Gifford Pinchot State Park, a 2,338-acre full service park, is in northern York County along PA 177 between the towns of Rossville and Lewisberry. The park consists of reverting farm fields and wooded hillsides with the 340-acre Pinchot Lake serving as a prime attraction.
The ADA accessible Quaker Race Day Use Area is on the west side of the lake and the Conewago Day Use Area is on the east side of the lake. Picnic tables, charcoal grills, convenient parking lots, drinking water, modern restrooms and horseshoe pits are throughout the areas. The Quaker Race area has a volleyball court. The Conewago area has a softball field. Four picnic pavilions, two that are ADA accessible, may be reserved up to 11 months in advance for a fee. Unreserved picnic pavilions are free on a first-come, first-served basis.
A large, ADA accessible beach in the Quaker Race Day Use Area is open from late-May to mid-September, 8 a.m. to sunset. Swim at your own risk. Please read and follow posted rules. Boat rental, picnic facilities, snack bar and children’s play area are near the swimming beach.
The 340-acre Pinchot Lake has three launch areas available 24 hours a day. There are 286 shoreline mooring and canoe rack spaces that may be rented from April 1st to November 1st. Mooring areas include a number of larger spaces designed to accommodate the increasingly popular day sailors and catamarans, while rack spaces accommodate canoes, kayaks and small sailboats. There are several types of boats and electric trolling motors for rent at the boat rental from late spring through early autumn each year.
Motorboats must display a current boat registration. Non-powered boats must display one of the following: boat registration; launching permit or mooring permit from Pennsylvania State Parks, available at most state park offices; launching permit from the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission.
The 340-acre Pinchot Lake has largemouth bass, hybrid striped bass, muskellunge, catfish, carp, walleye, crappie and sunfish. Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission laws apply. Pinchot Lake is designated a big bass lake. Special regulations cover the minimum size and creel limits for all species of bass. ADA accessible fishing pads are near Boat Launch 2 and a pier is in the Quaker Race Day Use Area.
Hiking: 18 miles of trails
There are more than 18 miles of marked and maintained trails at Gifford Pinchot State Park. Hiking only trails are marked with yellow blazes. A red blaze marks hiking trails that are shared-use trails with mountain bike riding or horseback riding. Mason Dixon Trail is marked with a blue blaze. Most trails interconnect to allow hikers to tailor their outing to meet their individual desires.
Alpine Trail: 0.5 mile, easiest hiking
This wide, flat trail has a gravel surface. Alpine Trail has an outstanding crop of wildflowers in April and May, with bluebells and marsh marigolds. The trail begins on the east side of Conewago Day Use Area.
Beaver Creek Trail: 1.5 miles, most difficult hiking
This trail runs between a small parking area off Squire Gratz Road and Mooring Area # 1 in the northwestern corner of the park. The trail meanders through low lying wooded terrain and can be muddy in wet weather. Sections of the trail can also be rocky. Many habitats, including wetlands, can be seen in this undeveloped section of the park.
Gravel Trail: 1.2 miles, easiest hiking
This trail runs through second growth forest from the campground to the area of the boat rental at the eastern end of the Conewago Day Use Area. This wide trail follows an old woods road and has a gravel surface. A loop can be made by using part of Lakeside Trail making a nice trail for hiking, jogging, cross-country skiing and bicycling. Concrete supports from an old toboggan run can be seen along this trail.
Lakeside Trail: 8.5 miles, most difficult hiking
This is the longest and most scenic trail in the park. It may be accessed from all major use areas of the park. Walking time is five to six hours. Many parts of the trail are easy walking with gravel surfaces, but some of the remote sections are narrow with uneven footing and wet in other places. Many hikers combine portions of this trail with other trails like Alpine, Gravel, Oak and Quaker Race to make shorter loops.
Midland and Fern Trails: 0.5 mile, more difficult hiking
These small side trails off Lakeside Trail can be reached from near Boat Mooring Area #3. Both trails have dirt and rock surfaces and steeper slopes, but wind through the most mature forests in the park. There are many wildflowers under the large oak, hickory and tulip popular trees.
Oak Trail: 0.4 mile, easiest hiking
This short trail connects the campground to the interpretive center at the western end of the Conewago Day Use Area. The trail is gently rolling and wide with a gravel surface. The trail passes through a maturing oak and hickory forest and past a large diabase rock outcropping near the interpretive center. This trail connects with Gravel and Lakeside trails.
Old Farm Trail: 1 mile, easiest hiking
This trail runs along the northeastern border of the campground and is a connector between Lakeside, Oak and Ridge trails. Old Farm Trail follows an old farm road to the top of Straight Hill.
Pinchot Trail: 1.4 miles, most difficult hiking
Wear good shoes on this trail because the surface can be rocky in some places and wet in other places. The trail begins at the interpretive center and climbs past a large diabase rock outcropping that once formed the beginning of the long abandoned toboggan run. The trail then crosses Gravel Trail and eventually splits into two branches that connect along the top of Straight Hill to form a loop. The habitat is mostly maturing oak and hickory forest. A number of old stone walls provide reminders of long abandoned efforts at farming.
Quaker Race Trail: 1.7 miles, more difficult hiking
This trail is best accessed from the Quaker Race Day Use Area or from the Cabin Colony for cabin occupants. This trail has a dirt or rocky surface, uneven terrain and one steep but short hill. This trail connects to Lakeside Trail at its end to form a 3-mile loop that passes through diverse habitats.
Ridge Trail: 1.2 miles, more difficult hiking
This trail begins near the campground entrance where it intersects Lakeside Trail, then meanders through old overgrown pasture, then climbs into a maturing oak and hickory forest along the top of Straight Hill. The trail surface is dirt and can be rocky and there are some wet areas near the campground entrance. Stay on the trail to avoid prickly ash. Butterflies may be abundant near openings in the forest.
Mason-Dixon Trail: 200 miles, most difficult hiking
This trail runs through Delaware, Maryland and Pennsylvania. The trail has blue blazes and follows portions of Lakeside, Alpine, Pinchot, Ridge and Beaver Creek trails as it traverses the length of Gifford Pinchot State Park. The trail enters the park along Conley Road in the east and Squire Gratz and Thundergust Mill roads in the Northwest. Through-hikers may only camp at the park campground.
Biking: 4 miles of trails
The trails between the campground and the Conewago Day Use Area are for joint-use by hikers, cross-country skiers and bicycles. The Multipurpose Trail network consists of a 3.5-mile outer loop with a number of internal connectors. The trail surface is packed gravel and the terrain is mostly flat with a few gentle hills. The trail is suitable for family use and most bicycles. Please be considerate of other trail users; ride to the right and signal when passing. The trail winds through woodlands and along the lakeshore and is designed for a slow, leisurely ride. Fast and reckless riding is prohibited. Trail access for the general public is from the Conewago Day Use Area. Campers can access the trails directly from the campground. A seasonal bike rental is in the Conewago Day Use Area.
In the northeast section of the park is an area set aside for horseback riding. This area includes several miles of wide, mowed, interconnecting trails that wind through reverting farm fields, pine plantations and deciduous woodlands. There is a large, gravel parking area off of Alpine Road, a short distance south of the intersection with PA 177. There are no horse rentals.
There is an 18-hole disc golf course on the east and west sides of the park. In the Conewago Day Use Area, Boulder Woods is a fairly level course that is great for families. In the Quaker Race Day Use Area, Quaker’s Challenge Course has recreation and pro tees in a challenging, hilly course.
Stay the Night
Camping: flush toilets, warm showers, some electric hook-ups
With 339 campsites at the southern end of the lake, this park provides one of the largest state park campgrounds in the Commonwealth. The campground opens the second Friday in April and closes by the end of October. All of the sites have macadam pads and can accommodate virtually any piece of camping equipment from a large motor home to the smallest tent. The campground has an ADA accessible swimming beach, outdoor amphitheater, some ADA accessible campsites, hiking trails, boat launching and mooring area, sanitary dumping stations, staffed campground office, and modern bathhouses with flush toilets and showers. Pets are permitted on designated campsites.
Free Camping for Campground Hosts: 2 host positions
The campground host site amenities include 30 or 50-amp electric service. Hosts are required to assist with maintaining restrooms, monitor traffic at the campground office, and assist park personnel for 40 hours a week with a four week minimum stay. Contact the park office for additional information and availability.
Three cottages sleep five people in bunk beds. Cottages have wooden floors, windows, electric heat, lights and outlets, porch, picnic table, fire ring and are adjacent to potable water and restrooms with showers.
These round, canvas and wood walled tents have a wooden deck and sleep five people in bunk beds. Yurts have a cooking stove, refrigerator, countertop, table, chairs, electric heat and outlets, fire ring, picnic table and are adjacent to potable water and restrooms with showers.
Ten modern cabins can be rented year-round. Cabins are furnished and have a living area, kitchen/dining area, toilet/shower room and two or three bedrooms. Renters provide their own bed linens, bathroom articles, kitchenware and eating utensils. Cabins also have boat mooring areas on the lakeshore. One cabin is ADA accessible.
Organized Group Tenting:
The 50 sites, which can hold up to 250 people, are in the campground. This modern area is for scout, church or other organized groups that wish to camp together. Advance reservations are required.
Explore the Winter Report for the current snow and ice depths.
Ice thickness is not monitored. For your safety be sure there is solid ice as least four inches thick and carry safety equipment.
When adequate snow cover is available many of the hiking trails provide an excellent opportunity for cross-country skiing. The best trails are accessed from the Conewago Day Use Area or the special parking area at the campground entrance. These trails are marked for bicycling and include portions of Lakeside, Alpine, Oak and Gravel trails. Other good trails are the network of spur roads and trails in the interior of the park campground, which are closed to camping and vehicle use during the winter season.
When conditions permit, ice fishing is a popular attraction on the 340-acre Pinchot Lake. Ice fishermen most often catch largemouth bass. Walleye, muskellunge, crappies and sunfish may be caught through the ice.
Ice skating is permitted on the natural ice of the lake.
When lake ice conditions permit, iceboating is enjoyed on the natural lake ice. Iceboats must display a current state park launch permit.
Environmental Education and Interpretation
The park offers a wide variety of environmental education and interpretive programs year-round. Through hands-on activities, guided walks and evening programs, participants gain appreciation, understanding and develop a sense of stewardship toward natural and cultural resources. Pontoon boat tours of the lake are offered spring through fall. For more detailed information contact the park office.
A park-operated interpretive center in the Conewago Day Use Area is open weekends during the summer. Wayside exhibits and informative brochures help visitors learn more about the park’s natural environment.
Curriculum-based environmental education programs are available to schools and youth groups. Teacher workshops are available. Group programs must be arranged in advance by calling the park office.
The diverse habitats of Gifford Pinchot State Park support a variety of wildlife through all seasons. The basis for the many habitats is diabase rock that underlies most of the park and was created when molten rock intruded the sandstone and melted it into a new kind of rock. Many of the diabase rocks have unique cracks that formed as the rocks slowly cooled. Winter is the best time to see the plentiful boulders and rock outcroppings because the trees have no leaves and the undergrowth is gone.
Winter is also a good time to see woodpeckers and evidence of their presence. Gifford Pinchot has at least seven species of woodpeckers.
Spring and fall is the time of bird migrations. Gifford Pinchot State Park is an area of forest surrounded by many farm fields and is a rest stop for many migrating forest birds. Warblers, vireos and thrushes stop to rest and eat before flying on to their breeding or winter homes. Pinchot Lake and its shoreline wetlands are a beacon that lures waterfowl by the thousands. Mergansers, geese, mallards, loons, teal and many other ducks can be seen swimming, diving and dabbling for vegetation and small fish.
Spring is the time for wildflowers. Fields and forests get a carpet of bluebells and marsh marigolds and many other flowers. Before it grows leaves, the redbud tree bursts into pink to lavender flowers. In Pinchot Lake, male largemouth bass make nests and aggressively defend their territory and fry (baby fish).
Summer is the time of lush green vegetation and growing young animals. In fields, watch for spotted fawns and for frantic bluebirds searching for food to feed their hungry chicks. Butterflies reach their peak numbers and can be seen floating from flower to flower in the fields and wetlands. In the fall, the deciduous trees lose their chlorophyll and their leaves reveal beautiful reds, oranges and yellows. While the other trees lose their leaves, the eastern red cedar keeps its green needles throughout the year. Look for this oval-shaped tree growing in old fields. Many of the old farm fields are “reverting” to forest and red cedar is usually the first tree to grow in the fields and will improve the soil for other trees.
Straight Hill Area:
East of the campground, the Straight Hill Area is an interesting place to study nature. All stages of forest succession are present. Abandoned farm fields are being replaced by eastern red cedar, and the cedar stands are being replaced by deciduous forests dominated by red and white oaks. The area also features some mature oak stands along the hillsides.
A special brochure on the geology of the park describes the large diabase boulders found in the area. This brochure is available at the park and campground offices, and the nature center.
The park honors Governor Gifford Pinchot (1865-1946). Pinchot is credited as being the foremost American apostle of conservation. Appointed by President Theodore Roosevelt as the first forester of the United States in 1898, Gifford Pinchot acted as the President’s “Chief Advisor” in the conservation movement. With the guidance of Roosevelt and Pinchot, over 200,000,000 acres of national forest came under scientific land management.
2200 Rosstown Rd., Lewisberry, PA 17339-9787More Info