Hit the Trails Near Harrisburg This Weekend
Fall is here, the leaves are changing, and the weather is crisp. The polls are in and voters say it is the best time of year to get out hiking. These hikes around Harrisburg, Pennsylvania are excellent for viewing fall scenery, though they are also great excursions at just about any time of year. Bonus—several of them are little-known and should be free of large crowds.
Here are five hikes to explore this month. You can find extensive profiles for each hike in 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: Harrisburg by Matt Willen.
1) Cove Mountain—Hawk Rock Loop
This hike begins at the recycling center parking lot just south of Duncannon. It can be done as a loop, following the Appalachian Trail up to Hawk Rock and continuing along the A.T. southbound on the ridge of Cove Mountain for a couple of miles to an unnamed (and somewhat difficult to locate) blue-blazed trail that drops off to the north. At the bottom of this trail, pick up an old game lands road that goes east back to Sherman Creek and the parking lot. The loop is roughly 8 miles long. The view from Hawk Rock north over the Susquehanna River and the surrounding countryside is outstanding. And you can make several side trips. You can drop off the ridge to the south and visit the Cove Mountain Shelter, about 0.5 mile downhill. Better yet, continue out to the gas-line cut at the high point of Cove Mountain, which is a great place to have lunch and which offers excellent views south to the Susquehanna River and north into Perry County. The latter side trip will add a couple of miles to the hike, making for a long day.
2) Pole Steeple
This is a very popular hike that can get busy on weekends, but is excellent for fall colors and is a pretty good hike to do with the kids. There are a few ways to tackle this hike. The most popular route is as an out-and-back excursion from the Pole Steeple trailhead on Railroad Bed Road in Pine Grove Furnace State Park. It’s about a mile uphill from the car to the trailhead. You can also make it a loop hike following the Appalachian Trail back down to Railroad Bed Road from just south of Pole Steeple, and then walking the road or the Mountain Creek Trail back to the car. Another option is starting at the Appalachian Trail parking lot near the Pine Grove Furnace Stack and follow the A.T. northbound to the Pole Steeple Trail.
3) Rausch Gap
Rausch Gap is a beautiful and rugged water gap that cuts through Sharp Mountain north of Indiantown Gap. The boulder-strewn Rausch Creek tumbles through the gap, and it is about as remote and wild place you can find in central Pennsylvania. There are several different hikes that will take you to Rausch Gap and the surrounding countryside. By far, the best hike in the fall is to follow the Gold Mine Trail from Gold Mine Road along Sharp Mountain into Rausch Gap, then walk the rail trail back to Gold Mine Road. This hike is 10 miles, and the forest along the Gold Mine Trail is extraordinarily beautiful during autumn.
Another option is to begin at the Cold Spring trailhead, which offers an easy loop of about 6 miles—one mile up and five down. Choosing this option allows you to make side trips to the General, an old steam-powered excavator from the hey-day of mining in the area, the ruins of the Cold Spring Hotel and town site, or the site of the old Rausch Gap cemetery.
4) Enola Low Grade Trail and Turkey Hill
The western stretch of Enola Low Grade Trail follows the Susquehanna River south from Turkey Hill to the Safe Harbor Dam. This cinder-surfaced, relatively new trail offers excellent views of the section of the river called Lake Clarke, and is suitable for bicycles, strollers, and wheelchairs, as well as pedestrians. The distance from the parking lot to the dam is 5 miles, and the hike goes out and back, so you can make it as long or short as you like. Increase the difficulty by taking the side trail from the parking lot to the overlook on Turkey Hill (about 1 steep mile uphill). The view over the river to the north toward Harrisburg is worth the extra effort.
5) Center Point Knob
So named because it was the original mid-point of the Appalachian Trail, Center Point Knob is a great destination for a moderate afternoon hike. The view from Center Point Knob is a bit obstructed, but the journey there and back makes the hike excellent for viewing fall colors. The Knob can be reached via a couple of different routes. One hike begins at the trailhead on Kuhn Road south of Boiling Springs and follows the trail to and over White Rocks. This out-and-back hike is about 3.25 miles long, and offers some fun scrambling over the White Rocks outcrops. You can also reach the Knob by following the Appalachian Trail from Boiling Springs to the summit and back. That hike is a bit longer, and is of completely different character than the prior. For the first two-thirds of the hike you approach the South Mountain region through fields and meadows that offer great views and excellent bird watching.