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BLOG Long-distance hikes : The Mason-Dixon Trail System
Two years ago I started section hiking the Mason-Dixon Trail System. The 199 mile trail starts at Whiskey Springs on the Appalachian Trail in Cumberland County, travels south through York County into Maryland to Havre de Grace and then east to Delaware before coming back into PA and ending on the banks of the Brandywine River in Chadds Ford.
Much of the blue blazed trail in PA is road hiking, which I despise, so I’ve been picking the longest wooded sections and hiking those. My first trip was in the spring of 2014. I drove to the trailhead in Cumberland County, hiked up to the AT intersection and then returned to my car to drive the first leg south through Dillsburg to where it entered a section of PA Game Lands near Franklintown. Parking there I traveled on foot to Gifford Pinchot State Park, a total of approximately 12 miles. Most of my hike was on well maintained trail through there was a several mile section south of State Game Lands 242 on blacktop along Old York Road.
The hike took me through hardwood forests, along harvested wheat fields, and a beautiful wetlands area with two-board trail over the wettest spots. After turning left off of Old York Road and walking a couple more miles on back roads the blazes led onto dirt trail again along Beaver Creek, following the quiet trout stream until it empties into Pinchot Lake. While I would have preferred less road hiking, overall the trip was a wonderful day-hike.
My second leg on the Mason-Dixon was last May when I hiked from Highpoint Park south to Apollo Park. This section starts off with a two or three mile hike along the scenic Trinity Church Road to a spot where the trail hangs a right and heads on a short climb in a treeline. The trail weaves about for a short time till it opens into Klines Run Park. At Klines Run, the Mason-Dixon Trail follows the Native Lands Heritage Trail through woods and the high open fields formerly part of Lauxmont Farms, and originally inhabited by Susquehannock Indians. After another short section of woods the trail ends on a side road and heads to Long Level Road for some more blacktop hiking.
Somewhere around Long Level Marina, the trail leaves the blacktop for a short loop, somehow I missed the trail markers for this turn, but it comes back to Long Level Road near the Craley Road intersection. The day I did this hike it was hot, like 90+ degrees. I ran out of water somewhere along Long Level but figured I could stop at Shank’s Mare and buy a bottle or two to get me by. Well, they were closed for the day by the time I got there.
South of the last boat launch along Long Level, the trail leaves the road again for what has been the most strenuous trail section that I’ve experienced so far in the Mason-Dixon. The trail climbs quickly after passing Fishing Creek and follows the extremely rocky ridgeline along the Susquehanna River heading south along Lake Clarke. There are some beautiful views of the river including an awesome rock crop overlook that looks directly across to Turkey Point and the windmills there. Most of the trail is on private property through this section until it reaches Apollo Park so you must stay on the trail.
I had planned this hike to be an overnight trip, ending at Otter Creek Park. Though not necessarily permitted, I found a nice spot to hang my hammock 10 or 15 feet from the banks of the Susquehanna were a nice little stream flowed. This spot has obviously seen lots of campers, there are several fire rings, a couple of big tent areas and more than a few empty adult beverage containers left behind.
After a good night’s sleep under a full moon and a quick cup of Trader Joe’s coffee, I was off the next morning to a steep climb into Apollo Park. A nagging pain in the heel of my left foot the day before had become agonizing with every step and by the time I reached the top of the climb, I knew I’d never make it another seven miles to Otter Creek. Cell phone coverage is spotty in this section of York County but I was able to text message my wife and give her a location 3 miles away where she could meet me. It took me four hours to travel those 3 miles with what I would later learn was plantar fasciitis, an extremely painful injury to have on the trail.
While I didn’t complete the hike I was hoping for, I did hike about 12 miles, some of which is the most rugged hiking available in York County. I plan to section hike from Apollo Park south to at least the Mason-Dixon Line in the coming weeks.
A trail map is absolute must for the Mason-Dixon Trail System. As the trail seems to be ever changing as the Mason-Dixon Trail volunteers are continuously improving and moving the trail as land ownership changes and new possibilities present themselves. There are also areas where the blue blazes are spotty enough to lose the trail. Trail Maps are available at Shank’s Mare on Long Level Road or through the web site.. A web page for the trail system lists trail work and updates to the maps as changes are made. I’d strongly suggest checking the site before heading out on a hike.(http://www.mason-dixontrail.org/)
I love the idea of this trail. It is a great way to see sections of my home county and provides a “long distance” hiking option within a few miles of my house. I could do with a lot less road hiking, especially since much of the road hiking is along roads in the woods, but I understand issues with property owners not giving permission for hikers to access their land. It just stinks because it would be very possible to travel from the AT junction the whole way to the Maryland line with road crossings being the only blacktop to navigate. Maybe someday the landowners along the trail will see the benefits of opening their property.