Hiking Pennsylvania: The Pinnacle and Pulpit Rock via the Appalachian Trail

Spotting the blazes can be tough on this trail!
Winter is less than a month away, and one of my favorite Philadelphia-area hikes is perfect no matter the season - the Pinnacle and Pulpit Rock via the Appalachian Trail.

It's long, but not too long, hilly, but not too steep, and boasts some of the best views in the area if you're willing to make the trip. It’s a must-do hike if you’re a local or if you’re planning a visit to the area.

Getting to the Trailhead 

The Pinnacle and Pulpit Rock trailhead is accessible via Reservoir Road  in Hamburg, Pennsylvania. I can get away with typing the road and city names into Google Maps to get there, given the number of times I've done the drive, but plugging "40.58213, -75.94299" into your GPS will get you within the vicinity of the trailhead parking lot.

Once you're on Reservoir Road, follow it until until you see a yellow gate. The parking lot will be on your left and a water treatment facility will be on your right.

Hiking to the Pinnacle and Pulpit Rock

Pulpit Rock and the Pinnacle are among the most popular vistas on the Pennsylvania section of the Appalachian Trail, making them perfect spots for fall foliage viewing when there are still leaves on the trees, but no matter the season, the scenery is fantastic. The forests are full of lush, dense greenery in the spring and summer, boast stunning fall colors in autumn, and in winter, it's a wonderland, assuming you have the right footwear.

There are a number of routes in the area, but the route I’ve always used is an 8.5 mile round trip loop with approximately 1,300 feet of elevation gain. From the parking lot, head beyond the yellow gate up a wide gravel road. The road turns right, and after crossing Furnace Creek on a small bridge, continue along the white blazed Appalachian Trail (AT). The blazes can be hard to spot in some places; be sure to keep your eyes open for them. On a winter trip, friends and I got completely turned around when the snow made the white blazes blend in with the scenery.

Some of the new signage on the trail, making it super easy to find your way.

You'll pass a blue blazed trail on the right about two miles in that leads to Blue Rocks Campground. On a visit to the Pinnacle and Pulpit Rock last year, I discovered newer, more obvious signs pointing to the campground and to Pulpit Rock, which is fantastic for folks who’ve never done the trail before, and for those of us who tend to have trouble finding white blazes in the woods.

The AT climbs gradually at first, then steepens, taking hikers up over large rocks to the Pulpit. It’s well worth the climb and you're rewarded with beautiful views. If you’re looking for a shorter hike, backtrack to return to your car, but if you’re in for the long haul, continue up along the AT. Believe me, it's worth it.

After the Pulpit vista, keep your eyes open for white blazes on the rocks; the trail is more obvious later on, but I’ve missed blazes on occasion because they’re difficult to see on rocks. From this point on, the trail is flat as it follows the ridgeline to the Pinnacle. After another 45-60 minutes of walking, you'll run into what I’ve affectionately dubbed the world’s largest cairn. Head straight past the 15-foot tall pile of rocks for the Pinnacle vista.

The turnoff halfway across the large open field. Don't miss it!

I like to pick up the AT along the opposite side of the ridge to head down, given I prefer loops to out-and-back hikes. After about two miles along an old road where you and your hiking companions can walk side by side, you’ll come to a large open field. Look for a left turn on to a blue blazed trail; don't miss it. If you do, you'll be following the AT to the end. The blue blazed trail follows a wide road all the way down to the Hamburg reservoir. Eventually, you’ll find yourself back at the Furnace Creek bridge at the start of the hike.

Things to Know Before You Go

No matter the season, be sure to arrive early. This is a popular hiking spot and parking can be tough to come by on the weekends. On a trip last year, we arrived at 11:00am and my hiking partner found himself parking along Reservoir Road because the parking lot was full.

There are a number of branches of Reservoir Road and other gravel roads around the trailhead. If you’re going to follow my typical route, be sure to be sure to look out for the white blazed Appalachian Trail at the beginning so you stay on track. MidAtlanticHikes.com has a great set of maps available.

The views are pretty much as good as it gets in Northeastern Pennsylvania. Amazing in fall!

Though I've done the hike a number of times in spring, summer, and fall, it's a great winter destination. If you do go in the snow, I’d recommend YakTrax or Microspikes as well as trekking poles depending on the level of snow. Also, blazes painted on the rocks may be covered in snow; be sure to keep your eyes open for the trail.

Have you been to Pulpit Rock or the Pinnacle? We’d love to hear from you!