NCT PA Border & Ill Will Brewing

Columbiana, OH

Sometimes you’ve just gotta get out of town! I love some of the little towns just across the PA border in Ohio and this is the perfect Hike n Hop to do before a day of exploring. This hike starts at Mile 0 of the PA portion of the North Country Scenic Trail and meanders through woods and fields, making for a lovely spring hike. Afterward, you can head into Ohio towards Columbiana and grab a beer at the sprawling Ill Will Brewery. I highly recommend sitting outside. From there, have a lazy day exploring the shops and cafes of downtown Columbiana!

THE HIKE: North Country Trail – PA Border

Length: 5 miles
Elevation Gain: 545 ft
Difficulty: Moderate
Time: 2 hours
Trail use: Hiking, backpacking, leashed pets
Parking: Small trailhead off PA 251. Blink and you’ll miss it!
H&H: 4/5

Somehow, I only learned about the North Country Trail this year! While not as well-known as some of the other multi-state trails, the North Country Trail has a lot to offer! It passes through 8 states, spanning from North Dakota to Vermont. If you’re thinking That’s a lot of miles, you’re right! Nearly 4,800 to be exact. Some fun facts about the trail from the NCT website include that it passes through:

  • 10 national forests
  • 4 NPS areas
  • Over 100 state game lands
  • Along 3 Great Lakes

We are lucky to have some incredible sections of this trail here in PA and I had hiked on them before without even realizing it! In PA, the NCT passes through McConnells Mill State, Cook Forest State Park, and Moraine State Park, as well as through a huge section of Allegheny National Forest. All in all, the trail winds along 265 miles of our great state of PA!

The NCT was established in 1980 by Congressional order as an amendment to the National Trails System Act. While it is administered by the National Park Service and managed by state and local agencies, the trail is primarily built and maintained by volunteers. The North Country Trail Association is a nonprofit with many affiliate chapters who care for individual sections of the massive trail system. When it was created, the NCT linked together several existing trails, so don’t be confused if you see it referred to as multiple names. For example near Cook Forest, the NCT links up to part of the 138-mile Baker trail. 

At mile 0 of the PA section!

This short out-and-back section of the NCT starts at the PA/OH border. There is no parking right at the border, although you may spot the sign along PA-251 (Blackhawk Rd). The parking lot is a small pull out a bit further down the road on the PA side. We definitely drove right past it and had to backtrack. The parking area is not on Google Maps but if you type in the coordinates: 40.773190, -80.513930, it should get you close enough! Coming from PA, the pull-off will be on your right and if you’ve passed into OH, you’ve gone too far! The parking area is about ¼ mile away from the start of the NCT but there is a nice little connector path from the parking lot. Be warned, there are no port-a-potties at the trailhead. Also this trail goes through State Gamelands, so be aware of hunting seasons and wear your orange! 

If you are doing this hike with a group or friend, a great idea would be to bring two cars so you can do a point-to-point hike, leaving your car at the Border parking and picking one of the other parking lots along the trail. This is a great way to see more of the trail and not have to double back! Plus you can decide how far you want to travel. Fun fact: It’s about 35.5 miles from the PA/OH border to Hell’s Hollow in McConnells Mill State Park! Maybe a bit much for a day hike though. 

Since we only had one car, we did a nice little out and back for a total of 5 miles. The turnaround spot is not well-marked nor distinctive, so just keep an eye on your mileage if you’re looking to total around 5 miles. We really enjoyed this hike because although it started on a roadside, you quickly feel lost in the woods. The path meaders up and down hillsides, keeping the elevation interesting. SInce we did this hike in spring, there were lots of delightful wildflowers poking through the underbrush. What a thrill to finally see some green on our hikes again! This trail also broke out onto grassy meadows for some stretches, which was beautiful but also be sure to check for ticks afterward and bring lots of water. Those sunny meadow stretches can get much warmer than the woods! 

One final thing, be very careful pulling back out onto the road after your hike. PA-251 is a fast road and it’s a bit difficult to see around you. 

If you’re making a day of it, after this hike head over to OH and explore Columbiana! 

For more info about the North Country Trail, check out the website here

THE BEER: Ill Will Brewery

Address: 45417 OH-14, Columbiana, OH 44408
Distance from Trail Head: 12.2 miles, 20 mins 
Food?: food trucks, BYOF
Details: Outdoor seating, dog friendly outside

If you live in Pittsburgh and you haven’t been to Columbiana, OH, you are missing out! J and I love finding new little towns to explore and Columbiana is one of our favorites. There really is something for everyone! Hiking (see above), breweries, antiquing, farm markets, plant nurseries, cafes, bakeries, and more! We love to grab a coffee from Generations, a sweet treat from Hogans, and then roam through the many shops and antique stores. You never know what you’ll find! 

Surprisingly for such a small area, they got not one but two awesome breweries! Either one would be a great choice for after your hike (or why not both?) but for this post, I’m going to focus on Ill Will Brewery. This is a fairly new addition to the area and they really live by the idea that bigger is better. Also the brewery has only been around since 2021, their space has grown to include a large taproom and a huge patio. Also onsite are two Airbnbs, an event space, and the future brick and mortar location for the Smokeworks food truck. Seriously this is not a place to miss! For me, the patio is really where this brewery shines. They’ve got firepits, giant lawn games, and honestly just a beautiful sunny view. It’s a great place to watch the sunset! 

Ill Will also makes some pretty interesting beer. Half their taplist is the more traditional, hop-forward brews one would expect. But the other half of the list is where things get fun. They experiment with different smoothie sours and seltzer flavors, some cool and refreshing, others tasting almost like a milkshake. They often have some of the more fruity beer available as a slushie! On a nice hot day, that would really hit the spot. 

Our Beer:

  • No Sleep Til Brooklyn – New Zealand IPA – 7%
  • Ether – NEIPA – 6.5%
  • Instigator – Doppelbock – 9.2%
  • Mean-Mugged – Hard Seltzer – 6.66%

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