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Appalachian Trail in Pennsylvania:
Caledonia State Park to Pine Grove Furnace
Brief Description of Section
Caledonia State Park and Big Pine Flat Ridge
Caledonia was the name given to ancient Scotland by invading Romans, but hikers don’t need to be Bravehearts to enjoy the first leg of the A.T.’s ridge top route between Caledonia and Pine Grove Furnace state parks. The hike up to and along Big Pine Flat Ridge is through as pretty a section of Penn’s woods as you’ll find. It starts in Caledonia SP, named not for Scotland but for Caledonia County, Vermont, hometown of Thaddeus Stevens, an attorney who moved to the area in the 1820s and made his mark as an abolitionist, statesman, and father of the Pennsylvania public school system. Stevens financed the iron industry in the area and got to name the settlement. That’s also why his name appears on the reconstructed iron furnace and blacksmith’s shop in the park, even though he never shod a horse. Originally built in 1830, the smithy and ironworks were destroyed in 1863 by Confederate troops under the command of Gen. J. A. Early. They were restored in 1927 by the Pennsylvania Alpine Club and are worth a visit.
The smithy is directly across US 30 from the park’s designated hikers’ parking lot. The hike begins in front of the blacksmith’s shop on a flat, gravel park path that was once a part of the A.T. and now connects to it. The path goes between the park swimming pool and a field that was used as an open-air hospital for soldiers wounded in the battle of Gettysburg, just 15 mi. to the east. On the right is a footbridge to picnic tables and park pavilions. The blue-blazed Midland Trail to one of the park’s two campgrounds crosses here, and a drinking fountain at the edge of the field offers a last chance to fill up water bottles for the hike. There are a total of 185 tent and trailer campsites available, and the campgrounds provide flush toilets, hot showers, and a sanitary dump station.
As the path enters a wooded area, just 0.3 mi. from the parking lot, it joins the A.T. and immediately crosses Conococheague Creek on a wide wooden footbridge. The creek’s tumbling runs and gentle, slow pools are home to many trout, and fly casters can often be seen trying to tempt them to strike a hook adorned with feather or fur. The A.T. winds through groves of tall hemlock, tulip-poplar, and oak and between popular picnic pavilions that are always in use during the summer. There is also a rest room along the trail here. The wooded area beyond the last of the pavilions is an excellent place to sight deer any time of the day.
Across a grassy park road, the A.T. begins ascending, steeply at times, between Orebank Hill on the left and Chinquapin Hill (elev. 1522 ft.) on the right. The trail climbs past a park campground on welcome wooden steps built into the hillside, until these give way to a series of switchbacks through an older forest of hemlock and oak. The trees get younger as the trail tops the hill (1.4 mi.) where there are mountain laurel and blueberry bushes lining the way, and the blue-blazed Caledonia SP Three Valley Trail, just 0.7 mi. long, joins the A.T. from the left.
The A.T. passes along a snow fence and a line of young white pines near the site of a former rifle range at 1.6 mi., where it is joined from the left by the blue-blazed Locust Gap Trail, a 4.8 mi. route from Greenwood Rd. to Milesburn Rd. The A.T. flattens here on a wide, old logging road before bearing off the road to the left and through several boggy areas where the footing is often soupy.
Ascending, pass the former Locked Antlers Camp site and still-active spring at 1.8 mi., and cross Hosack Run, a tumbling mountain brook on the right. The trail is gated here to control off-road vehicle access to the Quarry Gap shelters at 2.2 mi. The two new, four-person shelters are in a pleasant clearing surrounded by tall oaks, with a spring in front and privy behind. The trail crosses a small, unnamed tributary on rocks that could be submerged in a rainy spring and passes several primitive campsites before continuing the ascent of the ridge through impressive thickets of mountain laurel. At 2.9 mi. Hosack Run Trail splits off on the right. It joins the Locust Gap Trail in 1.1 mi., which loops west back to the A.T. or east to Milesburn Rd.
At 3.6 mi. the A.T. tops the ridge and turns right onto Ridge Rd. for 0.1 mi. to Sandy Sod, at the potentially confusing junction of Stillhouse Rd., Ridge Rd., and a gated forest road. This is one of the few spots in Pennsylvania where the trail is poorly marked. The trail follows Ridge Rd., which bears to the right, across the intersection and then immediately branches off into the woods on the left. The trail into the woods is poorly marked, and obscured, in season, by leafy brush and trees. A tip: ignore the gated road to the left, and stop if you begin going downhill on the road. That means you walked through the intersection and are on Stillhouse Rd. The key is to take the soft right turn on Ridge, not the hard right on Stillhouse. This is a possible early exit option with parking along the berm of the roads.
The A.T. follows the top of Big Pine Flat Ridge, gently descending through medium tall ash and oak. Much of the hiking here is under such a canopy. There are beautiful views of checkerboard farmlands in the valley to the left. The trail crosses a power line and two grassy logging roads before crossing Middle Ridge Rd. At the 6.3 mi. mark. If the season has stripped trees of their foliage, hikers can get a peek at the Big Flat Fire Tower, about 5 mi. ahead on the trail. Just 0.1 mile further, the blue-blazed Rhododendron Trail peels off of the A.T. on the left. The 1.8-mile loop rejoins the A.T. less than half a mile to the north. Soon, the A.T. meets and runs parallel to Middle Ridge Rd. for several hundred yards before joining it for 50 yd. The trail crosses to the left side of the road and starts downhill. At 6.8 mi. the trail arrives at the intersection of Canada Hollow Rd., Means Hollow Rd., and Ridge Rd. This is a much more clearly marked road juncture than the previous one. Means Hollow Rd. is an early exit option to PA 997. There is parking for a half dozen cars.
After the Rhododendron Trail rejoins the A.T. from the left, the trail begins a steep descent through tall, shady oaks to the locked Milesburn Cabin of the PATC at 7.2 mi. Reservations must be obtained in advance from the club. There is a privy behind the cabin, and a blue-blazed trail to the left leads downstream and across Milesburn Rd. 0.2 mi. to a spring. The small stream is picturesque, and pools right in front of the cabin. This is a nice spot to break for lunch on the front porch or around a nearby fire ring if the cabin is unoccupied. If someone is staying at the cabin, follow the A.T. across the stream and Milesburn Rd. and begin ascending through a pretty, mixed forest of young hemlocks and older oaks for about a quarter mile to several flat, primitive camping areas that are also perfect for lunching.
After the camping flats, the trail ascends steeply. Numerous log water dams serve as steps. At 7.5 mi., cross Ridge Rd. again and pass under a power line. In the next mile there are some primitive but pretty campsites under large hemlocks. At 8.5 mi., the Rocky Knob Trail crosses the A.T., which gradually descends through pretty, medium-aged stands of oak and ash. If need be, this is a good place to make up time lost to a long lunch.
The trail crosses a power line right-of-way at 9.0 mi., and the old roadbed of Fegley Rd., which is no longer used. There are some primitive campsites here. At 9.7 mi. the trail splits a rolling, grassy clearing occupied by the twin Birch Run Shelters. A privy is behind the shelters on a path that runs between them. The strongly flowing spring is in front, to the left of the trail. The water is very good and worth stopping for, even though there is only 1.0 mi. left to hike. There are also some excellent tenting spots in the area. The A.T. continues through the clearing and crosses Birch Run in a boggy area where there are plenty of ferns and many downed mossy trees.
At 10.9 mi., the trail crosses Arendtsville-Shippensburg Rd. to a wide field and the parking pull-off. A good way to end this hike is with a side trip to the Big Flat Fire Tower. To reach the tower, turn right off the trail onto Arendtsville-Shippensburg Rd., walk 0.3 mi., and make a left onto Ridge Rd. Pass the radio tower and come to the fire tower on the left. There are fine views of valley farms and the treed ridges of the Michaux State Forest from the top.
From Caledonia SP over Big Pine Flat Ridge to Arendtsville-Shippensburg Rd.
Recommended direction: S to N
Distance: 11.2 mi. total; 10.9 mi. on A.T.
Access trail name & length: Old A.T., 0.3 mi.
Elevation +/-: 900 to 2000 to 1850 ft.
Day hike: Yes
Overnight backpacking hike: Optional
Duration: 61/4 hr.
Early exit options: at 3.7 mi., Ridge Rd.; at 6.8 mi., Means Hollow Rd.
Natural history features: Caledonia State Park; Chinquapin Hill; Big Pine Flat Ridge; Conococheague Creek; Michaux State Forest
Social history features: Thaddeus Stevens’s Iron Furnace and Blacksmith’s Shop
Other features: Caledonia SP pool; Big Flat Fire Tower
South Mountain Ridge to Pine Grove Furnace State Park
This section of the A.T. is steeped in history. Hessian troops in the 1700s, escaped slaves in the 1800s, and Nazi submarine commanders earlier in this century all passed this way. Today it is a pleasant day hike, starting atop the plateau-like ridge of South Mt. in an open, grassy field dotted with young pines and wildflowers in summer. By the time the mostly downhill ramble ends, hikers will have gleaned rare peeks at historical curiosities from two wars and what was literally, if clandestinely, the nation’s first civil rights movement.
From the well-signed trailhead and a good staging area in a grove of young pines, the A.T. meanders through the grassy roadside field for approximately 0.3 mi. before breaking into the woods through a stand of young elms. The trail soon crosses two prongs of a small stream on rocks. It descends easily through some rocky sections before entering a boggy area on wooden planks set on the spongy black dirt. At 1.1 mi., the A.T. crosses the former Dead Woman Hollow Rd., now closed but still a popular route with snowmobilers. There are good views of Mt. Holly and Long Mt. here, and on a long, gentle descent of more than 0.5 mi., during which the A.T. joins a gated, one-lane road of crushed shale. At 1.9 mi. a blue-blazed trail to the right leads 0.2 mi. to the locked Anna Michener Memorial Cabin. Reservations must be obtained from the PATC in advance. The A.T. itself leaves the crushed stone roadway a short way past the side trail, bearing to the left and descending into a young forest of ash and maple—prime deer habitat. Each time we’ve hiked here, we’ve seen several.
At 2.6 mi. cross a gated entrance road to the private Tumbling Run Game Preserve. No camping or fires are permitted along this section of the A.T., which runs poker straight and gradually downhill through young, dense woods along the boundary of the preserve. A gentle uphill stretch of trail brings hikers into older oaks and tulip-poplars before crossing Woodrow Rd. At 3.9 mi., where there are fine vistas of farms and forest to the left, and limited parking for an early exit from the hike southeast to PA 233. Just after the road crossing there are good primitive campsites to the right of the trail. If you choose to camp here, expect company from locals who park up on the road and tote coolers and elaborate camping paraphernalia down to the sites.
The trail continues downhill through a series of switchbacks with sometimes tricky footing. It is best to pay attention to your next step and not look around, and the gurgle of a tumbling stream off the trail to the left fills the senses well enough. Its music crescendos until the trail meets and crosses this unnamed tributary of Toms Run on stepping stones.
At 4.9 mi., the blue-blazed Sunset Rocks Trail peels off to the right. The 2.4 mi. loop ascends Little Rocky Ridge and some large quartzite boulders striped with white quartz bands. It then runs parallel to the A.T. along the fence line of Camp Michaux—the former Revolutionary War work farm, former Civilian Conservation Corps camp, former Presbyterian Church camp, and former World War II prisoner of war camp. (See “What’s a Nazi Submarine Commander doing on the A.T.?”.)
Like the state forest that surrounds the camp and through which the trail passes, the camp was named for André Michaux, a famous French botanist who explored the region in the late 18th century at the behest of King Louis XVI, with an eye to gathering plants for the royal gardens. During his eleven years in America, Michaux traveled extensively in the Appalachians, discovering and naming many plants.
At 5.0 mi., cross the many prongs of Toms Run on a wooden footbridge and reach the two new Toms Run shelters on the right. A picnic table is in front, with spring and privy to the rear and left of the trail. The forest is wide open here, with little brush under the tall, leathery-leaved chestnut oaks. The area around the shelters can be boggy on occasion, leading to mosquito problems. The trail out of the shelter area, along an old logging road, is usually wet from a multitude of seeps, which produce some standing water hazards and boot-sucking mud that should be skirted if possible.
At 6.0 mi., turn right onto Michaux Rd., also called High Mt. Rd. Follow the dirt and gravel road downhill for 0.2 mi. In the summer, impenetrable wild grapevines and brush hide the campsite, which served as a work camp for Hessians captured during the Revolutionary War and a prisoner-of-war camp for Germans and Japanese during World War II. A hand-carved stone plaque commemorating the wartime use is located several hundred yards to the right down a gated road into the camp area. The A.T. turns left off Michaux Rd. and passes two large pines near an old stone wall—the only thing still standing from a barn built by the Hessian prisoners, who were often loaned to locals to help with farm work. The A.T. joins an unnamed mountain road and follows it under some impressively old oaks and American beech, many 100 ft. tall. The trail leaves the road to the right, down a short, steep, erosion-rutted hill to Toms Run. There is a 50-yd., unblazed side trail to the right that leads to Half Way Spring.
The A.T. At 7.0 mi. passes the former Pine Grove Furnace Cabin of the PATC on the left, now a park ranger residence. Behind the cabin is the blue-blazed Wildcat Rocks Trail, which leads 2.1 mi. to Ridge Rd. and the white quartz-veined quartzite outcropping for which the trail was named. After the blue-blazed Sunset Rocks Trail loop rejoins from the right at 7.2 mi., the A.T. crosses a footbridge, and turns through a pretty, mixed stand of young hemlock and older oak and beech. There are plenty of primitive campsites here, and ample opportunities to soak tired feet in the creek. The trail meanders across a small, unnamed tributary and past old charcoal flats that provided fuel for the Pine Grove iron furnace, which began operating in 1764 and continued producing cast-iron products such as ten-plate stoves, fireplace backs, iron kettles and military supplies for more than 100 years.
The trail joins an old woods road at 7.7 mi. It passes several privately owned cottages on the left that border Pine Grove Furnace SP on the way to PA 233, a paved and lined blacktop at 8.2 mi. The trail turns left and follows PA 233 for about 100 yd. before branching off to the right on a park road that passes in front of the Ironmaster’s Mansion. This large stone and brick building with an end-to-end front porch sits on a rise to the left of the trail. Now operated by the American Youth Hostel, the mansion, which dates to colonial times, was once a stop on the Underground Railroad for fleeing slaves. Ask the hostel manager to show you the false floor in a first-floor closet and the space below where the slaves hid when marshals came calling. The mansion is a good place to overnight after day hikes in the area. Phone 717-486-7575 for information.
Next to the mansion is the park store, which, in addition to having a good assortment of eats and treats, is where hikers going end to end on the A.T. can join the Half-Gallon Club. Membership is open to all who have developed enough of an appetite during their hike from Georgia or Maine to eat a half gallon of Hershey’s ice cream in one sitting. Dues are usually a headache or a stomachache (and the price of the ice cream), but the hungriest hikers do get to keep the nifty wooden spoon they’ve used to scoop their way through the frozen treat. Day-trippers might want to limit themselves to a cone, which they can lick as they follow the trail into the park and in front of the old iron furnace. The parking lot for hikers’ cars is on the left, just beyond the furnace, and close enough that if you ordered a double scoop at the store you’ll still be working on your cone when you arrive at your car.
From Big Flat along South Mt. Ridge to Pine Grove Furnace SP
Recommended direction: S to N
Distance: 8.4 mi.
Elevation +/-: 1850 to 900 ft.
Day hike: Yes
Overnight backpacking hike: No
Duration: 5 hr.
Early exit option: At 3.9 mi., Woodrow Rd.
Natural history features: Tumbling Run Game Preserve; Sunset Rocks overlook
Social history features: Camp Michaux prisoner of war camp; Ironmaster’s Mansion Underground Railroad stop
First section Start: Take I-81 N or S to US 30/Chambersburg exit. Take US 30 E 11.0 mi. to Caledonia SP, on L at intersection of US 30 and PA 233. Access trail to A.T. is directly across US 30 from hiker parking area near Caledonia Park Cottage No. 1, where there is room for 20 cars. Register at park office if leaving vehicle overnight. End: Take PA 233 N from Caledonia SP for 7.0 mi.; go L onto Arendtsville-Shippensburg Rd. and go 2.5 mi. to a pull-off on R. Parking for 6 cars at signed A.T. trailhead. (For alternate route see Hike #7.)
Second section Start: Take PA Turnpike (I-76) to Carlisle exit (16), then PA 34S to I-81S, go 10.0 mi. to PA 233S, then 20.0 mi. to Arendtsville-Shippensburg Rd., turn R. Pull-off on R in 2.5 mi. Parking for 6 cars at signed A.T. trailhead. (For alternate route see Hike #6.) End: From I-81, take PA 233S to Pine Grove Furnace SP. (For alternate route see Hike #8.) Parking for A.T. hikers is available in the lot on Quarry Rd., next to the old iron furnace, a pavilion, and rest rooms. Register at park office if parking overnight.
Shelters and Campsites
Caledonia SP; Quarry Gap Shelters; Milesburn Cabin (PATC, reservations required); Birch Run Shelters
Anna Michener Memorial Cabin of the PATC (reservations required); Toms Run shelters; numerous primitive campsites
Pictures from along the Appalachian Trail
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