Did you know that half of Pennsylvania is covered in forest? And, thanks to glacial activity 10,000 plus years ago, there are plenty of rolling hills and valleys too. Don't forget the Pocono and Catskill mountain ranges either. These features lend themselves to some beautiful vistas. Plus, the overall weather is fairly cooperative. That said, the Keystone State is a great place for a backcountry excursion.
With plenty of state parks, state forests, and other natural areas to explore, lots of trails await. You're sure to find an enjoyable hike for any difficulty level. Here are some of the best Pennsylvania hikes to check out on your next backpacking trip.
Featured Photo: Upper Rock Run Gorge (photo by Nicholas T.)
Pennsylvania Grand Canyon West Rim Trail
Did you know Pennsylvania has its very own miniature Grand Canyon? As you can guess, it's a lot greener than the one out west. It's just as interesting in its own way, though. The West Rim Trail is in the north-central part of the state. At 30 miles long, this point-to-point trail features lots of vistas of the Pine Creek Gorge and overlooks of Barbour Rock and the Allegheny Plateau. For optimal viewing (and fewer bugs) head there in the fall for the beautiful foliage. For more details on the West Rim Trail, check out our full write-up.
Old Loggers Path
A good loop trail is hard to find. If that's what you seek, check out the 27-mile Old Loggers Path. It can be found in the northeast corner of the state in Loyalsock State Forest. Rated as difficult, you'll follow old forms of industrial transportation, like railroads. The trail offers stunning vistas over the McIntyre Wild Area and Pleasant Stream. You'll be mesmerized by the lush undergrowth in the wooded areas too. Another highlight is Rock Run, a beautiful boulder-lined stream with relaxing cascades and swimming holes.
Black Forest Trail
Up for a challenge? Try this 43-mile loop in Tiadaghton State Forest. The trail got its name from the thick hemlock forests of yesteryear, which are mostly gone now. But, it still offers a growing forest of hardwoods and excellent views of the surrounding mountains.
You follow a stream for the most part, so you will never have to look far for water to filter. Be prepared for all of the stream crossings with extra shoes and socks. The numerous ups and downs can be tiring. There is also one area you will have to do a little rock scrambling. Plenty of campsites await. But, you may have to trade off views for being close to a water source and vice versa.
Appalachian Trail (Michaux State Forest)
Looking for a shorter hike? Try out this section of the AT. This 17-mile hike runs from Pen Mar Road to US 30 in the south-central part of the state. It's so far south that it starts near the Mason-Dixon Line! Like many other trails in Pennsylvania, it travels near old railroads.
One of the hike's features is the awesome view from Chimney Rocks. You'll likely encounter the most people here because it's a popular day-hiking area. Don't skip the very short side trail to the view of Green Ridge and the Waynesboro Reservoir either.
Water shouldn't be an issue on this trail because there are several creek crossings. This section also boasts some of the nicest shelters along the entire AT (4). You can extend your hike by heading further north to Caledonia State Park.
Allegheny Front Trail
A lot of times it can be hard to find loop trails. But this state seems to be full of them! The Allegheny Front Trail travels 42 miles through Moshannon State Forest. This is almost dead center in the state, making it easily accessible from many parts of PA. Rated as moderate, hiking clockwise is said to be easier.
This trail has a little bit of everything, from mountaintop views to wetlands with a variety of forests in-between. You'll find rhododendron thickets common to the mountains of the state too. Boardwalks help keep your feet dry in boggy areas. But, there are lots of small stream crossings too. Admittedly, this trail isn't full of vistas. The ones that are there are worth the trek, though. Dispersed camping is not allowed within Black Moshannon State Park, so plan accordingly.
Cook Forest State Park
Looking for a base camp trip or something to ease newbies or kids into backpacking? Consider staying at Cook Forest State Park. While there aren't any backpacking options, we thought the landscape features here were cool enough to highlight.
47 miles of trails are waiting to be explored. The North Country Trail section isn't to be missed. It's a doable 12 miles and features Forest Cathedral, Hemlock Island, and Seneca Point. It also boasts hard-to-find old-growth forest. The misty stream and verdant undergrowth will make you think you've been transported to the Pacific Northwest.
Laurel Highlands Trail
One of the most popular backpacking trails in the state is the Laurel Highlands Trail. It is 70 miles point-to-point, so you'll need to arrange a shuttle. Located in western Pennsylvania, it follows Laurel Mountain through several state parks and forests. It will keep you on your toes from flat, easy walking to rugged, steep climbs. Fortunately, the trail is well-marked as you meander through hemlock groves and hardwood forests.
If you love wildlife viewing, you'll love this trail. It's a great spot for bird-watching. You may also find some interesting amphibian friends, such as salamanders and turtles, in wet areas.
Shelters are placed strategically along the trail. (You do need to make reservations for them.) They also offer fresh water, tent pads, and comfort stations.
For another lengthy point-to-point, try the Loyalsock Trail. This 59-mile trek is located in the Mid-Atlantic region. You can expect a lot of ups and downs, but it is rated as moderate. The path can be muddy at times and always rocky. There are lots of water crossings too. Expect to get wet feet, but have plenty of places to fill up on water.
Some of the highlights of the trail include the beautiful areas of expansive fern growth and rhododendron tunnels. It also features some nice vistas near Worlds End State Park. Perhaps best of all are a dozen waterfalls along the way. (Some of which are down side trails.) On hot summer days, enjoy a dip at the bottom of Rhode Falls or the pools at The Haystacks.
No matter what part of the state you're in, there are plenty of trails to explore nearby. What is your favorite Pennsylvania trail? We'd love to hear about it in the comments below!
If you're looking for more hike ideas, read our “Best Backpacking Trips in the Eastern U.S.” round-up post. Also, the following Hike of the Week articles cover other great trails in the region.
For even more amazing backpacking trips visit The Trailhead, our interactive hike map. It contains a curated list of dozens of hikes, each with a detailed write-up like this one.
Finally, check out our comprehensive list of backpacking articles that cover just about everything there is to know about backpacking. If you're just starting out, our Backpacking 101 section covers all the basics. If you already have a few trips under your belt, you can find more advanced topics covered in our Expert Articles.