Hiking: the Mason-Dixon Trail

Posted By BrokenClaw on November 29, 2000

Our excursion took us to the Lock 12 Historic Area along the Susquehanna River in York County, Pennsylvania. We had passed this site many times on our travels, so we finally decided to stop. The lock was once part of the Susquehanna and Tidewater Canal, which was built primarily to haul coal, lumber, and other goods from central Pennsylvania to the shipping ports of Baltimore and Philadelphia.

Today the area is maintained as a historic site by the Pennsylvania Power & Light Co. (PPL) as part of their public use lands associated with the hydroelectric plant. Along with the actual lock remains, the site has facilities for picnicking, hiking, and sightseeing. The schist-stone walls of the lock are in remarkable condition, considering that the lock has been abandoned for over a hundred years. From there we walked to the edge of the river where we could take in the views of the valley, Holtwood Dam upriver, and the Norman Wood Bridge downriver. We found the signs for the Mason-Dixon hiking trail, but on this day we were not prepared for a hike. We continued our outing with a stop at Susquehannock State Park on the Lancaster County side of the river. The park has several short hiking trails, but the highlight is the two overlooks which offer splendid views of the river in both directions.

Mason-Dixon TrailOn our next visit in late autumn, we set out on the trail. The Mason-Dixon Trail winds for nearly 200 miles through southeast Pennsylvania, down the Susquehanna River to Havre de Grace, Maryland, across the tip of Delaware, and back into Pennsylvania. We had no intention of backpacking any significant distance, but we were prepared for a short hike and picnic along the way. The weather was generally clear, with high clouds, but the November breeze kept us in our jackets. We followed the blue blazed Mason-Dixon Trail southward under the Norman Wood Bridge. Leading along the edge of a cliff above the riverbank, the start gives immediate indication of the type of trail to come. Although it ostensibly follows the old route of the Canal along the river, the trail is far from level. In fact, much of this section involves climbing. At this time of year, the trail is also covered by fallen leaves.

This geologic area is characterized by the continuous outcroppings of schist-stone, both in the river and on the banks. The Holtwood Dam controls the current water levels, but it’s obvious that in days gone by the riverbanks were subject to much higher water. We soon reached the remains of Lock 13, barely visible from the toepath above, but still a magnificent structure when viewed from below. Ruins of a bridge foundation and other canal building structures can be seen near Lock 13 as well. From there, the trail takes a serpentine route across the rocks, over the rocks, between the rocks, and up the rocks. Did I mention that there are rocks? Fortunately, those who maintain this trail provide numerous blazes to mark the trail on the rocks. At one point we took a detour onto an enormous rock formation into the river. It holds a massive fallen tree trunk left from former floodwaters, looking like Noah’s Ark on Mount Ararat, thirty feet above the water level.

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One Response to “Hiking: the Mason-Dixon Trail”

  1. brokenclaw says:

    Important Update: Following the events of 9/11/01, parts of the Mason-Dixon Trail in this area have restricted access. See the Mason-Dixon Trail link for updated information.

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