A guide to hiking the Appalachian Trail in central Pennsylvania

Madeline Crocenzi
York Daily Record
A large wooden sign indicates the trail head on South River Road in Reed Township, less than an hour from York.

If you didn't already know it, the Appalachian Trail (A.T.) is 2,190 miles of straight hiking from Maine to Georgia. According to the A.T. Conservancy, it brings three million visitors a year — some of which "thru hike" the entire trail. 

More:Photos: Joe McMaster's 2005 Appalachian Trail journey

If you're not ready to conquer the entire trail (and let's be honest, most of us aren't), you can explore the trail on a day hike in southcentral Pennsylvania.

Here's what you should know about hiking on the A.T. in the region. 

Day hike guide

The view of the Susquehanna River from the Appalachian Trail on Peter's Mountain just north of Harrisburg.

The A.T. doesn't run through York County, but it cuts through portions of nearby Franklin, Cumberland, Perry and Dauphin counties. These are some of the day hikes to check out. 

  • Hook onto the A.T. at Pine Grove Furnace State Park in Cumberland County. There's plenty of parking and even a museum dedicated to the trail. This is thought to be the midpoint, or at least close to the midpoint, of the A.T. It's also where the half-gallon challenge happens. 
  • Climb seven miles up Peter's Mountain on the A.T. by parking on South River Road in Reed Township. It might be a climb, but you can see where the Susquehanna River meets the A.T. 
  • Boiling Springs in Cumberland County is home to the Mid-Atlantic office of the A.T. Conservancy. There's limited parking at the building, but you can park at the Fishermen's Parking Lot at the Carlisle Iron Works Furnace right near an A.T. access point. Perks for the fact that there's also a bathroom there. 
  • Start at Caledonia State Park in Franklin County. If you stay in the park, there's a little under two miles of trail hiking that's rated as "most difficult." If you want an extra challenge, do an overnight hike on the A.T. from Caledonia to Pine Grove Furnace. 
  • Another great A.T. day hike is to Hawk Rock in Perry County. There's parking at the beginning of the trail in Duncannon, and when you make it to the top you'll be rewarded with great views of the Susquehanna and Juniata Rivers. 
Joe McMaster overlooks the Georgia mountains on Ramrock Mountain, a couple miles from Woody Gap at about 3,200 feet along the Appalachian Trail March 2005.

How hard is it? 

The A.T. Conservancy said the Pennsylvania portion of the trail includes plenty of long, flat and rocky ridges. Luckily, the southern part of the state includes some of the easiest hiking on the A.T. If you decide to go north, you could find steep descents and gaps in the ridge lines that make it more of a challenge. 

What to know

Some of the trail does pass through state game lands, so you may not want to try these hikes in the middle of hunting seasons. Only thru-hikers are allowed to camp on these game lands, according to the A.T. Conservancy. Read up on the regulations here

Get involved

The A.T. can feel intimidating, but there are Mid-Atlantic trail clubs that can help you get your start hiking on the trail. The Susquehanna Appalachian Trail Club, York Hiking Club, Cumberland Valley Appalachian Trail Club and Keystone Trails Association are all good resources. You can find links to their websites here

April 29, 2018  - The first 600 miles of Lance Ness' journey on the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Virginia.

There are also designated A.T. communities. These groups do everything from encouraging people to get outside to creating A.T. festivals. The communities include Boiling Springs, Duncannon and the Greater Waynesboro Area among others. 

Can you hike the whole thing? 

It's not impossible. Even some York County people have done it before. Check out these stories for your next hiking inspiration. 

More:He gave up a 6-figure sales job in Houston for life-changing hike of the Appalachian Trail

More:80-year-old twin sisters hike the Appalachian Trail

More:Why I hike the Appalachian Trail: The people

Also of interest, a gallery of photos below: