Solo Hiking the Laurel Highlands

By the end of summer, I had the hiking bug. We had spent one glorious week in Acadia National Park, hiking, swimming and picking huckleberries to our heart’s content. (Don’t know what a huckleberry is? Check it out here.) I had never been to Maine in June, and returned home with black-fly bites to prove it. I was craving a new adventure and under my office’s florescent lights plotted my way back to the trails.

For my first solo backpacking trip, the Laurel Highlands (LHHT) felt so doable. The starting point was only an hour from my house and 70 miles was a lot, but really not all that much. Jeremy had work that weekend so after some convincing and a quick Walmart shopping trip I was on my way! Kimbo and Sadie were thrilled to go on a road trip and gleefully barked through the window at all the dogs and people at Ohiopyle, where the trail begins. I had prepared by downloading the app Alltrails and was confident that even if something bad happened I was not far from safety.

The first seven miles up to the first shelter were brutal. I realized that though I had done weekend backpacking trips in Israel, Pennsylvania was a far cry from the deserts of the Middle East. Walking with 12 liters of water was not only difficult but also incredibly unnecessary. Eventually after an upward climb, during which I only slipped once, I reached the first campsite.

I had opted out of taking a tent as it was nice weather and I was carrying not only water and food for myself, but also for two dogs. After dinner over a small but crackling campfire, I lassoed the dogs to the shelter and bedded down for the night. Unfortunately Kimbo and Sadie were not fans of the open three-sided structure. It was a long night. Every whisper of wind the dogs would bark, and every few minutes one would get up to readjust and check how the other two members of their party were faring. I raised city dogs. And yet it was beautiful. Underneath us a stream babbled and above us there were stars.

And so I slept(ish) my first night alone on the trail. Seven miles down, 63 left to go.

Miles and Maps

Ten a.m. the next morning found me struggling up the remainder of the 2,700-foot elevation gain. As I rested, three trail runners passed me. And then one hour later passed me again. I was mortified that what had taken me the better part of a day to accomplish they were running in a few hours, and cursed my backpack and the extra pair of clothes I had decided to bring with. The dogs for their part didn’t seem to mind. and there is nothing like 130 pounds of enthusiasm to push you up that last incline.

I had agreed with Jeremy that he would pick me up that day at a trail crossing and drive me back to my car. Unfortunately I had failed to give him an exact location and my cell service was limited. An hour and a half later a very disgruntled husband showed up and together we drove a somewhat silent ride past the 14 beautiful miles I had traversed, back to my car.

I was slightly more prepared the next weekend I hiked out. I was carrying significantly less water and had invested in doggy backpacks!! Dog backpacks are not only possibly the cutest things ever but also likely the most practical hiking equipment I have ever purchased. After a lot of research I chose the K9 mountainsmith dog packs both for the price point and quality. Kimbo and Sadie were thrilled to have a task and the weight on my own back was significantly reduced. Win-win!

However, despite my extensive prep work, I still had not mastered map reading and again Jeremy was stuck searching ATV and fire roads to find us. Though he was not overly pleased it was still exciting to have officially reached the halfway point! Writing in the trail book gave me a huge sense of triumph. Making it 35 miles felt like no small feat for a first solo hiking trip with the dogs. I had come this far and knew I would make it the rest.

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Comments 2

  • John : Jan 28th

    Hi Risa,

    I’ve been thinking about attempting a 2-day stay on the LHHT come March. I can’t find any of this info online. Do you need to reserve shelter areas or obtain a permit? And, is the entrance in Ohiopyle?

    Thank you!! Trip sounds really fun.

    • Dwight Rhodes : Apr 11th

      Yes you need to reserve the campsites. There is a lot of entrance and exit points. You reserve through padcnr website. Just Google Laurel Highlands hiking trail.


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