Sunset Rocks – Appalachian Trail Loop

Sunset Rocks – Appalachian Trail Loop

Panoramic winter view from a rocky outcrop
A panoramic view from Sunset Rocks Trail

Our northbound Appalachian Trail hike began at Pine Grove Furnace State Park, which boasts a large parking lot and a warm bathroom facility that is open year-round. After crossing Route 233, we entered Michaux State Forest, completing a gentle uphill climb for .8 mile. At 1.7 miles, we turned left onto Sunset Rocks Trail, and enjoyed the rocky terrain.

A brown Sunset Rocks sign, pointing in the direction of a trail dotted with large rocks and tree branches
Sunset Rocks Trail is marked with a sign and light blue blazes

Sunset Rocks Trail is marked with sky blue blazes, whereas the Appalachian Trail is marked with white. The trail is well maintained and was easy to navigate.

A blue blaze marked trail covered in rocks that resemble stepping stones
Rocks cover the half mile climb from the Appalachian Trail to the Sunset Rocks side trail

After completing .4 mile gradual incline, we came to a “view” side trail which led to the highest point of our trail loop and the name sake of the trail: the Sunset Rocks.

A blue and brown wooden "view" sign nailed to a tree, marking the entrance to a leaf and pine needle covered trail
A short side trail that leads to the Sunset Rocks
An overcast winter sky above a valley, with a large rocky outcrop in the foreground
Sunset Rocks overlook provides an easterly view of our starting point in Pine Grove Furnace Park
Large rocky outcropping in the foreground, leafless winter tree branches silhouetted against a gray winter sky
Sunset Rocks, Michaux State Forest

After retracing our steps on the short side trail, we climbed boulders and walked along the ridge line for approximately .4 mile. This portion of the trail was very fun, but can be daunting for new hikers. In some sections, there were options to skirt around the boulders. For safety, Brian took the dogs on the low road, while I got to play and take the high one. 🙂

Female hiker climbing over large blue blaze marked boulders on the left; an easier marked trail visible on the right of the rocks
The blue blazes mark two options for hikers: up and over the large boulders, or to the right on gentler terrain.
Two hiking dogs walking over a rocky ridge, pine trees lining the pathway, and a distance view of a neighboring mountain top
The rocky ridge line provides a view of the valley below
Leafless trees on either side of a yellow-green moss lined flat trail
As the trail nears Michaux Road, the terrain becomes less rocky

As the trail progressed downhill, the amount of rocks diminished. At mile 3, we walked along the berm of Michaux Road for .2 miles. Following the blue blazes, we turned left onto an easy pathway through the woods.

A man and black dog walk in the distance along a gravel road
Michaux Road, Michaux State Forest

We walked 1.1 miles and turned south (right) onto the Appalachian Trail, passing Toms Run Shelter and the AT halfway point. Most AT shelters are a short distance away from the trail. Toms Run is directly beside the trail and it is a great place to stop for a snack or privy (out house) break. We did not stop on this hike, but had lunch at the site when we hiked through PA in 2015.

A tall sign decorated with 2 American Flags and arrows pointing north to Mt Katahdin, Maine, and south to Springer Mountain, Georgia.
Halfway point of the Appalachian Trail

For the next 2.2 miles, the trail was gentle in terrain and elevation: the ground was virtually rock free and relatively flat. We paused at Toms Run, a large stream near the intersection of Sunset Rocks and the Appalachian Trails, allowing the dogs a fresh water break, and time for me to explore.

Partially frozen water fall
Toms Run was bitter cold and lined with many icicles along its edges

The remainder of the trek was downhill, passing cute cabins near Route 233. We walked past the Appalachian Trail Museum and the Ironmasters Mansion that serves as a hiker hostel, returning to our vehicle 3 hours after our start.

Hike difficulty classifications (link) 
Trail difficulty level
Moderate to difficult
Geographic locationSouth-central Pennsylvania, Michaux State Park
Trailhead parking optionsPine Grove Furnace State Park
Trail amenitiesBathrooms with running water at the trailhead
Elevation - trailhead863'
Elevation - highest peak1,442'
Elevation gain1,201'
Total mileage8.2 miles
Water sourcesWater fountain at trailhead and small streams along the route
HighlightsOverlook at Sunset Rocks; Boulders for climbing

Directions to trailhead, Pine Grove Furnace State Park

Map of Pine Grove Furnace State Park

Pole Steeple via the Appalachian Trail

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