Explore, Enjoy, and Protect the Planet

On The Trail — June 2011

Thousand Steps: A Great Workout with Beautiful Scenery

by Helena Kotala

If you’re looking for a great workout, beautiful scenery, and a hike that’s a little different than the rest, head over to the Thousand Steps, located between the towns of Mapleton and Mount Union.

The Steps get their name because there literally are about one thousand stone steps leading up the south side of Jacks Mountain. The Steps were originally built as a way for employees of a silica brick company to commute to work every day.

Between 1900 and 1952, the company Harbison-Walker operated quarries on Jacks Mountain to mine ganister — a type of Tuscarora sandstone used in the production of silica bricks. During those years, about 500,000 silica bricks were produced every day in Mount Union, which came to be known as the “Silica Brick Capital of the World,” according to an informational sign located near the beginning of the Steps. Small railroad lines were built to take the ganister to the bottom of the mountain, but the quarry workers had to hike up the mountain every day to work, thus the creation of the steps. Currently, the steps and 5,341 surrounding acres are managed by the Pennsylvania Game Commission (as State Game Lands 112) and preserved for public enjoyment.

The parking area and trailhead for the Thousand Steps is rather inconspicuous — just a gravel parking area on the north side of Route 22, and a small sign where the trail begins. The actual stone steps do not begin until about a hundred yards up the mountain, so you cannot see them from the road or parking area. When you do this hike, make sure to wear sturdy and comfortable shoes, bring plenty of water and perhaps a snack, and go at your own pace. You can go fast and get an excellent “stairmaster” workout, or you can take frequent breaks to rest, admire the scenery, or take pictures.

While hiking on the Steps, watch out for snakes, especially during the summer months. Most are not poisonous and none of them will harm you if you leave them alone. However, do watch where you step or sit so that you don’t accidentally surprise one.

At the top of the Steps, you can continue hiking north as far as you want on the Standing Stone Trail (formerly known as the Link Trail), which is a 72-mile hiking trail that extends from Cowans Gap State Park near McConnellsburg, PA to Greenwood Furnace State Park, or you can just turn around and head back down after taking a moment to enjoy the stunning views of the surrounding mountains and the Juniata River winding through Jacks Narrows. The trip to the top of the Steps and back is a little over a mile. At the bottom of the Steps, you can take a moment to wade in the small stream to cool off before the drive home.

If you go: From State College, take Rt. 26 south to Huntingdon, then go east on Rt. 22 approximately 9.5 miles. Shortly past the town of Mapleton, you will see the Juniata River close to the road on the right side, and a gravel pull-off on the left. Park in the gravel area and look for a small trail heading up the mountain.

Helena Kotala is the Outings Co-Chair for the Moshannon Group of the Sierra Club. Upcoming outings are listed on the Moshannon Group Outings page