Best Backpacking Trails in Pennsylvania (2022)

With roughly half the state covered in forest, it’s no surprise that Pennsylvania is home to some of the premier backpacking in the Mid-Atlantic. Home to sections of three National Scenic Trails, 122 state parks, and thousands of acres of state game land, Pennsylvania is bursting with places to explore. The state boasts over 35 trails and thousands of miles designated for backpacking. While some of these trails are considered long-distance and span hundreds of miles, others can be done in a few days. With all these choices, it may be hard to choose which PA trail to tackle for your next backcountry getaway. To help narrow it down, we’ve rounded up a list of the best backpacking trails in Pennsylvania.

From the hardest trail in the state to the most scenic, the following trails are a great representation of the diverse terrain the Keystone State has to offer hikers of all ages and experience.

1. Loyalsock Trail

Distance: 59.2 miles
Difficulty: Moderate
Approximate Time Frame: Four to six days

Best Backpacking Trails in Pennsylvania (1)

Loyalsock vista

About the hike: Stretching across beautiful Lycoming and Sullivan counties, the Loyalsock Trail offers grand views and challenging climbs. As one of the more established backpacking trails in PA, the route is well marked and includes an official guidebook, topo maps, and a trail log system developed by the Alpine Club of Williamsport. The trail closely follows Loyalsock Creek as it carves its way through the northern PA mountains, featuring multiple waterfalls and iconic mountain views. There are a few areas of the trail that are popular among day hikers, but for the most part you’ll have this trail to yourself, making this a great backcountry getaway.

2. Mid State Trail

Distance: 327.5 miles
Difficulty: Moderate to strenuous
Approximate Time Frame: Three to four weeks

Best Backpacking Trails in Pennsylvania (2)

The Midstate Trail. Image by Dylan “Pickle” Tonkin

(Video) Best Backpacking Trips In Pennsylvania


About the hike:
Traversing the height of the state from the Mason Dixon Line to the New York border, the Mid State Trail (MST) is a Pennsylvania classic. The trail sits almost entirely on a mixture of state forests, state game lands, and state parks, dubbing this “the wildest trail in Pennsylvania.” Although the MST may appear wild and remote, this is often an illusion as the trail is rarely over a mile from the nearest road, which makes resupplies easy on this three- to four-week trek. The trail is incredibly scenic and has been carefully constructed on ridgelines, offering as many views possible along the route. The MST is also the first (and one of the only) US trails to use the metric system on both trail signage and in the guidebook.

3. West Rim Trail

Distance: 30.5 miles
Difficulty: Moderate
Approximate Time Frame: Two to three days

Best Backpacking Trails in Pennsylvania (3)

The Pennsylvania Grand Canyon.

About the hike: The West Rim Trail is the most popular and most scenic backpacking route around Pine Creek Gorge, commonly referred to as “The Pennsylvania Grand Canyon.” The gorge is a National Natural Landmark and was named by Outside Magazine as the “Best Hike in Pennsylvania.” This mostly flat trail offers the best views of the gorge as hikers traverse the western side, and are able to stand right at the edge of the “canyon” at some points. Pass through seemingly endless fields of ferns and by the “Matterhorn of the Alleghenies” as you make your way between jaw-dropping views of the gorge.

4. Appalachian Trail

Distance: 229 miles
Difficulty: Easy to strenuous
Approximate Time Frame: Two to three weeks

About the hike: Frequently known as Rocksylvania among AT enthusiasts, the Pennsylvania section of this 2,200-mile trail has gained a reputation for being challenging, rugged, and (you guessed it) rocky. Don’t let the moniker fool you, though—this section of the Appalachian Trail is full of hidden gems and must-see vistas. Starting as a smooth path through the evergreen-covered forests of southern PA, the trail traverses over ridgelines and gradually becomes steeper and rockier as you near the NJ border. Hikers on this section will cross several rivers, travel through multiple state parks, and even pass the official halfway point of the AT.

(Video) Minister Creek in 4K | Backpacking the Best Trails of Pennsylvania

5. Laurel Highlands Trail (Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail)

Distance: 70 miles
Difficulty: Easy to moderate
Approximate Time Frame: Five to seven days

Best Backpacking Trails in Pennsylvania (5)

Laurel Highlands Trail. Image via

About the hike: Nestled near the southernmost corner of PA, and right outside Pittsburgh, the Laurel Highlands Trail attracts visitors of all skill levels. While there are sections of trail that are easy enough for novice hikers to spend an afternoon in the woods, the trail is also full of steep climbs that challenge the most seasoned backpackers. The Laurel Highlands Trail is a major section of the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail (PHT), which “celebrates the heritage of the Potomac and upper Ohio river basins.” The PHT offers opportunities for hiking, biking, boating, horseback riding, and cross-country skiing, and allows users to experience historic pathways and cultural sites dating to the birth of the country.

6. North Country Trail

Distance: 180 miles
Difficulty: Easy to strenuous
Approximate Time Frame: Two to three weeks

Best Backpacking Trails in Pennsylvania (6)

The North Country Trail through Allegheny National Forest. Image via

About the hike: Traveling through one of the most scenic corners of the state, the Pennsylvania section of the North Country Trail (NCT) is perfect for those looking for a rugged wilderness experience. Meandering through Allegheny National Forest and past multiple groves of old-growth trees (including a 300-year-old white pine), this section of the NCT is one of the most established along the route. Clocking in at 1,600 completed miles, the trail will soon stretch over 4,000 miles and through seven states. However, Pennsylvania was the first largely completed section of the trail and is the most widely used. In addition to pristine wilderness, the trail passed by historic landmarks that tell the history of the area dating to times of early colonization and the Revolutionary War.

7. Black Forest Trail

Distance: 43.2 miles
Difficulty: Strenuous
Approximate Time Frame: Three to five days

(Video) Best Hiking Trails in Pennsylvania. TOP 15

Best Backpacking Trails in Pennsylvania (7)

View of Navel Run. Black Forest Trail, PA. Image via

About the hike: The Black Forest Trail (BFT) received its name from the dense hemlock stands that keep the surrounding forest in permanent twilight. The trail is one of the multiple backpacking routes centered around Pine Creek Gorge, and is by far the most challenging. Commonly known as the hardest trail in PA, the BFT is recommended for experienced backpackers, and successfully conquering the rugged terrain is no small feat. Hikers on this trail will take on exceptionally steep ascents and descents, but are rewarded with frequent views of Pine Creek Gorge, as well as multiple other “canyons” in the area. The route includes countless vistas and picturesque campsites, making the trail a crown hiking jewel for the state.

Best Backpacking Trails in Pennsylvania (8)

8. Quehanna Trail

Distance: 72.7 miles
Difficulty: Moderate
Approximate Time Frame: Five to seven days

Best Backpacking Trails in Pennsylvania (9)

Quehanna Wild Area on the Quehanna Trail. Image via


About the hike:
Those on the hunt for a true wilderness experience should look no further than the Quehanna Trail. Partially set in Pennsylvania’s largest stretch of wild lands, known as the 50,000-acre Quehanna Wild Area, the trail is exceptionally remote. The area is known for pristine forest, mountain meadows, clear streams, and wild elk. There is one just one remaining herd of elk left in Pennsylvania, and members of this herd have wandered past their traditional lands near Sinnemahoning Creek and into the Quehanna Wild Area. This gives lucky hikers a chance to see these huge animals in their natural habitat.

From steep mountain climbs to a walk through history, Pennsylvania has something for backpackers of all types. The state is perfect whether you are looking to train for a thru-hike of one the Triple Crown trails, or just looking to spend a few days backpacking with friends. These are only a few of the 35+ backpacking trails in Pennsylvania. For a complete list of designated backpacking trails in the state, check out the York Hiking Club.

(Video) The West Rim Trail - Solo Backpacking - Pennsylvania Grand Canyon - PA Wilds

Did I leave out one of your favorite backpacking trails in Pennsylvania? Let me know in the comments!

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(Video) Backpacking Minister Creek in Allegheny National Forest // One of the Best Trails in Pennsylvania

FAQs

What is the longest hiking trail in Pennsylvania? ›

“Known to so many, the Mid State truly is most deserving of this honor.” The Mid State Trail is Pennsylvania's longest trail. Its 327 miles traverse some of Pennsylvania's most remote and scenic areas, and stretch from Maryland's border to New York's.

How long does it take to hike the Appalachian Trail through Pennsylvania? ›

A typical thru-hiker takes 5 to 7 months to hike the 2,190 miles of the Appalachian Trail.

Can you camp on the Appalachian Trail in Pennsylvania? ›

Only thru-hikers (defined as those “walking the Appalachian Trail from point of beginning to an exit, which is not the place of beginning) may camp on Pennsylvania Game Commission lands, and these hikers must camp within 200 ft of A.T., at least 500 ft from a stream or spring.

How much is the Appalachian Trail in PA? ›

Pennsylvania—somewhat affectionately known as “Rocksylvania” amongst AT hikers—represents 229 miles of the Appalachian Trail.

How long does it take to hike the Appalachian Trail? ›

How long does it take to thru-hike? Most thru-hikers take between five and seven months. The average is a week or two shy of six months. Weather conditions tend to limit the amount of time available.

How many miles is the Appalachian Trail in PA? ›

The Appalachian Trail runs for 230 miles in Pennsylvania. Hikers commonly refer to the Pennsylvania section of the Appalachian Trail as "the place where boots go to die" and "Bootsylvania," because of the wear and tear done to hiking boots on the 229.6 extremely rocky miles of the trail through the Keystone State.

What towns does the Appalachian Trail go through in Pennsylvania? ›

Holly Springs, Boiling Springs, Carlisle, Duncannon, Lickdale, Port Clinton, Hamburg, Slatington, Palmerton, Wind Gap, and Delaware Water Gap.

Is the Poconos part of the Appalachian Trail? ›

Answer and Explanation: The Poconos are one of the many groups of mountains that collectively make up the Appalachian Mountains. The Poconos are located in Pennsylvania in the northern portion of the Appalachian Mountains.

Is Lancaster PA in Appalachia? ›

Lancaster County lies on the general track of the Appalachian Mountains.

Can you pitch a tent anywhere along the Appalachian Trail? ›

If dispersed camping is allowed, best practice is to find a site at least 200 feet of the Trail (ideally not visible from the Trail) and 200 feet from water. Dispersed camping is also generally discouraged within 1/4 mile of trailheads, shelters, and established recreation areas. Always practice Leave No Trace camping.

Do you need a permit to thru hike the Appalachian Trail? ›

No fees, memberships, or permits are required to walk on the Trail. However, the A.T. passes through numerous state and national parks, forests and public lands, a few of which charge fees or require permits or reservations to park or to stay overnight in shelters or campsites.

Can you stealth camp on the Appalachian Trail? ›

There's a designated camp site approximately every ten miles on the Maine Appalachian Trail (MAT), sometimes a little less or more depending on the difficulty of the terrain. An average lean-to, this one at Frye Notch.

Where does the Appalachian Trail start and end in PA? ›

The Appalachian Trail travels nearly 230 miles in Pennsylvania from Pen Mar, a small town that straddles the state border with Maryland in the south, to the Delaware Water Gap and New Jersey in the north.

How long is the Appalachian Trail from Maine to Pennsylvania? ›

The Appalachian National Scenic Trail Pennsylvania Section A 2,179 mile Trail from Maine to Georgia. In Pennsylvania, the Trail is 229 miles and runs through 11 counties and 58 municipalities.

What is the fastest Appalachian Trail Hike? ›

28, Belgian ultrarunner Karel Sabbe summited Baxter Peak to claim the overall Fastest Known Time, or FKT, on the Appalachian Trail. He ticked off all 2,190 miles of the AT in 41 days, 7 hours and 39 minutes, eclipsing by more than four days the previous northbound FKT set last year.

How much weight do you lose hiking the Appalachian Trail? ›

Thru-hikers are fond of posting "before and after" slides. But they rarely tell the whole story. Men can expect to lose 40 pounds or more while hiking the Appalachian Trail.

Is it easy to get lost on the Appalachian Trail? ›

"The trail is very well marked around there, but if you step off the trail the brush is very thick, it can be very easy to get disoriented," Doug Dolan, Maine Appalachian Trail Club, said. "Just take a step off that trail and turn around, you can't even see the trail. It just blends in with the background."

Can you carry a gun while hiking the Appalachian Trail? ›

While it is now legal to carry a gun through national parks with the correct permits, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy discourages carrying firearms on the trail.

Are there grizzly bears on the Appalachian Trail? ›

There aren't grizzly bears on the Appalachian Trail.

Black bears are the only species of bear found on the Appalachian Trail. Though these bears are smaller than brown bears, they can still weigh anywhere from 100 to 400 pounds. While they may seem scary, black bears are pretty shy and usually avoid humans.

How many miles a day should you walk on the Appalachian Trail? ›

How many miles a day do I need to walk to complete the Appalachian Trail? Most hikers start out slow, averaging eight to 10 miles a day. They will eventually work up to 12 to 16 miles a day.

Where is the halfway point of the Appalachian Trail? ›

Hikers continue through South Mountain, where they can see the ruins of an iron furnace where firearms were constructed for the American Revolution. At this point in the journey, hikers reach the halfway point of the 2,178 mile-long Appalachian Trail at Pine Grove Furnace in Cumberland County, Pennsylvania.

Who owns the Appalachian Trail? ›

Today, two entities work together to oversee the entire length of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail: the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC), a private nonprofit established in 1925, and the National Park Service (NPS).

Does the Appalachian Trail go through Harrisburg PA? ›

The Appalachian Trail Around Harrisburg & Hershey

The Appalachian National Scenic Trail passes through 14 states, including Pennsylvania. This landmark trail passes through this area just north and west of Harrisburg. At Duncannon, the trail turns south and passes between Harrisburg and Carlisle on its way to Georgia.

Is Bushkill Falls a difficult hike? ›

Generally considered a moderately challenging route, it takes an average of 47 min to complete. This is a very popular area for hiking and walking, so you'll likely encounter other people while exploring. The trail is open year-round and is beautiful to visit anytime. Dogs are welcome, but must be on a leash.

Why is Poconos famous? ›

The Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania have long been a destination for vacationers seeking to relax. The earliest resorts opened in the early 1900s. Known for theater and skiing—and with resorts ranging from affordable to exclusive—it grew in popularity through the 1920s and '30s.

What is the Poconos known for? ›

The Poconos is a spectacularly beautiful region excellent for bird watching, zip lining, hiking, fishing, canoeing, golfing, skiing, parasailing and whitewater rafting. The charming small towns that dot the region are all unique and make a visit to the Poconos a true delight.

Is Pa considered the Midwest? ›

The Midwestern United States (or Midwest) is a name for the north-central states of the United States of America. The Midwest is composed of Nebraska, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Michigan, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin.

Is Pittsburgh considered Appalachian? ›

Pittsburgh is the largest city by population to be wholly within the Appalachian region. Notable cities with at least 40,000 residents within Appalachia include: Altoona, Pennsylvania. Asheville, North Carolina.

Is Pennsylvania considered Appalachia? ›

ARC's footprint spans 423 counties across 13 states. This includes all of West Virginia – the only state completely within the Appalachian Region – and parts of 12 other states: Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia.

Where do you go to the bathroom on the Appalachian Trail? ›

Where do you use the bathroom on the Appalachian Trail? All of the campsites and shelter areas have “privies,” which are basically outhouses. Volunteers typically build and maintain the privies.

Where do you sleep when hiking the Appalachian Trail? ›

Some have covered porches where hikers can hang out, many have bunk beds, or even a second story loft. Normally, you can expect a roof and a wood floor to sleep on. In addition there are usually water sources located near a shelter, such as a spring, a stream, or a river, but not always.

Can you hike the Appalachian Trail with no money? ›

Appalachian Trail costs typically net around $6,000 for thru-hikers. However, you can easily spend far more, usually because of a lack of budgeting, or less, if you maintain self-control and have a setback-free hike.

Do you have to sleep in shelters on the Appalachian Trail? ›

Do I Have to Stay at Shelter Areas? No, you don't have to. Sometimes there are marked campsites along the Appalachian Trail that don't have shelters but are still equipped with camping amenities. You could also set up your tent close to the shelter and not stay inside.

Do people hike the Appalachian Trail alone? ›

A lot of people choose to solo hike the Appalachian Trail in the hopes of meeting other hikers along the way, said Maxwell. “A lot of people start by themselves and meet other people who they end up hiking with,” she said.

How far apart are shelters on the Appalachian Trail? ›

There are more than 250 backcountry shelters located along the A.T. at varying intervals. They are an average of about 8 miles apart, but can range from 5 miles to 15 miles apart, or even as much as 30 miles apart when there is a town with some sort of lodging in between.

Can you hike the Appalachian Trail without camping? ›

It's possible to hike the Appalachian Trail without a tent.

That's a shelter about every 8 miles on average. They're free. So "thru-hikers," people who walk the full distance in a continuous hike, often leave the tent at home, saving as much as 5 pounds from their backpacks.

Can you camp anywhere along PCT? ›

Can you camp anywhere on the PCT? The answer is: No, you cannot camp just anywhere you want on the trail. While the PCT might sometimes look like one big campground with plenty of flat spots, you cannot make any place you want your campsite.

What is hiking the Appalachian Trail like? ›

Thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail is certainly not a leisurely walk in the park. This 2,193-mile stretch of land, nature, and wildlife is not for the faint of heart—it requires thorough research, rigorous preparation, and exceptional fortitude and resilience.

Can you still go to Glen Onoko Falls? ›

Despite talk at the time of transferring ownership of the area around the Glen Onoko Falls Trail to neighboring Lehigh Gorge State Park (an action that would require legislative approval), the trail remains closed to this day.

How many hiking trails are there in PA? ›

With 121 state parks, 181 rail trails, and sections of three National Scenic Trails in Pennsylvania, all you need is a map, a pair of sturdy shoes, and a sense of adventure. Pennsylvania hiking, while it could be intimidating due to the vast area of forest and parks, is actually not that complicated.

Where does the Appalachian Trail run through Pennsylvania? ›

From the south, the Appalachian Trail enters Pennsylvania near Pen Mar in Franklin County, proceeds generally northward for about 85 miles, crosses the Susquehanna River north of Harrisburg, then heads east toward New Jersey, leaving Pennsylvania near Delaware Water Gap.

Does Pennsylvania have any national parks? ›

Many of the national parks in Pennsylvania are designated historical sites that offer walking trails and other outdoor activities as a unique way to experience the natural beauty in the state. Pennsylvania has 121 state parks, 19 national parks, and seven National Heritage Areas.

Why is Glen Onoko closing? ›

In 2019, Newswatch 16 cameras gave us one last look at the waterfalls that give the Glen Onoko Falls trail its name. State officials shut down the trail near Jim Thorpe that spring, citing dangerous hiking conditions.

Where is Tank Hollow trail PA? ›

The trailhead for the hike to Tank Hollow Vista is along Behrens Road just outside of Jim Thorpe, PA. Most of the hike is on state game lands. If the gate is open from the first lot, you can shorten this hike to just under a mile by driving down the game land road.

Where do you park for Ricketts Glen Falls Trail? ›

There is a ton of beauty along the Falls Trail at Ricketts Glen State Park. What is this? Instead, drive to the top of the glens and park at the Lake Rose Trailhead Parking Lot. Parking here will allow you to still see all 21 waterfalls along the Falls Trail while cutting off roughly 2.5 miles of hiking.

Is Pennsylvania a good state for hiking? ›

Hiking is the most popular outdoor activity in Pennsylvania, and it's no wonder with all of the outstanding opportunities, from short loop hikes on state park trails to long, multi-day options on state forest lands, to family-friendly adventures on one of Pennsylvania's rail-trails.

Does Pennsylvania have mountains? ›

Pennsylvania is almost entirely covered with mountains, rolling hills, ridges, and plateaus, with rivers, canyons, and valleys in between.

How many rail-trails are in Pennsylvania? ›

The Keystone State is a very fitting nickname for Pennsylvania—not only for its central role in the development of the country, but also for its role as a leader in national trail development, claiming 188 completed rail-trails to date collectively spanning more than 2,100 miles.

Is Lancaster PA in Appalachia? ›

Lancaster County lies on the general track of the Appalachian Mountains.

Is the Poconos part of the Appalachian Trail? ›

Answer and Explanation: The Poconos are one of the many groups of mountains that collectively make up the Appalachian Mountains. The Poconos are located in Pennsylvania in the northern portion of the Appalachian Mountains.

What is the fastest Appalachian Trail Hike? ›

28, Belgian ultrarunner Karel Sabbe summited Baxter Peak to claim the overall Fastest Known Time, or FKT, on the Appalachian Trail. He ticked off all 2,190 miles of the AT in 41 days, 7 hours and 39 minutes, eclipsing by more than four days the previous northbound FKT set last year.

What is the most visited state park in Pennsylvania? ›

1. Presque Isle State Park, Erie – Home to Pennsylvania's only seashore, this 3,200-acre state park borders Lake Erie. In 2019, it logged the highest attendance rate of any state park in Pennsylvania with 3,719,182 visitors!

Are PA state parks free? ›

There are no entrance fees or day use fees for any state park in Pennsylvania. Make online reservations anytime. Call toll-free 888-PA-PARKS (888-727-2757) for state park information and reservations, 7:00 A.M. - 5:00 P.M., Monday to Saturday, except on the Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Year's Day holidays.

What state has most national parks? ›

California has the most with nine, followed by Alaska with eight, Utah with five, and Colorado with four.

Videos

1. Hiking the West Rim Trail (PA Grand Canyon)
(Outdoor Adventures)
2. BEST BACKPACKING TRIP in Pennsylvania | 60 miles on the Appalachian Trail | Day 1
(Wandering Monk)
3. Fred Woods Trail - Driftwood, Pennsylvania
(Leatherwoodoutdoors2)
4. Backpacking the Black Forest Trail, Pennsylvania
(Outdoor Adventures)
5. The Most Dangerous Hiking Trails In America
(Every State)
6. PA's Hidden Oasis (Big Spring)
(H & H Adventures)

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