View Full Version : Rt 72 to Rt 501

08-05-2015, 22:29

I am thinking of taking our boy scout troop on a weekend backpacking trip from PA Rt 72 to PA Rt 501. Since we have a large number of new scouts who will be backpacking first time; how bad are the rocks compared to Rt 183 to Rt 501 which we did last year? I know rocks are "everywhere" but last year we had one new scout throw is pack and cry because of the all "rock hopping".

The new scouts are great kids and I do not want to have them hate backpacking because of a lot of rock hopping.

Any advice would be appreciated.


08-06-2015, 07:19
honestly dont remember where rt 72 is but i do remember the rocks being dramatically less south of 501. so if 72 is north of 501 i'd say definitely no.

and don't ever take that kid up to wind gap, whatever you do.

08-07-2015, 20:30
Thanks tdoczi.

08-07-2015, 20:49
There will be rocks.
Maybe slightly less than 183-501.
I grew up hiking (in the scouts) Port Clinton to 183 (a few times with the troop and smaller groups) back in the 60's.
I always thought that the whole AT was full of rocks like that.
Hey. That's hiking.
But when I went to GA on my first thru-hike attempt in '77, I thought it quite easy and couldn't really understand other's complaints.
So, if you want rockless hiking, don't go to PA (at least not the east side of the Susquehanna)


08-07-2015, 23:51
I've dayhiked that area, but was only carrying a daypack. I hiked Rt 72 (Swatara Gap) across the historic Iron Bridge then climbing up to William Penn Shelter and on to Rt 645. Once you make the climb up out of Swatara Gap, it is pretty much smooth sailing to William Penn Shelter and on to Rt 645. No significant rocks. On another day, I hiked from Rt 645 back to William Penn Shelter, then back to the starting point and then to Rt 501 and back. Between 645 to 501 you will encounter a short stretch of rocks prior to 501, but that is near your destination anyway. I've hiked 501 to Round Head/ Shower Steps (which you did last year) and I remember more rocks there. I think you will enjoy it!! Have a great hike!

08-30-2015, 20:52

Are there any camp sites along the Swatara Gap section? I am thinking of hiking into the Penn Shelter Friday night, then hike to a camp site in the Gap Saturday, then Sunday morning hike out to the parking lot at Green point/Rt 72.

08-30-2015, 21:40
If you start at PA501, it is 1.9 miles to PA645, then an EASY 2.2 miles to William Penn Shelter. IIRC, there is a campsite area on the opposite side of the trail from the shelter. From William Penn Shelter, it is 7.3 miles mostly level, then descending off the ridge to pass under I81, then cross the historic Waterville Bridge over the Swatara Creek and you reach Rt72. Crossing Rt72 (carefully), you go another EASY 1.4 miles to a nice parking area off PA443 near the intersection of PA72. The PA443 lot would be a preferable place for pickup because PA72 has only shoulder parking with cars whizzing by and not very safe. Total mileage: 12.8 miles. To answer your specific question, I remember some campsites along the stretch from William Penn Shelter to PA72, perhaps just at the top of the ridge before the descent into Swatara Gap. Maybe someone else can provide more specific info. I think your direction of travel is very wise. You will have a stretch of rocks near PA501, then smooth sailing. Have a great hike!

08-30-2015, 22:27

Thanks for the information!!

08-30-2015, 22:36
Dale, if the boys are hiking from Rt. 72 (or from Rt. 443, which would be longer but safer), then they will have an ascent immediately after they cross under I-81, and while this one wouldn't bother me, if you have new scouts who have NEVER been on a backpacking trip, they may not be prepared for this. If it was MY troop, then I would probably start at Rt. 501. This parking area is right along the road, so be careful crossing, but it's big enough to unload scouts and gear, get organized, and take off. The first 2 miles (from Rt. 501 to Rt. 645), there are plenty of rocks, but there are also sections on old woods roads, and the 2.2 miles from Rt. 645 to the William Penn Shelter are also on an old woods road. There is a LEGAL campsite right along the trail here, and the water is down the north side of the ridge (OPPOSITE from the shelter). This is on State Game Lands, but as long as you are within 200 feet of the footpath AND more than 500 feet away from the water, you'll be okay. The next mile is also on an old woods road, but will veer off to the left to avoid an old eroded section (read: rocks again - the little ankle-twisters). About 2.5 miles from the shelter, you'll come to an "abandoned power line", where the trail jogs left a bit...great views, but watch for rattlers (they are everywhere on this entire section, but they love to sun on the rocks and in the horizontal cracks of this rock outcropping, so they're tough to see sometimes). After this, IIRC, the trail alternates between rock outcroppings and old woods roads until it begins its descent into Swatara Gap. Have the boys stop at the top and re-lace their boots so that their toes don't jam forward too much. I think that there are a few (very few) places on the descent that could work as a dry camp; if you want to use this area, then you might want to scout it first (and maybe leave yourselves some well-hidden water for that camp - somewhere off the trail a bit). I'm not really familiar with this end of the ridge; I know that there is a spring near the interstate, but I recall that it's undependable. There are other springs between the abandoned power line and the start of the descent, but they are WELL BELOW the ridge. (There is a stream down the north side of the ridge at the abandoned power line, but it also is down quite far - perhaps a 10 minute walk down and a 20 minute walk back up. The road curves around to the left; straight ahead at this curve is a small stream in an 8 foot deep gully. Treat this water if you use it.) On the other side of Rt. 72 there are a few campsites, but they also are dry. However, you could cache water for yourselves for this option, too. (Again, hide it well.) Hope this helps a bit. YIS, Dave C.

08-31-2015, 17:35

Thanks for the information. It is very helpful.

10-04-2015, 12:09
Hiked 72 to 541 three weeks ago before the rains came. Thought I'd get some water out of a spring about 1/3 way up the mountain, but it was pretty dry. I had just enough to get to the William Penn Shelter (about 1L, but it was close.) Great spot for troop camping across the trail from the shelter, and the spring is just 25yds down hill from camp. If I were you hiking with younger scouts, I'd definitely go 501 to 72. That way they can get the rockiest part out of the way first.

10-24-2015, 22:09
I would like to thank everyone for their advice and suggestions on our trip. We had a great hike last weekend and the section of trail was enjoyed by both the scouts and leaders.

Happy Trails