Thousand Steps Trail

The 1,000 Steps trail makes for a great hike around the Jack’s Narrows area.  While there are many great partial views along this trail, it features four primary vistas: Mapleton Overlook, Mount Union Incline Vista, Shaughnessy Run Vista and Shorbs Summit Vista. This particular route is 9.7 miles long, has a minimum elevation gain of 1,880 feet and a cumulative elevation gain of 3,660 feet.

The trailhead is located along Rt. 22 approximately 1.9 miles west of the the Rt. 22 and Rt. 747 intersection near Mount Union, PA.  From the parking lot head east about 150 feet and turn left (north) after the small creek. From that point there will be signs directing you to “The Steps”.

The Steps are quite remarkable, there are over 1,000 of them and they were created in 1936 by the workers who climbed them every morning and then spent their day working in the ganister quarries. The Thousand Steps are divided into about 12 smaller more manageable “flights” of various lengths with rest areas scattered throughout. It took me about 30 minutes to climb the 800 feet to the top of the steps with brief pauses to take pictures at each flight.

Here is the text from the sign at the bottom of Thousand Steps:

Welcome to the Thousand Steps. Here, amidst the rugged grandeur of Jack’s Narrows are important remnants of regional industrial and transportation history, tangible reminders of a work ethic which helped transform a nation and a story of a community partnership that coalesced to preserve the tract for future generations.

The Juniata River carved a strategic east-west passage through a chain of mountains known to geologists as the Ridge and Valley Province.  Native American paths, stagecoach roads, an early 19th century turnpike, the Pennsylvania Canal, the Pennsylvania Railroad and the William Penn Highway have all utilized Jack’s Narrows below.

Abundant reserves of ganister, a Tuscarora sandstone used in the production of silica bricks, led to the construction of three refractories and Mount Union’s position as the “Silica Brick Capital of the World.”  The heat resistant refractory products were crucial to the steel, iron, glass railroad and other industries.  Harbison-Walker utilized quarries on both sides of the Narrows between 1900 and 1952.  Miles of dinkey railroad grade and six inclined planes were used to remove the ganister to the refractory.  At their peak, Mount Union’s refractories employed 2,000 people and produced an estimated 500,000 silica bricks per day.

The Thousand Steps were constructed about 1936 by Harbison-Walker employees.  A challenging hike today, the steps were a commute to a long and difficult workday in Ledge Quarry.  It is to the memory of these workers and their brethren in Mount Union’s refractories, the the members of the Save Our Steps Committee pay special tribute.

The Committee was formed in 1996, when loss of public access to the property was imminent.  Thanks to a partnership that included the Central Pennsylvania Conservancy, Mount Union Area Historical Society, Keystone trails Association and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania among others, public and financial support was rallied and the Thousand Steps and the surrounding 669 acres were preserved for future enjoyment.  The project would not have been possible without the financial support of those listed on the opposite side of this sign.

Today the tract is managed by the Pennsylvania Game Commission.  It includes threatened species, unusual fossils, a diversity of plant and wildlife and several miles of the Mid-State Tuscarora Link Hiking Trail.  Please respect the fragility of the natural and cultural features and enjoy your visit.

A COMMUNITY
CONSERVATION PARTNERSHIP INITIATIVE

Funding assistance from
Keystone Recreation, Park and Recreation Fund

Administered by the
Bureau of Recreation and Conservation
Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources

While ordinarily I’m against any sort of graffiti, I did appreciate that someone had discretely numbered every 100th step as it helped mark my progress and made the goal of reaching the top seem more easily attainable. Seeing “1000” written in black Sharpie was very satisfying. It wasn’t raining at the time of my hike but there was a small waterfall streaming down the steps near the very top.

Once you reach the top of the steps, you can take the blue trail to the right (east) or the orange trail to the left (west).  The blue trail is .3 miles long and leads to the Mount Union Incline Vista.  An outdated sign currently marks the orange trail as the Link Trail but it is actually part of the 1,600 mile long Great Eastern Trail and the 76 mile long Standing Stone Trail which leads to Greenwood Furnace State Park approximately 36 miles to the north. The orange blazed Standing Stone Trail also passes three great local vistas, Mapleton Overlook at .5 miles, Shaughnessy Run Vista at 2.5 miles and Shorbs Summit Vista at 3.8 miles.

The Dinkey House is a short .15 miles west from the top of the Thousand Steps along the Link Trail.

The orange blazed Standing Stone Trail is quite level and has a very gradual ascent when compared to the Thousand Steps. The only exceptions being at the switchbacks but even they aren’t very steep. I didn’t notice much wildlife on this particular hike but the scenery was very nice.  The trees vary from standard PA deciduous woods to stands of Hemlocks, White Pines and Scrub Pines.

Mapleton Overlook Pictures

Mount Union Incline Vista Pictures

Shaughnessy Run Vista Pictures

Shorbs Summit Vista Pictures

  • Nearest Town: Mount Union, PA, USA
  • Nearest Park: State Game Lands #112, Rothrock State Forest
  • Dog Friendly: Yes but must hike over 1,000 steps.

6 thoughts on “Thousand Steps Trail

  1. I went on the 29th of Janurary with my nephew, husband, and aver close friend (son). Our son and myself made it o the 100th step but unfortinaly because of my fear of height I got very dizzy and our son had to help me back down the mountain but I at least made it to the 100th step. I am not done until I reach the tip top of the mountain.

  2. Great current report of what I have long considered the one “must-do” hike of southcentral PA! The “Link Trail” is now known as Standing Stone Trail, but it’s expensive and bureaucratically difficult to replace all the signs. See the trail website at http://www.hike-sst.org There is much to discover on the SST’s ~75 mile traverse of the Tiltrock Country – hope to meet you on the trail someday!

  3. Thousand steps is probably my favorite hike in Pennsylvania. I have been doing it at least once a year since learning about it in 2002. To get the full experience you need to get to the very top of the mountain. Either by following the trail at the top of the steps, or climbing up the old quarry face. The view is inspirational!

  4. Thanks for the detailed info and pictures for this trail. I really appreciate the fact that you post decent pictures on your hiking site, as it is rather uncommon for PA hiking websites. I live in Hershey, but have overlooked this hike for a while in favor of others. Thanks to your pictures, I think I will check this one out this year. Do you have some favorite hikes within an hour or so of Harrisburg? I tend to do most my hiking in the Endless Mountain Region of the state.

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