The 3,520-acre Swatara State Park consists of rolling fields and woodlands situated in the Swatara Valley, between Second and Blue mountains. Scenic Swatara Creek meanders the length of the park and is surrounded by forests and wetlands that support a diversity of wildlife.
Swatara State Park was acquired with capital development funds appropriated by the Pennsylvania General Assembly. Planned facility and infrastructure improvements will support day use outdoor recreation such as canoeing, fishing, hiking, picnicking and bicycling.
Swatara Creek is a popular destination for canoeing, kayaking, and tubing, especially in the spring. Designated launches in the northern and southern ends of the park provide access to the creek for put-in and take-out of boats.
Be aware of naturally occurring hazards which may be encountered on Swatara Creek.
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.
Spring attracts many anglers to Trout Run; the park’s only trout stocked stream. Other cold-water tributaries within the park support native populations of brook trout.
Warm-water fish like smallmouth bass and panfish can be caught in Swatara Creek. Wagners Pond and Irving Pond provide opportunities to catch largemouth bass and panfish.
The trails of the park are generally flat and wide.
Stretching from Georgia to Maine, this backpacking trail traverses two miles of the southern portion of Swatara State Park. Kittatinny Ridge, also known as Blue Mountain, has been designated by Audubon Pennsylvania, as the largest of the state’s “Important Bird Areas.” Overnight parking for through or section AT hikers is on SR 443 just west of SR 72. Hikers may leave an itinerary with the park for emergencies. www.nps.gov/appa/index.htm
Swatara Rail Trail is ten miles in length from Lickdale Interchange (Exit 90) of I-81 to the Pine Grove Interchange (Exit 100) of I-81. The trail grade is relatively flat, with variable surfaces (stone, gravel, and pavement) requiring wide tires. Please note the bridge over Mill Creek is out and SR 443 is the alternative route.
Running along the eastern side of Swatara State Park, Bear Hole Trail (previously Old State Road) is a wide, rolling trail for hiking and biking. A ten-mile loop can be completed by using Swatara Rail Trail and Bear Hole Trail and crossing the creek at the Waterville Bridge and the Swopes Valley Road.
Accessible from the State Park Lane trailhead, six trails are designed as mountain bike trails. These single track natural surface trails are a maximum 24” wide with log obstacles and stream crossings. They are considered “most difficult” by DCNR trail standards, but “easy” by International Mountain Bike Association (IMBA) standards. Each trail loop is about 1.5 miles in length and twist through the woods and up and down hills.
Horseback riding is permitted on Bear Hole Trail and Swatara Rail Trail.
Explore the Winter Report for the current snow and ice depths.
The Swatara Rail Trail is good for skiing with adequate snowfall.
Swatara State Park has a combination of woodland and old fields in various stages of forest succession. The blending of these habitats results in a remarkably wide variety of trees, wildflowers and wildlife. Bird boxes are maintained for game and non-game species like bluebirds, hawks, wrens and ducks.
The geology of Swatara State Park is predominately sedimentary rocks that formed in a shallow ocean during the Middle Devonian Period of the Paleozoic Era, about 375 million years ago.
An Upper Mahantango Formation that contains significant marine fossil beds is exposed at a site along Bear Hole Trail. It provides excellent opportunities for fossil collecting, including the state fossil Phacops rana, a type of trilobite.
The area in and around Swatara State Park is rich in American history. American Indians originally used the land along the Swatara Creek as a transportation route.
After settlement by Europeans in the 1750s, anthracite coal was discovered in the Tremont area. In the 1820s, as the demand for coal rose, a need for better transportation led to the construction of the Union Canal that connected the Schuylkill and Susquehanna rivers. From Lebanon, a branch canal was constructed to Pine Grove through what is now the Swatara State Park. A dam and 672-acre reservoir in the park area supported canal traffic to Pine Grove and supplied water for the Union Canal at Lebanon.
The dam was washed away in the Flood of 1862, destroying the canal and reservoir. Remains of the old dam and five canal locks are on the Bear Hole Trail side of the creek. The dam was never rebuilt because the railroad soon went into operation on the opposite bank of the Swatara Creek. The Swatara Rail Trail is what remains of the railroad bed.
The Commonwealth began acquisition of the park in 1971 and was completed in 1987 by the Department of General Services.
This cast iron bridge was built in 1890 to cross the Little Pine Creek in Lycoming County. The bridge design is a lenticular truss (parabolic) and is one of three such bridges still in Pennsylvania. In the 1980s, the bridge was determined to be too narrow for modern use. Instead of being demolished, the bridge was dismantled, repaired, moved and rebuilt across the Swatara Creek to allow hikers on the Appalachian Trail to cross the stream.
c/o Memorial Lake, Grantville, PA 17028-9682