Discovering Hiking History at the Appalachian Trail Musuem

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The Appalachian Trail is one of America’s best hiking paths. Extending 2,200 miles from Georgia to Maine, the trail is popular with day-hikers, those going for short backpacking trips, and even with hikers doing the entire trail.

The trail passes through 14 different states, of which 230 miles are in Pennsylvania, including the trails midway point. Near the midway point of the trail in Cumberland County, Pennsylvania, you’ll find the Appalachian Trail Museum.

The Appalachian Trail Museum is located in a historic 200-year-old gristmill in Pine Grove Furnace State Park. It opened to the public in 2010 and is directly along this famous trail. Interestingly, this was the first museum in the United States dedicated to a single hiking trail.

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The Appalachian Trail Museum in Pennsylvania
The Appalachian Trail Museum is located in a historic gristmill.

The museum is located adjacent to the Pine Grove Furnace General Store, which is best known for the half-gallon challenge where those hiking the entire trail attempt to eat an entire half-gallon of ice cream in one sitting.

The Appalachian Trail Museum has exhibits on three different floors. There is no internal access to the three levels. So, while visits to the museums start on the middle level, you actually have to exit the building to visit the top floor and the basement of the museum.

Through the main entrance, visitors pass through a gift shop featuring a variety of Appalachian Trail souvenirs and books about local subjects.

Historic signs in the Appalachian Trail Museum in PA's Pine Grove Furnace State Park
The main floor features some historic exhibits about the trail.

The main floor of the museum features information on the history of the Appalachian Trail, information about the trail itself, and the story of several people who have had a major impact on the trail’s history.

The most obvious artifact in the museum is a shelter built along the Appalachian Trail in the early 1960s by Earl Shaffer. Shaffer was a York County, PA native and is recognized as the first person to hike the entire Appalachian Trail, which he did for the first time in 1948.

In addition to the shelter, the museum has an entire display on Shaffer’s impact on the trail. He actually hiked the entire trail three times, last doing so in 1998 at the age of 79.

Appalachian Trail hikers at the Appalachian Trail Museum in Pennsylvania
The museum features information about some of the most influential hikers in the trail’s history.
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Of course, Shaffer wasn’t the only person that had an impact on the trail, and the museum is actually home to the Appalachian Trail Hall of Fame which honors some of the most impactful men and women annually. While this is only a small portion of the displays in the museum, it’s still a neat aspect to the space.

The main floor of the museum also contains detailed displays highlighting some of the other people impactful to the early development and popularization of the Appalachian Trail.

One of these was Grandma Gatewood. In 1955, at the age of 67, she told her children she was going on a walk. This walk turned into her being the first woman to hike the Appalachian Trail in one season. In the museum, you can see some of her personal belongings alongside information about her incredible life.

Signage in the Appalachian Trail Museum in Gardners PA
The museum is full of fascinating information about the trail.

The museum’s upper floor is still a work in progress having only been recently open with displays.

Here, you’ll find some sparse signage about what life is like on the trail for those that hike the entire Appalachian Trail. As someone who hasn’t ever done any backpacking, I found this information to be interesting, but those with backpacking experience or who are hiking the trail will likely only find this information marginally interesting.

In a small space above the upper floor, there is also a research library with books on the outdoors and the trail.

The bottom floor of the Appalachian Trail Museum features a large number of bright and colorful displays that offer information about each state along the trail.

Signage in the basement of the Appalachian Trail Museum in Pine Grove Furnace State Park
The lower floor of the museum features great signage and fun activities for kids.

While this floor is the most kid-friendly and features some fun activities for kids, it’s by no means just for children. In fact, the signage here is among the best in the museum and does offer a wealth of information about the highlights of each of the 14 states the trail passes through.

For those with kids, there are several play areas here that offer kids the chance to learn a bit about hiking and the trail while having fun.

Overall, the Appalachian Trail Museum is a neat spot to check out if you love hiking or are interested in the story and history of the Appalachian Trail. While it might not be worth going far out of your way to see, this is definitely a spot worth checking out if you find yourself in Pine Grove State Park, Michaux State Forest, or the surrounding area.

I’d also say it’s easily among the best free museums in Pennsylvania.

Looking for more places to visit nearby? Check out the ruins of Camp Michaux, Caledonia Falls, White Rocks Trail, and our favorite things to do in Gettysburg.


Appalachian Trail Museum

Hours: Friday-Sunday: 9a-4p
Open May – September

Cost: Free

Website: ATMuseum.org

Address: 1120 Pine Grove Rd
Gardners, PA 17324

 

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