Appalachian Trail thru-hikers refer to Pennsylvania as “Rocksylvania” because of the amount of jagged, sharp, toe stubbing and ankle twisting rocks on the walking surface. This portion of the Pennsylvania Appalachian Trail is surprisingly smooth with just a few short rocky sections scattered throughout. Although there is very little elevation change along this ridge hike other than the...
Appalachian Trail thru-hikers refer to Pennsylvania as “Rocksylvania” because of the amount of jagged, sharp, toe stubbing and ankle twisting rocks on the walking surface. This portion of the Pennsylvania Appalachian Trail is surprisingly smooth with just a few short rocky sections scattered throughout. Although there is very little elevation change along this ridge hike other than the initial ascent, expect a scramble over jumbled boulders and ledges to reach Wolf Rocks at the end before heading back.
Start the hike by walking beyond the gate where Totts Gap Road becomes a gravel access drive for the communications tower at the top. There will be no blazes along this road. This will be the most elevation gain in one stretch, about 300 feet in a quarter of a mile. Almost at the top, continue straight through an intersection with another a gravel road on the left and a woods road on the right. A short distance farther uphill brings you to the crest of the rise with the Appalachian Trail crossing over the gravel road. Turn right here and follow the white blazes that will guide you through this entire hike. The uphill climb continues just little more through the woods. The trail then levels out and proceeds through two power cuts where you can catch a little preview of the views to come through the towers and lines.
Around the 1 mile point, when the trail becomes noticeably rockier and makes a very short rocky ascent, watch for a side trail to the left at the top of this rise which leads a short distance to Lunch Rocks. From this rock outcrop you can look north and see the communications tower at Totts Gap where you just came from, Mount Minsi behind the tower and Mount Tammany, NJ just the other side of Mount Minsi. If it’s early in the morning and hazy, you’ll have a second chance at a better view on your way back in a few hours.
Continue on another .85 mile to a wide grassy clearing, Nelson Overlook, with panoramic views to the east. A short distance ahead a blue-blazed side trail on the right leads to the Kirkridge Shelter. This trail continues beyond the shelter and meets back up with the Appalachian Trail in .15 mile.
Arrive at a large kiosk in Fox Gap at the 2.6-mile point. A little farther ahead go to the left of the guardrail and cross over Route 191. Proceed through an Appalachian Trail parking lot. The next mile and a half will consist mostly of woods roads, again fairly rock-free. The rocks may have been used to build the crumbling stone walls sometimes visible along the woods roads. The smooth woods roads will come to an abrupt end when you look up to see a wall of jumbled rocks and boulders looming ahead.
Pick your way over the rocks and boulders while keeping the white blazes in view so you don’t wander off course. At the top the trail levels out and continues across rock slabs and ledges through pine trees, rhododendron and mountain laurel. You can climb up on the boulders to your right for some previews of what is to come, but do continue on – you won’t need to climb up on a boulder for the best views. Continue on stepping from one slanted ledge to another. Arrive at a clearing with open views to the west and northwest of Cherry Valley and the Poconos. This vista, the turn around point for this hike, makes a nice break spot before heading back.
Turn By Turn Description:
[ 0.00] Walk beyond gate and follow the gravel road uphill
[ 0.25] At intersection continue straight on gravel road to top of incline; turn right on white-blazed Appalachian Trail before the gravel road starts to descend
[ 0.35] Cross power cut
[ 0.40] Cross power cut
[ 0.95] View to the west at small clearing on right as AT turns left
[ 1.00] Short side trail on left to Lunch Rocks overlook of Mt. Minsi and Mt. Tammany
[ 1.85] Nelson Overlook at grassy open area
[ 2.00] Blue-blazed side trail on right to Kirkbridge Shelter
[ 2.15] Blue-blazed side trail on right leads back to AT from Kirkbridge Shelter
[ 2.25] Cross power cut
[ 2.60] Kiosk at Fox Gap
[ 2.65] Cross Route 191 and proceed on AT through parking area
[ 4.00] Cross power cut
[ 4.20] Rock scramble up to Wolf Rocks
[ 4.25] Open view at Wolf Rocks; retrace back to Totts Gap
[ 8.50] Arrive back at Totts Gap parking lot
This scenic stretch of the Appalachian Trail in Pennsylvania offers spectacular views to the north at Lunch Rocks, to the east at Nelson Overlook and to the west at Wolf Rocks.
Whether you are going for a day hike or backpacking overnight, it is good practice to carry what we call The Hiking Essentials. These essentials will help you enjoy your outing more and will provide basic safety gear if needed. There may also be more essentials, depending on the season and your needs.
Hiking Shoes or Boots
Water - Two quarts per person is recommended in every season. Keep in mind that fluid loss is heightened in winter as well as summer. Don't put yourself in the position of having to end your hike early because you have run out of water.
Map - Know where you are and where you are going. Many of our hiking areas feature interconnecting network of trails. Use a waterproof/tear-resistant Tyvek Trail Conference map if available or enclose your map in a Ziplock plastic bag. If you have a mobile device, download Avenza’s free PDF Maps app and grab some GPS-enhanced Trail Conference maps (a backup Tyvek or paper version of the map is good to have just in case your batteries die or you don't have service). Check out some map-reading basics here.
Food - Snacks/lunch will keep you going as you burn energy walking or climbing. Nuts, seeds, and chocolate are favorites on the trail.
Sunscreen and insect repellent
Rain Gear and Extra Clothing - Rain happens. So does cold. Be prepared for changing weather. Avoid cotton--it traps water against your skin and is slow to dry. If you are wearing wet cotton and must return to your starting point, you risk getting chills that may lead to a dangerous hypothermia. Choose synthetic shirts, sweaters and/or vests and dress in layers for easy on and off.
Compass - A simple compass is all you need to orient you and your map to magnetic north.
Light - A flashlight or small, lightweight headlamp will be welcome gear if you find yourself still on the trail when darkness falls. Check the batteries before you start out and have extras in your pack.
First Aid Kit - Keep it simple, compact, and weatherproof. Know how to use the basic components.
Firestarter and Matches - In an emergency, you may need to keep yourself or someone else warm until help arrives. A firestarter (this could be as simple as leftover birthday candles that are kept inside a waterproof container) and matches (again, make sure to keep them in a waterproof container) could save a life.
Knife or Multi-tool - You may need to cut a piece of moleskin to put over a blister, repair a piece of broken equipment, or solve some other unexpected problem.
Emergency Numbers - Know the emergency numbers for the area you're going to and realize that in many locations--especially mountainous ones, your phone will not get reception.
Common Sense - Pay attention to your environment, your energy, and the condition of your companions. Has the weather turned rainy? Is daylight fading? Did you drink all your water? Did your companion fail to bring rain gear? Are you getting tired? Keep in mind that until you turn around you are (typically) only half-way to completing your hike--you must still get back to where you started from! (Exceptions are loop hikes.)
Check the weather forecast before you head out. Know the rules and regulations of the area.
The Leave No Trace Seven Principles
- Know the regulations and special concerns for the area you'll visit.
- Prepare for extreme weather, hazards, and emergencies.
- Schedule your trip to avoid times of high use.
- Visit in small groups when possible. Consider splitting larger groups into smaller groups.
- Repackage food to minimize waste.
- Use a map and compass to eliminate the use of marking paint, rock cairns or flagging.
- Durable surfaces include established trails and campsites, rock, gravel, dry grasses or snow.
- Protect riparian areas by camping at least 200 feet from lakes and streams.
- Good campsites are found, not made. Altering a site is not necessary.
- In popular areas:
- Concentrate use on existing trails and campsites.
- Walk single file in the middle of the trail, even when wet or muddy.
- Keep campsites small. Focus activity in areas where vegetation is absent.
- In pristine areas:
- Disperse use to prevent the creation of campsites and trails.
- Avoid places where impacts are just beginning.
- Pack it in, pack it out. Inspect your campsite and rest areas for trash or spilled foods. Pack out all trash, leftover food and litter.
- Deposit solid human waste in catholes dug 6 to 8 inches deep, at least 200 feet from water, camp and trails. Cover and disguise the cathole when finished.
- Pack out toilet paper and hygiene products.
- To wash yourself or your dishes, carry water 200 feet away from streams or lakes and use small amounts of biodegradable soap. Scatter strained dishwater.
- Preserve the past: examine, but do not touch cultural or historic structures and artifacts.
- Leave rocks, plants and other natural objects as you find them.
- Avoid introducing or transporting non-native species.
- Do not build structures, furniture, or dig trenches.
- Campfires can cause lasting impacts to the backcountry. Use a lightweight stove for cooking and enjoy a candle lantern for light.
- Where fires are permitted, use established fire rings, fire pans, or mound fires.
- Keep fires small. Only use sticks from the ground that can be broken by hand.
- Burn all wood and coals to ash, put out campfires completely, then scatter cool ashes.
- Observe wildlife from a distance. Do not follow or approach them.
- Never feed animals. Feeding wildlife damages their health, alters natural behaviors, and exposes them to predators and other dangers.
- Protect wildlife and your food by storing rations and trash securely.
- Control pets at all times, or leave them at home.
- Avoid wildlife during sensitive times: mating, nesting, raising young, or winter.
- Respect other visitors and protect the quality of their experience.
- Be courteous. Yield to other users on the trail.
- Step to the downhill side of the trail when encountering pack stock.
- Take breaks and camp away from trails and other visitors.
- Let nature's sounds prevail. Avoid loud voices and noises.
The Trail Conference is a 2015 Leave No Trace partner.
(c) Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics: www.LNT.org.