Learn more about outdoor recreational opportunities within the central PA area with Shane Jones.
If you’re a hiker who lives for stunning panoramic views and a wide variety of trails to explore, then you need to head to Kings Gap Environmental Education Center. As a designer based out of Philly (now designing in York), this has been on of my favorite hikes to help me find inspiration. This 1,454-acre state park is located in Cooke, Dickinson and Penn Townships in Cumberland County and is perched atop South Mountain. There are 16 miles of hiking trails here, varying from easy to difficult, as well as an education center offering a variety of programs throughout the year. Pack up your gear, your lunch and your friends or family for a great day on the trails.
Kings Gap has three day use areas, Pine Plantation, Pond and Mansion, from which its trails originate. There are 13 trails to choose from, including two that are paved and handicapped-accessible. This park also offers a permanent orienteering course, for experienced hikers to negotiate a designated course with a map and a compass.
You can traverse one or more of these trails, or link them together for a more challenging excursion. We sure to obtain a map and chart your course before heading out.
If you have small children or are looking for an easy hike, you have five trails to choose from. Kings Gap Hollow Trail is a 1.7-mile hike that takes you to the top of the mountain. This is a cool trail that winds along a stream and features lush fern growth, perfect for a sweltering day. Pine Plantation Trail is a 0.6-mile loop where you can view thinning techniques used at the tree plantation. Another easy hike is the Woodland Ecology Trail, also 0.6 miles, featuring informational signs about the chestnut tree forest. Whispering Pines and White Oaks trails are both paved, 0.3-mile loops perfect for disabled visitors.
King’s Gap offers seven trails in the easy to moderate range, and some of them offer sensational views. The Scenic Vista Trail is 2.5 miles long and features benches along the way for hikers to enjoy the sights of Michaux State Forest. Rock Scree Trail leads to the top of the mountain and offers a fantastic view of the Cumberland Valley, as well as access to the stone mansion that serves as the park’s office and training center for government workers. This is also where you can get information about the park’s environmental programs.
Many trails offer interesting growth and historic sites. The 1.5-mile Boundary Trail traverses an oak and pine forest with lots of blueberry and huckleberry plants. A side loop from this trail, called Locust Point, offers a great view of Kings Gap Hollow thanks to a clearing created by fallen locust trees. The Forest Heritage Trail is a 1.6-mile loop with several inactive charcoal hearths. For an interesting ecological excursion, traverse the 1.3-mile Maple Hollow Trail, which begins in a lush maple forest and loops back to the parking lot through a drier chestnut oak forest. The Watershed Trail, a 1.8-mile loop, circles the headwaters of Kings Gap Hollow Run.
If you’re looking for more of a challenge, try tackling Ridge Overlook. You will need to climb over boulder outcrops to reach the summit of this tough 0.8-mile ridge-top trail, but you’ll be rewarded with great views of the valley. Keep your eyes open for vultures. This is a challenging trail that experienced hikers will enjoy.