The Mid State Trail covers 320 miles (500 kilometers) of Pennsylvania terrain starting on the southern border and swerving its way to the north. It is the longest footpath in the state and I decided to hike it. Some people through hike it, meaning they start at one end and hike continuously to the other end, backpacking, self-supported or with help along the way. The other option is to hike smaller sections at a time, picking away at it until you have hiked it all, on your own terms.
Because I do a lot of hiking alone and on my own time, I dubbed myself a “section hiker.” This has required me to do a lot of out-and-backs, creative loops, road walking, and lollipop loops. It’s practically doing twice the amount of miles, but I have to do what I can. In between managing my fulltime career, being a single mom with a son that plays travel soccer, spending time with family and friends, juggling my terrible love life, I penciled in time on the trail.
With Bald Eagle State Forest being so close to home, I figured I'd start hiking the Mid State Trail (MST) in that area first. Roughly 55 miles of the MST runs through it and as I started marking off the sections I had already done, I became hungrier to explore this amazing trail.
Bald Eagle State Forest offers tunnels of rhododendron, ridiculous rock fields, and ancient hemlocks. It was a pleasure to pass through. Keeping my Purple Lizard map in hand, I would take note of where the lizards were on the trail. It would give me something to look forward to and I’d find myself saying, “Ok Lizard Map, what do you have to show me?”
I was able to experience this section in all four seasons as well and noticed water sources were pretty scarce. Considering the winters we have had over the last few years, I wasn’t surprised. Starting at the edge of Bald Eagle State Forest along route 322 between Milroy and Potters Mills (Lewistown and State College), you pass through a neat hikers tunnel under the big 4-lane highway and ascend to Laurel Run Vista on a 13-mile trek to Poe Valley State Park. Luckily for through hikers, there are three state parks in Bald Eagle State Forest. They would make great stopping points for sleeping, re-supply and grabbing a hot shower!
On October 25, 2022, I reached the mid-point of the MST. I walked an out and back this day starting at The Cinder Pile Spring. It was a chilly fall morning and the forest was smothered on gold. It was so quiet that morning. The deeper into the woods I went, the more isolated and alone I felt. Nostalgia hit me when I reached the mid-point sign. I thought of all the emotions of a thru-hiker. The ones who decided to leave for a whole month to be on this trail, the ones who were fearful, excited, and who felt relief when they reached this point. Just a few miles ahead is the only actual structured shelter in the Bald Eagle State Forest. On my way back to the car, I heard every crackle, rustle and bang around me as my senses were becoming more heightened. The MST does have an unofficial motto: "More bears than people” and most days this is true, even if you don't actually see a bear.
The Northern end of the MST in the Bald Eagle State Forest comes to a stop in the White Deer Creek area then runs into the Tiadaghton State Forest so I preceded in that direction. I hiked my way around Ravensburg state park from route 80 into the small town of McElhattan. This would make another great stop for hikers! On a chilly, fall morning at the start of hunting season, expecting to see more people, I only ran into one older gentleman who had asked me if I had heard or seen any wildlife. I told him no, unfortunately but it was a beautiful morning and to have a safe hunt. I was almost to my car when I found a fresh steaming pile of bear scat, right in the middle of the trail. I paused briefly but didn’t hear anything, so I continued walking, and started singing loudly!
I intend on finishing the Mid State Trail in 2025, just before my 39th birthday. I’m not sure what gave me the itch to hike this trail, but I am definitely fixated on completing it. In the process, I need to remind myself, it's not a race, the trail will always be there and to just enjoy it. I am in love with what I have walked on so far. I have unofficially completed about 1/3 of the MST. I feel honored to walk on this trail through the state I call home. I am thankful for everyone who works hard to keep it manicured and maintained and I admire everyone that has already completed it. I am so excited for what lies ahead for me and am looking forward to becoming part of the MST family as it already feels like a second home to me.
By Katie Anspach, hiker, single mom, adventurer
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