I chose to make the trek in early spring. Of course, if you’re looking for a little exercise, or to admire the depth of nature’s beauty, the mile hike to the rocks is rewarding any day of the year in any weather. But, if your aim is to fully capture on sensor or film the imposing formation that is Wolf Rocks, you’ll want no leaves obscuring the magnificent view.
How to Get There
56 through Windber. Turn right towards New Ashtola on to Verla Drive 2.3 miles past the light at 160 , One mile later when you reach the village, Verla Drive continues with a hard left. One mile-ish after that look for the Wolf Rocks Trail sign on the right. Park on the left. The hike to the Rocks is shorter than a mile, mostly along a babbling brook lined with rhododendron and, Bob’s your uncle, there you are.
Points to Ponder
I wore my wellies, expecting a soggy trail in early spring. Quality hiking boots are good, but my winter hikers are too heavy (six pounds), and I’m too old to lug them as well as my camera kit through the hills. Nice trail shoes in drier conditions are great.
Total elevation rise from parking to top of the rocks is less than 200 feet, not bad for a fat, old, lazy smoker like me (mostly lazy).
Mountain Laurel typically blooms from late May into June, rhodendron from mid June into July. PA’s state flower and its cousin put on a spectacular show, better than fireworks IMHO, so you may want to plan your trip around that time.
Ticks are ugly, intrusive, disease-ridden spawn of Satan, and endemic in Pennsylvania’s woodlands. I’ll be trying Repel Tick Defense’s 15% picaridin on my next trek and will be treating my outdoor outfits with permethrin shortly. At any rate, use some kind of tick spray. Tuck your pants into your socks and your shirt into your waist and spray those areas liberally. Check for ticks often.
For photography, I chose a clear, early afternoon on St. Patrick’s Day. The rocks facing west, the low angle of the late winter sun, and the partially obscuring, leafless trees provided a stunning side light that emphasized form, structure, and texture. Enjoy.