Pennsylvania is a trail state. With more than 12,000 miles of trails of all types in the commonwealth, in September we celebrate that bounty and call it Trails Month!
We all know that to stay safe during the COVID-19 pandemic we need to avoid crowds. With so many trails, there is plenty of room to spread out.
In that spirit, here are some suggestions for less-travelled but favorite trails from DCNR Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn.
The Susquehanna River Water Trail
My favorite trail, the Susquehanna River (a water trail!), is 444 miles long. I've had the pleasure of traveling the entire trail by canoe, as well as more than 100 miles of the West Branch Susquehanna.
I have also enjoyed paddling the Susquehanna’s largest tributary in PA, the Juniata, from upstream of Huntington to its confluence with the Susquehanna.
Traveling the river provides a unique glimpse of the many communities from a different angle. Even in populated areas, the river can have a very wild feel.
For instance, within the city limits of Harrisburg, DCNR manages the Sheets Island archipelago which contains Pennsylvania's only nesting colony of Great Egrets and one of the few nesting sites for the Black-crowned Night Heron.
I've had the magical experience of paddling to the confluence of the main stem and the west branch at Shikellamy State Park, which has long been considered a holy area by Native Americans who occupied the confluence at various times.
There's a view from the water level that is very different than the one from Routes 11-15. It was a very welcome sight to me after week-long 100-plus mile paddles leading to the confluence.
The West Branch meanders through one of Pennsylvania's longest undeveloped river stretches and is in the Pennsylvania Wilds between Karthaus and Renovo. A paddler can get a true sense of what river travel was like for Native Americans and traders.
One of the prettiest parts of the Juniata is where it borders the base of the Tuscarora Mountain which is partially managed by Tuscarora State Forest District staff. The James C. Nelson Wild Area looms off your right side as you paddle downstream from Port Royal to Millerstown.
DCNR Secretary Dunn's Hiking Trail Suggestions
I switch to hiking in the less warm seasons.
I really enjoy mountain tops, so I typically head to the Kittatinny and walk a section of either the Tuscarora or the Darlington trails in Cumberland County. The various roads over the gaps provide access -- places like Sterrett's Gap, Waggoner's Gap, Millers Gap, Lambs Gap.
It's important to note that the Tuscarora Trail, also known as "The Big Blue" has been recently improved and signage has been added by the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club. The added benefit of ridge hiking the Kittatinny is that hawks migrate past in the fall.
You can see this at Waggoner's Gap on the Tuscarora Trail where Route 74 crosses the mountain, or as a side trip off the Appalachian Trail at Hawk Mountain.
Be ready for rocks. Good boots, walking sticks, clothes for windier conditions, and of course your binoculars are required.
It is also easy to build a loop route using the Appalachian Trail in many of these areas.
A few of my favorite Appalachian Trail hikes are Ridge Road south into Caledonia State Park, where you actually walk through a rhododendron tunnel!
Also, Shippensburg Road north into either Camp Michaux or Pine Grove Furnace State Park. You pass the half way marker on the AT. Exploring Camp Michaux in the Michaux State Forest is a nice walk by itself.
For more information and maps of Pennsylvania trails at the Explore PA Trails website.