One-Tank Getaway: The Appalachian Trail

Originally published July, 2012

Everyone has heard about the Appalachian Trail. Some have even taken a bit of a hike. But Ben and Gay of Atlanta, Georgia are doing it all. They are hiking the entire trail. And they are a good decade past mid-life. My only reaction was “Wow!”

Surely, when I volunteered to write the One Tank Getaway on the Appalachian Trail, they didn’t expect me to hike it. Oh, hiking is in my not too distant past, and my husband and I have scaled some pretty impressive elevations out West. But, we are parents of a two-year-old, and that has a way of putting long distance hikes and fly by the seat of your pants type trips on the back burner.

Ben and Gay’s kids are grown now, and gosh darn, they are grandparents! It has been a life long dream (since 1968) to hike the trail together. Ben and Gay have planned and studied extensively for this journey, including talking with other hikers, attending special seminars, and consulting with experts about their backpacks. It is not uncommon for hikers to be sporting 25-35 pounds on their backs. Ben and Gay’s journey started in Georgia on April 4, 1998.

A few factoids: The trail begins in Georgia, from Springer Mountain and runs 2,160 miles to the Katahdin wilderness in the state of Maine. The trail links federal, state and local parklands in 14 states. It is a footpath, bikes and such are not allowed. Most people see the trail in small sections that touch upon one of the state park areas. But every year, quite a few bold individuals make the whole trip and earn the right to be called “thru-hikers”. These people will experience a range of elevation from 124 feet at the Hudson River to 6,643 feet at Clingmans Dome in Georgia. The Trail itself is almost completely federally owned, but the majority of it is maintained by volunteers. Ben and Gay encountered many “Ridge Runners.” These are individuals who are paid some and volunteer some; their primary goal being assigned a stretch of trail, walking their section to assess its condition, citing any maintenance needs, and assisting hikers. Other volunteers are trail section maintainers, their job is to primarily take care of the necessary upkeep of their section of the trail. The coordination of most of these efforts is located at the Appalachian Trail Conference located in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. For any reader out there who would like to fulfill a dream of hiking the Trail, this is the place to call first.

Ben and Gay hiked into our one tank radius during the week of June 17, 1998 at Harpers Ferry. The Appalachian Trail Conference is located at the corner of Washington and Jackson Streets. The Conference features a store and a raised map of the Trail. The town itself is nestled between the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers. Harpers Ferry is a great historic place to visit (see the One Tank Getaway on Harpers Ferry). Many hikers consider this the psychological halfway mark on the trail, although the half-way point is some hundred miles or so north. To shadow the route that Ben and Gay traversed through Pennsylvania, Harpers Ferry is a great place to start. From Harrisburg, take Route 15 South to Frederick, Md., then 340 West into Harpers Ferry.

North of the Harpers Ferry area is Crampton Gap and Gathland State Park. There one can view an arch built to honor War Correspondents in the Civil War. For camping, Ben and Gay stayed at the Maple Tree Campground and actually slept in a tree house! Surely a unique experience, but take care not to fall off the edge! This area can be reached by following Route 67 north to Boonsboro. Include a stop at Washington Monument Park. In 1827, the citizens of Boonsboro, MD. built a memorial to George Washington to commemorate the fourth of July. It is considered the First Washington Monument.

The next camping stop is in Catoctin Mountain Park, just outside Thurmont, Maryland. This is just before the Pen/Mar state line. Continue following route 67 to Alt Route 40. Just north of Boonsboro, jump on Route 66. This is a small secondary road that parallels the trail. It will take you into Cavetown where you can jump onto route 77 East. This will take you into the park area and then Thurmont. The town of Thurmont, according to Ben and Gay, is a quaint, well-kept, little village. The Little Creek Café provided them with a superb meal of Maryland crab dishes. In their words “Very small, very quaint, very good.”

The next leg of the trip is Caledonia State Park, Pine Grove Furnace and Kings Gap Environmental Area. You can reach this area from Thurmont by taking route 15 north to route 30 west. From 30 you take route 234 (north-east) to stop at Caledonia, or route 233 (north-east) into Pine Grove and Kings Gap. This is the actual half-way mark on the Appalachian Trail. When making this leg of the trip, you may want to try camping at Pine Grove Furnace State Park. Take your bikes along for the day. You cannot bike on the Trail, but there are miles of mountain bike trails around the two lakes in the park. King’s Gap Environmental Center hosts many activities relating to nature and the environment. Call ahead and plan to attend. If you decide not to camp, follow route 233 to 34 North into Mount Holly Springs and Boiling Springs. Here you can check in at the Appalachian Trail Conference office at 4 East First Street, then have a meal at the Boiling Springs Tavern, 1 East First Street.

Route 34 north will take you to route 81 north for a quick trip back into Harrisburg. To be closer to the Appalachian Trail, take 34 to route 11 east known as the Carlisle Pike. Here you will see the actual trail over the highway as it marches towards the Blue Mountains. Before the trip is complete, get off 81 at the Cameron Street exit. Follow Cameron Street (towards downtown Harrisburg) until you reach the Appalachian Brewing Company, 50 North Cameron Street. Have a micro brew and toast yourself for any hiking you might have accomplished.

The Appalachian Trail going north was just as adventurous for Ben and Gay. Despite the complaint that Pennsylvania’s AT maps are the “pits,” many great sights were enjoyed. The Trail can be picked up off route 225 north just south of Powells Valley. From Harrisburg, take 322 West towards Lewistown and get off at Dauphin, where you will pick up 222. This is a good stretch to hike over Peters Mountain and view Dehart Dam. If you drive, follow 225 north to route 325 (north -east). This will take you up to Williamstown and route 209. Route 209 going east will hook you back up to 81 south. From 81 going south, take the Pine Grove exit and 895 east. This is a very scenic route through coal mine territory (see One Tank Getaway on the Pa Coal Region) and finding a place to eat that has local flavor will be easy. If you decide to hike any part of the Trail here, keep your eyes out for Reusch Gap. This is a ghost town that once held 1,000 people. It was a mining town in the late 1800’s until the mines were unable to support it. The old cemetery is still there, but it has almost gone back to nature.

Route 895 east will take you to route 61 at Deer Lake. Take 61 south just a bit back to 895 and follow the signs to Hawk Mountain Sanctuary. This is a must stop for a hike! Hawk Mountain Sanctuary is the only refuge of its kind for birds of prey. At the beginning of the century, hunters would climb the mountain to shoot the birds as they followed their migratory path through the valley. Pushing the birds to limited numbers, all hunting was outlawed at this point and the sanctuary was founded. The complete story is told at the visitor’s center, along with details of what birds are migrating at the time of your visit, and how to spot them. After paying for entrance to the mountain, you will follow a trail that will take you to a lookout point. Volunteers or “spotters” are frequently on-hand with binoculars, pointing out birds of prey as they cruise by effortlessly. Near the lookout are areas where other volunteers are offering informative talks related to the birds and the surrounding area. For some additional hiking along the ridge, a trail leads down from the lookout. A map of nearby trails is available.

After your Hawk Mountain adventure, continue to follow 895 east. This will take you into Palmerton. Out of Palmerton head towards route 33 north and Stroudsburg/East Stroudsburg, your final destination and place to stay before hiking around Delaware Water Gap. To find a place to stay in East Stroudsburg, check this site on the Web: www.usa-lodging.com/motel/hotel. This site has the most complete list including phone numbers.

The Delaware Water Gap is a natural gorge carved out by the Delaware River with vertical cliffs on each side. The Delaware River is the same one crossed by George Washington in the infancy of our nation. There are many sights to see in the national park. The Appalachian Trail can be hiked 2.7 miles to the summit of Mt. Minsi. This part of the trail is rocky and steep but manageable. Continue on the trail to the summit of Mt. Tammany, by crossing over into New Jersey. This summit offers the best scenic views, but the hike can be treacherous. If you choose to tour by car, follow (PA.) route 611 south out of East Stroudsburg. The favorite picnic spots are Point of Gap and Arrow Island.

At this point, Ben and Gay leave our fine state and enter into New Jersey, then New York. From the Gap, there are 880 miles of the Trail left. As of August 9, 1998, they have reached the state of Maine and their final destination is in sight. To read more about Ben and Gay’s adventures, check out their website at www.members.tripod.com/~jornb/at.

How To Plan this Getaway: Decide early how much hiking and camping you plan to do on the trip. If this is strictly a driving trip with short jaunts on or around the Appalachian Trail, use your Trail entry (into Pa.) points as the place you will stay overnight. Then visit the stopping points, using a whole day to get back to Harrisburg.

To Do Some Hiking the Ben and Gay Way: Ben and Gay did not walk side by side every step of the way. The trip was mapped out with destinations for provision shopping, mail stops and equipment maintenance. Often, one would hike the required part of the trail, while the other drove ahead to that day’s destination point. A similar system can be used to hike large portions of the trail mentioned here.

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN MODE MAGAZINE, MARCH 1999.

PLEASE CHECK DESTINATIONS BEFORE TRAVELING.

WHERE TO GET INFORMATION ON THE APPALACHIAN TRAIL:

Write to: The Appalachian Trail Conference, PO Box 807, Harpers Ferry, WV 25425.
Or call 304-535-6331

Appalachian Trail Conference,
4 E. First Street, Boiling Springs.17007.
Or call 258-5771

STATE PARKS:

Harpers Ferry National Historic Park – www.nps.gov/hafe

Catoctin Mountain Park 301-663-9388

Maple Tree Campground 301-432-5585 Gathland State Park 301-791-4767

Caledonia State Park 717-352-2161

Pine Grove Furnace State Park717-486-7174

Kings Gap Environmental 717-486-5031

Delaware Water Gap National

Recreational Area – www.nps.gov/dewa

WHAT TO BRING:

If you are a real camper, you better know what to bring!

For short hikes and day trips, bring the following:

– A pair of good hiking shoes (not sneakers).

– A backpack containing a first aid kit, nutritious snacks, and plenty of water.

– Sunscreen and bug repellent

– A map of the trail section you’ll be hiking.

PLACES TO EAT:

Roxy’s Cafe: 717-232-1511

Boiling Springs Tavern: 717-258-3614

Appalachian Brewing Company: 717-221-1080

PLACES TO STAY:

Harpers Ferry – See One Tank Getaway for Harpers Ferry, or www.nps.gov/hafe

Delaware Water Gap – see www.nps.gov/dewa or this recommended bed and breakfast: Deer Head Inn 717-424-2000

Hawk Mountain Sanctuary 610-756-6961