Why I hiked the Mason Dixon Trail

Five years ago, after walking on a blue-blazed trail near Otter Creek, York County, PA, I ordered the Mason Dixon Trail 10-map set. I had enjoyed the Otter Creek loop and was eager to hike more of the Mason Dixon. However, after scouring the maps, I realized that the trail included road walking. Since I hike with my dogs, I packaged up the maps and stored them with my “some day” map collection.

During the 2020 Covid months, I chose to hike fairly close to home, rather than driving 8 hours to the Appalachian Trail sections l that I had not yet conquered. One weekday, I picked a short new-to-me path in a nearby state park. The trail was marked with sky blue blazes and I walked to where it “ended” at the Pinchot State Park border. At what I had planned to be my turnaround point, I noticed blue blazes signaling a right turn onto a country road. It was then that I realized this was part of the Mason Dixon Trail, and the dogs and I walked on, following the markings that led us down several roadways in Warrington Township.

At home, I rummaged through my hiking drawer, retrieved the package of maps, and spread out the Mason Dixon Trail pathway on my kitchen table. Since I had committed to hike a minimum of 4 miles daily throughout the summer, I decided to embark on the M-D T. After a search of the Mason Dixon Trail Club website, I realized that they had been busy rerouting the trail from roads to earth trails. I joined the club, purchased the latest map series and sketched out my plan.

The M-D T is considered a Trail System, with roadways connecting various trail paths from Boiling Springs to Chadds Ford, PA. The 199 mile system travels from Pennsylvania, through Maryland and Delaware and returns to the Keystone State. It is broken into 10 map sections. I completed maps 1-4 on out-and-back hikes, meaning I walked the routes twice. I walked maps 5 through 10 in one direction: west to east.

Mason Dixon Trailhead on Whiskey Spring Road, Boiling Springs, PA

Maps: Paper and Digital

Since there is not a digital map version of the entire Mason Dixon, I recorded my walks and created my own downloadable versions via AllTrails Pro. My maps are broken into 10 sections, matching the paper map routes. I have added waypoints for parking and restrooms, some copied from the paper maps and others found during my journey.

I have also created 11 pages on this blog site: Mason Dixon description page and 10 map summaries. The main description page includes the section map and a link to the individual pages, which can also be accessed in the top navigation under “Trail Maps/Mason Dixon Trail”. Each page includes photos, a description of the trail section and the AllTrails map.

Highlights of the Mason Dixon Trail

Views of the Susquehanna River

The Mason Dixon Trail runs near or along the Susquehanna River for approximately 100 miles. The trail veers away from the river’s edge, but provides beautiful climbs to overlooks and pathways along river tributaries and creeks. Views from the Urey Overlook, Holtwood Dam, Greenbranch overlook, Peavine Island and Susquehanna State Park (Maryland) are lovely. Equally enjoyable are the numerous “runs” that connect to the Susquehanna: Boyd’s Run, Cuff’s Run and Wilson’s Run are just a few.

Greenbranch overlook

The Locks

The Tidewater Canal once connected Wrightsville, PA to Havre de Grace, MD, providing a method of commerce trade from Harrisburg to the Chesapeake Bay region. The canal was 43 miles long and paralleled the Susquehanna River. Completed in 1840, it was later abandoned in 1895. Today, remnants of Lock 12 and 15 remain, both areas renovated as local parks. Historical markers provide details about the locks’ structure and trade industry. Learn more from the Susquehanna National Heritage Area.

Lock 12

State Parks

White Clay Creek State Park

Historical sites

The trail passes historical buildings, bridges, native lands, kilns and markers of events. Old homes and cemeteries inspire thoughts of “I wonder what it was like”. This may not be unique to the Mason Dixon trail, as many long distance pathways weave in and out of towns with history. But for me, I gained insight and appreciation of events that occurred in and near my home state.

Wrightsville Lime Kilns

Birds

Close proximity to the Susquehanna provides many opportunities to see a variety of birds. I am not very knowledgable about birds, but recognized the following: blue herons, egrets, sea gulls, hawks, bald eagles, turkey buzzards (vultures), Canadian geese and mallard ducks. We also saw blue birds and wild turkeys and heard a woodpecker in the Susquehanna State Park.

Turkey Buzzards fill the trees at Fisherman’s Wharf and Park, MD

Connecting the Appalachian Trail

In April 2020, I decided to re-hike the northern Maryland sections of the AT with my dogs. In the summer, podcast guru and friend, Julie “Jester” Gayheart was hiking in my state and I decided to join her for some southern PA miles. Later in the year, my husband, son and a friend embarked on the Hike Across Maryland, aiming to complete the 41 miles in 15 hours or less. I was their support person, parking the SUV, running in to meet them and then hiking out with the group, providing them refuel and hydration. When the friend dropped out of the challenge, I jumped in, completing 25 miles with the guys and finishing off the state of Maryland.

Gathland State Park

After completing the Mason Dixon Trail on December 13, 2020, I added the mileage to my annual compilation map. It was then that I realized that I could connect Harper’s Ferry to Chadds Ford. I was missing 45 miles and scheduled 5 hikes to close the gap before the end of the year. On December 28, I wrapped up the 290.9 miles of the AT and Mason Dixon.

Hiking from Harper’s Ferry to Chadds Ford connects two areas steeped in early American History. It is also a pathway highlighted by water: the Shenandoah, Potomac, Susquehanna and Brandywine rivers and the Chesapeake Bay. The trails travel through towns and across forest, mountain, farm and game lands providing a glimpse of life in Maryland, Pennsylvania and Delaware.

Learn more:

Gathland State Park, the former home of Civil War journalist, George Alfred Townsend

Jester Section Hiker Podcast #80 – Mason Dixon Trail

Listen to my conversation with Julie “Jester” Gayheart. We talk about the Mason Dixon Trail and go off a side trail tangent about giving back to the trail community. Click below to access the podcast information.

God-loving, healthy lifestyle enthusiast, mother, grandmother, animal obsessed and married to my best friend. Life is good!

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