Published by Jeremy. Last Updated on January 9, 2024.
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If there is any state park in the Laurel Highlands that we have had trouble exploring properly over the years, it would be Laurel Ridge State Park.
The reason for this is simple- the state park is sprawling. Instead of covering one (often round) area with nested hiking trails, Laurel Ridge State Park follows along Laurel Mountain through four counties.
Short of through-hiking on the 70-mile Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail, getting to enjoy Laurel Ridge State Park often comes in small segments.
In the winter, one of our new favorite sections of the park is the groomed cross country ski and snowshoeing trails maintained by the Laurel Ridge Cross Country Ski Center. Seeing the beautiful of the state park in winter? Sign us up for this one!
Although this one offers rentals in addition to the paid entry to the groomed trails, we picked up our own snowshoes and went out for a day of winter fun in the Laurel Highlands!
What You Can Experience at Laurel Ridge Cross Country Ski Center
The Laurel Ridge Cross Country Ski Center is located in Rockwood, PA, and maintains approximately 20 miles of trails for groomed access for cross-country skiers and snowshoers. Although access to the trails requires paid entry, the fee is nominal by winter activity standards and is a small price to pay to hit these incredibly beautiful trails!
Of course, the highlight of hitting the trails here is simply being out in the beauty of winter on skis or snowshoes. Amenities are sparse (simple warming huts and a main hut with some light concessions and toilets) and it is truly just you, nature, and others getting out to enjoy the same.
Trails at the ski center are color-coded with easy to recognize blazes and follows a pretty simple format:
- Red: A large out-and-back loop running approximately 3 miles.
- Green: Connector trails of varying lengths to make the loop longer or, for most visitors, shorter.
- Orange: Dog-friendly trails
- Yellow and Black: Natural and ungroomed trails
Although short in distance, the loop around the red trail took us about two hours and was a perfect first outing. The trail itself was fairly flat, but also featured approximately five hills to navigate that were inconsequential to snowshoeing but some cross-country skiers took their skis off to walk down for safety.
So if you are wanting to hit the trails in the beauty of winter, you're in for a treat at the Laurel Ridge Cross Country Ski Center. But we have a few tips to help you prepare before heading out for a visit!
How to Get the Most Out of Your Visit
After visiting the Laurel Ridge Cross Country Ski Center, we have a few tips to help get the most out of your experience.
First, before visiting, check their webcam and Facebook profile. Between the live view of the webcam and frequent updates of the Facebook page, you can get a really good idea of trail conditions before making the trek to Rockwood.
Second, it is worth keeping in mind that Laurel Ridge State Park is at a high point in elevation compared to the area nearby. We visited early in the season and the nearby area had no snow at all (the grass was quite green) and all it took was a few feet of elevation gain to transform the area into a winter wonderland. Keep this in mind when looking at weather forecasts.
Third, keep in mind that the groomed trails require a payment to use. The ski center took credit card at the time of our visit and will give you a wristband for access. They also rent snowshoes and cross-country skis for an additional fee.
That said, the parking area for the ski center also has access to ungroomed trails of Laurel Ridge State Park for those who do not want to pay. These may be a bit more difficult due to lack of grooming and the entrance has a log station for those going out (particularly used for through hikers, but logging your whereabouts is never a bad thing in winter). We stuck to the groomed trails to be out in an area with more ski traffic for safety.
Fourth, pace yourself if it is your first time snowshoeing or cross-country skiing. Although these two experiences are not terribly difficult, they are more of a workout than you would anticipate. The trails at the ski center section of Laurel Ridge State Park are groomed to help make things easier, but you're still going to be exerting a fair bit of energy.
As such, it is worth having a plan of attack going into things in advance. Wear good winter gear, plan on what route you may take, and stop at any trail crossings and take stock on how you are doing before proceeding further. The trails are marked with colored blazes and are pretty easy to spot (although some were covered a bit with snow during our visit), and the red trail offers a large loop around the grounds (~4 miles) and others cut across (green blazes) for those who want to do a shorter loop.
If you go all the way to the end of the red before it starts to loop back, you're committed on at least two more miles!
Finally, it is worth noting that the ski center is quite remote, even by Laurel Highlands standards. It is about 20 minutes from the turnpike and, during our visit at least, some of the roads leading to the park were not as regularly plowed as some of the more traveled roads nearby. As such, be aware that if winter conditions are present, the roads leading to the ski center can be a bit tricky to drive on.
Overall, we love that the cross country ski center maintains such beautiful trails in the Laurel Highlands. This one was a great introduction to snowshoeing and now we are looking forward to hitting other ungroomed trails in the future. But, next up, we'll be returning to cross country ski!
Laurel Ridge Cross Country Ski Center is located at 1101 Jim Mountain Road in Rockwood, PA.