Experience the Trails of Pennsylvania

Standing Stone Trail: Climbing the Thousand Steps

The Standing Stone Trail, formerly known as the Link Trail, extends from Greenwood Furnace State Park in Huntingdon County to Cowans Gap State Park in Fulton County. The trail travels across the tops of Stone and Jacks Mountain, through State Parks, Forests, and Game lands, connecting the Tuscarora Trail to the Mid State Trail. The section of the Standing Stone Trail that we hiked on this day is located in Jacks Narrows, between the towns of Mount Union and Mapleton Depot. It is called the Thousand Steps because of the thousand plus stone steps placed into the mountainside.

Trailhead: N 40° 23.50'
W 77° 54.84'
Total Elevation: 2466'
Trail Length: 3.5 miles
Hike Time: 3 hours
Hike Type: Out and back
Difficulty Rating: 84
Near: Route US22,
Mount Union, PA

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The section of the Standing Stone Trail that we hiked on this day is located in Jacks Narrows, between the towns of Mount Union and Mapleton Depot. It is called the Thousand Steps because of the thousand plus stone steps placed into the mountainside. A large historical sign, located at the base of the steps, indicates that this area was known as the "Silica Brick Capital of the World" because of the bricks made from the abundant Tuscarora sandstone found in these narrows. These manufactured bricks were very heat resistant and crucial parts in the major industries of the time including steel, iron, glass, and the railroad industries. Miles of dinkey railroad track was used to bring the silica down from the mountainside quarries and the workers would ride along up on the trains. Soon trucks began to replace some of the trains, so more and more workers had to make the climb instead of riding the trains to the quarries. In 1936 there was a flood the wiped out the bridge across the river to Mount Union and the brick factories, idling the workers. As the bridge was being replaced, the workers were set to a new task of building steps into the mountainside to make the climb up and back easier. Thus the Thousand Steps were formed.

The trailhead for this hike is located along route US22, just west of the town of Mount Union. If you are on route US22 heading west, you will pass two bridges that cross the Juniata river to the town of Mount Union. The first bridge is where routes US22 and US522 diverge. If you continue for another 0.4 miles you will come to a second traffic light and see the second bridge to your left. From here travel about 1.9 miles. On your right you will see a large parking area along the road. Park here, then walk back along route US22 towards Mount Union until you cross a small stream. Directly after this you will see the blue-blazed trail and Thousand Steps sign on your left. If you are coming from the west on route US22 east, you will need to continue past the trailhead as it is too dangerous to make a left hand turn here. Continue until you get to the traffic light as there are a number of businesses here and plenty of opportunities to turn around.

This hike was about 3.5 miles in length with total elevation traversed at just a little over 2400 feet. It was a simple out and back hike where we climbed half way up the mountain and then explored on the old railroad beds that traversed across the mountain side. Almost all of the climbing was done on steps with very little being done on the railroad grades. I found climbing up using the steps to be a little more difficult then trekking up a trail, but the steps made the descent a lot easier.

The steps and the majority of the climb was just a little over 0.6 miles. During our ascent Shari and I stopped a few times to catch our breaths. Even though we were using steps to climb the mountain it was still a pretty good workout. During the climb we noticed that every 100th step was marked so it was easy to judge our progress and how far we had yet to go. We came across two woman at the beginning of the steps that had been exploring some of the abandoned rail road tracks on the lower section of the mountain. Just as we began our climb there were another two woman that had just finished their descent from the top.

Once we reached the top of the steps, and there are 1036 of them according to the number painted on the last step, we turned left. There was a trail to our right to a view and we would visit it on our way back down. After turning left we followed the trail for another 0.2 miles to the abandoned dinky house. This was a large stone structure where they would service the trains after they made it up to the quarries.

We spent the rest of our time exploring around the dinky house and the quarries. We followed the Standing Stone Trail for about another quarter mile before we decided to turn around and come back. There was a beautiful view looking down Jacks Narrows towards the town of Mapleton Depot at 1.2 miles into our hike. It was neat to be walking along these abandoned rail lines and quarries. It was almost as if you could feel all the history here.

When we got back to the top of the steps we decided to walk on past about 0.2 miles. From here we had another nice view looking down over Jacks Narrows. We took a small break here and ate a granola bar before we began our descent back down the Thousand Steps.

This hike, though short, was a good workout. The steps definitely made the descent easier but I found that they made the climb a little harder as I wasn't able to get into a steady rhythm. The old stone dinky house located at the top was an interesting site this far up the mountainside. As I stated earlier, you could almost feel the history of the are as you hike around. I will definitely be making another trip to the Thousands Steps again, if not as part of a longer backpacking trip on the Standing Stone Trail, then definitely as another invigorating and historical day hike.

Not far from the parking area the trail begins. Here the trailhead is marked by a blue blaze and a sign for the Thousand Steps.

Shari pauses to read a little history about the steps we are about to climb.

One thousand and thirty six steps later we reach the top.

One of the views to the south west towards the town of Mapleton Depot.

Here I stand at another vista that looks down through Jack's Narrows.

From our last vista we were able to look back across the mountain to where we had just hiked. If you look closely you can see the old dinky house located halfway up the mountain.

The steps, as we complete about half of our descent back to the trailhead.

Almost done with our hike, we spied this 'creature of the woods' just off to the right of the trail sunning himself. This was the first snake we saw this season, and a yellow timber rattler at that.

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  • Very informative for someone wanting to do this. Images are great and helpful.


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