The Appalachian National Scenic Trail (“Appalachian Trail” or A.T.) is an awe inspiring 2,190-mile-long linear trail that follows the ancient Appalachian Mountain’s stretching from Springer Mountain in Georgia, to Mount Katahdin in Maine. The A.T.’s initial completion date was in 1937, and the first person to thru-hike it all did so in 1948. The A.T. has a very rich and well documented history stretching back to its inception. Since 1968 the A.T. has been federally protected and 99% of the trail is on public lands.
Of the whopping 2,190 miles that the Appalachian Trail offers, 229.7 of them are within Pennsylvania, to include the half-way point of the trail which is in Cumberland Valley! Pennsylvania’s portion of the Appalachian Trail is breathtakingly beautiful offering (not exhaustive) vast valleys of wild flowers, ice cold mountain creeks, rocky ridge tops with an impressive mix of large birds, scenic vistas, plus, an overall thrilling, diverse, flora and fauna population.
Most of us do not feel comfortable (do not have) taking the time, nor do we all want to thru-hike the A.T. (start at one extreme and hike the whole 2,190 in one go); even just the PA portion alone. So, how do we get to experience the “trail of life-changing discovery” without having to sacrifice much in our existing lives? Section hiking! We have broken the 229.7 miles down (per the Keystone Trails Association guidebook) into a manageable 14 sections that can usually be experienced in a day, or at most within a weekend; offering the busy and responsible person an opportunity to not lose out on such a potentially powerful experience.
The Breakdown – 229 Miles Divided into 14 Sections
Starting from the North at the New Jersey – Pennsylvania border, heading South and West through Central PA, ending at Pen Mar at the Pennsylvania – Maryland border.
I-80 (Delaware River Bridge) to Wind Gap: 15.8 miles
Wind Gap to Lehigh Gap: 20.7 miles
Lehigh Gap to Blue Mountain Summit: 13.3 miles
Blue Mountain Summit to Port Clinton: 26.7 miles
Port Clinton to Route 183: 14.4 miles
Route 183 to Swatara Gap: 20.7 miles
Swatara Gap to Clarks Valley: 17.4 miles
Clarks Valley to Clarks Ferry Bridge: 16.7 miles
Clarks Ferry Bridge to Route 944: 14.6 miles
Sections 10 – 13 are primarily within Cumberland Valley
Route 944 to Boiling Springs: 12.3 miles
Boiling Springs to Route 94: 8.8 miles
Route 94 to Pine Grove Furnace State Park: 10.9 miles
The Appalachian Trail’s mid-point technically changes whenever the trail does, however, the actual mid-point is +/- Pine Grove Furnace State Park on average. Pretty darn cool that it is in Cumberland Valley, you should go stand on it! Think: midway between Georgia and Maine, roughly 1,095 miles to Maine and/or Georgia. How many people are currently on the trail with me at this moment? How many heading North to Maine? How may heading South to Georgia?
Pine Grove Furnace State Park to Caledonia State Park: 19.5 miles
Caledonia State Park to Pen Mar: 17.9 miles
My recommendation is to start with the Cumberland Valley sections due to their shorter distances (the shortest section is in Cumberland Valley), ease of access, relative low elevation change (not that many and/or super long hills), abundance of wildflowers along the way, and the fact that they offer world-class scenery!
Take on the challenge of section hiking all 229.7 miles of the Appalachian Trail in Pennsylvania (at your own pace of course), and join a healthy tradition that is larger than any one person and is ever ongoing. Feel good from endorphin release (exercise/hiking), the awe of nature, breathing fresh air, absorbing Vitamin D from direct sunlight, and from the cessation of rumination (constant, incessant thinking). Boost your creativity, build self-confidence, tone muscle, develop balance and proprioception, and lose yourself in an (outdoor) experience that you WILL NOT REGRET, all right here in your Central Pennsylvania backyard!
Be safe out there, involve your family and friends, follow Leave No Trace practices, and never be afraid to reach out to me for questions or comments. I hope to see you on the trail soon.
-Kyle Stapp, Head Guide
p.s. trail names are an A.T. tradition and can be fun to make up. It can be your real name, something made up, or something that describes you or a characteristic of yours. Start thinking of your trail name now if you don’t already have one.