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Appalachian Trail in Pennsylvania:
Pine Grove Furnace State Park to PA 94
AT Midpoint, Pole Steeple
Brief Description of Section
Pine Grove Furnace State Park to Sheet Iron Rd.
On the hump of Piney Mt., hikers will pass the A.T.’s nominal midpoint. It is marked with a sign and draped with the hopes of all the end-to-enders who started the hike of 2150-plus mi. in Georgia or Maine. The 8-ft.-tall sign was fashioned out of Pennsylvania poplar and erected in 1987 by Chuck Wood (trail name: Woodchuck) of Norristown, who through-hiked in 1985. Day-trippers won’t feel either the exhilaration or the foot-weary fatigue of hikers who reach the milepost after hitting the trail every day for three months. But even hikers who have pulled on their boots less than 2 mi. down the mountain in Pine Grove Furnace SP can feel the energy and see the aura around the marker.
“It’s where we start counting the miles backwards,” said 1995 through-hiker David Heinstadt, known on the trail as Red Fox. Because of trail relocations that have changed the length of the trail, the marker has become more symbolic and less accurate over the years. There has been semiserious talk of putting the signpost on wheels and moving it each year to reflect actual mileage, but for most of those with more than 1000 mile under their boots, it’s close enough where it is. The signpost’s through-hiker register has entertaining and illuminating entries, such as one by Ramblin’ Man, who in September 1996 left the cheery message: “Hooray, halfway! Hope it just keeps getting better for everyone.” Or the one by Flash, who wrote in hopeful script, “I hear the second half is easier than the first.”
To start this hike, pick up the A.T. in Pine Grove Furnace SP on Quarry Rd., next to the remains of the old iron furnace, built in 1764 and placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1977. Firearms used in the Revolutionary War and the Civil War were made from iron produced by the furnace and fashioned at nearby Laurel Forge.
Just out of the hikers’ parking lot, turn left onto Quarry Rd. and follow it for 50 ft. before branching left again onto a wide footpath of crushed stone that follows the old railroad line on the left side of Mountain Creek. The rail line once connected the furnace to iron strip mines along the base of Piney Mt. This is an easy, flat path under a canopy of tall white pine and oak. About 0.4 mi. along, the A.T. passes a rest room and water fountain, and then a concession stand, open in summer for swimmers at Fuller Lake.
The lake was created when groundwater filled the main iron ore pit for the Pine Grove furnace shortly after the Civil War. If you take a dip, take care. The hole left from 100 years of mining is 90 ft. deep, and the lake’s emerald green water is extremely cold. Pay attention to the depth markers extending out from the sandy beach. They indicate rapid drop-offs.
The A.T. crosses Mountain Creek via a footbridge (0.6 mi.) and turns immediately left onto another footbridge over the outflow at the east end of the lake. Sunfish feed hungrily in the shallow corner near the outflow and provide good sport for hikers who have packed their fly rods. For approximately the next mile, the trail runs on the old railroad bed through a boggy area between Mountain Creek and the base of Piney Mt. Tall elm, oak, and hemlock shade the trail, and there are many places along the creek to picnic, wade, or fish for stocked brown, brook, and rainbow trout.
The A.T. leaves the creek and the park at a yellow gate (1.3 mi.) that bars vehicle access to the rail bed from a paved road that ends at the gate. The trail goes around the gate and turns right, ascending, sometimes steeply, old Petersburg Rd., which is no longer used by vehicles and quickly deteriorates to the point at which it couldn’t be. Stay alert for deer and red fox, which are often seen along the trail here, especially at dusk near a small, open field.
The A.T. climbs the mountain for more than a mile, and about a third of the way up—approximately 1.8 mi. from the start of the hike—is the trail’s midpoint marker. The joke at the halfway point is that “it’s all downhill from here.” It may look that way for hikers traveling north to south, but for northbounders that notion is dispelled with their first step, as the A.T. continues to ascend through a tunnel of mountain laurel, the Pennsylvania state flower, which blooms through June at various elevations.
At 2.7 mi. the trail crosses Old Forge Rd. A blue-blazed side trail to the left leads 0.5 mi. to Pole Steeple, a famous, rugged thrust of quartzite cliffs that affords views of Fuller and Laurel lakes in the park. The sheer cliffs, which angle up toward the valley, are riddled with the remains of worm tube fossils and bear the patterns of the dark tubes, which are the size and shape of soda straws. The Steeple, as it is known, is a favorite of climbers but may stress those with vertigo. Parents are advised to supervise children closely.
About 100 yd. after the Pole Steeple left turn, the A.T. itself dips to the left through quartzite and sandstone outcroppings. The going is rocky, and hikers must skip from one big green chunk of sandstone to the next under tall oaks. In wet weather the rocks can be slippery, especially on the hillside traverses up to the Piney Mt. summit of 1450 ft. At 3.8 mi. Pick your way through this half mile and take your time. This is not an area where you should try to make up minutes lost to a late start or a long bathroom break. There are also some old charcoal flats (see Hike #5) from the iron furnace days. Fire rings mark a more recent use by campers. At 4.0 mi., an old trail enters from the right. In the summer, this section is notable for ferns, mountain laurel, and blueberry bushes; in the fall, for the sound of acorns raining from the tall oaks.
After gently descending for about a mile under an oak canopy, the A.T. turns right at 5.0 mi. and starts uphill where a blue-blazed trail comes in from the left. The woods are enchanting here, with lots of mountain laurel, sassafras, and leafy chestnut. In the fall, be on the lookout for tree toads the size of a quarter that are not always fast enough to hop out of the way of boots.
Cross Limekiln Rd. At 6.1 mi. To the right it leads 2.5 mi. to the village of Goodyear. To the left 0.9 mi. is Hunters Run Rd. At 6.4 mi. a blue-blazed trail leads downhill 0.7 mi. to the Mountain Creek Campground, accessible by vehicle from Hunters Run Rd. This is a good early exit option. The privately owned campground offers cabins, tent sites, showers, a laundromat, and a store where hikers can buy pizza, subs, sandwiches, drinks, and ice cream. It is open all year.
On the A.T., continue a gentle descent to Tagg Run. Pass a blue-blazed trail at 7.4 mi. to a spring 0.2 mi. on the left, and some primitive campsites on the right shortly thereafter. At 7.5 mi., a blue-blazed trail to the right, just before the wooden footbridge over Tagg Run, leads 0.2 mi. to the Tagg Run shelters with a privy and another spring 100 ft. beyond. The two shelters are each able to sleep five hikers. This is a good spot for a lunch stop. But do not drink from the creek, which appears pristine but is polluted upstream by agricultural runoff and feces from wading livestock.
Cross the bridge over Tagg Run and hike through an area where maple and white pine are older. Sassafras, with its silky, mitten-shaped leaves, abounds. The roots are good for brewing tea, and the leaves can be crushed and put up under your hat or rubbed on your face and neck to keep bugs away. Native Americans used this repellent—
plus, it smells better than Deet.
Cross blacktopped Hunters Run Rd. At 7.9 mi. and after a short walk downhill, turn right onto an abandoned railroad bed that splits a swampy area and is shaded by tall white pine. In hot weather, the sassafras will come in handy here. The rail bed parallels an active rail line no more than 30 yd. to the right where a freight train will occasionally make an incongruous appearance through the arching pines. The trail emerges from the boggy woods flush with the active rail line and behind a warehouse. Welcome to civilization and the low point of this hike at 625 ft. Walk along the active tracks for 100 yd., and at 8.9 mi., cross over the active tracks and through a field to PA 34, and early exit option.
If you’re ready for food, drink, or a slice of Americana, this is the place for a short detour. Turn right off the trail, which crosses the blacktopped road and turns left, and walk 0.2 mi. along PA 34 to the Green Mt. General Store. There’s a big front porch with a bench and rocking chairs, and a picnic table for hikers on the shaded lawn out front. Walk through the store’s vintage wood-frame screen door and you’ll swear you’ve traveled back in time fifty years. There are old tinted postcards, outdated calendars, and colorized photographs on the walls. Also memorable are the sandwiches, soups, and old-fashioned milkshakes. A hiker register just inside the door is a record replete with hikers’ reverent sightings of Earl Shaffer, who in 1948 was the first person to hike the A.T. end to end, and now lives nearby (see “They Called Him Crazy”).
If local flavor or a great chocolate milkshake doesn’t interest you, skip the side trip and follow the A.T. across PA 34 and to the left over a short highway bridge from which trout can usually be seen in the tiny stream below. Turn right onto the signed Appalachian Trail Rd. Within 50 ft. The A.T. disappears into the woods on the left for the winding ascent up Trents Hill. At 9.7 mi. and the top of the hill, bear left through an area thick with sassafras and blueberry bushes and begin the mile-long descent to PA 94 at 10.7 mi. There is parking for three or four cars along this paved road. To the left 2.5 mi. is the village of Mt. Holly Springs. Follow the A.T. across PA 94 and through a young oak woods to Sheet Iron Rd. At 11.0 mi., where wide turnouts at the trailhead offer space for up to half a dozen cars.
From Pine Grove Furnace SP along Mountain Creek, up Piney Mt., across Tagg Run, up Trents Hill, to PA 94 and Sheet Iron Rd.
Recommended direction: S to N
Distance: 11.0 mi.
Elevation +/-: 900 to 1450 to 625 to 800 ft.
Day hike: Yes
Overnight backpacking hike: No
Duration: 6 hr.
Early exit option: at 6.4 mi., blue-blazed trail to Hunters Run Rd.; at 8.9 mi., PA 34
Natural history feature: Pole Steeple overlook
Social history features: Pine Grove iron furnace; Fuller Lake; Ironmaster’s Mansion
Other features: AT midpoint, Green Mt. General Store
Start: Take PA Turnpike (I-76) to Carlisle exit (16), then PA 34S 10.0 mi. Turn R on Hunters Run Rd., go 7.0 mi. to Pine Grove Furnace SP. (For alternate route see Hike #7.) Parking for A.T. hikers is available in the lot on Quarry Rd., next to the old iron furnace, a pavilion, and rest rooms. Register at park office if parking overnight. End: From I-76 take Carlisle exit to PA 34; go S 1.5 mi. through Mt. Holly Springs to PA 94 on L at Y; go 1.0 mi. to signed A.T. trailhead. There is parking for 3 or 4 cars along the road, or continue 0.1 mi. and turn L onto Sheet Iron Rd. Parking for 6 cars in pull-off at A.T. trailhead in 0.1 mi.
Shelters and Campsites
Pine Grove Furnace SP campground; Mt. Creek Campground (0.7 mi. off A.T.); Tagg Run Shelters
Pictures from along the Appalachian Trail
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