Sunday, July 13, 2014

East Route vs. West Route

Between Hancock, MD and Detweiler Junction near State College, PA there are two official routes that the Great Eastern Trail aligns with.  Either route is legitimate for a thru-hike.

Assuming a northbound hike, the decision happens in Hancock, where you turn either right or left onto the C&O Towpath.  Turning right takes the hiker to the west route.  Turning left joins the east route.  (Does this seem backwards?  Yeah it does, but it isn't.)
East and West Routes - C&O Towpath
The east route utilizes the C&O for about 8 miles. 
This view is super awesome for, like, 2 hours.
The west route follows the C&O for 30+ miles.

The towpath is almost completely flat, and while it's possible to knock out 20+ miles per day on the trail with decent camping spots and potable (although highly iodined) water, it presents numerous issues such as bike traffic, monotonous bugs, monotonous pounding of the feet, and, well, general monotony.


 East Route - Tuscarora Trail
On the east route, the GET continues on the Tuscarora Trail through Maryland before entering Pennsylvania.  The GET briefly continues on the Tuscarora to Cowan's Gap State Park where the Tuscarora and GET separate.  Highlights of this short section include:

  • Crossing the Maryland/Pennsylvania border at a nice wooded location
  • Two shelters, one with a pond
  • Hang glider ramp (don't get any ideas)
  • A biker bar atop Tuscarora Mountain
  • Potential resupply in McConnellsburg, off trail
  • Cowan's Gap State Park

East Route - Standing Stone Trail
The east route next veers onto the Standing Stone Trail.  The GET follows this trail for its entire length, meaning an eastern hike includes an automatic end-to-end of the Standing Stone Trail.  The SST leads to Greenwood Furnace State Park.  Highlights of the Standing Stone Trail include:

  • A giant stone monolith
  • Potential limited resupply in Three Springs
  • Potential limited resupply near Mapleton
  • The Thousand Steps
  • Hall of the Mountain King
  • Throne Room
  • Butler Knob Shelter
  • Rocky Ridge Natural Area

East Route - Greenwood Spur
From the northern terminus of the Standing Stone Trail, the GET follows the Greenwood Spur Trail to meet up with the Mid State Trail.  Highlights of this short trail are:

  • Greenwood Furnace State Park with some amenities
  • Alan Seeger Natural Area, a ridiculously lush and gorgeous section of trail

West Route - Green Ridge State Forest
Green Ridge State Forest is a beautiful and challenging section of the Great Eastern Trail.  Northbound hikers will get to make up for the long flat walk to get there.  Highlights include:

  • Access to official campsites and shelters - some with porta-potties!
  • Breathtaking views
  • A more thorough representation of Maryland 
  • Potential resupply in Flintstone, Maryland

West Route - Mid State Trail
The western route hiker will complete the entire Mid State Trail, starting at the Mason-Dixon Line/PA-MD border, continuing to Detweiler Junction where both routes come together, and heading to the NY line.  Highlights of the MST from Maryland to Detweiler Junction include:


  • A superb and amusing guidebook
  • Frequent register boxes or mailboxes
  • A GET diamond at the border
  • Martin Hill area
  • Sweet Root Natural Area
  • Fantastic resupply in Everett
  • Tenley Park's free camping
  • New Frontier Restaurant just off trail at Loysburg
  • Maple Run Valley, a fairy wonderland
  • More fantastic resupply in Williamsburg
  • Jo Hays Vista among others
  • A gorgeous walk through Rothrock State Forest

Okay, okay, whatever -- which one is best?

Both of 'em.  I cannot recommend one route over the other; it depends on your strengths and weaknesses and what you want to get out of your hike and what kinds of challenges you appreciate.

In terms of overall difficulty, the western route is moderately more challenging due to being longer and also the rockiness of MST Sections 7, 3, and 2 in particular.  The western route has significant water issues and also lacks legal camping locations along some sections of the MST, leading to long days.

BUT...The western route is easier in that there is only one guide/map set needed (other than printing the free Green Ridge State Forest maps) and it is fantastic. The western route is also much easier for quality resupply.  Also, there are many stretches of the southern route that I would rate as very easy, terrain-wise.


The eastern route's difficulties are that it requires no fewer than three guides/map sets of varying updatedness.  There are frequent rocky sections (particularly the Stone Mountain section of the SST).  It is also very challenging to resupply on this stretch and a maildrop would not be a bad idea.

BUT... The eastern route holds perhaps more iconic locations.  Overall, its water situation is sufficient - while there are dry (and rocky) sections, they are not nearly as long or arduous as the western route's.  The east route also spends less time on the C&O, which for me is a plus but might not be for you.

Choose your own adventure! 
-jo

4 comments:

  1. one of the best section-hikes along the entire GET and I highly recommend it, whether you have a few days to thoroughly enjoy it or whether you have a day to hit some of the highlights. This trail has far-reaching views, a sweet tower, a hidden spring, flowing streams, easy grades, and is well-maintained.

    hiking Malakoff Diggins
    hiking trails at Malakoff Diggins SHP

    Malakoff Diggins SHP
    Malakoff Diggins SHP

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  2. I'm going to hike from Maryland to New York. I was going to do this on the Mid State Trail but am considering the Standing Stone Trail as an option as well. Do you happen to know what the mileage difference is between the two routes?

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  3. Warm weather means hammocks for me. Between a tent and a hammock, I'm partial to the latter because there's nothing like the sensation of weightlessness. Hanging between trees, there's a sense of solitude and I get lulled to sleep. Most have nettings to keep bugs and mosquitoes away. There's a lot of affordable hammocks today so read a few reviews here to give you ideas: http://myoutdoorslife.com/gear/camping-and-hiking/the-best-led-flashlight.html

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