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Thursday, September 13, 2007

Harisson Hills Park

Last month I did a little exploring, mountain biking Harisson Hills Park and put together a nice little ride:

Harrison Hills Park sits above the Allegheny River between Freeport and Natrona Heights with
it's main entrance along Freeport road.

Harrison Hills is a great place for beginners. There are many well maintained and groomed trails throughout the park that don't involve a lot of climbing. I'd like to put together a good beginner/novice loop but this ride was geared more towards bikers with at least a little riding experience under their belt.

There are a ton of trails in the park and they constantly intersect and intertwine which can be confusing but the trails are extremely well marked and the Friends of Harrison Hills Web Site provides this terrific map. [Link to the map]

We based our ride on the Boy Scout Trail. This trail is a five mile loop that follows the outer edge of the park. This is an outline of our route:

The route we took is outlined in green. Use this along side the original map to see the color coding.

We took part of the the Boy Scout loop and avoided the really steep section of the trail. The Boy Scout Trail contains some sections that are more challenging than other trails in the park. It's more geared for the intermediate rider but is also a great place for a novice who is looking for some challenge but still wants a fun ride. Challenges include some short quick climbs requiring momentum, a couple of longer more moderate climbs and steep sections, and a section of tight windy single track with some off cambers, logs, rocks and roots.

The Boy Scout Loop and Pink Trail

Take the main entrance into the park. At the first intersection take a right (uphill) this is Woodchuck Drive. If you go down a steep long hill you've taken the wrong road.

There will be paved parking spaces on the right and left of the road. A few yards down the road and to your left is the Baneberry Grove pavilion. The trail head is off to your right. Pull into a space and get ready to cycle.

If you pull into a space on the right hand side the boy scout trail will be up and to the right of the open area. The Boy Scout Trail is is demarcated throughout with red vertical rectangles and there is also a sign along this road marking it. The ride begins taking the Boy Scout loop counter clockwise around the park.

Begin your ride through some wooded single track after a half mile the trail will eventually lead into a field. The trail will go down across the field and you will come to a T. Make a left towards the pond. Follow along the pond and make a left around the end of the pond. At the corner of the pond there will be a track straight a head and one off to the right. Take the trail off to the right up over the steep climb.

After a short wooded piece you will emerge into a wide open area with a baseball and soccer field. Follow the trail to left and travel up around the baseball field. Travel across the lawn area and angle down and to your right across the lawn crossing the gravel road and heading counter clockwise around the soccer field. You might spy some of the red triangles that mark the boy scout trail.

As you cross the gravel road and head down around the soccer field you'll want to cross the lawn area and find the trail again as it travels through the field.

The trail goes through the uncut field below the soccer field and leads you into some single track.

This is classic single track with tight windy turns, roots, rocks and off cambers. For me it was the favorite part of this ride.

Eventually the trail will lead you to the closed area. A large white sign will read Keep Out Dangerous Area (or something to that effect). Though you'll see on your map the Boy Scout Trails travels through this section, you'll probably want to detour this because the trail looks overgrown and unmaintained.

After you make a left at the danger sign start looking for a trail off to your right that crosses a small valley and stream.

Head out across the lawn toward the observatory. Here at the observatory you get a relatively uninteresting view of the homes and golf courses that make up River Forest. This might be interesting if you were a golfer but being that you are out here mountain biking, you are probably not a golfer.

However much more impressive and more likely to hold your attention is the precipice your standing over and the knifes edge trail leading along the ridge line. This is where you pick back up the detoured Boy Scout Trail. Continuing: after cutting across the lawn area and reaching the observatory you make a left on the boy scout trail and follow the ridge line trail upriver along the cliffs. Do take caution!
Other trails will join this trail and branch off just keep right and follow the trail along the edge of the cliffs.
After a few hundred yards of following the ridge you will come to a very steep long downhill where a stream valley, the river valley and the corner of a field all intersect.

We decided to detour this steep section. I was with my girlfriend and she would not be happy pushing her bike out of this hole. Looking at the map there may be a reasonable trail that follows the contours up out of the stream valley but I'll leave exploring that to another ride.

Instead of heading down go to the fields edge and follow the trail right. This is a section of the Wetlands Trail and it's marked with the color green.

The trail goes along the edge of the field along the woods line and heads into the woods bordering along the field. A trail will branch off down to the right, keep left. The trail leads up and then out of the woods and down across the field. The trail will cross a gravel road. Make a left onto the gravel road.

Travel on this road past the construction area. This will lead to a barn looking structure which is the park office at this convergence the road turns to blacktop.

At the park office building head across the lawn off to your left and find the trail head for the pink trail. This is the 'Flag Staff Hill Trail' and is demarcated with pink rectangles. It is marked purple on the park trail map.

At this point the pink trail is a relatively fast double track along a ridge line and takes you back towards the observatory.

After traveling along the ridge line for a while the trail will quickly plummet down over a hill. Before the bottom of the hill make the sharp right and follow the the pink trail markers. If you end up at an open lawn area at the observatory you've gone just a little too far.

After the trail makes the sharp right, it heads across the paved road and runs up a valley between the stream and the road.

After running up the stream valley for a time the pink trail runs back across the road where it meets up with the green 'Wetlands Trail'.

As the trail heads up the valley you'll come to blacktop. You are actually just downhill from the park office. Make a left onto the blacktop you'll see a parking area on your left. After a couple hundred feet you'll come to an intersection. Make a right on the blacktop heading up a steep climb.

At the top of the climb you are near the park entrance. Hang a left at the intersection and this road will take you back to your car.

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