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Appalachian Trail in Pennsylvania:
to PA 944
Boiling Springs to Scott Farm Trail Work Center
North of picturesque Boiling Springs, the AT traverses the Cumberland Valley in what can only be described as a beautiful English country walk—along hedgerows, stone walls, and farm fields—with a decidedly American attitude. That is not to say that this easy, 11.3 mi. stroll along and through fields of wheat, corn, and clover, does not hold considerable charm. But the long lowland glide, only recently relocated from blacktop to barn-dotted countryside, is already suffering the intrusions of sprawling subdivisions full of $250,000 houses and vistas spoiled by truck terminals. It is an unhappy and inefficient use of this once uniformly pastoral setting atop some of the world’s finest agricultural soils. While hiking along fields and through thickets, there is an unmistakable feeling of being on the edge of something that is just out of sight but not quite out of mind.
Step onto the trail in the village locals call “Bubbletown” at the Appalachian Trail Conference Regional Headquarters, located in a low, wood-frame building next to the Children’s Lake. There is an outdoor water spigot at the headquarters, and inside a variety of maps and books as well as information on trail conditions. About 20 mi. of the A.T. was rerouted through Boiling Springs and the Cumberland Valley between 1984 and 1993. The section through Boiling Springs was finished in 1990.
Karen Lutz, the ATC’s regional director since 1981, remembers those years of trying to move the trail off a grid of roads and into farm fields as controversial and exciting times. “People were livid. Farmers thought they would lose their farms. We did a huge environmental assessment, and one proposal even included installing 16 miles of sidewalks along the roads,” she said. “But we wanted to get the trail off the roads, and in the end we selected a ridge route, the lowest on the A.T., that took us into contact with eighty-six landowners.”
Property rights and easements were painstakingly acquired to create a section of rural, pastoral hiking unique on the A.T. “Unfortunately it isn’t that [pastoral] anymore,” Lutz said. “It has become instead a greenway through an urban sprawl of housing developments and truck stops. Where once there was opposition to the relocation from realtors, they now advertise properties as adjacent to the A.T. At least the route itself is protected in perpetuity.”
From the front of the ATC headquarters building the trail turns right onto PA 174N, following the left berm for 0.3 mi. and passing an historical marker for the Carlisle Iron Works, founded in 1762 by John Rigby. Ruins of the old iron furnace still stand 200 yd. down a road to the right, along Yellow Breeches Creek, a flow internationally famous for its large, though finicky, brown trout population. The A.T. leaves the road, turning left into and through a grassy farm field. Here and elsewhere in the valley during the spring and summer and well into fall, you may pick up an unwelcome hitchhiker—the deer tick, a carrier of Lyme disease, which can be fatal if untreated.
In the field, the low, 75-ft.-wide ridge of diabase (basalt) that the A.T. follows across the valley is visible poking occasionally through the soil. The ridge is harder and less susceptible to erosion than the sedimentary rock (shale, sandstone, limestone, and quartzite) around it, which have weathered away to varying degrees. Follow the white blazes on 6-ft.-tall treated wood posts along the field, then through a young, spindly woods of ash, oak, and cherry before turning out along another field and then through a gap in an old stone wall, similar to those found in England and New England.
At 3.0 mi., the A.T. crosses PA 74 (York Rd.), a good early exit option with parking. Within 200 yd. the trail climbs the first of several stiles—ladders or stairways that allow hikers to get over electrified fences around farm fields. For the next mile the trail moves over stiles, through fields, and along treelines. At 4.0 mi., just before the trail crosses Lisburn Rd., there is a young stand of white-barked paper birches, a species not widely seen in Pennsylvania. At 4.5 mi., the A.T. crosses Byers Rd., and follows another stone wall. Keep an ear out for mooing cows, whinnying horses, and farm tractors, and an eye out for deer, waving their white tails as they retreat into stands of young oak.
After cresting a rise, the trail crosses PA 641 (Trindle Rd.) at 5.2 mi. In this section, the similarities and contrasts with English country walks are striking. The route passes through rolling fields and along thickets; then, suddenly, housing developments pop out of fields like mushrooms after a spring rain. Sometimes the homes are separated from the trail by rows and rows of corn, sometimes only by bushy breakers of blackberries and honeysuckle at the end of long backyards containing children’s swing sets.
At 6.2 mi. the trail crosses a wooden-plank bridge over an unnamed stream, and then Ridge Rd. At 6.3 mi. before skirting a wetlands area containing enough open water to attract ducks throughout the year. There are good spots to stop for lunch and the waterfowl appreciate bread crusts from sandwiches. The trail crosses Old Stonehouse Rd. At 6.8 mi., climbs over another stile and through a field next to a black iron-fenced rural graveyard shaded by old, arching black walnut trees. The trail crosses Appalachian Dr. At 7.5 mi. and a short while later hikers will begin to hear the buzz of steel-belted highway sounds from the Pennsylvania Tpk., which the trail crosses on a highway overpass at 7.8 mi. The trail soon turns left off the road and along the edge of a field, but the pastoral feeling is diminished by the traffic sounds and the sight of dozens of orange tractor-trailers at a terminal visible just beyond a narrow treeline. The trail crosses a railroad track at 8.0 mi., where there are plenty of raspberries and blackberries in June and orange daylilies in July.
After passing through a young woods dominated by spindly black cherry and across another old rock wall, the A.T. crosses US 11 (9.0 mi.) on a footbridge opened in 1990. At 9.8 mi., the trail meets Bernhisel Rd., turns left, and follows the road over I-81 before it dips to the right, crosses the road (10.1 mi.), and enters a farm field, where it runs parallel to the road but 100 yd. below it. In summer sun this stretch can be brutally hot. A hat is recommended, not only for the heat but to shade your eyes as they sweep over a bucolic quilt of fields and farm buildings stretching to the eastern horizon.
The trail recrosses Bernhisel Rd. (10.4 mi.) and, with the help of several stiles, dips down through a succession of well-worn and muddy pastures to the east bank of Conodoguinet Creek. After crossing an unnamed tributary on a wooden footbridge, the trail goes through a wetland on elevated wood planks set on railroad ties. It emerges from the woods onto Bernhisel Rd., turns left and crosses the creek on Bernhisel Bridge (11.3 mi.), on which a wooden sidewalk was built in 1997 for hikers’ use. The ATC’s Scott Farm Trail Work Center is on the left side of the road on the west end of the bridge.
From Boiling Springs through the Cumberland Valley to the Scott Farm Trail Work Center on Bernhisel Rd.
Recommended direction: S to N
Distance: 11.3 mi.
Elevation +/-: 450 to 460 to 425 ft.
Day hike: Yes
Overnight backpacking hike: No
Duration: 5½ hr.
Early exit options: More than half a dozen paved roads cross the A.T. in this section. Parking is available at 3.0 mi. on the N side of PA 74 (York Rd.) next to an old barn foundation.
Natural history features: Follows ironstone ridge that is lowest on the A.T.; Boiling Springs; Conodoguinet Creek
Social history features: Carlisle Iron Works; town of Boiling Springs on the National Register of Historic Places
Other features: ATC Regional Headquarters in Boiling Springs
Start: Take PA Tpk. (I-76) to Carlisle exit (16) and take PA 34S 5.0 mi. Turn L onto PA 174; go E 3.0 mi. to Boiling Springs. Limited parking in front of ATC Regional Headquarters (register with staff before leaving car) next to Children’s Lake, at the PA Fish Commission lot next to the Carlisle Iron Works ruins, or along village streets. End: Take I-81 to Wertzville Rd. exit, turn L on PA 114 (New Willow Mill Rd.), go N 0.5 mile, turn L on PA 944. Go W for 3.0 mi., through Donnelleytown, then L onto Bernhisel Rd. for 1.0 mi. to Scott Farm Trail Work Center on R, just before the Bernhisel Bridge. There is parking for a dozen cars in front of the white barn, but make sure to get permission from the caretaker before leaving your vehicle for the day. He can occasionally arrange shuttles to Boiling Springs.
Shelters and Campsites
None allowed, no shelters
Pictures from along the Appalachian Trail
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