Gifford Pinchot State Park: Am I Unbalanced or Is It Just That Rock?

Lisa was out of town on business and I was free. My side-squeeze is always a beautiful tramp – on a trail of my choice. I chose the Lakeside Trail at Gifford Pinchot State Park in Lower Warrington Township, PA.

I arrived at the Pinchot Park Conewego Day Use Area to find a packed parking lot. I shouldn’t have been surprised – it was Labor Day weekend – but I was, given the global pandemic that was (and still is) ravaging our nation. I stepped out of the car into bright sunshine and eighty-four degrees. The area was dotted with picnic tables and I could see the lake glittering through a haze of grill-smoke. Shouldering my daypack, I struck out down a gravel walkway amidst holiday weekend revelers.

Near the day use area, the trail was crowded and, as usual, the Labor Day trail-crawlers were not concerned with social distancing. Everyone was wearing a mask (there was a public mandate in force), but seemed convinced that, once donned, the mask negated the need to give others space. As I mentioned in Switchback Jacks, Trail Hogs, and Trash Trolls, I took it upon my self to step aside and allow people to pass. Once I put some distance between myself and the day use area, the problem all but disappeared.

Pinchot Lake was to my right as I entered the woods that lay southwest of the day use area. I crossed a small bridge where a sign confirmed that I had indeed found the Lakeside Trail. It ran wide and smooth through the forest that surrounds Pinchot Lake, offering up frequent views of the water. Pinchot Lake, long and narrow, is relatively small, covering only six-tenths of a square mile. The trail continued by some small cabins and into the Gifford Pinchot State Park Campground where I had to walk along the road for almost a mile. When I again found myself on a proper dirt path, I was still on the Lakeside Trail, but now I was also scuffing my boots on an old friend – the Mason-Dixon.

The 196 mile Mason-Dixon Trail connects the Appalachian Trail with The Brandywine Trail at Chadd’s Ford, Pennsylvania. Starting near Mt. Holly Springs, PA, the MDT winds its way through Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Delaware, before returning to the Keystone State to terminate at the Brandywine River. I would be hiking just south of the Chadd’s Ford trailhead a few weeks later. There are many beautiful sections of the Mason-Dixon Trail, although a full thirty percent of its length is on roads.

The MDT/Lakeview Trail turned north and threaded its way through woodlands where wildflowers flecked the brush on each side of the trail. The path swung west of the lake. Small wooden bridges conveyed me across tiny brooks, and, once back on the dirt, I stepped over and under fallen trees. Eventually the Lakeside Trail returned to the lakeside where purple loosestrife shot up out of the thick grasses that bordered the water. As I surveyed the small lake, I noticed a bridge crossing its southwest tip. This was Rosstown Road. I clambered up the bank, then traipsed across the bridge and down onto the opposing shore, where I passed through a small stone gate. I started back northeast.

The trail was closer and more narrow on this side. Upon crossing the bridge, I left the Mason-Dixon Trail behind and was now back solely on the yellow-blazed Lakeside Trail. People had mainly disappeared and I had just settled into a nice rhythm when I came to a small wooden bridge. Beyond was a large open area filled with merrymakers. A large parking lot served an equally enormous picnic and swimming area. Everywhere, sun-worshiping Pennsylvanians had staked out plots and were eating, playing games, and running back and forth from blankets to water. I beat a circuitous route through the throngs, happy to reclaim my solitude at the continuation of the trail on the other side.

Beyond the crowds, the trail tracked close to the shoreline. Through breaks in the trees, I could see kayaks and sailboats skimming across the glittering lake. Cattails swayed in the breeze just offshore. For the next two miles, I hiked on a well-maintained, single-track path, passing few others and enjoying the views of the lake. I circumnavigated what looked like a large earthen dam, although no creek or stream ran from the lake. At least none that I could see.

Once I had plunged back into the woods on the southeast side of the lake, it was back to single-track hiking. This side was the nicest trail I had yet encountered. It sliced through the woods close to the water and there were more frequent views of the sparkling lake. The sun had sailed into the western sky, but was still high enough that its light shimmered platinum on the water’s surface. Seven miles were behind me; two lay ahead, with one and a half to the feature of this route I had deemed most interesting: a balanced rock.

I mentioned in my recent post Balanced Rocks and Tight Squeezes, that there are a lot of rocks in the United States that purport to be balanced on something. Some are impressive in their precariousness, others not so much. The balance rock at Gifford Pinchot State Park fell solidly (of course it’s a pun!) into the “not so much” category. I took a short spur to Boulder Point. The point is aptly named – there were several large boulders strewn about the wooded headland – including the one in question. Looking like a beached whale, a massive oval rock sat in a clearing, resting on half-buried bedrock. Was it balanced? Meh. To be fair, it was resting primarily on two points and daylight could be seen underneath. The wow-factor was pretty low, though. Here are the pics – you be the judge.

After viewing the less-than-stellar, “Look, Ma! Two feet!,” kinda-balanced rock, I headed for the trailhead. I traipsed back into the Conewego Day Use Area, weaving and darting around the remaining Labor Day lake-goers, many of whom were in the process of packing up and collecting their wayward children whose batteries, as per usual, had yet to wear down.

The Lakeside Trail at Gifford Pinchot State Park has beautiful lake views and a well-maintained path, making for a pleasant nine miles of hiking. The balanced rock was more stable than stunning, but overall, this is a worthwhile route with or without a teetering stone monument. Check it out if you get the chance and let me know if that rock is “balanced” or if I’m just jaded.  Yes, that was also a pun! ♦

Date: September 6, 2020
Location: Lower Warrington Township, PA
Trailhead: 40.071836, -76.888444
Distance: 9.1 miles
Elevation Gain: 295 feet
Difficulty: Moderate

BIT|Hiker acknowledges the Indigenous peoples who are the original inhabitants of the lands on which we hike. Our research for this post indicated we were on ancestral lands of the Susquehannock.

4 thoughts on “Gifford Pinchot State Park: Am I Unbalanced or Is It Just That Rock?

  1. Looks like a great hike, but I am with you. Why is it that during the pandemic, people only hear what they want to hear and ignore the rest? Not worth getting into an altercation for, but I wish they would at least give me distance as we pass, instead of walking/running/ cycling by without warning and then shouting a very moist Hello in my direction as they pass. When I take matters into my own hands and step aside/climb a snow bank/wade through shallow water to avoid them, they look at me like I am the crazy one. I have come to the conclusion we can only protect ourselves and therefore just act accordingly. Keep on hiking and stay well. Allan

    Liked by 1 person

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