Winter in the Laurel Highlands provides no shortage of beautiful mountain vistas, winter wonderland recreation, and plenty of activities!
If you and your friends and family are looking for an outdoor recreational winter experience that includes hiking, snowshoeing or cross country skiing on a relatively flat trail, a little known gem is the Indian Creek Valley Trail. Beginning at Jones Mills on Route 31, just off the Donegal exit of the PA Turnpike, it’s an easy 1 hour drive from Pittsburgh or Johnstown!
The Indian Creek Valley Trail is open year round for activities including walking, biking, cross country skiing and even snowshoeing on certain sections. Plenty of amenities for food and beverage and trail access parking can be found in the Indian Creek Valley.
Currently the Trail is being constructed on a former railroad bed that was operated in the early part of the 20th century by the Indian Creek Valley Railroad. It was established in 1906 for Laurel Hill timbering operations and by 1910, 22 miles of railroad were complete from the Jones Mills to the Youghiogheny River, passing through the small towns of Champion, Melcroft, Indian Head and Mill Run that populate the Indian Creek Valley. By 1969 though, the railroad was abandoned due to the declining timbering industry and the shift in transport of coal from rail to trucking.
The ICV Trail construction is now complete for an 8 mile stretch where it runs parallel to the Indian Creek (Rt. 711) between Jones Mills and 1 mile south of Indian Head (Rt. 381). This portion of the trail is relatively flat, which makes it accessible for all levels of ability and very family friendly. In the winter, the trail is plowed for walking/jogging between Indian Head and Melcroft, but it is open for biking, skiing or snowshoeing from Jones Mills to Melcroft.
Portions of this section of the trail are owned/operated by the Mountain Watershed Association and by Saltlick Township. Fortunately, it is the goal of the Mountain Watershed Association to develop the entire length of the former 22 miles of railroad into a bike, hike and ski trail, eventually crossing the Youghiogheny River to join with the Great Allegheny Passage Trail system so that the Indian Creek Valley Trail could then serve as a spur to this popular trail linking Pittsburgh, PA and Washington, DC.
The creek itself starts high on Laurel Ridge as a trickle and ends in a deep wooded gorge flowing with whitewater and waterfalls just before its confluence with the Youghiogheny River near Ohio Pyle. This stunning 5 mile section is currently under development and begins further south at Camp Christian on the banks of the Indian Creek Reservoir at Mill Run on Rt. 381.
Known as Indian Creek Gorge, it provides some of the most breath taking scenery of the Laurel Highlands. It is also renowned for its whitewater, exceptional flora and fauna and is habitat for some of the last remaining wild trout in western PA!
Be sure to bring your camera as there are numerous scenic vistas along this route.
This part of the trail system belongs to the Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County. The MAWC generously allows biking and hiking access, and can be exceptional for cross country skiing when covered in snow.
A couple of important things to know about this section; it becomes remote and the trail can be more rugged, so be sure to dress accordingly, carry enough water and food for a 10 mile round trip (or less), if you wish to travel to its terminus at the Youghiogheny River. Be advised there is no vehicular access to the bottom of the gorge and most likely you will not have much cellular coverage. Keep in mind, you will need to pack out any trash and practice Leave No Trace principles in this area.
Life is a journey through the glorious seasons of nature and life! Treat yourself, your family and friends to a bountiful slice of nature’s winter expression. Come explore the natural beauty of the Indian Creek Valley in western PA!
About The Mountain Watershed Association
It is through the preservation efforts of a community based organization like The Mountain Watershed Association that we can experience the benefits of reclaimed land and fresh waterways from a previous industrial footprint.
If you would like to support and learn more about MWA’s mission is to protect, conserve, and restore the Indian Creek Watershed, its communities and the Youghiogheny River Keeper, visit them at MTWatershed.com.
Plan Your Trip
For a Trail Map and area guide, including trail head parking, Visit IndianCreekTrail.com. Download a trail map and start planning your next outdoor scenic venture!