The Best Backpacking Trails in Pennsylvania

With roughly half the state covered in forest, it’s no surprise that Pennsylvania is home to some of the premier backpacking in the Mid-Atlantic. Home to sections of three National Scenic Trails, 122 state parks, and thousands of acres of state game land, Pennsylvania is bursting with places to explore. The state boasts over 35 trails and thousands of miles designated for backpacking. While some of these trails are considered long-distance and span hundreds of miles, others can be done in a few days. With all these choices, it may be hard to choose which PA trail to tackle for your next backcountry getaway. To help narrow it down, we’ve rounded up a list of the best backpacking trails in Pennsylvania.

From the hardest trail in the state to the most scenic, the following trails are a great representation of the diverse terrain the Keystone State has to offer hikers of all ages and experience.

Best Backpacking Trails in Pennsylvania

1. Loyalsock Trail

Distance: 59.2 miles
Difficulty: Moderate
Approximate Time Frame: Four to six days

Loyalsock vista

About the hike: Stretching across beautiful Lycoming and Sullivan counties, the Loyalsock Trail offers grand views and challenging climbs. As one of the more established backpacking trails in PA, the route is well marked and includes an official guidebook, topo maps, and a trail log system developed by the Alpine Club of Williamsport. The trail closely follows Loyalsock Creek as it carves its way through the northern PA mountains, featuring multiple waterfalls and iconic mountain views. There are a few areas of the trail that are popular among day hikers, but for the most part you’ll have this trail to yourself, making this a great backcountry getaway.

2. Mid State Trail

Distance: 327.5 miles
Difficulty: Moderate to strenuous
Approximate Time Frame: Three to four weeks

The Midstate Trail. Image by Dylan “Pickle” Tonkin


About the hike:
Traversing the height of the state from the Mason Dixon Line to the New York border, the Mid State Trail (MST) is a Pennsylvania classic. The trail sits almost entirely on a mixture of state forests, state game lands, and state parks, dubbing this “the wildest trail in Pennsylvania.” Although the MST may appear wild and remote, this is often an illusion as the trail is rarely over a mile from the nearest road, which makes resupplies easy on this three- to four-week trek. The trail is incredibly scenic and has been carefully constructed on ridgelines, offering as many views possible along the route. The MST is also the first (and one of the only) US trails to use the metric system on both trail signage and in the guidebook.

3. West Rim Trail

Distance: 30.5 miles
Difficulty: Moderate
Approximate Time Frame: Two to three days

The Pennsylvania Grand Canyon.

About the hike: The West Rim Trail is the most popular and most scenic backpacking route around Pine Creek Gorge, commonly referred to as “The Pennsylvania Grand Canyon.” The gorge is a National Natural Landmark and was named by Outside Magazine as the “Best Hike in Pennsylvania.” This mostly flat trail offers the best views of the gorge as hikers traverse the western side, and are able to stand right at the edge of the “canyon” at some points. Pass through seemingly endless fields of ferns and by the “Matterhorn of the Alleghenies” as you make your way between jaw-dropping views of the gorge.

4. Appalachian Trail

Distance: 229 miles
Difficulty: Easy to strenuous
Approximate Time Frame: Two to three weeks

Lehigh Gap, Palmerton, PA.

About the hike: Frequently known as Rocksylvania among AT enthusiasts, the Pennsylvania section of this 2,200-mile trail has gained a reputation for being challenging, rugged, and (you guessed it) rocky. Don’t let the moniker fool you, though—this section of the Appalachian Trail is full of hidden gems and must-see vistas. Starting as a smooth path through the evergreen-covered forests of southern PA, the trail traverses over ridgelines and gradually becomes steeper and rockier as you near the NJ border. Hikers on this section will cross several rivers, travel through multiple state parks, and even pass the official halfway point of the AT.

5. Laurel Highlands Trail (Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail)

Distance: 70 miles
Difficulty: Easy to moderate
Approximate Time Frame: Five to seven days

Laurel Highlands Trail. Image via

About the hike: Nestled near the southernmost corner of PA, and right outside Pittsburgh, the Laurel Highlands Trail attracts visitors of all skill levels. While there are sections of trail that are easy enough for novice hikers to spend an afternoon in the woods, the trail is also full of steep climbs that challenge the most seasoned backpackers. The Laurel Highlands Trail is a major section of the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail (PHT), which “celebrates the heritage of the Potomac and upper Ohio river basins.” The PHT offers opportunities for hiking, biking, boating, horseback riding, and cross-country skiing, and allows users to experience historic pathways and cultural sites dating  to the birth of the country.

6. North Country Trail

Distance: 180 miles
Difficulty: Easy to strenuous
Approximate Time Frame: Two to three weeks

The North Country Trail through Allegheny National Forest. Image via

About the hike: Traveling through one of the most scenic corners of the state, the Pennsylvania section of the North Country Trail (NCT) is perfect for those looking for a rugged wilderness experience. Meandering through Allegheny National Forest and past multiple groves of old-growth trees (including a 300-year-old white pine), this section of the NCT is one of the most established along the route. Clocking in at 1,600 completed miles, the trail will soon stretch over 4,000 miles and through seven states. However, Pennsylvania was the first largely completed section of the trail and is the most widely used. In addition to pristine wilderness, the trail passed by historic landmarks that tell the history of the area dating to times of early colonization and the Revolutionary War.

7. Black Forest Trail

Distance: 43.2 miles
Difficulty: Strenuous
Approximate Time Frame: Three to five days

View of Navel Run. Black Forest Trail, PA. Image via

About the hike: The Black Forest Trail (BFT) received its name from the dense hemlock stands that keep the surrounding forest in permanent twilight. The trail is one of the multiple backpacking routes centered around Pine Creek Gorge, and is by far the most challenging. Commonly known as the hardest trail in PA, the BFT is recommended for experienced backpackers, and successfully conquering the rugged terrain is no small feat. Hikers on this trail will take on exceptionally steep ascents and descents, but are rewarded with frequent views of Pine Creek Gorge, as well as multiple other “canyons” in the area. The route includes countless vistas and picturesque campsites, making the trail a crown hiking jewel for the state.

8. Quehanna Trail

Distance: 72.7 miles
Difficulty: Moderate
Approximate Time Frame: Five to seven days

Quehanna Wild Area on the Quehanna Trail. Image via


About the hike:
Those on the hunt for a true wilderness experience should look no further than the Quehanna Trail. Partially set in Pennsylvania’s largest stretch of wild lands, known as the 50,000-acre Quehanna Wild Area, the trail is exceptionally remote. The area is known for pristine forest, mountain meadows, clear streams, and wild elk. There is one just one remaining herd of elk left in Pennsylvania, and members of this herd have wandered past their traditional lands near Sinnemahoning Creek and into the Quehanna Wild Area. This gives lucky hikers a chance to see these huge animals in their natural habitat.

From steep mountain climbs to a walk through history, Pennsylvania has something for backpackers of all types. The state is perfect whether you are looking to train for a thru-hike of one the Triple Crown trails, or just looking to spend a few days backpacking with friends. These are only a few of the 35+ backpacking trails in Pennsylvania. For a complete list of designated backpacking trails in the state, check out the York Hiking Club.

Did I leave out one of your favorite backpacking trails in Pennsylvania? Let me know in the comments!

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Comments 2

  • Jeannie Peters : Sep 28th

    You left out the Allegheny Front Trail, a lovely 40 mile circuit of Black Moshannon state park.

    Reply
  • Haiku : May 31st

    Just did the BFT this weekend, in 2 days. Totally doable in a weekend even for me who has barely hiked in months. If you park on 44 instead of at Slate Run you can eat a meal/resupply at the store to make it a super chillax weekend. Cafe closes early tho- was at 6 when I was there last Sunday. Do it CCW, there’s a bit of a climb coming out of SR north but a nice camp right before.
    @eclecticwanderer for pics

    Reply

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