Pa. Wilderness Doesn't Give Up Its Gold, But Hikers Will Enjoy Trek In Area Where Loot Is Believed Hidden

ELLIOTSVILLE, Pa. —I didn't find the gold.

There are stories that Quebec Run Wild Area in southwestern Pennsylvania is where gold stolen from local banks by Confederate raiders was cached.

There are excavation sites along the Hess Trail where people dug for the buried gold after the Civil War. No one has reported finding the long-rumored stash.

Quebec Run is widely known among hikers in western Pennsylvania. It is a popular place, yet you can hike its 22 miles of trails and old roads and never see another person.

It's a heavily forested land of gurgling streams, mountain laurel and rhododendron.

The 7,441-acre tract, part of the 60,000-acre Forbes State Forest, sits just north of the Mason-Dixon Line that separates Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

Quebec Run sits on the steep eastern slope of Chestnut Ridge, south of Uniontown in Fayette County. It is about 65 miles southeast of Pittsburgh.

Quebec Run is the largest roadless wild area in southwestern Pennsylvania and one of 16 state-owned wild areas.

It was, in the words of surveyor Charles Mason, "a wild of wildes." He wrote in his journals: "There is a remarkable quantity of the large tall spruce trees" and "laurel swamps, dark vales of pine through which I believe the sun's rays never penetrated."

He added, "The whole is a deep melancholy appearance out of nature."

Quebec Run is a no-frills place with eight parking lots on the edges of the wild area and little else. That means no bathrooms or drinking water. Pennsylvania prohibits development of a permanent nature in state-controlled wild areas.

That makes Quebec Run a wild wild area. It still has a remote backcountry feel and flavor. It is a place of solitude, rugged and remote.

Quebec Run is a great place to hike because the trails are short and interconnected. That makes loops that are very manageable.

On a recent visit, I parked at the north end of the preserve off Quebec Road on what became a two-hour, 3.8-mile hike on the Miller, Mill Run, Rankin and Hess trails.

The Miller Trail is one mile long and gently descends along a ridge between two small watersheds. The Mill Run and Rankin trails follow the streams with their numerous waterfalls and rocky ledges. The Hess Trail is a puffing, uphill slog through the woods back to the trailhead.

The trails are flanked by sandstone outcroppings and heavy growths of mountain laurel and rhododendron, which bloom in late June and early July.

The moist north- and east-facing slopes are covered in yellow poplar, sugar maple and red maple. The drier and warmer south and west slopes are dominated by oaks.

Hemlocks are found in the shady ravines and hollows, along with moss-covered rocks and fields of waist-high ferns. Wildflowers abound in the spring.

The area includes nearly all of the watersheds of Quebec Run and Tebolt Run, plus part of Mill Run watershed. The clear, fast-moving streams drain to Big Sandy Creek, which drains to the nearby Cheat River in northern West Virginia.

The streams are small, narrow, heavily overgrown and with a steep gradient. That means numerous small waterfalls as you ascend the valleys. The pretty mountain streams contain native and stocked trout. Quebec Run is a designated wilderness trout stream.

Wildlife includes black bears, beaver, coyote, bobcats, wild turkey and ruffed grouse.

Elevations within the wild area range from 1,400 feet at the southeast corner to 2,600 feet as you ascend Chestnut Ridge.

Chestnut Ridge itself was named for the American chestnut trees that once blanketed its slopes. That tree has been largely wiped out by a foreign fungus.

The hiking at Quebec Run is generally moderate. The seven well-marked trails stretch 14 miles.

The trails are blazed and the old roads are pretty obvious. Quebec Run has signs at most of the trail intersections and that makes it easier to jump to another trail.

In general, the trails from the parking lots descend into the streams' mini-valleys. That means one leg of your hike is will probably be a fairly steep uphill slog.

The longest trail in the wild area is the 4.2-mile Hess Trail. It runs from the north parking lot south to the Tebolt Trail.

Eight miles of old roads that once ran through the area have been closed and fenced off. They can be used by hikers but not by vehicles.

That includes 2-mile West Road and the old 3.7-mile Quebec Road (not to be confused with the road to the trailhead with the same name) that runs north-south and bisects the wild area.

They are popular with cross-country skiers and mountain bikers.

Backcountry camping is permitted. That means no camping from vehicles or campers.

Permits for camping are needed only if you are going to stay at the same site more than one night.

Campers must stay more than 100 feet from any stream, 200 feet from any road and at least 25 feet from any trail.

You must bring in or treat drinking water.

There are a few state-built bridges over streams in the wild area.

The forest at Quebec Run is mostly third growth. It was last harvested from 1938 to 1940 by the Summit Lumber Co. of Uniontown.

Many of the old logging roads and tram roads are still visible, along with old sawdust piles where portable sawmills once operated. There is evidence of the foundation of an old mill that stood along Mill Run.

Finding Quebec Run and getting to the trailheads can be an adventure.

I took U.S. 40 east from Uniontown for five miles. After passing the historic Summit Inn Resort at the summit of Chestnut Ridge, I turned south on Skyline Drive (state Route 2001). Proceed 6.4 miles past the Skyline Caverns and turn left on Quebec Road. It was once called Mud Pike. It is a dirt road that is rocky, rutted and eroded. The trailhead will be on the right about 1.3 miles after the turn.

Another trailhead is one mile farther east off Quebec Road, but a bridge was out at the time of my visit. That trailhead provides access to the Mill Run and Grist Mill trails.

You can also get to Quebec Road and the wild area from the east at Elliotsville via state Route 381, the Laurel Highlands Scenic Byway.

Some of the parking lots are barely accessible when it is snowy or muddy. A four-wheel-drive vehicle could be helpful but not normally required.

Hunting, fishing, mountain biking and horses are allowed in the wild area.

For information about Quebec Run, contact Forest District Headquarters, Bureau of Forestry, Forbes Forest District 4, 1291 Route 30, P.O. Box 519, Laughlintown, PA 15655, 724-238-1200, Nearby attractions include whitewater rafting on the Youghiogheny River at Ohiopyle, architect Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater and Kentuck Knob homes, Ohiopyle State Park, Fort Necessity at Farmington and the National Road that runs 90 miles through southwestern Pennsylvania.

For local tourist information, contact the Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau, 120 E. Main St., Ligonier, PA 15658, 800-333-5661 or 724-238-5661,