Pennsylvania’s Mid State Trail is a Hidden Gem

Thanks to peer pressure from other members of DC UL Backpacking, I started hiking Pennsylvania’s Mid State Trail in the summer of 2017. I was soon hooked, and I completed the trail as a series of four section hikes within a year. I highly recommend the MST, for a variety of reasons. If you’re considering it, this list might help.

Pros:

  • Railroad BridgeIt is not a crowded trail. If you want a peaceful excursion, this trail will provide.
  • There are endless scenic overlooks, with different perspectives in every season.
  • The terrain is varied and interesting–rocks, forests, community paths, bridges, waterways, etc.
  • For those in the Washington DC area, it’s not too far for a weekend trip.
  • There are a variety of well-maintained state parks in all but the southernmost sections, providing great opportunities for group camping.
  • A few unique features, such as tunnels, culverts, and railroad bridges, provide fun diversions along the way.
  • The trail is very well blazed, and the people who oversee the trail are incredibly helpful.

Tussey Sunrise

Cons:

  • All of the rock-hopping is hard on knees and ankles. The MST is designed to maximize ridge-walking.
  • Bad weather (snow, ice, or oppressive heat) can really slow you down.
  • Long sections without water access sometimes require carrying a heavy load, especially in summer.
  • There are a few road walks alongside large vehicles.
  • Portions of the trail can quickly become overgrown with prickly bushes, which can be hard on clothing, gear, and any exposed skin.
  • Long stretches of game land and private property (especially in the southern sections) sometimes make it difficult to find legal places to camp.
  • Hikers must be careful during hunting seasons. A large portion of the MST is in game lands. I finally bought a blaze orange vest for use on this trail.

Cons Collage

I use the word “cons” with hesitation, because to many backpackers, these challenges are good for training, gear testing, character building, and life stories.

It is impossible to list all of the trail highlights based on one iteration, because an amazing view could have been socked in with fog when I passed by. That said, here are some of the things I remember favorably:

  • The views at Indian Wells, Oregon Hill, Indian Steps, and any sunrise or sunset from the Tussey Mountain ridgeline.
  • The tunnel just north of Poe Paddy State Park.
  • The campsite, waterfall, and swimming hole at Sand Run Falls.
  • Following animal tracks in the snow.
  • R. B. Winter State Park.
  • The lakeside campsites at Tompkins Campground, just a mile from the New York border at Cowanesque Lake. (They’re not free, but absolutely worth the price.)
  • Friendly restaurants for the rare treat of a hot meal. I visited Duncan Tavern in Antrim and Happy Acres Restaurant at Little Pine State Park.
  • The lakeside food stand on the south side of Cowanesque Lake.
  • The Bald Eagle Truck Stop in McElhattan and the Sheetz in Everett. They had all of the things a through-hiker might need for resupply.
  • Browsing the many trail registers for fun entries from previous hikers, including DC UL friends.
  • The sense of accomplishment in finishing a trail that is more than 500km long.

Tunnel Animal Tracks Waterfall Collage

I plan to revisit some of the sections in different seasons, especially in the fall, when the colors are vibrant. Hope to see you on the trail.


MST sign photo by Megan. Road walk photo by Evan. All others by Sharon.

Trip reports, by DC UL section: 1-2, 3, 4-6, 7

 

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