A dark New Year’s hike on the Pennsylvania Appalachian Trail

A dark New Year’s hike on the Pennsylvania Appalachian Trail

An hour before dark is a great time to start a hike!

On January 1st, I got a late start on my New Year hike. My husband opted to stay home and watch the Citrus Bowl, but I didn’t want to miss out on an opportunity to get on the trail. With my dogs in tow, I jumped into my car and drove to a fun Appalachian Trail section near Boiling Springs, PA. I knew that the sun would set before I finished my hike, so I carried my headlamp, light-up dog collars and my charged cell phone for emergency GPS tracking and phone calls.

Large boulders line the left side of a rock strewn trail in a leafless forest of trees.
The Appalachian Trail approaches the first boulder mass only .3 of a mile from Whiskey Springs Road.
White painted arrows designate the Georgia bound path through a pile of large boulders.
The south-bound path weaves through and over boulders. GA denotes that the trail ends in Georgia.

The 229 mile Pennsylvania section of the Appalachian Trail is known for its rocks. The PA AT is regularly dubbed “Rocksylvania” by hikers. This short section hosted many boulders and I took some time off trail to scramble and climb with the dogs.

A black labrador wearing a red hiking harness walks toward a massive pile of rocks and boulders
Rather than walking on the marked trail, the dogs and I scrambled up and over large boulders, later reconnecting with the white blaze marked Appalachian Trail.

My trek was out and back, therefore as I walked southbound, I made mental notes about the landscape to be better prepared when I returned in the dark. I knew that if I missed the actual trail markings that I could climb over the rocks to get to my desired ending point. I had 2 additional sets of eyes to help navigate after sunset, therefore I wasn’t very concerned about getting lost.

Black labrador and fox red labrador standing on a boulder in the woods
#FaithandToro, my extra set of eyes

My husband dislikes hiking in the dark, therefore we often rush to get to camp before daylight fades. But I truly enjoy it! Since I was alone, I chose to hike well after sundown, enjoying the fading light, the silhouetted boulders and trees, and the quiet of the night. It is incredible how the eyes adapt to the dark. I could see the white blazes marking the trees, the paint reflected from the little light from the sky. The trail appeared a lighter shade of gray than the bordering rocks and shrubs. The forest is quiet at night, especially in the winter, since many animals are hibernating or have flown south. The only sounds were the crunching of leaves and the snapping of twigs under our feet. It was lovely and peaceful.

Trees and large boulders are silhouetted against a grey darkening sky
The trees and boulders were large and imposing silhouettes against the grey darkening sky

I was about a half mile from the road, when I came across 2 hikers wearing their headlamps. Since I had not yet turned on the headlight or collars, I yelled a greeting to alert the hikers of our presence. They responded with their own “halloo” and continued on the trail just ahead of me. Their bright lights caused my eyes to no longer see well in the dark and thus I turned on our lamps to complete the trek. My pace slowed as I followed the narrow stream of light. It is funny how much faster I can walk without any light at all. My other senses kick in and I seem to just feel the way, rather than actually seeing it.

Leafless trees silhouetted against a dark grey sky and bordered by large black rocks
I walked more than an hour after sunset, the trees and rock formations were dark against the dark grey sky.

The dogs’ light up collars and reflective harnesses kept them easily in sight. I found myself grinning as I watched the lights bobbing up and down in front of me. My pups reminded me of excited children on Halloween, wearing glow necklaces and dancing around in jest.

Safely to the the vehicle, the dogs jumped into the back and settled down for a snooze. I sat in the driver’s seat for many minutes in the dark, enjoying the last few moments of peace and calm before turning on the engine and driving toward the bright lights of home.

Dark trees and rocks silhouetted agains a sliver of silver grey sky
The dark grey sky appeared to be bright in comparison to the forest and massive boulders.

Try hiking this section

Starting point address:
477 Whiskey Spring Road Boiling Springs, PA 17007
Parking is available along the road.

Other hikes near Boiling Springs, Pennsylvania:

Hiking down memory lane en route to Center Point Knob
White Rocks Trail near Boiling Springs, PA

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