|Appalachian Trail at Lehigh Gap|
The Mason-Dixon Trail leads directly from Delaware (through NE Maryland) to the Appalachian Trail in Pennsylvania near the midpoint of that famous trail. But the Fifty Trail doesn’t follow that simple route because the Mason-Dixon Trail is discontinuous at its crossing of the Susquehanna River. The trail uses the Thomas J. Hatem Memorial Bridge (US Highway 40), which prohibits pedestrians without exception.
Since it is a mandate of the Fifty Trail to be a continuous footpath, requiring no other mode of transportation to hike it from end-to-end, it was necessary to find a different route. The first bridge across the Susquehanna where hiking is not only permitted but where there is a named long-distance trail crossing it, is the Norman Wood Bridge in southern Pennsylvania. The named trail is the Conestoga Trail, and its southern section, Section A, is one of the premier hiking experiences in the state.
The Fifty Trail leaves Delaware via the Mason Dixon Trail at White Clay Creek Preserve and follows the White Clay Creek National Wild and Scenic River’s protected watershed north-westward, incorporating several local hiking trails along the route. From Goddard Park’s trail system near West Grove, PA there is a road walk to Wolf’s Hollow County Park trails, then the route passes through Mercer’s Mill Covered Bridge and continues on roads a short distance to the town of Atglen, where the route picks up the Enola Low Grade Rail Trail at its eastern Terminus.
Named for the very gentle grade of the former rail bed it uses, designed to haul heavy freight efficiently, the Enola Low Grade Rail Trail is managed by each of the local township governments through which it passes. The section at Atglen is as yet undeveloped (though plans are in the works) and follows a parallel active railroad track for a couple miles west out of town. Join it at the parking lot of the Atglen Borough Hall on Main Street. Just continue straight west following the rail bed with no tracks that runs westward on the south side of the existing tracks. There is an informal path here and it’s all public right-of-way. Where the existing tracks curve toward the northwest, the Enola Trail route continues west passing over Valley Avenue and then Noble Road at the East Branch of Octoraro Creek, which is the Lancaster County Line. From here the trail remains undeveloped through Sadsbury, Bart, and Eden townships but the right-of-way is public and there is a functional hiking trail on the rail bed passing numerous farms mostly owned by Amish families. This is the heart of the Lancaster County Amish Settlement, second largest in the nation.
The trail is fully developed for bicycling starting at Quarryville and continuing through Providence, Martic, and Conestoga Townships. A major bridge reconstruction of the trestle bridge 150 feet above Pequea Creek was completed in 2015. The Fifty Trail gets to pass over that bridge then under it on the Conestoga Trail. Immediately after crossing the bridge there is a trailhead access point at the end of Coleman Church Road. Follow Coleman Church Road a quarter mile to River Road where the Conestoga Trail leaves it to drop down beside Pequea Creek and pass under the 1905 historic trestle bridge.
The Conestoga Trail then follows Pequea Creek through a wild and remote section of state game land on a closed road, emerging at the Susquehanna River where the trail turns south to follow the river to the Norman Wood Bridge. This is a surprisingly difficult hike, with several significant climbs and descents and wonderfully rewarding views of the Susquehanna River.
After crossing the Norman Wood Bridge, where you are likely to be passed by horse-drawn Amish buggies, the Fifty Trail joins the Mason-Dixon Trail at Lock 12 Park. From here north to Wrightsville the trail has earned National Recreation Trail designation. It follows the Susquehanna River back northward, passing through cool valley glens with waterfalls and climbing to panoramic overlooks along the way. The trail leaves the Susquehanna north of York and strikes out westward, often on roads, passing through Gifford Pinchot State Park with its long stretch of footpath around Conewago Lake, then more road walking to the Appalachian Trail at Whiskey Bottom Road.
The rest of the Pennsylvania Segment is on the Appalachian Trail, passing through the trail towns of Boiling Springs and then Duncannon, crossing back over the Susquehanna, and then following ridges much of the way to New Jersey, encountering the infamous ‘Pennsylvania Rocks’. The Pennsylvania Segment ends with the crossing of the Delaware River to New Jersey at the town of Delaware Water Gap.
MAPS and TRAIL GUIDES:
Conestoga Trail: https://www.lancasterhikingclub.com/trail-guide
Enola Low Grade Rail Trail: http://www.enolalowgradetrail.com/
Bridge over Pequea Creek: https://lancasteronline.com/news/local/where-trains-once-crossed-high-over-pequea-creek-now-the/article_2daaa4b8-4a8a-11e5-892e-cb381815979e.html
Mason-Dixon Trail: http://masondixontrail.wixsite.com/mdts
Appalachian Trail through Pennsylvania: http://www.appalachiantrail.org/home/explore-the-trail/explore-by-state/pennsylvania
HEART OF THE TRAIL:
From the town of Martic Forge on the Enola Low Grade Trail, Conestoga Trail section A, crossing the Norman Wood Bridge, then north on the Mason-Dixon Trail to Wrightsville. A comprehensive tour of the lower Susquehanna River valley. This hike is more challenging, rewarding, and diverse than Pennsylvania’s portion of the Appalachian Trail.