Michaux State Forest, PA

Two weekends ago, we went hiking in Michaux State Forest, which is a long and narrow state park in Pennsylvania, just over the state border from Maryland. The Appalachian Trail runs through it’s entire north-south length, 37 miles. It’s great because you can backcountry camp anywhere in the state forest, and dogs are allowed. Also, there is a campground roughly in the middle. For our twice-yearly weekend backpacking trips, we like to camp at a campground on Friday night after we all drive up after work and then hike and do an overnight Saturday to Sunday. This destination also nice because it’s two hours or under from both DC and Baltimore, where most folks were coming from, and provides a lot of flexibility in terms of the amount of hiking people want to do, which we fully took advantage of on this trip.

Dan and I did a similar trip two summers ago. It was the only camping trip we’ve ever done just the two of us. That trip was more about getting out of the city, getting into nature, and relaxing than it was about hiking a lot. We actually drove up Saturday morning and didn’t start hiking until about noon or one. I think we hiked a max of four miles (maybe two hours?) before setting up camp and just hanging out for the remainder of the afternoon. We then hiked four more miles Sunday morning to finish the 8-mile loop, and were finished in time to have lunch in Gettysburg (~20 minutes outside the state park, on the way back to Baltimore) and walk around there a bit.

This time, we arrived in Caledonia State Park late on Friday night. I drove with a friend from DC, Dan drove with our dog and another dog we were dog-sitting at the time from Baltimore, two other friends also drove from DC, and another person drove (all the way!) from Rochester, NY. We all arrived between 9 and 10 pm. It was raining, unfortunately, but we still hung out around a campfire. The next morning was still wet, but it had stopped raining. The rest of the weekend was beautiful weather – which turned out to be the last nice weather we saw in the DC/Baltimore region until now!

Three other friends, including Dan’s sister, met us at the campsite Saturday morning from DC and Silver Spring for some day hiking. So, six people (and two dogs!) camped Friday night, and nine of us set off hiking on Saturday. We started on the AT in the campground (lower left hand part of the map below, the blue line) and all hiked together into the afternoon, stopping for lunch at the Quarry Gap AT shelter.

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When we arrived at the intersection with Stillhouse Hollow Road, we all split off. The three that had arrived that morning did, I would guess, a full 10-mile loop by continuing on Stillhouse Hollow Road and looping back ultimately on Greenwood Road (an old fire road that’s more of a trail) back to the AT (hopefully getting to see Long Pine Run Reservoir!) and then drove back to DC that evening; a couple turned around and went back on the AT (for maybe a full 8-mile hike) and stayed another night at the campground; and four of us continued on for what was about 10 full miles on Saturday before finding a lovely camping spot a short ways after splitting off from the AT onto the Rocky Knob Trail (orange line below) and beginning the return loop.

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After splitting off, the four of us that were backpacking stopped for a leisurely mid-afternoon coffee break in the middle of the trail.

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While we were chilling, a group of about 15 boy scouts caught up to us, and we started to fear that they’d beat us to whatever perfect campsite lay ahead of us. So we packed up and continued on our way. It turns out that I think the boy scouts continued on the AT past the turnoff to Rocky Knob to get to the next AT shelter. However, in our haste to stay ahead of them, we passed quickly by the only water source that we’d seen all day. After setting up camp, Dan and I went in search of some more water, but to no avail. We were fine (and ultimately weren’t THAT far from the water source we’d seen had we been really concerned), but definitely had to ration our water between the four of us and the dogs.

The campsite we found was lovely and allowed for plenty of hammock, campfire, and dog play time.

On Sunday, we continued down the Rocky Knob to the Beaver Trail, Greenwood Road, and back to the AT, for roughly 8 miles – a total of 18 between the two days. Along the way, we found and filled up on water (and promptly stopped and had late morning hot chocolate and coffee). We walked along the edge of the lovely Long Pine Run Reservoir. And we stopped again for early afternoon coffee and snacks. When we were finished, the dogs were hot and beat.

We finished around 1 or 2pm. Our friend from Rochester drove home, and the remaining three of us had burgers and beers at The Pub & Restaurant in Gettysburg before going our separate ways to DC and Baltimore.

All in all, a very good trip. It’s a pretty good location all around: convenient, dog friendly, flexible, etc. I think if we go back again soon, maybe we’ll try hiking south from Caledonia State Park instead of north. But other than that, I’m not sure what the options are for changing it up much. I wish there were more things like this in and around Maryland. There’s more in Virginia and West Virginia, for sure, but that’s harder for us to get to for a weekend trip. Alas. I’ll keep looking :-).

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