by Dominik Maida
Spring is a glorious time in central Pennsylvania. On the morning of June 3, 2017, my fiancée and I went for a relaxing hike along the Rocky Knob Trail in Michaux State Forest. We started the trek around 11:00, parking along a dirt road directly across from the trailhead. The surrounding forest was beautiful, with the trees fully leafed out and not a soul in sight.
As we started at a brisk pace, the path ahead of us was relatively straight and easy to maneuver. To the left and right, the forest was covered in blooming mountain laurel. Each bush was unique, with the flowers varying from full bloom to still shy, hiding behind closed petals. We reached the intersection of the Appalachian Trail within half a mile, pausing briefly to exchange pleasantries with some folks who were resting. Shortly ahead, the time came to choose our path as we reached the circular Rocky Knob Trail: either take the right fork or follow to the left. We decided to go left and hike the trail clockwise.
The Rocky Knob Trail began as quite the easy and enjoyable hike. We walked on a windy, well-marked trail that took us through an open forest. The mountain laurel never ceased to amaze us as we walked past. In typical Pennsylvania fashion, about a mile in, the trail soon became rocky. Speaking as a novice to hiking, this trail was certainly not anything too difficult (and I only managed to stub my toes about half a dozen times). As we passed through a rocky, steep decline, my fiancée called out for me to stop. Looking back, she pointed to distant hills and a lake to the left of the trail. As we stood there in admiration of the beauty of Mother Nature, I learned a valuable lesson: take the time to look up and enjoy one’s surroundings (and don’t forget to stop and smell the mountain laurel).
Once we passed the steep decline, we hiked along a ridge, with the ground falling steeply away to the left. We passed several camping sites, with evidence of fire pits and logs serving as benches. We stopped for lunch on the 4-mile loop after about 2 and a half miles. We chose to wander a few hundred yards off-trail and climb an impressive pile of boulders to get a better view of the landscape. After eating our peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and carrots (and keeping an eye on a vulture that had swooped down near us, hoping, perhaps, for a snack), my fiancée and I hiked on, keeping an eye on the ground for loose stones and jutting roots.
As we made the turn for the last mile, the home stretch, we passed a side trail to the left, marking an alternate adventure that led down to the aforementioned lake. Perhaps, if we return, we’ll explore the lake. The last mile or so of the Rocky Knob Trail is mostly open and sloping ever so slightly upward. Here we saw more mountain laurel in bloom. However, many of flowers displayed their petals in hues of purple and pink in addition to the ever-present waves of white.
Thankful for our CamelBak, the trees overhead let in a good deal of afternoon sun. As we returned to the starting point and walked toward the car, I was struck by how serene and peaceful the trail was. While it took my fiancée and I about 2 hours to complete, the Rocky Knob Trail offered a refreshing getaway, with few hikers and a balanced mix of intermediate and easy pathways. Should you decide to visit this fine section of Michaux State Forest and want a bit of a challenge, I recommend hiking the trail counterclockwise to throw in a few short but steep inclines. Fortunately, you’re unlikely to get lost on this trail, as there are 12 markers along the way corresponding to the Michaux State Forest map. In addition, the trail is clearly marked with orange blazes. (Go Syracuse!)
Located reasonably close to Carlisle, Mechanicsburg, Harrisburg, Gettysburg, Shippensburg, and Chambersburg, I sincerely hope you get the opportunity and blessing to experience this fantastic trail.