Located in south central Pennsylvania, the 85,500 acres that make up Michaux State Forest is a perfect playground for visitors seeking adventure in the outdoors! While most visitors to southern Pennsylvania head to the popular large cities (such as Philadelphia or Pittsburgh), this area is fantastic to visit and spend a few days. The State and National Forests are often overlooked, and this one definitely should not be!
Popular activities in Michaux State Forest include hiking, fishing, taking an auto tour, off-road / dirt road exploring, and of course, camping.
While it may be challenging to find information on Michaux State Forest, our hope is that this guide can help you navigate through your planning and find out what there is to see and do in Michaux State Forest!
MICHAUX STATE FOREST HISTORY
As it was common to do in the 19th century, the driving need for fuel for iron processing left the area currently encompassed by Michaux State Forest completely clear cut. The wood was then turned into charcoal in kilns located throughout the forest. Remains of those kilns can actually still be seen throughout the forest.
In an effort to save the forest and help to regrow the trees, the State of Pennsylvania started to repurchase the lands left desolate. Michaux State Forest was established in 1902. It was named after Andre Michaux, a French botanist from the late 18th century. He was responsible for identifying and naming numerous plants, shortly after the United States gained its independence.
ACTIVITIES IN MICHAUX STATE FOREST
Michaux State Forest map, courtesy of the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
If you are into spending time outdoors, then you will be sure to find an activity you enjoy in Michaux State Forest. Even if it’s raining, there are plenty of places to explore and keep you busy for the day.
When visiting Michaux State Forest, our recommendations include the following:
- Auto Tour. The Michaux State Forest Auto Tour is self-guided and travels about 22 miles on forest roads. The drive is suitable for all vehicles in the summertime, but as the weather turns colder and wetter, you need to exercise caution as the roads can be dangerous, even for 4WD vehicles. The drive passes by the Long Pine Run Reservoir, the Dark Hollow Vista, crosses the Appalachian Trail, (which contains about 40 miles of trail through the Michaux State Forest), a fire tower and various hikes. If you want to take this tour, we recommend first downloading the Michaux State Forest auto tour guide.
- Drive on the Forest Roads. In addition to the auto tour, you can also just drive around the forest roads. There are over 130 miles of roads to explore. Most of the roads are passable by any vehicle, but check in with the Rangers ahead of heading out on your adventure to be sure. We also recommend downloading the detailed public use map for Michaux State Forest ahead of visiting the park. Of course, if you have an offroad vehicle, you will be able to go pretty much where vehicles are allowed, provided it’s not only authorized for OHVs or for assisting with processing an animal that you have hunted. The roads are well maintained (even though they are not officially maintained). Just be careful as you drive, as plenty of dust will get airborne and there are some tight and narrow curves to be cautious of as you go through them (particularly to be aware of oncoming traffic).
- Fishing. There are quite a few good spots for fishing, including several creeks great for fly fishing (Conococheague and Antietam in particular). You can also check out the reservoirs and lakes, like Laurel Lake and Fuller Lake. You need to be sure you have a license and abide by the PA state fishing regulations. You can read more about fishing in Michaux State Forest here.
- Mountain Biking. Mountain biking is quite popular in the forest, and there are 37 miles of marked trails. Check out this site to learn about the Best Mountain Biking Trails in Michaux State Forest. You are allowed to bring E-bikes, provided they meet certain requirements.
THE BEST HIKES IN MICHAUX STATE FOREST
We are partial to hiking as an activity, and since there are plenty of good opportunities to hike inside of Michaux State Forest, we felt that it deserved its own section. There are dozens of hikes in this area, so it’s really hard to choose which one is best, or which one is right for you. Our advice? Pick from one of these and you won’t be disappointed at all!
- The hike to Chimney Rocks (aka Buzzard Peak) is a great one. This moderate trail climbs about 1000 feet total and is a 4.8-mile loop. The first part of the trail is on the Appalachian Trail. Take a right at the fork at 0.7-miles. This is where the trail starts to head up a steady incline (most of the 1000-foot gain is in the next mile, so be ready!). At the top is Buzzard Peak / Chimney Rocks. The views from up here are great, and this is an ideal spot to take a break. You can head back on the Appalachian Trail, or continue on the loop by heading west slightly before meeting up on the Schaffer Rock Trail, which heads southwest for about 1.3 miles. Here you can take a quick detour to Monument Rocks before heading back on the Hermitage Trail. The trail then meets back up at the fork with the Appalachian Trail before heading back to the parking area. The trailhead for the Chimney Rocks trail begins at the Old Forge Picnic Grounds on Old Forge Road, about 5 miles north of Rouzerville. You can also hike from Swift Rock Road on the Shaffer Trail, which cuts the distance down to 2.9-miles and the elevation gain to only about 630 feet.
- The Rocky Knob Trail is a moderate trail that climbs 600 feet on the 4.2-mile loop. This loop heads east from Ridge Road before getting to a fork. Take either direction on the fork (you’ll end up back at this spot). If you head counterclockwise, the trail descends for about 1.5 miles before a brief uphill to Sier Hiill where you’ll have a good view. It’s easier than the Chimney Rocks Trail, but not quite as scenic. The Rocky Knob Trail starts on Ridge Road, about 2.1 miles south of the intersection with Shippensburg Road. You can also extend the hike by 1.2 miles by heading south on the Rocky Knob Trail to Long Pine Run Reservoir at the 1.4-mile point.
- Packing in two peaks into one hike, the hike along the Appalachian Trail to Snowy Mountain and Chimney Rocks is a good option. This 5.8-mile (round-trip) trail is mostly flat, with the exception of the first 0.7-miles that climbs about 850 feet. As you head east, at the 0.7-mile point there is the top of Snowy Mountain that is about 0.2 miles to the south. Continue on the Appalachian Trail until you hit Chimney Rocks, and take a break and take in the view! The trailhead starts about 0.5 miles south of the intersection of Highway 233 on Snowy Mountain Road.
- The hike to Sunset Rocks is one of the easier hikes in the forest with one of the best payoffs. The trail starts by heading south and climbs up 450 feet in the first mile before levelling off at Sunset Rocks. There is a bit of a rock scramble, so watch your footing. The entire hike is about 1.2-miles (round-trip). The trailhead for the Sunset Rocks hike is at the western end of Old Shippenburg Road, west of Pine Grove Furnace State Park. You can also make this a loop by starting from the Michaux Road, which is 2.4-miles and about 500 feet of elevation gain.
WHAT IS THERE TO DO NEAR MICHAUX STATE FOREST?
It’s doubtful that you’ll get bored exploring Michaux State Forest, but there are a few other areas that intertwine with the forest that are worth integrating into your trip. They include:
- Caledonia State Park. Caledonia State Park is just to the north of Highway 30 and pretty much in the center (north/south) of Michaux State Forest. Here you’ll find great hiking, fishing and camping. It’s also a good place to go for a picnic.
- Pine Grove Furnace State Park. Pine Grove Furnace State Park is located in Pine Grove Furnace, which is on the eastern side of Michaux State Forest. This park is a bit larger than Caledonia State Park, offers good biking and hiking and great camping. There is also quite a bit of history on display here, and some good information to learn about how this park came to be. We particularly loved camping here.
- Mont Alto State Park. Mont Alto State Park is a small park that is good for a picnic lunch and fishing. This was the first state park in Pennsylvania.
- Gettysburg National Military Park. Even if you aren’t a historian of the Civil War, visiting Gettysburg National Military Park is an amazing experience. These grounds are immaculately maintained, and tells the story of one of the most pivotal battles of the war. It’s only about 20 minutes away (to the southeast of the forest).
HOW TO GET TO MICHAUX STATE FOREST AND OTHER TRAVEL INFORMATION
Michaux State Forest covers a lot of ground, so getting here depends on where you are coming from and where in the forest you plan on visiting.
- Here are the directions from Harrisburg, PA to Michaux State Forest. This will take about an hour (unless you go further north in the park, which is less time). You can expect some traffic on Interstate 81.
- Here are the directions from Gettysburg, PA to Michaux State Forest. This will take about 20 minutes.
Be sure to plan out your day carefully, as the forest is quite large and you can find yourself in the wrong place and have to backtrack an hour or so if you aren’t careful!
ENTRANCE FEES AND REQUIRED PASSES FOR MICHAUX STATE FOREST
There are no fees to enter into Michaux State Forest.
CAMPING IN MICHAUX STATE FOREST
There are no established campgrounds inside Michaux State Forest, but there is plenty of dispersed camping. Six of the sites can be driven to, while 18 of them require campers to hike into the sites and tent camp. You can reserve car camping sites 90 days in advance and need to obtain a camping permit for all of the sites. You can reserve sites and apply for a permit here.
BEST TIME TO VISIT MICHAUX STATE FOREST
Michaux State Forest is open year-round. However, the best times of year for hiking and exploring really are when the weather is warming up and the threat of ice and snow on the trails and roads is low. This generally is after mid-March and into late November.
Bugs can be harsh here, so if you are here in the early summer, be ready for ticks. Mosquitoes are present in the summer, but calm down as fall approaches.
VISITING MICHAUX STATE FOREST IN THE WINTER
Visiting in the winter is more than welcome, but just be prepared for slick roads and only drive where it’s well-trodden. If you decide to hike, then we recommend traction (like micro-spikes) or snowshoes.
ARE PETS ALLOWED IN MICHAUX STATE FOREST?
Pets are more than welcome, must per the park website, they “must be kept under control and attended” at all times.
RELATED INFORMATION FROM JUST GO TRAVEL STUDIOS
- Be sure to send us a photo after your trip and we’ll create a custom, vintage travel poster to be sure you never forget the amazing time you had!