Cove Mountain is one of the little known secret treasures within the state of Pennsylvania. Not only is it unique geologically, but also its solitude from its geology makes this mountain a must do for anyone in the Capitol Area. Locate just fifteen miles north of Harrisburg on the west side of the river, Cove Mountain rises above the well known Appalachian Trail town of Duncannon in a steep and rugged fashion.
The most interesting section of trail is within two miles of where the A.T. heads into the woods below Duncannon. Hawk Rocks is one of the most scenic vistas in Central PA and all the way east to The Pinnacle . This point similarly resembles The Pinnacle in style, but is not near the scale in size. From Hawk Rocks you can look nearly vertically down into Sherman Creek and ponder a route up the rocky escarpments northerly face. Views extend west nearly a hundred miles to PA's true highlands around Blue Knob and the Pennsylvania Turnpike. To the north you can see Bald Eagle Mountain along with the lower summits of Perry County. As you look to the east/northeast you'll see the gently rolling waters of the Susquehanna River as it makes its bend towards the "Capitol City". Peters Mountain is directly east across the vast spread of water.
Cove Mountain consists of two ridge lines which run parallel on the east end and converge at a western point to create a V-shape. To many this would just appear to be another collision of ridges, but with the trained eye of a geologist, you'll find that this is one of the largest synclines in the entire state Pennsylvania. The syncline sits up in angling down to the east. Predominately made of sandstone, you'll also find a mix of conglomerate and quartz within the bedrock outcroppings of this mountain. As you'll find on your ascent, the A.T. crosses a huge colluvial slope (rock slide) which is actually a little uncommon to this area. If you travel farther north or west, this type of geologic landscape is common, but this is place is one of a kind for its area. In comparing the colluvial slopes of Cove Mountain and other parts of the state, you'll find that this slide as considerably older than the others as the rock is now anchored by trees and other vegetation which has been around for a considerable time.
Hawk Rocks is a large sandstone outcropping which reaches an overhang in terms of vertical profile by the time you reach the top. The Appalachian Trail actually bypasses the cliffs as the A.T. usually does and heads up a steep slope on the western side of Hawk Rocks. If you want to climb up the northerly face of Hawk Rocks it’s just a short bushwhack up and over some rocks until you reach the base of the cliffs. If you do decide you want some excitement on the escarpment, you'll bushwhack up some class three slabs of sandstone and then over some boulders to the base. At this point you'll see the rugged face towering about sixty feet over your head in the form of an overhang with a minor ledge system. From here it is all Class 4. If you pick the right line you can keep it to Class 3-4, but if you choose the wrong route you'll definitely want your rope. For those who don't need the excitement in their life, the Appalachian Trail never crosses Class 2 as it bends up and around to the top of Hawk Rocks.
Access to the Appalachian Trail is best reached by way of the south side of Duncannon's main street (PA 274).
From Harrisburg :
From downtown Harrisburg head across the river on one of the city's many bridges. Once you get to the other side you're sure to find a sign for Route 11/15. You'll want to get onto 11/15 north. The highway will follow the river for about fifteen miles until you reach the exit for Duncannon. The sign will say PA 274. You'll want to turn left on the main drag towards the Ford dealership which will be shortly after you exit from 11/15. From here head back the road across Sherman Creek where the road will come to a dead end. You'll see the white blazes on the trees along the road. They will eventually lead you to where the trail leaves the street and heads into the woods.
From Sunbury :
Head south on Route 11/15 all the way to Duncannon which will be about thirty miles. Exit at the sign for PA 274. You'll want to follow 274 east. Head all the way through the south end of town to the Ford dealership and across Sherman Creek where the road comes to a dead end. You'll see the white blazes on the trees along the road. They will eventually lead you to where the trail leaves the street and heads into the woods.
There are no permits required to hike on this leg of the Appalachian Trail up to Hawk Rocks. For parking, turn your car around so that it is facing town and just pull off along the road which reaches a dead end after it crosses Sherman Creek. For conservation purposes follow the "LEAVE NO TRACE" program and you'll be fine as will the environment.
When To Climb
This mountain is climbable at all times of the year with fall being the prettiest. You don't have to worry so much about hunters in the fall because not many hunters are willing to take the effort to get onto this rugged terrain. If you would be to attempt a climb of the northerly face with PA's not so friendly winter conditions, you'll need all your technical gear. Otherwise this is a beautiful mountain in all seasons.
There is no camping on Cove Mountain. The only place to stay over night would be at the Cove Mountain Shelter which is approximately 3.3 miles from Duncannon.
For current and up to date weather conditions click on the link below.
- Appalachian Trail Conference
This is the web page for the A.T. non-profit organization that is dedicated to the upkeeping and promotion of the Appalachian Trail.
- Appalachian Trail Page
This page has everything to do with the A.T. and has lots of links to other great A.T. sites.
- A.T. resource page
This is a resource page that gives you everything you need to know about hiking on the Appalachian Trail.
- Hawk Rock Photos
This page has lots of pictures of and from Hawk Rock.