There are a lot of great hiking trails that end at overlooks throughout the state. And one of the best is the trail to Hawk Rock Overlook along the Appalachian Trail in Duncannon, Pennsylvania. Seeing as I live in Harrisburg, only about 30 minutes away from the trailhead, this hike has been on my radar for a while now, but it was only recently that I was finally able to check it out.
After driving north along the beautiful banks of the Susquehanna River, and driving through the quaint downtown of Duncannon, I arrived at the trailhead for the hike. The hike up Hawk Rock is only a little over a mile, but gains over 700 feet in elevation and contains many large rocks, so it is certainly a bit difficult.
The trail itself is quite easy to follow. If you come in the way I did (See below for directions), you’ll meet up with the Appalachian Trail from your left. Keep going straight, following the white blazes to the top of Cove Mountain. Along the way, be prepared to navigate some very rocky sections of the trail. In fact, you’re likely to fully understand why many Appalachian Trail hikers refer to Pennsylvania as “Rocksylvania.”
Hawk Rock Overlook is a large rock outcropping at the top of the mountain, and the view from the top is simply stunning. Spread out below you is the borough of Duncannon and the winding Susquehanna River. From this point, you can see north along the river for many miles, including the confluence of the Susquehanna and Juniata Rivers.
The beauty of the view and relatively easy trip to the top has made Hawk Rock Overlook a popular place for locals and one of the most famous views along the Appalachian Trail. Unfortunately, this popularity has also brought trash and graffiti to the overlook, in addition to a large number of hikers.
Fortunately, there is a secret overlook nearby that provides much better views. However, you have to know how to find it because the trail can be difficult to find and there are no signs indicating the way. (Again, directions below)
From Cove Mountain Overlook, you’ll have an expansive view of the Susquehanna River and Duncannon. While it is similar to the view from Hawk Rock Overlook in many regards, it is much, much better in my opinion, though there is a bit of noise from the highway and train tracks below.
Overall, the hike to Hawk Rock Overlook and Cove Mountain is definitely one of the best and most rewarding in the Harrisburg area. If you haven’t yet done this hike, I highly recommend it.
And, just to give you an idea of how awesome it is, check out this time-lapse video I put together from Cove Mountain Overlook, and then scroll down to find out how to get there!
How to Get to Hawk Rock Overlook and Cove Mountain Overlook
Park your car at the following coordinates: 40.383009, -77.033086. This is a gravel parking lot behind some residential homes, and is only accessible by crossing the bridge over Sherman Creek from downtown Duncannon. You can also park along Inn Road across from Tubby’s Nightclub if parking is full.
While you can hike along the Appalachian Trail from near the nightclub, I’ve been told that accessing it from the first parking area listed is easiest.
From the main parking area, you’ll see a trail going uphill, next to the road, which continues straight for a bit. Take the trail uphill.
While steep, the trail is easy to follow and relatively smooth. After about 10 minutes, you’ll see the Appalachian Trail coming in from your left. You’ll want to keep going straight, but from here on, you can follow the white blazes on the trees.
A few more minutes up the trail, it gets very rocky, and you’ll have to watch your step as you carefully pick your way across the rock field. It’s in this area where the blazes are rather helpful in keeping you on the trail.
Once you leave the rocks behind, you have another 5-10 minutes of hiking in front of you before you reach Hawk Rock Overlook. Overall, expect the hike to take roughly 30 minutes to complete.
After you’ve had your fill over Hawk Rock Overlook, you can head back down the mountain, or you can continue to Cove Mountain Overlook for a better view.
To get to this overlook, continue following the Appalachian Trail to the crest of the ridge, which is less than 100 yards from Hawk Rock Overlook. On your left, you will see a small open area with a fire pit in the middle. Looking at the fire pit, you’ll be able to see a small trail heading off at roughly the 9 o’clock position.
This trail follows along the ridge line of Cove Mountain and is relatively flat. At points, this trail is wide and easy to follow, but at other times, it can be narrow and even a bit difficult to pinpoint. Fortunately, those areas aren’t too common, and you should have little trouble figuring out the path of the trail, which is basically straight along the mountaintop. It should be noted, however, that this trail is not an official one and doesn’t receive much traffic. Because of this, I can only recommend this route for experienced hikers.
Depending on how fast you walk, it will take you 10-15 minutes to get to Cove Mountain Overlook. The overlook is really just a small rock outcropping, barely big enough for a handful of people to congregate. The outcropping sits a few feet below the ridge line, but at the very edge of the mountain.
To get back to your car from this second overlook, you have two choices. Both are behind you, where you’ll see a fork in the trail.
Heading along the left trail will allow you to retrace your steps back to Hawk Rock and go back down along that trail. If it is at all icy on the trail, this is what I would recommend.
The second way allows you to make a loop, but is rather difficult as it follows a narrow and rocky unmarked path. To follow this path, take the right split. The trail will very quickly become very narrow shortly after leaving the overlook, before widening out. Follow the rocky old creek bed down the hill. While there are no markings, the path of the rocks is easy enough to follow. After hiking for about 10 minutes, you’ll come to the Appalachian Trail. If you parked where I recommended, head left (if you parked at the nightclub, turn right).
After a few minutes hiking the Appalachian Trail, you’ll reach a split at an obvious trail. Turn right to head downhill towards your car.
Want to hike more great trails? Check out the nearby views from Fort Hunter Conservancy or the hike to White Rocks which is further south on the Appalachian Trail. You can also explore our list of the best parks and hiking trails near Harrisburg.
[Click here for information on how to use the coordinates in this article to find your destination.]