Hiking the Mitchell Trail at Ohiopyle State Park

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Selfie at Sugar Run Falls, Ohiopyle State Park.
The author at Sugar Run Falls, Ohiopyle State Park.

Visiting the Waterfalls Along (and near) Jonathan Run Using a Less Beaten Path

The Jonathan Run Trail at Ohiopyle State Park is THE best waterfall hike in western Pennsylvania. Four uniquely beautiful waterfalls, all situated along or near this iconic trail.

The author at Lower Jonathan Run Falls in the spring of 2019.
The author at Lower Jonathan Run Falls in the spring of 2019.

But sometimes, particularly in the summer, the relatively small parking area fills up quickly. And the Jonathan Run Trail can easily become crowded, leading to a less-than-peaceful hike.

So What is the Best Alternate Route to Visit the Waterfalls along Jonathan Run?

Fortunately, four alternatives exist for those wanting to visit the waterfalls along the Jonathan Run Trail. I’ve personally hiked all of them at one time or another, and I’m going to give you directions to the one I believe to be the best of the four – the Mitchell Trail.

I’ll mention the other three at the end of this article, in case you’d like to try them as well.

Hiking to Jonathan Run from the Old Mitchell Place

So where is this “hidden gem” of a trail?

Follow along as I give you an illustrated, step-by-step guide to finding and hiking the Mitchell Trail.

A copy of the official Ohiopyle State Park map showing where to find the Old MiItchell Place parking area.
A copy of the official Ohiopyle State Park map showing where to find the Old Mitchell Place parking area.

Where to Park When Hiking the Mitchell Trail

The Old Mitchell Place sign along Sugar Run Road at Ohiopyle State Park.
The Old Mitchell Place sign along Sugar Run Road at Ohiopyle State Park.

The Mitchell Trail begins at the Old Mitchell Place parking area along Sugar Run Road.

GPS Coordinates for the Old Mitchell Place Parking Area:

39.913918, -79.500453

When you see the sign for the Old Mitchell Place, stay to the far right and proceed up the hill. You’ll pass the Sugar Run Trail sign (see photo below). This IS NOT the trail you will be using for this hike, although I will mention it again later.

Sugar Run Trail at Old Mitchell Place
Sugar Run Trail at Old Mitchell Place

Just past the Sugar Run Trail will be the helicopter landing zone.

The helicopter landing zone next to the Old Mitchell Place parking area at Ohiopyle State Park.
The helicopter landing zone next to the Old Mitchell Place parking area at Ohiopyle State Park.

And just past the landing zone, on the same side of the road, will be a clump of trees and what looks like a wide, mowed ATV path (see photo below). THAT is the start of the Mitchell Trail.

A view of the Mitchell Trail from the Old Mitchell Place parking lot.
A view of the Mitchell Trail from the Old Mitchell Place parking lot.

Here’s a satellite view to sum things up.

A map of where to park and where to pick up the Mitchell Trail to hike to the waterfalls on Jonathan Run.
A map of where to park and where to pick up the Mitchell Trail to hike to the waterfalls on Jonathan Run.

Hiking the Mitchell Trail

Map of the best alternate hiking route to visit the waterfalls on Jonathan Run at Ohiopyle State Park.
Map of the best alternate hiking route to visit the waterfalls on Jonathan Run at Ohiopyle State Park.

From the parking area proceed to the unmarked trail head. Although there is nothing here to indicate this is the Mitchell Trail, trust me – it is. The trail is freshly blazed with yellow paint and easy enough to follow.

The unmarked trail head for Mitchell Trail at Ohiopyle State Park.
The unmarked trail head for Mitchell Trail at Ohiopyle State Park.

At .15 miles into the hike you’ll encounter and pass this “No Vehicles” sign.

"No Vehicles" sign along the Mitchell Trail at Ohiopyle State Park
“No Vehicles” sign along the Mitchell Trail at Ohiopyle State Park

Just past this sign, the trail passes though Mitchell Field, an old farm field slowly being reclaimed by the forest. At certain points you can make out old fence posts and barbed wire among the trees.

The yellow-blazed Mitchell Trail as it passes through Mitchell Field at Ohiopyle State Park.
The yellow-blazed Mitchell Trail as it passes through Mitchell Field at Ohiopyle State Park.

At .52 miles into the hike you’ll come to the “Y” intersection pictured below. STAY TO THE RIGHT to continue on the yellow-blazed Mitchell Trail Spur. If you follow the Mitchell Trail sign to the left, you’ll make a big loop and end up back at the parking lot.

Intersection of the Mitchell Trail and the Mitchell Trail Spur at Ohiopyle State Park
Intersection of the Mitchell Trail and the Mitchell Trail Spur at Ohiopyle State Park

At .66 miles into the hike, stay to the LEFT at this double yellow blaze.

Left turn blazes along the Mitchell Trail, Ohiopyle State Park
Left turn blazes along the Mitchell Trail, Ohiopyle State Park

At 1.1 miles into the hike, stay to the RIGHT at this double yellow blaze.

Right Turn along Mitchell Trial Spur at Ohiopyle State Park
Right Turn along Mitchell Trial Spur

At 1.15 miles you’ll come to the top of a “staircase” built into the hillside you’ve been descending.

Stairs leading to Sugar Run Falls along the Mitchell Trail Spur, Ohiopyle State Park
Stairs leading to Sugar Run Falls along the Mitchell Trail Spur, Ohiopyle State Park

At the bottom of the staircase you’ll come face to face with the first waterfall on this hike – Sugar Run Falls.

Sugar Run Falls

Selfie at Sugar Run Falls, Ohiopyle State Park.
The author at Sugar Run Falls, Ohiopyle State Park.

Sugar Run Falls is an intricate staircase of rock and water, somewhere in the neighborhood of 25-30 feet tall. It doesn’t always have exceptional flow, being on a smaller stream, but when it does it is something to behold.

High spring flow at Sugar Run Falls, Ohiopyle State Park
High spring flow at Sugar Run Falls, Ohiopyle State Park

Sugar Run Falls makes for one of the more interesting winter waterfalls at Ohiopyle State Park.

A winter scene at Sugar Run Falls, Ohiopyle State Park.
A winter scene at Sugar Run Falls, Ohiopyle State Park.

Next Stop: Jonathan Run

Intersection of the Mitchell Trail Spur and the Great Allegheny Passage at Ohiopyle State Park
Intersection of the Mitchell Trail Spur and the Great Allegheny Passage at Ohiopyle State Park

Another 1/10th of a mile down the Mitchel Trail Spur you’ll step foot onto the Great Allegheny Passage. From here you’ll hang a right on the GAP and hike the smooth, flat bike trail for 2/10ths of a mile.

Intersection of the Jonathan Run Trail and the Great Allegheny Passage at Ohiopyle State Park.
Intersection of the Jonathan Run Trail and the Great Allegheny Passage at Ohiopyle State Park.

At 1.41 miles into the hike, you’ll arrive at the intersection of the Great Allegheny Passage and the Jonathan Run Trail. Proceed up the Jonathan Run Trail, and take note that it was recently re-blazed in RED (used to be blue).

Red blazes along the Jonathan Run Trail at Ohiopyle State Park
Red blazes along the Jonathan Run Trail at Ohiopyle State Park

At 1.5 miles into the hike, you’ll arrive at/above Lower Jonathan Run Falls.

Fall foliage at Lower Jonathan Run Falls, Ohiopyle State Park
Fall foliage at Lower Jonathan Run Falls, Ohiopyle State Park

Lower Jonathan Run Falls

Without a doubt, Lower Jonathan Run Falls is the most difficult waterfall in the park to access. An unofficial “user trail” leads you from the Jonathan Run Trail down to stream level.

The user trail leading from Jonathan Run Trail to Lower Jonathan Run Falls at Ohiopyle State Park.
The user trail leading from Jonathan Run Trail to Lower Jonathan Run Falls at Ohiopyle State Park.

If you have any doubts about your ability to ascend/descend this steep stream bank, DO NOT ATTEMPT THIS PORTION OF THE HIKE! You can still see and hear the waterfall from the top of the stream bank.

If you do make the descent, you’ll be treated to sights like this.

Angelic light at Lower Jonathan Run Falls, Ohiopyle State Park
Angelic light at Lower Jonathan Run Falls, Ohiopyle State Park

Lower Jonathan Run Falls is remarkable in the winter. But use extreme caution getting down to stream level. Personally, I always hike with microspikes on my boots this time of year.

Winter selfie at Lower Jonathan Run Falls, Ohiopyle State Park
Winter selfie at Lower Jonathan Run Falls, Ohiopyle State Park

Next Stop: Upper Jonathan Run Falls

Intersection of the Kentuck Trail and the Jonathan Run Trail at Ohiopyle State Park
Intersection of the Kentuck Trail and the Jonathan Run Trail at Ohiopyle State Park

Continuing up the Jonathan Run Trail, you’ll arrive at an intersection with Kentuck Trail at 1.77 miles. Kentuck Trail will be on your left, Jonathan Run Trail will continue straight, and an unmarked but obvious user trail will be to your right, directly opposite the Kentuck Trail. TAKE THE UNMARKED USER TRAIL TO YOUR RIGHT. This will lead you down the stream bank to Upper Jonathan Run Falls.

Upper Jonathan Run Falls

A selfie at Upper Jonathan Run Falls, Ohiopyle State Park.
The author at Upper Jonathan Run Falls, Ohiopyle State Park.

At best, Upper Jonathan Run Falls is a 10-footer, but the sheer intricacy of it makes it a superb subject for photography.

A summer scene at Upper Jonathan Run Falls, Ohiopyle State Park.
A summer scene at Upper Jonathan Run Falls, Ohiopyle State Park.

Be cautious when visiting Upper Jonathan Run Falls in the winter – a thin but invisible glaze of ice usually coats most of the rocks downstream.

Winter arrives at Upper Jonathan Run Falls at Ohiopyle State Park.
Winter arrives at Upper Jonathan Run Falls at Ohiopyle State Park.

Next Stop: Fechter Run Falls

The newly-completed bridge over Jonathan Run, above Upper Jonathan Run Falls at Ohiopyle State Park.
The newly-completed bridge over Jonathan Run, above Upper Jonathan Run Falls at Ohiopyle State Park.

Continuing up the Jonathan Run Trail, you’ll encounter a newly-rebuilt footbridge over Jonathan Run (this one completed fall of 2018) at 1.83 miles into the hike.

The intersection of the Sugar Run and Jonathan Run Trails.
The intersection of the Sugar Run and Jonathan Run Trails.

At 1.89 miles into the hike, you’ll come to the intersection of Jonathan Run Trail and Sugar Run Trail. TAKE SUGAR RUN TRAIL TO YOUR RIGHT.

The footbridge over Fechter Run along the Sugar Run Trail at Ohiopyle State Park.
The footbridge over Fechter Run along the Sugar Run Trail at Ohiopyle State Park.

At 2 miles into the hike, you’ll encounter this small footbridge over Fechter Run.

The user trail leading from Sugar Run Trail to Fechter Run Falls at Ohiopyle State Park
The user trail leading from Sugar Run Trail to Fechter Run Falls at Ohiopyle State Park

Just past the footbridge, Sugar Run Trail passes through a large blow down that has been chain-sawed to allow passage through it. A user trail JUST BEFORE the blow down leads you to the base of Fechter Run Falls.

Fechter Run Falls

Selfie at Fechter Run Falls, Ohiopyle State Park.
Selfie at Fechter Run Falls, Ohiopyle State Park.

Fechter Run Falls is probably the least-visited waterfall at Ohiopyle State Park, and it takes a lot of rain or snow melt to make it look like much of anything. But when it gets going, it’s an exquisite waterfall that you can get right up next to.

Fall foliage at Fechter Run Falls, Ohiopyle State Park.
Fall foliage at Fechter Run Falls, Ohiopyle State Park.

Some of my favorite fall foliage shots at Ohiopyle have been at Fechter Run Falls.

Ice formations at Fechter Run Falls, Ohiopyle State Park.
Ice formations at Fechter Run Falls, Ohiopyle State Park.

And it’s a fine spot for ice formations in the winter.

The Return Hike

At this point, you’ve covered a little over 2 miles, and seen the 4 waterfalls that make this such a gratifying hike. So what’s the best way to get back to your vehicle?

You could simply back-track and make this a 4 mile hike. The upside of that is that you’ve already traversed the trail and everything will be familiar to you.

Or you could continue along the Sugar Run Trail, and it will bring you out back at the Mitchell Place parking lot (remember the Sugar Run Trail sign you saw when you first pulled into the lot?). This option will shave a little less than a mile off the return hike, but the trade-off is it’s a steeper trail. So the choice is yours.

Personally, I usually retrace my steps so that I can get another look/listen at the waterfalls. There isn’t a whole lot to see along the Sugar Run Trail, other than hardwood trees.

Other Alternate Routes to the Jonathan Run Falls

As promised, I’ll mention a few other “alternate routes” to get to the waterfalls on/around Jonathan Run.

  • The Great Allegheny Passage – simply hike/ride out the bike trail from Ohiopyle to the Jonathan Run Trail. Upside: it’s flat and impossible to get lost. Downside: it’s 3.5 miles one way, just to get to Jonathan Run (still gotta hike to the falls). If you’re hiking, that adds a lot of extra steps to your day. If you’re biking, you have to chain your bike up somewhere.
  • The Kentuck Trail – from the Ohiopyle Campground you could hike down the Kentuck Trail and arrive at the intersection with Jonathan Run in approximately 0.7 miles. Upside – it’s a relatively short hike. And if you’re already staying at the campground, super-convenient. Downside – it’s a lung-busting hike back up the hill to the campground.
  • The Sugar Run Trail – from the Old Mitchell Place parking lot you could hike roughly 1 mile and arrive at Fechter Run Falls, then basically do the hike I described in this write-up in reverse. Upside – it may be a little easier to navigate as there are no trail intersections. Downside – less interesting scenery compared to Mitchell Trail and more steep sections.

Final Thoughts the Mitchell Trail Hike

I’ve given you 4 viable alternatives to visiting the waterfalls along and near Jonathan Run, all without the crowds usually associated with the Jonathan Run Trail in the summer.

Personally, I like the Mitchell Trail alternative the best, but your experiences/opinions may vary.

Selfie above Lower Jonathan Run Falls at Ohiopyle State Park.
The author above Lower Jonathan Run Falls at Ohiopyle State Park.

One thing we will all agree on, no matter how you get to them, is that the waterfalls in this section of Ohiopyle State Park are worth the effort to see.

So get out and see them!

Still Not Convinced You Need To Hike the Mitchell Trail?

Then check out this 2-minute compilation of video clips from the four waterfalls mentioned in this write-up. It will show you what the waterfalls along and near Jonathan Run look like in the various seasons.

So no matter what time of year you visit the Jonathan Run Trail, you’ll have an idea for what sights await you.

Enjoy!

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