For the last month or so, I've been nursing an extremely sore foot. That condition put a damper on many of my outdoor activities and served as a reminder of - as if I needed one - how much time I like to spend tramping about the woods and fields. In spite of my ailment, I managed to get out and hobble around as best I could while keeping my treks much shorter than usual. Fortunately, most of the pain has subsided over the past week, and my mobility is nearly back to 100 percent. And not a minute too soon to suit me.
Early fall is a great time for walking, hiking or biking here in our region. The cooler weather can be invigorating and quite pleasant, most of the annoying bugs are gone, and the brilliant fall foliage will add a special ambience to an outing unlike any other time of year. There is also no shortage of hiking trails and other venues in this area from which to enjoy this or any other season of the year. These routes are available in every possible degree of difficulty - from easy to strenuous and everything in between - to suit the abilities and preferences of any trekker.
Just about every state park in the region, and most of the state for that matter, offers a system of trails, many of which are designed to provide access to various points of interest throughout the park. The Raystown Lake complex provides an extensive network of trails that is generally regarded as the premier mountain biking trail system in the eastern United States.
We also have a plethora of rail trails. These former railroad right of ways tend to be rather flat, making them ideal for the casual hiker or biker. The Lower Trail, which follows the Frankstown Branch of the Juniata River for 16 miles through Blair and Huntingdon counties, is one of my favorites for cycling. Its well-groomed surface, forested setting and frequent wildlife sightings along the trail always make for an interesting and enjoyable bike ride.
The more avid or long-distance hikers also have many options throughout the area. The Mid-State Trail system comprises more than 300 miles of trails in central Pennsylvania on a north-south track between the Maryland and New York borders. Often referred to as "The Wildest Trail in Pennsylvania," the Mid-State Trail traverses some of the most rugged and beautiful areas of the state. Pennsylvania also hosts more than 200 miles of the famous Appalachian Trail. Entering Pennsylvania just north of Hagerstown, Maryland, the Appalachian Trail angles its way north, crossing the Susquehanna River at Duncannon and continuing northeast to exit the state near Stroudsburg.
The website www.explorepatrails.com is a great online source for all things trails in Pennsylvania. Here you will find maps and all sorts of information about virtually every trail in the Keystone State. I've found the site's advanced search features particularly useful. In addition to searching for trail locations by county or zip code, it is also possible to find trails that allow specialty users such as horseback, snowmobiling, cross-country ski, ATV, motorcycles, wheelchair and more. For specific information about state park trails, check out www.dcnr.state.pa.us/state
Obvioulsy, a good pair of shoes or boots is a prerequisite for hiking pleasure. Sneakers or cross-trainers might be adequate for smooth trail surfaces on relatively level ground, but if I'm expecting to encounter anything more rugged than that, I prefer to have comfortable, well-fitting footwear with an aggressive sole to provide good traction on uneven ground. The bottom line is you'll never regret having good shoes that are comfortable and perform as they should in the outdoors, so buy the best you can afford. The same thing goes for socks; spend a few bucks more and get a pair of top-quality hiking socks.
There's usually no need for a lot of gear on a casual hike or walk in the woods, but a few things will add to the overall enjoyment without weighing you down. A compact digital camera is almost a must for capturing some of the spectacular autumn scenery you'll be likely to encounter. A lightweight pair of binoculars, such as an 8x21 or something similar, will be handy for getting a good look at any wildlife you happen to encounter. A handheld GPS unit can be useful for tracking your progress or for some piece of mind if you are hiking in unfamiliar territory.