Explore hiking trails, environmental issues, recreational funding challenges and trail maintenance in Central Pennsylvania with Jim Foster.
Fall on the Appalachian Trail
Well, summer is over, so it’s time to put away your hiking boots for another year, right? DON’T YOU BELIEVE IT!! We have just entered what many hikers, including this writer, think is the best time for hiking in the Keystone State, the fall and winter.
To start out, there’s the fall leaf season. As I write this in early October, the northern tier of the state is just entering the peak time. Last weekend, I was at the PA Grand Canyon with friends. The fall colors were just coming on. They’ll be great up there for a couple more weeks. Where I live, in south central PA, we are still a few weeks away from the peak time, towards the end of October. There lots of great places to see the leaves around here.
One of my favorite places in Pole Steeple, a rock outcropping on top of South Mountain just north of Pine Grove Furnace State Park, in the southern tip of Cumberland County about midway between Carlisle and Gettysburg. Just go to the park office and get a map that shows two different ways to get to Pole Steeple. If you’d like a gradual climb, take the Appalachian Trail up. If you’d prefer a steeper trail that’s a good cardio workout, take the Pole Steeple Trail.
Here are a couple of resources to help you plan your fall leaf peeping trip:
OK, but when the leaves are done, that’s it for hiking, right? Not even close. Guess when is my favorite time to hike in PA? WINTER. Lots of people, especially those from other states, say there are very few good views in PA. Those people have not hiked in Pennsylvania in the winter. That is the time when, with so many leaves off the trees, spectacular views abound.
Hikers on Pole Steeple
One of my favorite places to go in the winter is just north of my home in Mechanicsburg, near the top of Blue Mountain at the overlook on the Appalachian Trail. On a clear winter day, you can see almost to Shippensburg in one direction, and almost to the Susquehanna in the other. I lead a hike up there every January or February, the Blue Mountain Winter Ramble.
Cumberland Valley in Winter from AT overlook
One of my coolest trail experiences occurred in the winter of 2007, when I was training for my Appalachian Trail thru-hike. My trusty hiking companion, Socks the rescue dog, was accompanying me as we climbed the mountain. It was crisp and cool as we started our climb. As we climbed, the trees became covered in ice rime. What had been a cold rain a few days before in the valley had fallen as sleet up on the mountain. All of a sudden, there was a loud rustling sound above us. Socks, normally pretty brave, snuck in between my legs to hide. I looked up to see thirty to forty wild turkeys that had been roosting above the trail in the ice covered trees. I’ve never seen so many turkeys in the wild.
Of course, you need to take reasonable precautions when hiking in the winter. Even I don’t like to hike in steady snow or cold rain. It is wise to wear several light layers of clothing, with a rain proof layer on top. That makes it easier to shed or add layers as you heat up while climbing and cool down while standing or descending. Wear some blaze orange if it is rifle hunting season. The best thing is to go to Dicks or Bass Pro and pick up an insulated blaze orange hat. Below is a link that shows the hunting seasons in Pennsylvania: http://www.portal.state.pa.us/portal/server.pt?open=514&objID=576240&mode=2
If you decide to take the A.T. up Blue Mountain, I recommend that you park in either the parking lot at the Scott Farm, off Bernheisel Bridge Road, or the parking lot at Sherwood Drive. Follow the link below for a map showing the A.T. in the Cumberland Valley, including these two parking lots. Another good alternative is the A.T. parking lot off Route 850 between Marysville and Shermans Dale in Perry County. If you go up to Route 850, you have your choice of either climbing Blue Mountain to the south or Cove Mountain to the north.
Happy Fall and Winter Hiking!!