By Carl Whitehill – As we transition from winter into the warmer spring months, there’s nothing that my family enjoys more than lacing up our hiking boots and hitting the trails. It’s our way, I suppose, of finally breaking free of a life indoors and stretching our legs with Mother Nature.
My sons, ages 5 and 6, still prefer a walk in the woods over television, computers and video games and I want to foster that interest as much as I can.
Gettysburg is uniquely positioned between three state parks, several wildlife preserves and a beautiful 6,000-acre battlefield that attracts history buffs and fitness buffs alike. It’s no strange sight to see walkers, joggers, bicyclists and horseback riders out getting a breath of fresh air amongst the majestic battleground and hundreds of Civil War monuments.
While my family and I are hardly hiking experts, we are hiking enthusiasts in our own right, and I’ve narrowed down our five favorite places to get outdoors.
Strawberry Hill Nature Preserve
I consider this one of the Gettysburg region’s greatest gems. For the visitors that take a morning or afternoon drive to nearby Fairfield, Pa., this nature preserve is well worth the short time it took to get there. With more than 10 miles of hiking trails – of varying difficulties – Strawberry Hill Nature Preserve brings visitors up-close and personal with Mother Nature.
Strawberry Hill features a nature center along with a pond and creekside walking trail not far from the parking area. The trails take hikers deep into Michaux State Forest and offer stunning views of the countryside.
Appalachian Trail/Caledonia State Park
I almost hate to group these two hiking areas together because each comes with its own distinct characteristics and levels of hiking, but their close proximity makes Caledonia State Park and the world-renowned Appalachian Trail (AT) a perfect pair for hiking and outdoor enthusiasts.
While Caledonia State Park, about 12 miles west of Downtown Gettysburg, is largely a place for local and regional hikers, the AT draws in expert hikers from around the world.
Both hiking areas feature an array of rock croppings, creeks and beautiful canopies of trees. The amenities and recreation areas of Caledonia make for a great stop for hikers along the AT and gives local hikers plenty of ways to spend a sunny day outdoors.
Codorus State Park
This state park, just on the east side of Adams County, Pa., just off Route 116 offers two beautiful trails – the Mary Ann Furnace Trail and the La-Ho Trail – that provide stunning views of Lake Marburg.
The hiking trails also give glimpses into the past where trails cross now-sunken asphalt roads that led to the town of Marburg, flooded in 1970 to create the lake and surrounding shoreside park.
Codorus State Park is the perfect place to spend an entire day, so after your hikes, picnic at one of the many recreational areas or pack your poles for an afternoon of fishing or boating.
Pine Grove Furnace State Park
Also lined up with a portion of the Appalachian Trail, this state park is home to a variety of trails for novice and more serious hikers.
Most of the trails at Pine Grove State Park are short, with the exception of the 6-mile-long Buck Ridge Trail which connects much of the park. Hiking enthusiasts should make plans to see the Appalachian Trail Museum at Pine Grove which loosely marks the half-way point of the 2,186-mile-long AT.
Pine Grove offers a variety of amenities and overnight accommodations including a mountainside campground, cabins and hostel at Ironmaster’s Mansion on site.
The park is about a 30-minute drive north of Downtown Gettysburg off Route 94.
The Gettysburg National Military Park
Hiking the Gettysburg battlefield provides a unique perspective of the rich history and awe-inspiring natural beauty of the national park. On foot, visitors can discover the peaks and valleys of the terrain and respect the distance between battlefield landmarks.
While hiking the Gettysburg battlefield may seem more like walking to serious hikers, the 26-miles of roads, along with newly paved trails from the Visitor Center provide outdoor enthusiasts with a great experience. Additionally, the short hike up Big Round Top or mile-long walk across the fields of Pickett’s Charge are great ways to tour one of the nation’s most hallowed grounds.
Hiking at each one of these five locations is year-round and each season offers a different perspective, new scenery and stunning views of the beautiful Pennsylvania countryside.