Pennsylvania is a state that presents you with hiking opportunities of epic proportions. The state is almost completely covered by mountains, plateaus, rolling hills and valleys: the only lowlands in the state are in the southeast of the country. Through the center of Pennsylvania, the Appalachian mountains reign supreme, towering above with heights of up to 3,213 feet at the state’s highest point: Mt Davis.
There are many other incredible ecological wonders in the state, including the Allegheny and Pocono Mountain subranges, and the Pine Creek Gorge is sometimes referred to as the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania. There’s also the monumental Delaware river, along the eastern borders of the state which has carved a deep valley through the Appalachian Mountains, going out to sea. So, to help you make the most of the stunning and varied landscape of this state, we’ve compiled our recommendations for the best hikes in Pennsylvania.
Our number one recommendation for hiking in Pennsylvania is the Appalachian Trail. This hiking trail isn’t just a great way to see the nature and ecology of Pennsylvania. At 2,190 miles long, this is the longest hiking footpath in not just the United States, but the entire world, and goes all the way from Maine to Georgia. If you’re looking to plan a truly epic hiking trip, that you can boast to your friends and family about, we’d recommend picking up different bits of the trail, and seeing how many miles of it you can walk.
This trail is a great recommendation for people of all hiking abilities. This is because, with it’s vast length traversing Pennsylvania, it covers different landscapes and elevations in the miles of trails. In the south of the state, the trail is much flatter and offers a lovely, easy, scenic hike. But for the more adventurous hikers among you, we’d say you can’t leave Pennsylvania without tackling some of the northern two-thirds of the loop trail.
Here you’ll be challenged by steep descents, have to cross rivers, and peek into gaps. With over 50% of the state covered in forest, you’ll find yourself wandering through stunning, sun-dappled groves. And if you want a thrill, try taking your rock climbing gear, for a fantastic way to break up your day, and fuel the rest of your hike with adrenaline.
If you want to backpack and primitive camp in the Appalachian Trail in Pennsylvania, there are some things you should note. Firstly, we wouldn’t recommend you visit in the fall, as the Appalachian Trail passes through some lands which are managed for hunting. If you’re looking to go hunting, there are some considerations you need to make, including to your clothing. You can find more information about this here.
Furthermore, if you’re looking to hike on the trail, you need to consider the following. Only thru-hikers, meaning those who are walking a part of the trail, and their endpoint is not their beginning point, are allowed to set up camp. You can’t set off on a trail loop if you expect to be camping.
Also, you must camp within 200 feet of the trail, and at least 500 feet from a natural water source like a spring or a stream. Hiking on the Appalachian Trail might involve a bit more forward planning and strategy than some of the following, smaller, and more manageable hikes, but we guarantee that it’s worth the work. It’s a perfect location for adventurous, single hikers and backpackers, looking for their next challenge.
The Montour Trail is a great option for hikers who love trains and history as much as they do mountains and trees. This is because the Montour Trail was formerly the Montour Railroad. This means there are many fascinating spots of interest as you hike, all displaying style and engaging engineering. The first sight to watch out for is the McDonald Viaduct.
This is a whopping 290-meter long trestle which was formerly used by the Montour Railroad. There are also many renovated tunnels you can explore, which are fully lit and safe, such as the Enlow Tunnel and the National Tunnel. So you can nerd out about the history of American railroads, adventure in tunnels and over bridges, while still immersion yourself in nature.
The Montour Trail is also a great trail for different activities. Because of the trail’s history, the length of it has been used for years, and thus the surface is super durable and easy to hike on. The surface is mainly crushed limestone, which is great for running, bicycling, and cross-country skiing. For those of you who want to take it easy while taking in your surroundings, the surfaces are flat and easy walkable, so you can wander along at your leisure, and avoid a more strenuous hike.
It also has many connecting trails that you can walk to diversify your hiking adventures. These include: the Panhandle Trail, Steel Valley Trail, Great Allegheny Passage, and the Ohio River trail. This 63-mile trail was named the state’s 2017 Trail of the Year. So with the fantastic scenery and rail-road-history, and with Pittsburgh Airport only 6.3 miles away, this option marries intellectual stimulation, convenience, and natural wonders.
An excellently maintained network of hiking trails, nestled right in the heart of the Pocono Mountains, offers you up close and personal access to some of the most beautiful natural features in the state of Pennsylvania. These are the Bushkill falls: nicknamed the Niagara of Pennsylvania. The Bushkill falls are a series of eight stunning waterfalls, cascading over rocks, the tallest of which drops from over 100 feet.
These waterfalls are privately owned by the Peters family, and the falls trail was opened to the public all the way back in 1905. Bushkill Falls is the perfect location to let the magnitude and beauty of the Pocono Mountains seep in as you hike. There are four different trails that make up the Bushkill Falls, each of which varies in length and difficulty, so you’ll be able to find one which suits your unique needs and skill level. Let’s take a closer look at these great hikes:
The Green Trail: This is the easiest hike in the Bushkill Falls, and would make a great option if you’re coming here for a day trip. This hike only takes 15 minutes, no climbing is involved, and the trail runs past perfect views of the Main Falls
The Yellow Trail: This trail is a little longer, at roughly 45 minutes, and the terrain is not as flat and easy to hike. But you get an excellent view, and walk amongst, the Main Falls, Lower Gorge Falls, Laurel Glen, and the Upper Canyon. If you’re looking for quality over quantity, then this is your best option. It’s a real treat to be able to see so many natural features and phenomena in only a 45-minute hike.
The Blue Trail: Taking an hour and fifteen minutes to complete, this hike is the perfect place to view the Pennell Falls after trailing through the lush forests.
The Red Trail: Rounding out at roughly hours to complete, this is the longest trail at Bushkill Falls. The hike is more than worth it, as you get the chance to view the Bridal Veil Falls and all eight falls. However, this trail is not for the faint-hearted: last time we went on this hike we lost count of the number of steps after 1000!
We would recommend Bushkill Falls as a perfect day-trip hiking location. No matter the ability of your group, you’ll find a trail that matches your needs. And if you’re a more avid hiker, you can easily combine the trails to see all of the waterfalls and take in the whole extent of the stunning forests and the Pocono Mountains.
There are also some other activities to diversify your day: play miniature golf on their 18-hole course, chill out on a paddle boat ride, or view and feed the wild ducks and geese. There’s enough here to entertain the whole family. You could even finish your day with a visit to the Fudge Kitchen and Ice Cream Parlour, for a little reward after a long day hiking!
If you’re backpacking or looking for a more adventurous hiking experience, then why don’t you consider the Standing Stone Trail? This trail will make you feel like an avid explorer, as you trek and climb the steep elevations and valleys of central Pennsylvania. This trail even won the 2016 Pennsylvania Trail of the Year, so you know we’re not kidding when we say it’s one of our favorites.
This rugged trail is 84 miles long and makes up a section of the 1600 mile Great Eastern Trail, which goes all the way from Alabama to New York. There are clearly marked trails which conveniently break up this long, long trail, into smaller, more manageable chunks. We would only recommend this scenic trail for the more experienced and fit hikers, as it certainly is not a walk in the park.
Standing Stone Trail passes through tonnes of State-owned land, four State Game lands, two State Forests (Rothrock and Buchanan), and one Natural Area named Rocky Ridge. One of the selling points for this trail is how convenient it is to reach: it can be accessed within four hours from anywhere in Pennsylvania, and it’s even less than two hours from Washington, DC. The trail also passes through some notable historic sites, such as the railroad known as Vanderbilt’s Folly, which began construction way back in the 1800s, and the Thousand Steps which were built in the 1950s by quarry workers.
We’d also recommend you heading slightly off-piste and taking a look at the Standing Stone Path, a historic Native American trail connecting Fort Littleton and Fort Standing Stone. There are also many stunning natural phenomena to be viewed. Where the trail crosses the Juniata River at Jack’s Narrows, you can view the deepest water gap in Pennsylvania. After you’ve climbed over the Jacks Mountain, the trail passes Oriskany sandstone formations. These are not only a challenge to rock climbers: they also offer stunning scenery for hikers as they pass.
Quehanna Trail in its entirety loops 75-miles through Moshannon and Elk State Forests. There are many options for hikers here who do not wish to traverse the entire trail, as the winding web of backpacking loops can be joined and left at multiple points. However, this trail is definitely not for the faint-hearted, some of the trails can be quite strenuous and are marked with orange markers. This hiking option is perfect for those who want to feel hugged by dense forest.
In the northern part of the trail, you’ll be surrounded by northern hardwoods mixed with hemlock and pine. A mostly oak-laurel ecosystem can be hiked in the southern part of the Quehanna Plateau. This hike is also perfect for wildlife viewing. For example, waterfowl can be viewed art many of the ponds scattered along the trail, and occasionally you can spot a wild elk. The elk are a natural wonder, and with so many people traveling to this trail to view them, the organizers have constructed vowing platforms and feeding plots.
Not only boasting stunning forested areas, part of the Quehanna Trail also passes through the 50,000-acre Quehanna Wild Area. The Quehanna Wild Area is known for its lovely streams, open savannah and even some unusual black cherry trees. With this unique eco-system to surround yourself in and the wildlife sighting opportunities, we recommend you stay a few days trekking the Quehanna Trail. You can even camp along the beautiful creeks at night. We guarantee you will feel relaxed, refreshed and renewed from spending time in these magical dense forests, punctuated by breathtaking views.
The Kinuzua Bridge Trail goes through the 339-acre Kinuzua Bridge State Park. It’s home to the reconstructed Kinuzua Viaduct which was partially destroyed by a tornado in 2003. The Viaduct was once the longest and tallest railroaded structure in the US, standing at 301 feet high and 2,053 feet long. The Viaduct is now a sight to behold, and it has many added features that make it a great location to center your hike around. It has been reinvented into a pedestrian walkway: it feels like you can walk right out into the sky, via the 600 feet of remaining support towers.
At this great height, suspended in the air, you’ll get spectacular views of the Kinuzua Gorge, and the Kinuzua Creek Vally. These views are especially interesting through the glass platform at the end of the Viaduct if you’re brave enough to look down! We would recommend you visit during the fall, especially at the beginning of October, where the colors of the leaves paint the entire landscape in ochres and russet tones. This spot is perfect for a day hike. However, we wouldn’t recommend going here when it’s raining or snowing, for safety reasons.
Follow 7 miles of the Kinuzua Valley Trail, along the old rail trail, for views and an experience which is just as breathtaking as the view from the Viaduct. Hike or bike through the Allegheny National Forest, located in McKean County. This hike gives you access to what we think is the most magnificent valley in the Pennsylvania Wilds Region.
Here you can hike for miles through thick forests and marshland with lots of wildlife viewing opportunities. There are also many activities that can be done to break up your hiking adventure. With a crushed limestone path, this is not just great for hiking. You can even go snowshoeing, biking, and soon the trail will be open for equestrian use. From here you can follow a small side trail that leads you to the platform of the Viaduct.
There are countless activities that can be done in the great outdoors, in the stunning and varied landscape of the State of Pennsylvania. As we have shown you, the hiking possibilities are endless. With most of the State covered in forests and mountains, this State is a fantastic option to be fully immersed in rugged nature. This is quite shocking, considering that this is the 5th most populated State in the United States.
However, with most of its residents residing in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh and other big cities, you’ll certainly feel real isolation when hiking in Pennsylvania, making this a great, accessible spot to get back to nature. While you’re planning your hiking trip, we would also recommend that you look into some other activities, such as kayaking, white water rafting, rock climbing, off-roading, and biking along the State’s extensive bike trails.
Pennsylvania is one of our top recommendations for outdoor adventures in the United States. With miles upon miles of rolling hills, mountains, gorges, forests, valleys, rivers and streams, there’s enough variety in the natural landscape to satisfy you for even a long hiking adventure. With tonnes of National and State Parks and historic features such as old railroad tracks and viaducts, there are so many options to choose from that the decision can seem a little overwhelming. That’s why we’ve given you a detailed analysis of just our top 6 recommended best hikes in Pennsylvania, to help you whittle down the options.