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Appalachian Trail in Pennsylvania:
Pen Mar Park to Caledonia State Park
Pen Mar Park & Chimney Rock
Brief Description of Section
Pen Mar County Park, MD, to Old Forge Picnic Grounds
It is appropriate that the Appalachian Trail passes from Maryland to Pennsylvania through sylvan picnic grounds that were once an amusement park. Just on the southern side of the Mason-Dixon line, in Maryland, the past and present parks at Pen Mar, like the AT itself, were created to offer a getaway from city stress and structure.
After parking in the Pen Mar County Park lot, stroll 100 yards into the park to the AT along an oak-shaded path, past swings, seesaws, and picnic shelters where amusement park rides thrilled summer pilgrims from Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C., for more than sixty years, beginning in 1878. The park-goers then came on the Western Maryland Railway, which built the rollercoaster, merry-go-round, and arcades as a refuge from city heat, and to increase waning business. With the advent of the automobile, however, rail travel lost favor and the amusement park closed down, permuting into the quiet groves, playgrounds, picnic shelters, and pavilions you see today.
The AT curls around the park’s main pavilion, where dances and band concerts are welcome holdovers from the amusement park days. It passes in front of a second pavilion, perched over a steep hillside where sunset views over a farm-rich valley checkerboarded with crops are spectacular, before rolling gently downhill out of the park on a wide, crushed stone path through tall oaks.
The trail slips around a gate and across Pen Mar Rd., then follows a power line right-of-way. It crosses railroad tracks and enters Pennsylvania through a small but lushly wooded area where, just off the trail, a sign marks the Mason-Dixon line and the official change in pronunciation of the name of this trail.
South of here, at least up through central Virginia, “app-a-LATCH-an” (or “-ian”) is the pronunciation of choice for locals and hikers alike. In northern Virginia, and more and more through West Virginia and Maryland, you start hearing it as “app-a-LAY-chan” (or “-ian”). From Pennsylvania on, if you hear a “LACH” instead of a “LAY” you can bet your hiking stick you’re talking to a through-hiker from the South.
Cross Pen Mar Rd. again and follow trail blazes on electric utility poles along the roadbed of an old trolley line that once served Pen Mar County Park. During the summer, the trail here is overgrown but brightened by blue chicory flowers, white Queen Anne’s lace, and purple clover. Follow the A.T. off the utility line to the left, dropping into a wooded stretch. The trail is rocky but the hiking, gently downhill, is easy. A rushing stream, Falls Creek, can be heard through the high canopy of oaks and a younger understory of ash and ferns.
Just 0.5 mi. from the start of the hike, cross the two prongs of Falls Creek on a wooden footbridge that is slippery when wet. Care and good handholds should be taken to avoid having the stream live up to its name. Also note the signs that indicate the stream is polluted and should not be used as a drinking water source.
As you bear right and begin ascending Mt. Dunlop, you will begin to notice more rocks, toe bumpers and knee shockers, beginning to appear underfoot. Still going uphill, cross blacktopped Buena Vista Rd., where the A.T. turns left along the road for about 50 ft. to a spring near where the trail peels off up the hill to the right. Oaks tower above, maple and sassafras dominate the understory, and chips of white quartz are scattered along the trail. Cross an old logging road just before the summit (elev. 1450 ft.) and another just after.
An easy downhill brings you to Old PA 16 (at 2.2 mi.), and then in just 0.3 mi. more, to PA 16. It is the first road on this hike that announces itself with traffic noise before you see it, and a good early exit option. A jumble of living-room-furniture-sized boulders, many of them green and slippery, must be hopped through to reach the road’s wide berm, where there is parking for half a dozen cars. To the right is the town of Blue Ridge Summit (1.8 mi.) and to the left, Waynesboro (5.0 mi.).
There is a picnic table in a pull-off at the trailhead on the south side of the road. The A.T. shares that amenity with the Bicentennial Tree Trail of Pennsylvania’s Michaux State Forest. The 1.0 mi. looping path was built by the Youth Conservation Corps in 1975 through beech, birch, maple, and basswood stands that were saplings during America’s colonial period. Such diverse old-growth stands are not found elsewhere in the Michaux. There are also stands of Pennsylvania’s state tree, the hemlock, yellow poplar, and various oaks. The side trail can be an enjoyable 15-min. walk or an imaginative 200-year amble past trees seen by the state’s earliest settlers.
The A.T. crosses PA 16 and after a couple of hundred yards meets a small, secondary road where it jogs to the left for 100 ft. before plunging back into the woods on the far side. Cross three more old logging roads, then follow the trail along the side of the hill through thick mountain laurel near the former Mackie Run Shelter site. There are still good camping spots here, but, because Mackie Run is polluted, there is no dependable water supply. The forest is very young here with maple saplings dominating. Hiking is flat and easy and the trail is wide, even in midsummer, with no brambles or briars to impede hikers. Cross Mackie Run on Mentzer Gap Rd., and just after the 3.0 mi. mark, cross Rattlesnake Run Rd.
At 3.4 mi. reach Bailey Spring, dependable even in late summer. A mile or so more brings you to Deer Lick Shelters in a clearing just right of the trail, and another very strong spring. The twin shelters are of the log lean-to type common in Pennsylvania and sleep four apiece. A log home company donated the materials and Pennsylvania Conservation Corps crews built them. There is plenty of flat ground for tenting. Not a bad spot for an early lunch, either.
After the shelters, the trail climbs gently for almost a mile, crossing a wide, grassy pipeline right-of-way, meandering through young oak woods, and crossing yet another dirt road before turning to the right and starting to exhibit some of the rockiness the Keystone State is known for.
Begin descending the side of South Mt., and after some easy walking, listen for the babbling of Little Antietam Creek (6.8 mi.). In spring, when the creek is running high, it is best to follow a blue-blazed trail to the right that goes up to Rattlesnake Run Rd. for the crossing.
At all other times cross the creek on a wooden bridge just downstream from the Antietam Shelter, which is visible from the bridge to the right. The shelter is just a rock toss away from the creek and makes a wonderful stopping point for lunch or to submerge tired feet or whole bodies in the creek pool right in front of the picnic table. Hiker notes in the shelter register indicate there is a mosquito problem in wet weather. A wide field behind the shelter is available for tent camping.
In less than 0.3 mi., no more than a fun go away from the shelter, arrive at Old Forge Picnic Grounds and its baseball field, picnic tables, and pavilion. You’ve gone park to park on the A.T., which passes just behind home plate.
From Pen Mar County Park and the Mason-Dixon line through the Michaux State Forest to Little Antietam Creek and Old Forge Picnic Grounds
Recommended direction: S to N
Distance: 7.0 mi.
Elevation +/-: 1200 to 1450 to 1000 ft.
Day hike: Yes
Overnight backpacking hike: No
Duration: 31/2 hr.
Early exit option: at 2.5 mi., PA 16 (limited parking)
Natural history features: Mt. Dunlop; diverse Michaux State Forest
Social history features: Near Civil War battlefields at Antietam and Gettysburg
Shelters & Camping: Deer Lick Shelters; Antietam Shelter and camping area
Other features: Sunset views at Pen Mar County Park, wading in Little Antietam Creek
Directions: Take I-81 N or S to PA 16 (Exit 3), go E 10.0 mi. to Rouzerville, R onto PA 418, and L on Pen Mar Rd. (PA 2008) to Pen Mar County Park where there is overnight parking for a dozen vehicles. End: Take I-81 N or S to PA 16; go E 10.0 mi. to Rouzerville and L on Antietam Rd. (PA 2007) and 5.0 mi. to Old Forge Picnic Grounds. Overnight parking for a dozen cars in the park lot.
Old Forge Picnic Grounds to Caledonia State Park
This park-to-park ridgetop romp of just 10.5 mi. rates as one of the least dramatic but most delightful day hikes in Pennsylvania. Out of the Antietam Cove area, once the extended Blue Ridge is gained on what is known locally as South Mt., there are several excellent views, an unexpected boggy area, and a good half dozen rock outcroppings to scramble through before a gradual descent into the valley that holds Conococheague Creek and Caledonia SP.
At Old Forge Picnic Grounds, hikers can catch up to the A.T. by rounding third and heading for home on the ball field, right in front of the parking area. Pass behind the backstop to find a spring house with a frost-free tap, a good place to “water up” before hitting the trail, which runs through some brushy woods along the first-base line.
Out of the park, the trail is parallel to Old Forge Rd. for the first 0.5 mi. before meeting and following it for about 75 yd. Additional parking for a half dozen cars is available along the road on each side of the bridge over Little Antietam Creek, in case the parking lot is full. Once across the bridge, look for the white A.T. blaze on the left side of the road and begin a gradual ascent along Tumbling Run that steepens to the ridge.
At 1.0 mi. you will reach the Tumbling Run Shelters area with twin log shelters, a picnic bench, a fire ring, and several tent sites nearby. A blue-blazed trail to the left leads in 0.5 mi. to Hermitage Cabin, which belongs to the PATC. The cabin sleeps twelve but is locked. If you intend to stay there, advance reservations with the club are a must. (See “Address & Telephone” in “Useful Information.”)
After passing the shelters, the trail uphill becomes steeper, passing through a medium-aged woods of oak where there is almost no ground cover. As in many of the trail’s steeper sections, erosion can be a problem here; don’t be surprised if you come upon the PATC trail maintainer building water dams (also known as water bars). These important anti-erosion barriers made from rocks, or sometimes tree trunks, are set in the ground at an angle across the trail to intercept water as it runs downhill and channel it off the trail.
If you do see the maintainer, ask to be shown one of the many seemingly incongruous flat areas along this steep section of the trail. The flats are about as big as a one-room house, but without any of the foundation rocks you might expect if mountain cabins once occupied the spots. That’s because none ever did.
The flats, now favorite tenting sites, were originally dug out of the mountain a century ago by iron forge workers. They cut trees on the mountain and used mules to drag them to the flats, where the trees were stacked tightly together and burned to create charcoal for the forges along Little Antietam Creek, since charcoal burns slower and hotter than wood. Many thumb-sized chunks of the 100-year-old charcoal, pure carbon, can still be found around the perimeters of the flats.
Two miles after leaving Old Forge Picnic Grounds, hikers will come to the first bona fide vista of the day off the quartzite cliffs at Chimney Rocks, just 100 yd. or so to the right, up a blue-blazed trail, at the highest point on the ridge (1940 ft.). From the weathered and fractured sandstone and quartzite there’s a nice view of the Waynesboro Reservoir in the valley more than 600 ft. below and of Green Ridge, which defines the eastern horizon. Evidence that the state’s forests are reaching commercial maturity can be seen in the checkerboard logging patterns that drape the distant ridge. Turkey vultures, one of the biggest of the eastern birds, like to ride the updrafts here; you are likely to see one or several. In flight their long wings, which can be 6 ft. across, are held upward in a wide, shallow V—as if for vulture. Chimney Rocks is also where the blue-blazed loop trail to Hermitage Cabin rejoins the A.T. from the left. The cabin is 1.0 mi. down the side trail.
After leaving Chimney Rocks, the trail is shaded by tall ash, poplar, and oak. It is rockier here, but the hiking is not hard. The trail follows the ridgeline, descending gently through a younger wood that was probably clear-cut twenty or thirty years ago. It crosses a gas pipeline at 3.0 mi. and passes under a power line at 4.0 mi. Just after the power line there is a blue-blazed trail to the left that leads to the Snowy Mt. Fire Tower in 0.1 mi., where there are fine views of the town of South Mountain.
The A.T. continues descending, across Snowy Mt. Rd. and through a forest where oaks are giving way to maples and ferns carpet the forest floor. Reach Swamp Rd. At 5.0 mi. and turn left, following the road through a boggy area and around a bend for 0.1 mi. It’s easy to miss the trail heading into the woods on the right.
Another 0.4 mi. of hiking that seems longer when the bugs are bad through the swampy woods will bring you to PA 233, a paved road with signs pointing to the town of South Mountain, 1.6 mi. to the right, or east. To the left 2.0 mi. are the village of Mount Alto, Mount Alto State Park, and the Pennsylvania State University Forestry School. An early exit is possible here, with limited parking.
The trail crosses PA 233 and begins its last ascent, an easy 0.5 mi. through mountain laurel, Pennsylvania’s state flower. Note too that much of the path is lined at boot tread level with teaberry, easily identified by its red berries and waxy, green, nickel-sized leaves that, when split or crushed, smell like the gum.
Shortly after beginning an easy descent, and as the trees—yellow birch, oak, and pine—get big again, come to a blue-blazed side trail at 7.0 mi. leading 0.2 mi. to the Rocky Mt. Shelters, unofficially called the Jim Thorpe Shelters after the famous Native American football, baseball, and track athlete of the 1930s from nearby Carlisle. A spring is to the south on the west side of an old road.
From here on in to Caledonia SP the trail is more challenging, following the rocky eastern edge of the ridge through a series of sometimes lengthy rock jumbles that require some leaping and handholds. Some of the stacked outcroppings show off big boulders with bands of white quartz running through them like the broken lines in the center of a highway.
From some of the rocks there are good views of the South Mt. Restoration Center, a sanitarium, and Snowy Mt. But reserve most of your attention for the trail. Its white blazes can get lost against the light-colored quartzite and get you lost as well.
The trail flattens out and turns sandy before crossing the last clearing for a gas pipeline and dropping toward the sound of traffic on US 30 at 10.1 mi. Cross the busy road after checking for cars and enter Caledonia SP. The trail is wide and flat as it follows along Conococheague Creek, where brook, brown, and rainbow trout abound. Cross the creek on a footbridge and follow the A.T. through picnic pavilion areas to the large public parking lot near the pool, park office, and picnic groves at 10.5 mi. A little preplanning will allow you to cool your heels in the creek while dinner sizzles over a charcoal grill.
From ascent of South Mt. to Chimney Rocks, over Snowy Mt. and Rocky Mt. to Conococheague Creek and Caledonia SP
Recommended direction: S to N
Distance: 10.5 mi.
Elevation +/-: 1000 to 1940 to 1175 ft.
Day hike: Yes
Overnight backpacking hike: No
Duration: 6 hr.
Early exit option: at 5.5 mi., PA 233 (limited parking)
Natural history feature: Chimney Rocks
Social history features: Remains of old ironworks charcoal staging sites; Waynesboro Reservoir; Snowy Mt. Fire Tower
Other features: Caledonia SP pool, bath houses, picnic pavilions
Shelters & camping: Tumbling Run Shelters; Hermitage Cabin; Rocky Mt. Shelters; Caledonia SP
Directions: Take I-81 N or S to PA 16 E (Exit 3), go 10.0 mi. to Rouzerville, L on Antietam Rd. (PA 2007) and 5.0 mi. to Old Forge Picnic Grounds. Parking for a dozen cars in the park lot. End: Take I-81 N or S to US 30/Chambersburg exit. Take US 30 E 11.0 mi. to Caledonia SP. Parking in lot near pool.
Pictures from along the Appalachian Trail
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