Hikes & Trails

Discovering the Beauty of the Standing Stone Trail

POSTED ON January 31, 2024 BY Ralph S.

Standing Stone Trail

Introduction

Welcome to Pennsylvania, a state known for its beautiful landscapes and rich history. Among the many attractions that it offers, one stands out for adventure seekers and nature lovers alike: the Standing Stone Trail.

This challenging trail is part of the Great Eastern Trail, stretching across 85 miles (approximately 137 km) through Jacks Mountain (location) and Stone Mountain. It offers breathtaking views of lush forests, rocky cliffs, and cascading waterfalls. But beware; the trail passes through diverse terrain, including private property and game lands, so be sure to plan your trip accordingly.

In this guide, we will take you through all the must-knows of the SST to help you make the most of your journey.

History

Standing Stone Trail

Nestled within the rugged landscapes of central Pennsylvania, the Standing Stone Trail stands as a testament to the enduring spirit of nature enthusiasts and the collaborative efforts that birthed this remarkable hiking trail.

The trail’s genesis can be traced back to the visionary minds of the Standing Stone Trail Club, an organization passionate about preserving the region’s natural beauty, a group of dedicated hikers, and nature enthusiasts.

In the early 1970s, members of the club discovered an old logging road that led to the top of Jacks Mountain. This discovery sparked their interest in creating a longer hiking trail in this area.

In the 1980s, the Standing Stone Trail Club (SSTC), in partnership with the Keystone Trails Association, embarked on a mission to create a hiking experience that would showcase the stunning vistas and unique geological formations of the area. The Keystone Trails Association is a non-profit organization focused on promoting and protecting hiking trails in Pennsylvania (PA).

The trail’s name pays homage to the Standing Stone, an ancient Native American monolith that once graced the landscape.

A pivotal moment in the trail’s development occurred with the acquisition of the iconic Dinky House, also known as the Halfway Shelter. This small stone structure was built in 1938 by workers of the Civilian Conservation Corps and served as a shelter for hikers on the old Tussey Mountain Trail.  In addition, it was once a vital cog in the region’s logging industry, became the trail’s headquarters, and was a symbol of the community’s commitment to preserving its heritage. The Dinky House now serves as a welcoming haven for hikers, providing a glimpse into the past while offering a starting point for the trail’s explorations.

Another standout feature along the trail is the Thousand Steps, a daunting set of stone stairs that were originally built during the industrial era to provide access for quarry workers. It offers a challenging but rewarding ascent that has become a signature element of the SST.

Throughout its existence, the trail has undergone numerous enhancements and witnessed collaborative efforts from local communities, trail clubs, and environmental organizations.

Today, it stands as a living legacy, a testament to the dedication of those who recognized the importance of preserving the region’s natural wonders. As hikers traverse this path, they not only connect with nature but also with the rich history that shaped this extraordinary trail.

Key Facts about the Standing Stone Trail

Standing Stone Trail

  • Location: Central Pennsylvania, USA
  • Total Length: Approximately 84 miles (137 km)
  • Time it Takes to Hike: On average, 5-7 days, depending on individual pace and chosen section
  • Trailheads: Multiple trailheads along the route, with popular starting points including Greenwood Furnace State Park, Thousand Steps trailhead (location), Tuscarora Trail at Cowans Gap State Park, and Detweiler Run Natural Area in Rothrock State Forest
  • Difficulty Level: moderate-challenging
  • Establishment Date: early 1980s, by the SSTC in collaboration with the KTA
  • Total Elevation Gain: approximately 20,000 feet (6096 meters)
  • Best Time or Season to Hike: Year-round
  • Lowest Point: Eastern terminus in Cowans Gap State Park (location)
  • Highest Point: The Broad Mountain summit (location)

Trail Overview: Difficulty Levels and Route Options

Standing Stone Trail

The Standing Stone Trail weaves through a tapestry of diverse landscapes, connecting the Tuscarora Trail in the south to the Mid State Trail in the north. This trail begins at the picturesque Cowans Gap State Park, tracing a route that reveals the breathtaking beauty of the Appalachian Range.

Trailhead to Terminus: Exploring the Journey

The trail starts its journey at Cowans Gap State Park, where hikers are greeted by the serene Cowans Gap Lake (location). From this starting point, the trail gradually ascends through Greenwood Furnace State Park (location), offering an initial taste of the challenges and rewards that lie ahead.

As the SST progresses, it traverses the Rothrock State Forest (location), navigating the rocky terrain of the Rocky Ridge Natural Area (location). This section provides a moderate to challenging hike, with rocky outcrops and elevation changes that demand both skill and stamina.

A noteworthy highlight is the link trail to the Great Eastern Trail, an extensive network connecting the SST to other major trails. The Great Eastern Trail showcases the diversity of Pennsylvania’s landscapes, from the meandering Juniata River to the panoramic views atop Stone Mountain.

The trail continues its journey through private land, game lands, and state parks, including the idyllic Three Springs (location), offering hikers a chance to connect with the region’s natural splendor. One notable side trail, the Greenwood Spur, provides additional exploration options.

The ascent to Meadow Gap (location) challenges hikers with a steep climb, rewarding them with stunning views of the surrounding ridges. As the trail progresses, it passes through the historic Dinky House.

The final stretch of the trail leads to the termination point at the Mid State Trail in the Detweiler Run Natural Area. This section showcases the grandeur of the Pennsylvania Turnpike and the captivating climb up the ridge, offering a fitting conclusion to this unforgettable journey.

Difficulty Levels and Considerations: Tailoring the Adventure

The Standing Stone Trail caters to a range of hiking abilities. While sections like the Greenwood Spur can be challenging with rocky terrain, other parts provide a more leisurely experience suitable for beginners.

Understanding the diverse difficulty levels allows hikers to tailor their adventure, ensuring an optimal experience based on individual preferences and capabilities.

Seasonal Considerations: Best Times to Hike the Standing Stone Trail and Weather Conditions

Standing Stone Trail

The climate along the SST paints a diverse palette throughout the seasons, offering hikers a range of experiences. So, understanding the weather patterns is crucial for those planning to explore the trail, ensuring a safe and enjoyable adventure.

Spring (March to May)

As winter retreats, the SST awakens to the vibrant hues of spring. Average temperatures range from 5°C to 20°C (40°F to 68°F), creating a comfortable environment for hikers. Spring showers may frequent the trail, so waterproof gear is advisable. The trail passes along the serene Juniata River, presenting opportunities for refreshing breaks amid budding foliage.

Spring is an ideal time for those seeking a balance between blooming landscapes and moderate weather.

Summer (June to August)

Summer transforms the SST into a lush, green corridor. Temperatures range from 15°C to 30°C (59°F to 86°F), creating warmer hiking conditions. Hikers can expect longer daylight hours, providing ample time for climbs along ridges and exploration of any link trail.

Be prepared for occasional summer storms and higher humidity levels. The meandering Juniata River becomes a picturesque companion during your walking or climbing adventures.

Fall (September to November)

Autumn brings a breathtaking display of colors to the SST. With temperatures ranging from 5°C to 20°C (40°F to 68°F), this season offers crisp, cool air and a vibrant landscape. The climbs along the ridge become a canvas of reds, oranges, and yellows.

Fall is a popular time for hikers, providing favorable conditions for those who enjoy the crunch of leaves beneath their boots. Crossing the trail amidst the changing foliage creates an unforgettable experience.

Winter (December to February)

Winter blankets the SST in a serene quietude, transforming the landscape into a winter wonderland. While temperatures can range from -5°C to 10°C (23°F to 50°F), be prepared for colder conditions, especially at higher elevations.

Winter hiking on the SST requires careful consideration of trail passes, as snow and ice can impact the terrain. Hiking through the snowy landscapes brings a unique charm, but winter hikes demand proper gear and preparation.

Essential Gear and Equipment for a Successful SST Hike

Standing Stone Trail

Hiking the Standing Stone Trail is an adventure that requires proper gear and equipment to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience. Being prepared for the terrain, weather conditions, and potential emergencies is essential for any hiker exploring this trail.

Footwear:

The SST consists of rugged terrain with steep climbs and rocky outcrops. Hiking boots with good ankle support and traction are recommended to navigate the various challenges along the way.

During the winter months, snow and ice can make sections of the trail slippery, so it is advisable to use crampons or other appropriate footwear for added grip.

Clothing:

With changing weather conditions throughout the seasons, it is essential to dress in layers for your trek along the SST. Lightweight, moisture-wicking fabrics are recommended to keep you dry and comfortable while hiking. A waterproof outer layer is also advisable, as sudden rain showers can occur.

During the colder months, warm and waterproof jackets, gloves, and hats are necessary for added protection against the elements.

Backpack:

A sturdy and comfortable backpack is essential for carrying all your gear and supplies while hiking. Look for a pack with good back support, adjustable straps, and multiple compartments to distribute weight evenly and keep items organized.

Water and Snacks:

Staying hydrated is crucial, especially on longer treks. Bring plenty of water or a water filtration system to refill along the way. High-energy snacks like trail mix, energy bars, and fruit are also recommended to keep you fueled during your hike. You can find some ideas in our guide to 25 delicious backpacking food ideas.

Emergency Supplies:

It is always essential to be prepared for potential emergencies while hiking in remote areas. Carry a first-aid kit, a map or GPS device, a whistle, and extra food and water in case of unexpected delays or emergencies.

Other Recommended Gear

Other gear that may come in handy while hiking the SST includes trekking poles, a hat or sunglasses for protection from the sun, sunscreen, bug spray, and a headlamp or flashlight for early morning or evening hikes.

With proper gear and preparation, hiking can be an unforgettable adventure. But remember to always check weather conditions and alerts, pack accordingly, and do not hesitate to seek advice from experienced hikers or park rangers before embarking on your journey.

Navigating the Standing Stone Trail: Maps, Markers, Permits and Regulations

Standing Stone Trail

Embarking on the Standing Stone adventure requires strategic planning and a keen understanding of the trail’s markers, maps, and any necessary permits.

Note that permits are not required for day hikes along the SST, but overnight camping requires a permit from Greenwood Furnace State Park or Rothrock State Forest (Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources).

Here’s your comprehensive guide to navigating the SST seamlessly.

Maps: Unveiling the Trail’s Blueprint

  • SSTC: The Standing Stone Trail Club provides comprehensive maps of the SST. These detailed resources outline trail segments, key landmarks, and elevation changes, empowering hikers with the knowledge needed for a successful journey.
  • Online Map: Embrace the digital age with GPS-enabled maps like the Silverlight app available for iOS and Android.

Trail Markers: Nature’s Signposts

Navigating the SST is made easier by easy-to-identify markers. So, keep an eye out for:

  • Orange Blazes: The trail is often marked with orange blazes painted on trees, rocks, or posts. These blazes serve as your visual guide, ensuring you stay on the designated path.
  • Trail Signs: Throughout the trail, informational signs provide details about specific sections, historical points of interest, and distances to key landmarks. These signs enhance the overall hiking experience by offering valuable insights into the surroundings.

Permits: Ensuring Compliance and Conservation

Certain sections of the SST, especially those passing through State Game Lands, may require permits for camping or specific activities. Be sure to:

  • Check Local Regulations: Research and familiarize yourself with the regulations of the areas you’ll be traversing. State Game Lands, in particular, may have specific rules to ensure the conservation of the natural habitat.
  • Secure Necessary Permits: If camping along the trail or engaging in activities that require permits, obtain them well in advance. Contact local authorities or trail management organizations to understand and fulfill permit requirements.

Accommodation, Camping, and Overnight Stays near the SST

Standing Stone Trail

One of the most enchanting aspects of the Standing Stone Trail is the abundance of camping opportunities. With approximately 18 sites scattered strategically along the trail (from the north to the south), each one offers a unique blend of tranquility and accessibility.

Broad Mountain Bliss

One of the prime camping locations is Broad Mountain. Here, about 18 camping sites are spread across the landscape, providing a range of options for weary hikers seeking a restful night under the stars.

Proximity to Greenwood Furnace State Park (in site 3)

Nestled approximately 3 miles (about 4.8 km) from Greenwood Furnace State Park, site 3 offers a convenient resting spot for hikers exploring the southern stretches of the trail. The proximity to the state park guarantees convenient accessibility.

A Tranquil Retreat Near Frew Road (in site 7)

Located about 2 miles (3.2 km) from the first Frew Road crossing, site 7 presents a peaceful retreat for hikers making their way through this section.

Fern Field on Jack’s Mountain: Flatland Bliss for Campers

For those seeking camping sites with flat terrain and an ethereal ambience, the Fern Field and Butler Knob Shelter on top of Jack’s Mountain are a must-visit. The area boasts numerous flat spots, creating an ideal setting for pitching tents.

Camping Tips and Considerations:

  • All campsites listed in the document are located in permitted areas for overnight camping. You can choose a specific spot here and make your reservations.
  • Overnight camping is not permitted on any State Game Land property. You should check the boundaries by looking for white-painted circles on trees
  • Always use the official maps together with the list of camping sites to help you find other permitted areas for camping
  • Check with local authorities or trail clubs for any permits or regulations related to camping.
  • Be mindful of wildlife and ensure all food is stored securely to avoid unwanted visitors.

Check out this document for a full list of the available camping sites along the trail

Resupplying and Refueling along the SST

Standing Stone Trail

Hiking the Standing Stone Trail requires proper planning, especially when it comes to food and water. While there are no stores or restaurants along the trail, certain points offer opportunities for resupplying and refueling.

Greenwood Furnace State Park: A Haven for Hikers

Not only does this state park provide overnight camping permits, but it also offers easy access to potable water, restrooms, and a camp store for basic supplies. This makes it an ideal spot to resupply before continuing your journey.

Shade Gap Post Office: A Milestone at Mile 35

Located near mile 35 of the trail, Shade Gap is a small community with a post office that hikers can use to send or receive mail drops or pick up supplies ordered in advance. This is a popular resupply point for thru-hikers and section hikers alike.

Huntingdon County: A Convenient Hub for Hikers

Located about 2 miles (3.2 km) west of the trail, Huntingdon County is a bustling town that offers a variety of stores and restaurants for hikers to resupply and refuel. It’s also home to some sections of the trail, making it an ideal hub for those taking breaks or needing rest.

Hikers take a yellow-blazed side trail to Monument Rock to stop to grab a bite to eat. After a few miles of road, the trail reaches the first of two trail towns (Three Springs), where the hiker can resupply.

Tips for Resupplying and Refueling:

  • Plan and research the area you’ll be passing through to identify potential resupply points. Use online resources and maps to understand the distances between each point and plan accordingly.
  • Pack lightweight, non-perishable foods for your journey. These are easier to carry and will last longer on the trail.
  • Consider mailing yourself a mail drop at specific points along the trail. This can ensure you have essential supplies waiting for you without the added weight in your pack.

Conserving Water on the Trail

While refueling at designated points along the trail, it’s essential to conserve water to ensure a successful hike. Here are some tips:

  • Always carry enough water to last between refueling stops.
  • Use purification methods such as boiling, filtering, or treating water with chemicals before drinking from natural sources.
  • Plan your daily mileage and rest stops to ensure you have access to potable water when needed.

Planning Your Itinerary: 5 Days along the Standing Stone Trail

Standing Stone Trail

Embarking on a 5-day journey along the Standing Stone Trail promises an immersive experience in the heart of Pennsylvania’s natural beauty. This carefully crafted itinerary takes you through iconic spots, camping havens, and breathtaking vistas, ensuring a memorable exploration.

Day 1: Cowans Gap State Park to Jack’s Mountain

Begin your adventure at Cowans Gap State Park, a serene starting point. Hike towards Jack’s Mountain through Buchanan State Forest.

Camping Spot: As the sun sets, find tranquility at Locke Valley Campground in Rothrock State Forest (check reservation). At this point, you will pass Blacklog Mountain State Game Land. Check out the map here.

Day 2: Jack’s Mountain to Butler Knob Shelter

Continue your hike through Jack’s Mountain to Butler Knob Shelter, a rustic haven nestled in the woods, offering a well-deserved rest.

Camping Spot: Butler Knob Shelter provides an ideal camping spot, surrounded by the sounds of the forest. Check out the map here.

Day 3: Butler Knob Shelter to Shrobs Summit

Traverse through the State Game Land, savoring the challenge of the trail. Arrive at Shorbs Summit Vista, an elevated vantage point offering panoramic views of the landscape.

Camping Spot: Discover a camping spot near Shorbs Summit, allowing you to bask in the beauty of the evening sunset over the mountains. Check out the map here.

Day 4: Shorbs Summit Vista to Stone Mountain

Embark on a day of exploration through Rothrock State Forest. Ascend Stone Mountain, where the trail opens up to awe-inspiring views. Discover several camping spots (around five), each providing a unique perspective of the surroundings.

Camping Spot: Choose from the various camping spots around Stone Mountain, where the tranquility of nature embraces you. Check out the map here.

Day 5: Stone Mountain to Broad Mountain, Ending at Detweiler Run Natural Area

Conclude your journey by hiking from Stone Mountain to Broad Mountain. Traverse the enchanting Greenwood Furnace State Park, appreciating the diverse landscapes. Finally, arrive at Detweiler Run Natural Area, marking the end of your 5-day adventure along the Standing Stone Trail. You can check out the map through Greenwood Furnace State Park and Detweiler Run Natural Area (the last stop).

Note: This itinerary can be adjusted to fit your personal preferences and fitness level.

Getting There: Directions and Transportation Options

Greenwood State Park

Embarking on the trail is a journey that begins with reaching the trailhead. Whether you’re flying in or driving from nearby locations, strategic planning ensures a seamless transition from arrival to the first steps on this trail.

Nearest Airports: Gateway to the Trail

For those opting for air travel, the nearest airports provide convenient access to the trail. The two primary airports catering to different sections are:

  • Pittsburgh International Airport (PIT): Located approximately 145 miles (233 km) from the SST’s Northern Terminus, the Pittsburgh International Airport is a major hub with both domestic and international flights. The airport offers various transport options, such as rental cars, taxis, shuttles, and public transportation.
  • Harrisburg International Airport (MDT): Situated approximately 75 miles (120 km) south of the southern trailhead, this airport serves as a gateway for hikers starting from Cowans Gap State Park or Greenwood Furnace State Park. From Harrisburg, driving is the most practical option to reach the trailhead.
  • University Park Airport (SCE): Located about 15 miles (24 km) northeast of the northern trailhead, University Park Airport is the preferred choice for those starting their journey at the Mid State Trail in the Detweiler Run Natural Area. Rental cars and shuttle services are available at the airport for the onward journey.

From Airport to Trailhead: Crafting Your Arrival Plan

From Harrisburg International Airport (MDT):

  • Car Rental: The most flexible option is renting a car, providing the freedom to explore the trailhead and surrounding areas at your own pace. Multiple car rental agencies operate from the airport.
  • Shuttle Services: Some shuttle services specialize in transporting hikers from airports to trailheads. These can be pre-arranged for a hassle-free transfer.

From University Park Airport (SCE):

  • Car Rental: Rental car services are available at University Park Airport, offering the convenience of personal transportation.
  • Shuttle Services: Explore shuttle options that cater specifically to hikers. These services often provide knowledgeable drivers familiar with the trail.

From Pittsburgh International Airport (PIT):

  • Car Rental: The airport has various car rental agencies, making renting a car the most convenient option for reaching either end of the trail.
  • Shuttle Services: Check with shuttle services that offer transfers from Pittsburgh International Airport to both ends of the SST.

Traveling by Car: Driving to the Trailhead

The SST trailheads are accessible by car, with plenty of parking available at each location. These include:

  • Greenwood Furnace State Park: Located near Huntingdon County, this park has a large parking lot off PA 305.
  • Cowans Gap State Park: The entrance is about six miles (10 km) from Fort Loudon along PA 997. Parking is available at the trailhead parking lot.
  • Detweiler Run Natural Area: Turn onto Detwiler Run Road from PA 26 to access the northern trailhead of the SST. Parking is available at the end of the road.

Getting Around Locally: Trailheads, Access Points, and Beyond

Hikers can navigate using trail maps and markers maintained by volunteers from the Standing Stone Trail Club.

  • Private Vehicles: Having a personal vehicle is advantageous for reaching specific trailheads and accessing different parts of the trail. The official trailhead parking lot is located at Greenwood Furnace State Park, with additional parking available at Little Jump Trailhead and Thickhead Mountain Vista.
  • Shuttle Services: Local shuttle services are designed for hikers, offering transport between key access points and trailheads. These can be prearranged or are sometimes found at visitor centers.
  • Public Transportation: Depending on your starting point, local buses or regional transportation services might provide access to trailheads. The closest Greyhound bus station to the trail is in Altoona, located approximately 49 miles (79 km) from Greenwood Furnace State Park. Amtrak offers service to Huntingdon, located about 20 miles (32 km) south of Greenwood Furnace State Park. Check schedules and routes in advance.

Conclusion

The Standing Stone Trail is a great way to reconnect with nature and explore the rugged beauty of Pennsylvania. From cascading waterfalls to scenic overlooks, this trail has plenty to offer outdoor enthusiasts.

Whether you’re a seasoned hiker or a beginner, there’s plenty to discover on the SST.

So, why not grab your gear, pack your bags, and set off on the adventure of a lifetime? Discover what the SST has to offer and make memories that will last a lifetime.

Before you leave, make sure to check out our Hikes & Trails Guides for more paths.


RALPH S.

Ralph S. is the founder of Silverlight, an avid hiker and trail runner he enjoys spending time outdoors, riding his motorcycle and swimming at the beach when he's not busy replying to customers or developing new Silverlight gear.

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