Hiking opportunities abound throughout Pennsylvania

This time of year, most of my free time is usually focused on one thing: catching smallmouth bass on the Juniata River. I say “usually” because this year has proved to be the exception to that ritual.

The monsoon season we have experienced most of the spring and summer has kept the river and most other fishing streams virtually unfishable for weeks at a time. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen this much water so often, and finding other diversions to replace my usual fishing days has been a constant challenge.

Fortunately, 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.

I typically do most of my hiking in the fall, with my camera and tripod in tow, to enjoy the cooler weather and brilliant fall foliage. But this summer, getting some exercise while exploring area hiking trails has filled in for some of the lack of fishing opportunities.

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, which tend to be rather flat, making them ideal for the casual hiker or biker.

The Lower Trail, which is actually built mostly on the towpath of the old Pennsylvania Mainline Canal, 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. Another popular rail trail is the Ghost Town Trail in Cambria and Indiana counties.

Long-distance or other avid 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.

Here in our region, the 84-mile Standing Stone Trail winds its way through Fulton, Huntingdon and Mifflin counties connecting to Greenwood Furnace State Park, Cowans Gap State Park, the Detweiler Natural Area in Rothrock State Forest while passing through the towns of Three Springs and Mapleton. This trail also has the distinction of being named the Pennsylvania’s 2016 Trail of the Year. For more information on the Standing Stone Trail, visit www.standingstonetrail.org.

The website www.explorepatrails.com is a great online source for all things about 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/stateparks.

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. Obviously, a good pair of shoes or boots is a prerequisite for hiking pleasure.

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.

Bug spray can also be a requisite as the mosquitoes seem extra pesky this year. A camera is almost a must for capturing some of the spectacular scenery, wildlife or wildflowers you are likely to encounter on most trails. A lightweight pair of binoculars, such as an 8×21 or something similar, will be handy for getting a closer look at birds and wildlife. A handheld GPS unit can be useful for tracking your progress or for some piece of mind if you are hiking in unfamiliar territory.