Recreation in Central Pennsylvania These are fine places to rest and refresh in Central PA. There are many opportunities to just be out. Few of these places cost anything to visit. Some pictures will be included in the text. There are many others you can get to on my triond site by clicking my name on this page.
I have lived within 50 miles of York PA most of my life and love this area. It doesn’t have 500 foot waterfalls, volcanoes, sand dunes and 10,000 foot snow covered rocky peaks. But it does have some awesomely beautiful countryside.
This area is part of the mountains and foothills that run from western North Carolina to New England. I know the section in Pennsylvania is the most beautiful but I could move to any portion of this and feel at home. Over the years I have enjoyed some of this and would like to share. I had originally planned to put the pictures in this document but as I worked on it I realized the document would become too large for the triond processor. I will instead link to documents which describe all of the places.
If you bring up Google Earth and put in coordinates 39°57′45.07″N 76°48′4.93″W the cross hairs will point to my living room. If I draw a circle with a driving time a half hour from that point I find lots of things to do. If I expand it to a little over an hour there are even more things to do. I’m going to share some of my favorites. I will be giving either Latitude/Longitude and/or street addresses for most points I reference. They will work in most GPS units, Yahoo Maps or Google Earth. All of these places have good road access and adequate parking.
If you go into any of these parks make sure someone knows where you are going and when you will be back. File a ‘trip plan’ with someone who will call for timely help if you don’t come home. Make sure they understand that they must make sure that the police know you are lost, not a runaway. All too often a search is not mounted till the person has been out too long because the police believe you just went somewhere to get away and will come back when you are ready.
Take a cell phone but remember that in some of these areas they do not work. Text messages – which I hate – will sometimes get out even if you can’t make a call so if you see ‘no signal’ try messaging and move the phone around slowly as high as you can reach. Only let the phone on when you are actively searching for signals. I suggest no matter what you carry a couple bottles of water, a couple of food bars, etc. Even if the weather is good I carry a jacket and a disposable rain poncho. Walmart sells them for $.88, they are small to put in a pack and they can be a life saver if the weather turns bad or if you fall and have to wait for rescue. A couple of large garbage bags will do as an alternative. If you are hiking a good rule is to carry what you would need if you had to stay out all night. A couple bottles of water and a food bars could literally be a lifesaver. A whistle is great too. So are a map and compass but you have to know how to use them. GPS units are great, but use one that is made for hiking, not the one that you use in your car. And carry at least one set of spare batteries! I have a very old Explorist 200 that I paid little for used on E-bay and it is great. I bought it to use as a locator for pictures but I carry it when I am out. It allows you to put in a start point and you can see where that is from you if you want to get back.
I belong to MIDSAR (Middlecreek Search and Rescue) and if you get hurt or lost we want to rescue you not recover a body. A little preparation on your part will help you stay alive till we get there. I don’t mean to be crass. I want you to enjoy the outdoors and survive. In cold polyester or wool is much better next to your body than cotton. Keeping warm and dry is basic to survival. This is by no means a complete list but there are many people who would have survived if they had just had these couple of things. There are many good articles on the web about survival and if you are going to be out I suggest you read a couple of them. If you do get lost, assume you will be on your own for a while, take stock of your resources and use them wisely. Following a creek downstream will not always get you to civilization. Generally if someone knows where you are it is best to remain where you are. Finally it is best to not be alone.
Gifford Pinchot State Park
This is my hands down favorite for a nice place to just veg out for a half hour or so. It is nearby, a quiet place to read, relax and more. It is less than 30 minutes from center city York. Gifford Pinchot was a Governor or Pennsylvania and later a US Secretary of the interior and this is one of two fitting tributes to him. In addition to this State Park in York County PA there is a Pinchot National Forest in Vancover Washington. The park here has a man-made lake for boating, fishing and swimming or as I do, just walking around it and enjoying it. I’m not into swimming but I see many enjoy that. The park has canoe and paddle boat rentals along with a snack bar in case you forget your picnic lunch.
The wooded area surrounding it has fire pits, charcoal grills, picnic areas, pavilions and trails. It is a beautiful place. I rarely go there over the weekends during the summer because it is infested by the northward migration of Marylanders but I sometimes drop in there on my work commute for relaxation. I get off at two PM and hit there about a half hour later. When I worked 8-5 I stopped in on the way to work for a few minutes at times. Many times I got to enjoy the park alone. I rarely get out of the car there without the camera. One of the best pictures I have of the park was taken one morning in this setting.
The park is open sunrise to sunset and the rangers are great. They don’t bother you unless they think you are doing something to damage the park or if they are concerned that you might have a problem and need help. They will wave, smile, maybe ask if you are OK or need something and go on. I think many of them enjoy the park as much as the visitors. They get to work there. I can pretty much say the same thing for the rangers at the other parks I will mention here. Just don’t tell one of the rangers at Pinchot that you like Caledonia or Pine Grove better. It may illicit an adverse reaction. They may consider it a violation of park policy to have those words uttered. The ones in each park think theirs is the best and they do the best job and maybe that attitude is one of the reasons the parks are as good as they are.
The southern entrance is along Alpine Road which forms a triangle around the park with PA 177 and PA 74. The northern entrance is along PA 177 between Rossville and Lewisberry PA. There are also entrances along 74 and Alpine Roads for camping and boating entrance. The point in the lake between the two recreation areas is 40° 4′6.29″N 76°53′52.62″W.
The nearest Gasoline/Convenience store and restaurant are at Rossville less than two miles from the park and an ice cream shop on Alpine just east of the park entrance. There are other stores and restaurants to the south on Route 74.
Rocky Ridge County Park
This is an interesting park located on a rocky ridge east of York Pa. No kidding, that ridge is rocky. The ridge rises to just under 1000 feet elevation which is 400 feet above most of the area nearby. As an amateur geologist I find the metamorphosed (modified by heat and pressure) sedimentary (laid down by water depositing sediment) rocks on the top of the ridge very interesting. Water washed sediment and quartz pebbles as large as golf balls from the hills around the area and deposited them then that area was uplifted by earthquakes. The area has some impressive geology if you like that kind of study. Before man this part of Pennsylvania was an interesting and exciting place.
There are hiking trails, picnic areas, grills, and an impressive outlook to the east. Three Mile Island can be seen from here. Red tailed hawks nest in the area and can frequently be seen. I have some impressive pictures of them and the park. With the elevation it is a neat place for Ham Operators and in fact the Keystone VHF club site is along Deinninger road just before the Park entrance. The park is easily located from US 30 by taking PA 24 north about a mile to the top of the hill and then a sharp right on Deinninger Road. The entrance to the park is 40° 0′34.77″N 76°39′43.91″W. There are wooded trails that go more than 1.4 miles to the north east from this point.
This links to a more extensive view of Rocky Ridge Park.
The winter at Rocky Ridge brings an impressive light show. It is one of a very few events in these parks that is not free. I have gone twice and was impressed. It is worth the admission and I will probably go back in the next year or two. If you decide to go, wear very warm clothing. For some reason it is cold there.
I don’t remember any concessions in the park except a soda machine but there are good restroom facilities. The nearest Gasoline/Convenience store is a Rutters at RT 24 and US 30. There are also restaurants and several malls nearby.
John Rudy County Park
This park is more for someone wanting a place for a family get together. It has some really nice pavilions comparable to the ones at the other parks I have talked about. The pavilions are in a wooded area. It has a paved walking path and a couple really nice soccer fields. Teams play there many weekends over the summer. I help with several walks (MS and MDA) and get to see it several times a year. There are lots of events in this park that are interesting to see. The county web page lists a schedule of functions. It is different than the previous two but is impressive.
It is located on Mundis Race Road off Route 24 about two miles north of Route 30. You turn left off route 24 on a road at a mill that is on the left. (40° 1′10.14″N 76°41′51.11″W)
York County Rail Trail
The Rail trail is one of the items I heard about years ago but till recently had never used or even seen. I knew it was there. Then last summer I got a bike. Quite frankly York County drivers scare me enough that I wouldn’t ride on the roads. Just crossing them on the rail trail scare me. But it is an interesting place, it is nice to ride and it is a relatively safe riding and walking environment. There is a really nice place to park at Brillhart Station, (as well as other places) unload the bike and ride. I am not a Lance Armstrong so my trips are relatively short. I think I am going to try to ride the trail twice this year starting at a station, do a ride to the next one and back then start at a different station and do the same thing to get the whole trail. There are too many places to get on this trail to list. I suggest you search for York Rail Trail on the internet (http://www.yorkcountytrails.org/) for the place closest you. The only point on the trail that I don’t like is the north end on King Street at the Codorus Creek. It doesn’t have parking but if you lived close to it and could ride the bike there it would be fine. I have been there to support the ARC run which ends at that point.
Caledonia State Park.
Of all of the parks in the area the best park award has to be a tossup between Caledonia and Pinchot. Caledonia has a pool, more camping space and more area but the fresh water lake at Pinchot is awesome and it has the other areas. Other than those comparisons both are beautiful. My wife’s mother’s family holds a yearly family reunion at Caledonia and it is great. Most of the family is from the Chambersburg area. I cannot think of a better place. If we were having it in the York area I would opt for either Pinchot or Rocky Ridge as comparable for this type of accommodations.
In addition to the park area the historic Thaddeus Stevens Ironworks adjoins the park and there are trails that you can walk to see some of the historic items. Pine Grove Furnace and Fuller Lake are about 12 miles from Caledonia and Laurel Lake is only a couple miles further. The park is pretty much in the middle of the Michaux State Forest mentioned below.
The park has restroom facilities but I am not aware of any concessions other than soda vending at the pool. Any stores and restaurants are to the west on Route 30 the closest about three miles from the park.
Pine Grove Furnace State Park
Pine Grove Furnace (40° 1′59.66″N 77°18′15.13″W) was another iron works (like Caledonia) in the 1800’s. More of the facility has been preserved and the buildings are impressive. The furnace has been preserved in its state more than Caledonia which may be a reconstruction rather than a preservation. If you look at Pine Grove, Boiling Springs and Caledonia you will see that the furnace is built on a flat area with a hill next to it. Actually the hill was cut away to build the furnace. This allows someone on the hill to load ore, limestone and charcoal into the furnace through the top. Remember, nearly all of this work was done by hand. At both Pine Grove and Boiling Springs the hill next to the furnace still has charcoal that was spilled. This Park has some cabins that can be rented and many of the iron works buildings are still there, something that I haven’t seen other places except Cornwall Furnace in Lancaster County. Like the other parks in the area there are trails to hike, places to picnic and just veg out. There is a country store/snack bar near the furnace.
The park can be accessed from the Route 34 about 5 miles south of Mt. Holly Springs PA, turn on Pine Grove Road at the Twirly Top (40° 4′8.25″N 77°11′37.15″W). This is near Hunters Run PA. Another important location there is at 40° 4′19.88″N 77°11′42.48″W – the home I was born in.
I’ll put a little piece of history here. The railroad crossing on Pine Grove Road just after the turn off 34 is at 40° 4′8.01″N 77°11′41.06″W. It was used during WW2 as a place the trains carrying German prisoners stopped to unload. The prisoners were then marched on Pine Grove Road to Michaux Road and then on Michaux to the prison camp. Little of it remains. You can read more about this at (LINK)
Michaux State Forest
This state forest is massive. It runs from Pine Grove to south of South Mountain PA – almost to the Maryland line. It contains hiking and bike trails, ATV trails, and motorcycles are allowed on the trails with permits. The motorcycle must be street legal and for rides and races must be inspected by the ranger on the day of the event. Several motorcycle clubs and the Gettysburg Bicycle club sponsor events in this forest. There are tens of miles of mountain road that are kept well enough that they can be negotiated by automobile. Reminder, these are rarely plowed in the winter so you may find snow when other roads are cleared. The roads have pull offs that can be used to park, spend time in the woods, whatever. There are points that are over 2000 feet in elevation that are awesome radio sites. Deer, rabbits, squirrels and many species of birds inhabit this area. There are rumors of bear but I haven’t seen one. But then, I haven’t looked for one and I don’t want to find one.
The nearest gasoline is at least 10 miles from the park in any direction. Likewise other than one mountain restaurant at Toland that is closed as much as open food is not available so come with it. If you really like to get away you can do it here.
Laurel is a beautiful lake with an artificial sand beach. There are areas for swimming, boating, and fishing. There is an area for boat rental. I am not sure of the origin of this lake but there is a nearby ice house and they cut ice off the lake in the winter and stored it there. It is located along the Pine Grove Road at 40° 2′24.83″N 77°16′7.48″W. It is about 6 miles from the Twirly Top and three miles from Pine Grove Furnace.
Fuller is a beautiful lake in a more shaded setting. It is smaller than Laurel and is an ore hole; that means it was the place that iron ore was dug out of the ground. It is about a mile from the iron furnace at Pine Grove. The last time I was there the facilities surrounding the lake were being upgraded. 40° 1′50.87″N 77°17′57.70″W
This is an impressive lookout. It is a rock outcrop that gives a view for miles and miles. Just south of Mt Holly Springs there is a turnoff to the right on a dirt road just before the creek. It follows the creek for about a mile then splits. Turn to the right and start up the Ridge Road. Hammonds Rock is about 7 miles on the left. This drive is awesome but take it slow and careful. A lunch and some drinks are nice to take along. If you continue along Ridge Road to the first crossroads you can turn left to go to Laurel Lake, to the right to Pine Road near Kings Gap or continue to Shippensburg Road, the first hard crossroads. To the left takes you to Pinegrove Road or on to Arendtsville. To the right goes to Shippensburg.
This state park is an old stone mansion on the top of the mountain. (40° 5′32.50″N 77°16′1.60″W) It dates to the late 1800’s and was a prison camp for high ranking Japanese and German officers in World War II. Its proximity to Carlisle Barracks allowed prisoners to be transported there for interrogation. In addition to the mansion a serious nature center is maintained here by PA DCNR. The overlook into the Cumberland valley is impressive.
The directions to Kings Gap are as follows. On route 34 between Carlisle and Mt.Holly Springs turn on Pine Road north of Mt. Holly Springs, go about 4 miles to the Kings Gap sign and turn left. (40° 6′33.37″N 77°17′1.70″W)
Pinnacle Lookout is on the east side of the Susquehanna at the end of Pinnacle Road (39°50′47.04″N 76°20′43.82″W) north of route 392 on River Road. From this impressive point you see the river several hundred feet below. Hawks fly the river below you. It is an awesome sight. There are picnic and restroom facilities as well as the impressive lookout A hiking trail goes north and south from this point but this trail is not for the inexperienced or for solo hiking. It is for experienced, properly attired and equipped hikers. Like most of these areas, cell phone coverage is spotty at best.
There are at least a half dozen of these and generally there is one of them within fifteen minutes of anyone in the York area. Two that I like are Clouser Park in Manchester Township on the corner of Church and Greenbrier Roads York (39°59′48.01″N 76°46′22.82″W) and Sunset Lane Park in West Manchester Township on Sunset Lane between Carlisle and Derry Roads York (39°58′15.13″N 76°48′2.81″W). Clouser is far more extensive with a pond and a band shell but both have plenty space to walk, jog or just hang our. Clouser will soon have a portion of the park specially set up for disabled children. There are walking paths, ball fields and pavilions at both parks. There are parks like this in most areas around York but you just have to find them. They are for the most part financed by Township tax money. In case I don’t mention it most have basketball courts. Several others I know of in the area include:
Shiloh – Derry and Taxville Roads York (Pavilion, Walking path, Ball field – small but very near my home 39°57′38.56″N 76°48′7.67″W)
Welglestown – Anita and Mayfield Drives Dover (Pavilion, Walking path, Ball Field 39°58′24.30″N 76°49′0.14″W)
Taxville Rd – Taxville Rd and Elizabeth St York (Pavilion, Walking path, Basketball Court 39°57′41.42″N 76°46′54.08″W)
The battlefield is an awesome place that you could spend days in. If you decide to do so there are CD tours you can get at the visitors center that are great. They tell you where to turn, when to pause the CD etc. Allow four hours, take a snack or lunch and drinks. I have done a tour several times, once with the CD. I suggest you not do this in late June or early July as this is reenactment time and the place is jammed. I also suggest you do the trip in the summer to get an idea, the men who fought here did that on July 1, 2, and 3 of 1863. It was hot. They were in full uniform and carrying weapons and packs. Forget the battle, just being there was tough.
Army Heritage Center – Carlisle PA
This is a museum that is like no other I have seen. I have never been in the inside portion but have walked the outside portion several times. Every time I do it there are more exhibits and more to see. The outside is a walking path with benches that takes you past and through scenes of battles from the Revolution to at least Vietnam. It is possiblke for someone with limited mobility or a mobility scooter or wheelchair to see nearly all of the exhibits. There are WW2 barracks, a Sherman tank, a German screaming 88, a British Retrievement from the war of 1812 complete with a British Flag, Civil War troop camps, an Indian war Fort, a WW1 trench and lots of other things. A Vietnam chopper sits near the museum, this craft was flown by a man who lives near Carlisle – he learned of it being ‘his’ when he was visiting. Repaired battle damage looked too familiar, the serial number looked right and a check of his log book said it was. Next to that bird is what looks like a tank but is not a tank. It is a tank destroyer. It has a big gun, is fast, mobile and has little armor. Another display has a chopper that appears to be in flight.
Go north from York on Route 74 past Dillsburg (Route 15). There is a red light at route 174, continue north for about two miles to the next light. Turn Right and follow signs. It is just over the 81 bridge to the left. The address is on Army Heritage Drive and Soldiers Drive Carlisle PA. (40°12′30.70″N 77° 9′33.72″W) Google Earth shows this under construction. .
There are more than a few other parks in the area that I don’t visit much because I don’t travel the area. Codorus is really nice near Spring Grove. The park along Lake Redmond (Jacobus on Route 74) is also nice. The ones I listed are the ones I use.
Within a few miles of these places are Gettysburg of the Civil War battle, Carlisle – home of Jim Thorpe and Molly Pitcher, York PA – Home of the Revolutions and many other historic sites. Lancaster with the Amish influence is less than 30 miles from my home.