The 240-ish miles of the Appalachian Trail in Pennsylvania are often maligned for the rocks. The crazy amount of ankle-rolling, shark-fin-tripping, unsteady rocks of all shapes and sizes.

Know what? It’s accurate.

I did my shakedown hike in PA last fall and those 70 miles from Duncannon to Port Clinton tried my patience, wrecked my body, and tore up my shoes. There’s a reason why so many hikers get new shoes in Delaware Water Gap.

In reality, the rocks of this region begin in Maryland and last all the way into New York. For whatever reason, PA gets all the blame.

But there’s so much more to PA than rocks!

For one thing, the first few shelters and tent sites in PA are some of the nicest, most well-kept sites I’ve seen yet. One site in particular that was visited daily by the maintainers had a clean (gasp!) privy stocked with toilet paper (double gasp!). The tent pads were filled with small stones which, in my opinion, is genius. Why? It rained the night I stayed there and the stones allowed the rain to drain away instead of puddling around and splattering the tent.

That same site as well as another just up the trail had two shelters: one labeled “Snoring” and the other “Non-Snoring.” Again, genius.

The shelter on the left is for snorers while the shelter on the right is for non-snorers.

PA is also home to the Half-Gallon Challenge

Pine Grove Furnace State Park is where hikers attempt the Half-Gallon Challenge–consuming a half-gallon on ice cream in under 30 minutes. Some hikers go the extra mile by seeing how fast they can down the dairy. Talk about brain freeze! Tortuga finished in under five minutes, but while I was there, the record was broken by Squirts, who finished in under four minutes!

I didn’t do the challenge. Rather, I watched others almost get sick.

Don’t miss the museum…

Once you’ve consumed the ice cream, you can head on over to the Appalachian Trail Museum, the only museum in the United Stated dedicated to hiking. There are displays about the history of the trail, the creators of the trail, and famous hikers. They even have a Katahdin sign, but I knew better than to touch it. When I reach the summit of Baxter Peak, Mt. Katahdin, that will be the first time I touch a Katahdin sign.

The AT Museum in Gardeners, PA, at Pine Grove Furnace State Park.

Grandma Gatewood, Earl Shaeffer, Benton MacKaye, Myron Avery, and more are memorialized at the museum.

The museum holds a weather-beaten sign from the northern terminus of the trail.

Field walking

Then there is a lovely section of southern PA that extends through rolling farmland. The wild berries were plentiful, the sun baked my skin, and I enjoyed fresh ice cream with blueberries from a trail side farm stand. I sat at their picnic table and enjoyed my lunch treat while other hikers did the same. PA is not all doom and gloom.

To me, there’s nothing better than fresh ice cream with fresh berries. This was an excellent lunch!

But, yeah, there are rocks.

I won’t pretend it’s all rosy. The rocks are part of the trail. One hiker jokingly (I hope) told me that Eagle Scout projects in PA include adding rocks to the trail. Another said, “Every time you complain about the trail in PA, God adds another rock.”

However, the rocks get there, we hikers just have to “embrace the suck” and deal with them.

My advice: take your time. Give yourself extra moments to stop, balance, breathe. Rushing over the rocks will only result in injury.

The trail. Yep, it’s a little rocky.

So many rocks.

I couldn’t handle some of the rocks.

It’s true. I climbed the trail above the Lehigh River and admired the view…until I got to this slab of a cliff:

Alone, I had no one to help me or encourage me. I did everything I could think of–I took my pack apart and placed it above me. I shoved my trekking poles up to the ledge. I shimmied. I crept. I tried my darndest to get up over that ledge.

No dice.

In the end, I grabbed my gear and returned to the base of the mountain where I dejectedly took the “Winter Trail” blue blaze. I had wasted a couple of hours, but at least I was getting up the mountain, even if it wasn’t over that stupid cliff.

Finally, the end of PA

But not the end of the rocks. More about that in a future blog, especially about how New York enjoys putting the trail over giant piles of boulders. For now, I’ll leave you with some final shots of PA as I descended into the lovely burg of Delaware Water Gap.

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Comments 6

  • Jacob Ehrenpreis : Jul 25th

    Great to know there’s an alternative to that cliff climb – that climb and ledge look really scary

    • Carol R. Fielding : Jul 27th

      I was glad there was an alternate route! That cliff made me nervous.

  • Martha Potocki : Jul 26th

    So remember the Lehigh mtn. When I got to that ledge I first cried then prayed God would help me get up it. I don’t remember exactly how I did it but made it up to the top then down th he trail and tripped on a small trunk of a tree someone didnt cut short enuf!!!🙄had to take the next day off and went back after Katahdin to hike th he section I missed. Didnt know about a blue blaze!? Maybe they didn’t have it in 97?

    • Carol R. Fielding : Jul 27th

      Yikes! Glad you’re okay now and were able to finish.

  • Yermo Adan : Jul 26th

    I am really thinking you did the right thing taking the blue blaze. The ledge looks mighty sketchy to this old guy. I tell you what!

    • Carol R. Fielding : Jul 27th

      Haha, it was mighty sketchy.


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