Located in Pennsylvania’s Allegheny National Forest, Minister Creek is a great trail for introducing new people to backpacking. It is not terribly difficult and it is perfect for a single overnight stay. So, when Heather said that she would be willing to try backpacking with the boys, our new puppy, and me, I knew this would be the best place to go.
The trailhead is about a three hour drive from our house, but we planned on making more frequent stops since this was our puppy Raya’s first long car ride. We left the house around 8 in the morning and arrived in Warren, PA around noon. The boys wanted a frosty, so we grabbed lunch from Wendy’s and had a picnic at Crescent Park in Warren. From there it was a quick drive to the Minister Creek trailhead.
On the 2016 version of the Minister Creek trail map, which I can no longer find on the Forest Service’s website, there is a fishing trail which starts at Minister Creek Campground and follows minister creek. The fishing trail connects to the main trail where the main trail crosses Minister Creek. The boys like to go this way so that they can check out the old machinery shed that is most likely left over from the area’s oil and gas days.
The first time I backpacked this area we went straight to the main trail instead of taking the fishing trail. This is probably because parking is on the other side of the street from the trails area and when you cross the street you are guided away from the campground and toward the main trail. Minister Creek Campground is a pay to stay camping area with some car camping amenities like vault toilets and potable water. You have to walk through the campground to get to the fishing trail.
We arrived at our favorite campsite with plenty of daylight. We set up our Marmot Limelight 2P and tossed two bivy sacks under a tarp. The area is fairly well picked over for firewood, but we were able to find enough downed wood for a small campfire.
A large storm ripped through the region a few years ago and knocked large swaths of the forest down, on the north loop there are two sections with countless numbers of downed trees. So, in theory, there is more than enough downed wood for campfires. However, the storm damaged areas are not very close to our campsite.
The area circled on the map is a designated camping area for the North Country Trail, there are campsite symbols posted on a couple of the trees. There are a lot of nice campsites along this section of Minister Creek, as long as you don’t mind the sound of water rushing over rocks. A few of those sites could end up under water if there were a large rain storm, so choose wisely.
Even in August there is plenty of water flowing through Minister Creek. The water is normally nice and cool too. I have heard that some people like to bring a few cans of craft beer with them on backpacking trips. Tossing those in the creek upon arriving at camp would probably yield some chilled beverages by dinner time.
The area where we camp has a nice stone fire ring, and there are some big flat rocks which can be used to make tables. On a previous trip to this site we made a stone griddle. A flat rock was held up on the edges by larger rocks in the fire ring. We swept hot coals under the slab to heat it up. It got hot enough to cook dough which we made into mini pizzas.
We continued our hike the next day, stopping for lunch at the Minister Creek valley overlook. From the overlook we traveled counter-clockwise on the middle loop back towards the trail head. There are some interesting rock crevices to navigate along the way. We were back where we started by dinner time. We paid the $15 to stay at the front-country campground for one night … and use latrine without feeling guilty. As non-running-water toilets go, there really weren’t that bad.
With one night in the backcountry and one near the car, we finished our weekend backpacking trip. Everyone made it, and enjoyed the trip. Even the puppy made it through without problems, though she was the only one who didn’t have to carry their own gear. She was too young to carry her own pack, next time she’ll have to carry her kit, just like everyone else.
Minister Creek is a perfect backpacking trail for beginners. There is always plenty of available water, though you probably want to be sure to filter it. It is possible to backpack the entire trail in a day, so if you find that your gear is letting you down you can hike back to the car in well under 4 hours. There are plenty of established camp sites all along the trail. There are interesting rock formations along the trail. And, the elevation change is not that bad. So, if you are considering making your first backpacking trip or are considering taking someone else on their first backpacking trip, you should definitely put Minister Creek at the top of the list of places to go.
There is no cell phone service in the area, so you may want to take a paper map. There were none provided at the trail head. Here is a modified copy of the 2016 Forest Service map that I use.