The Appalachian Trail spans 2,181 miles from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine.
And the exact halfway point of that entire span sits atop the South Mountain in Michaux State Forest, Cumberland County.
There’s a modest, but prominent marker at that spot proclaiming that it’s 1,090.5 miles south to the Georgia mountain, and equal distance north to Katahdin.
Think of the importance this signpost has to thru-hikers making their way from one end of the Appalachian to the other.
It’s a cool landmark anyone can see on a nice 8-mile loop hike on the Sunset Rocks Trail, just under 1.5 hours from downtown Lancaster.
The trail has a couple different starting points, but one of the nicest is in the parking lot adjacent to the Pine Grove Furnace State Park office on Pine Grove Road.
From there, walk a short distance west on Pine Grove Road to where the Appalachian Trail crosses and start hiking north.
Though the loop hike is 8 miles long in the mountains, it’s not a difficult trek.
Much of the slope you’ll have to ascend and descend is gradual, and you’re mostly walking on a well-worn dirt-gravel path through the woods.
Bridges take you over streams. Wood planks keep you dry through swampland.
About a mile or so into the hike, you pass the Appalachian Trail halfway marker, where you can spend time reading interesting messages carved and scrawled onto a wooden box, presumably by thru-hikers.
You pass an Appalachian Trail camping shelter about 4 miles in before leaving the trail to hike back toward home on Sunset Rocks Trail.
The trickiest part of this loop is at the top of the mountain near the trail’s namesake, signature vista, Sunset Rocks.
Some agile rock scrambling involving your hands, knees, feet and rear is required to maneuver across the spine of a rocky ridge top, so be prepared.
And as you are scrambling, keep an eye out for rattlesnakes. They are plentiful in this area.
The crown jewel of the Sunset Rocks loop hike is supposed to be the Sunset Rocks vista.
Well, in winter it does offer a wonderful view of the valley where Pine Grove Furnace sits.
In summertime with full leaf cover? Eh. The view isn’t so great as foliage blocks much of the scenery.
But the hike is a good one if you’re looking for a longer walk in the woods that’s not too difficult and not too far from home.
And if you start at the Pine Grove Furnace park office, you finish in the main historical area of the park.
You can visit remnants of the Pine Grove Iron Works, which dates to the late 1700s, and the ruins of an early 1900s Civilian Conservation Corps camp, which was used as a Prisoner of War camp during World War II.
Oh, and then there’s the Pine Grove General Store in the same area, where those with strong stomachs can take on the “half-gallon challenge.”
For some reason, Appalachian Trail thru-hikers decided this was a great place to wolf down a half-gallon of ice cream in one sitting to celebrate reaching the halfway point of their 2,200-mile journey.
(Because of ice cream manufacturing packaging now, the “half-gallon” actually is 1.5 quarts. The owners of the store apologize about this to trail purists.)
If you complete the challenge, you get to put your name in a book kept at the store.
That’s really the only benefit I see from such an achievement, but hey, when in Rome, right?
P.J. Reilly is an LNP | LancasterOnline outdoors writer. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.