Don’t have time to thru-hike the iconic Appalachian Trail but still want to experience more than a day hike? Appeal to your adventurous side with an overnight or weekend hike along the A.T. in the Cumberland Valley. What better location to learn the ins and outs of long-distance hiking than along the 46 miles of the A.T. that meander through Cumberland Valley, including a 13-mile section that is one of the lowest and flattest sections on the entire trail?
While multi-day hiking is not as intimidating as thru-hiking, a successful hike requires planning and preparation. Here, Marian Orlousky, Director of Science & Stewardship with the Appalachian Trail Conservancy in Boiling Springs, a designated Appalachian Trail Community, shares some important information to help you plan your adventure.
1. If someone wanted to experience an overnight hike along the A.T. in the Cumberland Valley, what are the essential items they should pack?
We sometimes refer to a short overnight hike as a section hike. For any type of hike, whether it is a day or 100 days, you should always bring the ten essentials. Variations of the ten essentials list can be found online. They always include extra food & water, proper clothing, first-aid, navigation, shelter, matches, and a light. There are some other important items that are also a must for the A.T.
- Bear canister – ATC recommends that every overnight hiker bring a bear canister for storing and protecting their personal food. Black bears are very active on the A.T. as well as a variety of smaller critters like mice and chipmunks. Also, never sleep with or near your food and always use a bear box if there is one installed at your overnight sight.
- Stove – A stove is the easiest and most efficient way to cook your food in the backcountry. It’s best not to plan to cook your food over a fire. Some areas of the A.T. don’t allow fires, others have seasonal fire restrictions
- Maps – You should always have a map with you while on an A.T. hike. Maps for the A.T. can be purchased at appalachiantrail.org or in one of our visitor centers. These maps are durable and waterproof. Digital A.T. maps can also be purchased through the Guthook app on your smartphone or device. However, don’t rely on your smartphone for navigation since batteries can die or there may be no signal. All A.T. maps include information regarding local regulations, overnight sites, side trails, elevation, parking, and water sources.
- Water filter – There are water sources all along the A.T. but you must always chemically treat, boil or filter any water before drinking.
- Trowel – A lightweight trowel is the best way to make sure you are properly handling your waste on the A.T. Bury waste and toilet paper in a small cathole 6-8 inches deep. Make sure your cathole is at least 200 feet from your campsite, shelter, the Trail and any water sources. Digging a good cathole will help reduce contamination and spread of illness.
2. How is the trail marked?
The trail is marked with a white blaze that is approximately 6 inches tall and 2 inches across. Blue blazes are used to mark side trails that connect to the A.T. These often lead to a view, a parking area or a water source. Your map will help you determine what the side trail is for and where it goes.
3. In general, what type of terrain will hikers find along the 46 miles of the A.T. in the Cumberland Valley?
The A.T. through Cumberland Valley is considered Moderate to Easy terrain. The Trail spans two ridges (South Mountain and the Blue Mountain) and crosses the Cumberland Valley. There are moderate climbs as well as some flat areas. Pennsylvania is known for its rocks, which can be ankle turners, so proper footwear with a sturdy sole is a must.
4. Are there designated shelters and campsites or can hikers overnight anywhere along the trail?
There are designated shelters and campsites along the A.T. Most shelters have tenting sites associated with them. Camping rules vary in different areas and it is important to do some research before you begin your hike. Most important is that hikers use already impacted sites and don’t create new ones. And always heed signage regarding restoration areas or camping regulations.
5. Can you name one or two locations that would be ideal for guests to start their overnight hike?
Hike north or south from the Cumberland Valley. Because the Trail Corridor is very narrow through the 14-mile stretch that crosses the Cumberland Valley, and the trail is closely neighbored by private lands, there is no camping along this section which stretches from Center Point Knob North to the Darlington shelter on Blue Mountain. Hiking north or south from the valley also allows one to experience a diverse hike that includes farmlands, open pastures, and forested mountains.
6. Are there parking areas for cars to park overnight?
There are several parking areas that allow for overnight parking in the County. It is best to review parking options on land management websites to understand which sites allow overnight parking. Land managers sometimes require a free parking permit or registration, as is the case in Boiling Springs and in Pine Grove Furnace State Park. Free parking permits, including long-term parking, are available at the Mid-Atlantic ATC office in Boiling Springs. (During temporary office closures, please reach out to the South Middleton Township office at 717-258-5324 for a long-term parking permit.)
7. What kinds of wildlife are visitors likely to see on the A.T. in Cumberland County?
Many of Pennsylvania's more common mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians are likely to be seen along the A.T. The Kittatinny Ridge or Blue Mountain is an important part of the Atlantic flyway and here you are likely to see raptors and migratory birds of many kinds. Snakes are also commonly seen along the A.T. The best thing to do if you see a snake is to observe from a respectful distance and keep on walking. Snakes prefer not to mess with you, so don’t mess with them and you will both have a more enjoyable day.
8. Are dogs permitted along the trail?
Dogs are allowed on most portions of the A.T. with just a few exceptions. Dogs are allowed on the entirety of the A.T. in PA. Dogs should be kept on a leash out of respect for other visitors and wildlife. Also, remember to pack out your dog’s waste on a day hike, or cathole on an overnight trip.
9. Is this type of hike ideal for a large group of friends or family?
Shelters and campsites are limited along the A.T. and our impact is typically greater when in larger groups. Remember that most people go to the A.T. to escape crowds, noise, and busy life, so keeping your group small helps preserve the A.T. experience and let nature prevail. The overnight group size limit for the A.T. is 10 people so that is the maximum number of people permitted to overnight hike as a group.
10. Is there a fee or permit required to hike along the A.T.?
There are no fees or permits required to hike the A.T. in general, but there are a few sections in other states where a permit is required. While there is no fee, there is a thru-hiker registration process that we ask folks to register their hike if they are attempting a thru-hike. Weekend hikers for section hikers can also use the A.T. Camp website to register tor a campsite. While this is not mandatory, it does allow the registrant to get a better idea of how many people might be at a particular overnight site on a particular day.
11. Can you hike the A.T. year-round? When is the best time to hike in Cumberland Valley?
You can hike the A.T. year-round, with just a few exceptions in other states. The A.T. is open to visitors all year long in the Cumberland Valley. One time to avoid may actually be during the early spring when rain can be heavy and frequent. The reason being that the A.T. in parts of the Cumberland Valley can get quite muddy where the land is low. If you do choose to hike during the rainy season, wear gaiters which will help keep your feet dry and allow you to go through the mud rather than around. Going around muddy spots causes trail widening, erosion, and lasting visual impacts.
12. Can you briefly talk about safety along the trail?
The best approach for safety along the A.T. is to plan ahead and prepare. Despite the occasional incident, the A.T. remains a very safe place to hike. The most common dangers on the A.T. are exposure to the elements and ticks. Being prepared for all weather conditions is critical to a good experience. Always tell someone where you are going and when you expect to return. You won’t always have cell service while on local trails so it is important that someone knows where you are.
A lot of hikers today are choosing to carry a satellite communication device with them. Name brands include SPOT device and Garmin Inreach. These allow for check-ins with your family and emergency contact when out of reach of cell service.
13. Are there any other words of wisdom you would like to share with those planning an overnight trip?
Do your research! Know what to expect on your hike. Make sure you know how to use all of your equipment before you begin your hike. Good planning will help you have an enjoyable experience and leave minimal impact. And remember to pack out everything you pack in, and leave the A.T. a better place than you found it. Click here for an overnight backpacking checklist suggested by The Appalachian Trail Conservancy.
Click here for more information about the Appalachian Trail and some suggested day hikes in Cumberland Valley.