Thursday, August 13, 2015

Caledonia State Park: Appalachian, Three Valley, and Ramble Trails (Blog Hike #531)

Trails: Appalachian, Three Valley, and Ramble Trails
Hike Location: Caledonia State Park
Geographic Location: between Chambersburg, PA and Gettysburg, PA
Length: 2.4 miles
Difficulty: 8/10 (Moderate/Difficult)
Last Hiked: July 2015
Overview: An Appalachian Trail loop hike, first steep then fairly flat, passing an old mill site.

Directions to the trailhead: In south-central Pennsylvania, take I-81 to US 30 (exit 16).  Exit and go east on US 30.  Drive US 30 east 8.4 miles to SR 233.  Turn left on SR 233, then 0.2 miles later turn left to enter the park.  Drive the main park road to the large paved picnic area parking lot at its very end.  The hike starts at a vehicle gate near the parking lot’s rear entrance.

The hike: Established in 1903, Caledonia State Park is the second oldest active state park in Pennsylvania.  The land was purchased from the Caledonia Mining and Manufacturing Company, which operated an iron-making facility here from 1837 to 1870.  This location proved ideal for manufacturing iron because all main raw materials (wood, iron ore, and limestone) could be found in large quantities nearby.  Related facilities including some charcoal hearths, a forge, a rolling mill, some stables, some warehouses, a blacksmith shop, and a sawmill also thrived here.
            The furnace’s most famous owner was Thaddeus Stevens, a lawyer, member of the United States House of Representatives, abolitionist, and father of the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments to the U.S. Constitution, the three amendments adopted at the end of the Civil War.  His name is still found on some of the park’s trails and restored buildings that are featured in the next hike.  The present-day park offers many facilities, including CCC-era picnic pavilions, 2 campgrounds with a total of 185 sites, a lodge, and a par 68 golf course.
            For hikers, Caledonia State Park offers over 10 miles of trails that cover a wide variety of terrain.  The trails through the lowland area are fairly flat and easy, while trails that lead into the surrounding mountains are rather steep and difficult.  This loop hike explores both types of terrain.  The hike’s first half includes a section of the long and famous Appalachian Trail (AT) as it leads up and down a steep hill, while the second half explores the mill ruins in a lowland area.  A couple of other options described below allow you to do only part of the loop if you wish.
Vehicle gate at trailhead
            The first objective of this hike is to reach the AT.  There are several ways to get there from the parking lot, but the shortest route is to pick up the gravel two-track Chambersburg Water Line Trail at a yellow vehicle gate near the parking lot’s rear (west) entrance.  In just over 0.1 miles of level walking, you intersect the AT, which goes right and left.  Turn right to head northbound on the AT.
            The hard part of the hike now begins, as the AT gains more than 400 feet of elevation over the next 0.5 miles.  If you wanted to eliminate the hard part, you could continue straight on the flat Chambersburg Water Line Trail and reach the other side of this loop in 0.4 miles.  Staying with our loop, the AT climbs a somewhat rocky treadway using several switchbacks to ease the steep grade.  The forest consists mostly of broadleaf trees, most numerously maple, with a few pine trees thrown in.
Climbing AT switchbacks
            At 0.6 miles, you reach the highest point of this hike and the signed intersection with the Three Valley Trail.  Turn left to leave the white-blazed AT and begin the blue-blazed Three Valley Trail.  The Three Valley Trail starts as a gradual descent along a narrow finger ridge with steep drop-offs on either side, but soon the trail curves left to drop off the ridge and begin a steep descent.  An abandoned trail leads further out the ridge, so watch the blazes to make sure you stick with the official trail.
Descending the Three Valley Trail
            As steep as the climb up the AT was, the descent down the Three Valley Trail is even steeper.  The lay of the land ensures that the eroded trail becomes a creek after a heavy rain, so the footing is particularly bad.  At 1.1 miles, you reach the bottom of the hill and another intersection with the Chambersburg Water Line Trail.  The shortest route back to the trailhead would turn left to follow the water line, but to start the easy part of the loop, continue straight on the Three Valley Trail.
            The Three Valley Trail continues another 0.1 miles to its end at an intersection with the Ramble Trail, which goes left and right.  Turn right to begin the yellow-blazed Ramble Trail.  Unlike the steep hills tackled by the AT and Three Valley Trails, the Ramble Trail is nearly flat.  The scenery has also changed from open, shady broadleaf forest to sunny glade with a thick grassy understory.
The sunny Ramble Trail
            The wide gravel/dirt Ramble Trail curves left as it enters the wet areas along the east branch of Conococheague Creek.  At 1.5 miles, the trail crosses both of the creek’s channels on fine wooden bridges.  Immediately after crossing the second channel, you reach an unmarked intersection where you need to turn left to stay on the Ramble Trail.  The option going right dead-ends at a vehicle gate along US 30.
            After a brief climb you reach the saw mill ruins.  Of the mill that once stood here only the water channel’s stone walls remain.  Water would have flowed from the right down to the left powering the saw along the way.  For the next 0.4 miles the trail runs east atop the narrow mill race with the creek downhill to your left and the man-made water channel on the right.  Traffic noise from nearby US 30 can also be heard uphill to the right.
Saw mill ruins
            At 1.8 miles, the southbound AT enters from the right and joins the Ramble Trail.  In another 0.1 miles, the trail uses a wooden bridge to cross the stone structure that diverted water from Conococheague Creek into the mill’s waterway.  800 feet later, you come out at a grassy field near the park’s swimming area.  Stay with the white AT blazes as they turn left and cross Conococheague Creek on a final wooden bridge.  Soon you arrive at the picnic area adjacent to the parking lot that contains your car, thus signaling the end of the hike.

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