Trip Report: Exploring Pennsylvania’s Michaux State Forest

One State Forest, two State Parks, and a series of ridge top dirt roads
make for a fun 50 mile one day overland adventure.
Nestled along the southern edge of Pennsylvania’s Cumberland Valley lies Michaux State Forest.  At just over 85,000 acres the forest straddles the four south-central counties of Cumberland, Franklin, Adams, and York.  Michaux is also home to two PA State Parks.  Pine Grove Furnace State Park lies near the center of the forest and is a major stopping point on the Appalachian Trail and is also home to the Appalachian Trail Museum.  Toward the southern edge of the forest, just off the historic US Route 30, lies Caledonia State Park.  Caledonia is another stop along the Appalachian Trail but is most known for being the former location of Thaddeus Stevens’ iron furnace.  Given my proximity to Michaux, it’s an easy day-trip for me to go and explore whenever I have an afternoon to kill.

The purpose of today’s day-trip was a preliminary reconnaissance trip to explore some of the local fire roads in preparation for an upcoming trip I have planned for some Jeep owners from the local Jeep dealership.

Wooden sign posts mark the location of the road.

The trip I have planned is something I call “One Lap of Michaux.”  This trip will be roughly 50 miles long and cover a variety of fire roads through the state forest.  It will also feature a picnic lunch halfway through the trip.

At just over 50 miles, here’s the loop I have planned
The first part of trip would follow Ridge Road along NE boundary of the forest.  The initial climb up the mountain side is somewhat steep and very loose.  In early spring the road is often rutted out from snow melt and full of large loose stones that have been dislodged by the freeze-thaw cycle of winter.  This is one of the few sections of the road where four-low, a steady foot on the throttle, and a firm grip on the wheel is needed.

“Travel at your own risk” ~ Sure, why not

Once the road levels off it snakes its way along the mountain’s ridge, hence the name of the road, occasionally crossing paved roads.  Also dotting the road are small pockets of private homes and seasonal cabins.  These appear as small islands of civilization within the sea of natural forest.

Looking down the long gravely road.
Evidence of ongoing logging operations is very evident while traveling the road.  It’s not uncommon to come across fully laden logging trucks on weekdays or come across a large piece of logging equipment sitting idle for the weekend.  As PA’s premier state forest, Michaux is a perfect example of a well maintained conservationist approach to public land management and responsible use of our natural resources.  Areas that have been timbered are small, never devoid of life, and quickly spring back to full health in a very short period of time.

A behind the wheel view of Ridge Road and the recent logging of the forest
Near the center of the forest is an area known as Big Flat.  The parking lot on Big Flat is a popular staging area in the winter for snowmobilers accessing the vast network of state sponsored snowmobile trails.  It is also a good area to park for hikers wishing to access the Appalachian Trail.

Pausing at the intersection between Ridge and Milesburn Roads

After passing Big Flat, Ridge Road continues southwest for a few more miles before making a dog-leg northeast and then quickly southeast again.  At the first turn of the dog-leg our journey continues southwest on Milesburn Road toward the Long Pine Run Reservoir.

Stopping at the Long Pine Run Reservoir Boat Launch

Milesburn Road terminates on the paved Pine Grove Road.  A short jaunt down the paved road brought us to Caledonia State Park.  While an established park isn’t at the top of everyone’s overland bucket list, for a quick trip without a lot of gear, it makes a nice stop for a place to eat and a bathroom stop before heading back out.

Hanging out with a ’52 Power Wagon at the entrance to Caledonia State Park

At this point my exploration took me to unfamiliar territory.  Piney Mountain Ridge Road runs parallel to the southwest route we took from Mount Holly Springs on Ridge Road.  Piney Mountain is a road I had passed many times but had never gotten a chance to run.  Apparently I would have to wait a little while longer.

Saw about a half dozen of these all blocking me from Piney Mountain Ridge Road

After the first closed gate I detoured my route onto pavement and decided to loop around to another cross road.  Sadly every crossing I found where Piney Mountain Ridge Road crossed pavement there were gates. After stopping to talk to a Forest Ranger I found out Piney Mountain Ridge Road is closed from late fall till late spring.  He was able to tell me the road will open Memorial Day weekend.  I guess I’ll have to wait a few more weeks.

Even a detour can yield unexpected pleasantries.  A nice antique barn just off Mountain Road.

After giving up on Piney Mountain Ridge Road I decided to call it a day and snake over the mountain on a road I knew was open year round.  This took me back across Ridge Road and then down the far side of the mountain back toward home.

A seldom traveled, yet familiar, fire road

Along the way I was able to pose for a few other photos, take in the scenery, and just enjoy a fun day exploring local fire roads.  While overlanding usually implies a trip over multiple days, the broader overlanding lifestyle goes beyond that to include the occasional short day-long trip.

Scenic overlook and a quick photo op while my co-pilot looks on.

Hopefully you enjoyed this story about planning a trip and doing a little impromptu reconnaissance on a free afternoon.  If all goes well the “One Lap of Michaux” trip will happen sometime in mid-June.  I’m really looking forward to a chance to share some of these back-roads and scenic sites with local Jeepers.  That’s what it’s all about, right?

0 thoughts on “Trip Report: Exploring Pennsylvania’s Michaux State Forest