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ROAD TRIP: Swatara Falls

ROAD TRIP: Swatara Falls

As a nature lover, there is one natural feature that gets me really pumped. A feature that can take a bit more planning, a bit more walking, and sometimes a bit of physical ability to actually get there. The extra effort is typically rewarded as you approach the scene of any one of Pennsylvania's dozens of cascading waterfalls. Join us for a look around Swatara Falls near Tremont, Pa.

This week we seized the opportunity to make the most of a day off and take a day trip to Swatara Falls,  which has been on my "must-see" list for a while now. This 25-30 foot cascading waterfall sits along the Swatara Creek just a couple miles south of its headwaters in Schuylkill County. Roughly 40 miles away from the falls the Swatara Creek empties into the Susquehanna River just up stream from Lancaster County in Middletown, Pa. Although, it's nearly 70 miles if you follow the creek as it twists and turns through Schuylkill, Lebanon, and Dauphin counties.


Our Trip to Swatara Falls

A little bit of a gripe I have about life in Lancaster County is our lack of spectacular waterfalls, but what can you do? If we want to see great waterfalls it's just gonna require a road trip. Then you can find hundreds of waterfalls around the state ranging in type and as sizeable as 150 feet at Raymondskill Falls (Pennsylvania's tallest). This week we were looking for a waterfall that was not too far away BUT sizable, wooded for shade, rustic for a short hike, with the ability get our foot or more in the water. 

Getting there was quite easy. Due to a detour for lunch we took I-81 to get there. Headed northbound we hopped off at Exit 112 to Route 25, we turned right and the trail runs off of Route 25 just up the street. The trail will be to the left and you will see a fairly open pull off area to the right plastered with “No Parking” signs. There were a couple of other trails leading into the woods, but I was told to take the last trail on the left BEFORE the pull off to the right. I imagine parking can be tricky on a busy day, but fortunately we didn’t have a problem. Be careful, there are a lot of heavy trucks zooming along this road. The route back later was a little more rural as we headed towards Route 501 for a stop at the Applechian Trail Overlook, a good reason to come through that way.

On The Trail

As we headed down the trail we were first greeted with a large illegal, or at the very least unfavorable, dump site. The path it small as it snakes it’s way through, but then it widens out again. From there you’ll notice some intersecting trails, but the trail to the falls is quite notable. It wide and well worn. As you continue on you’ll start to hear the familiar sound of falling water getting louder and louder. This trail pretty much leads right to the falls. According to AllTrails it’s about 1.7 miles round trip with only an overall elevation change of 200 ft. The only real hazard along the trails are some patches of large loose rocks. So not stroller ready, but a fairly easy hike for everyone.

The waterfall itself is quite stunning. As you approach the falls the trail opens up to a spectacular hillside view. It’s a bit steep to get down to the creekbed, but again it’s not unmanagable for most hikers. Since there weren’t many people we were able to claim a little spot and throw on our watershoes to cool off a bit in the creek.


The flow here varies. When we went we recently had some rain as could be evidenced by recent erosion and debris along the sides of the creek. However, I’m told it can slow to a trickle in a long enough dry spell. With a good flow, we were able to cautiously get right up under the falls and feel the mist and water coming down on us.

Man interwting feature at this waterfall is that this area was heavily mined for coal in the past and the creekbed is filled with many interesting geological finds. We found a number of pieces of coal that were extremely smooth with a very unique highly polished shine to them. 

On the opposite side of the creek, a trail leads to the top of the falls. It was fairly easy to climb to the top with a lovely view close to the edge. There were some lovely smaller falls upstream, but I didn’t want to overextend the kiddos so we kept it simple this trip and stayed around the base of the falls.

It's my understanding that the popularity of Swatara Falls has been growing quite a bit in recent years. It's not hard to see why, but I wanted to share a word of wisdom. It's not entirely clear who owns the area around the falls. While no one owns the creek, there is always the potential that access to the creek could become problematic if we don't treat this area with respect. There was litter and graffiti in the area, as well as general signs of human wear and tear. If you decide to visit, be sure to respect the area.

This is one short day trip we highly recommend. I hope you enjoyed the pictures and videos. Below you’ll find a map to discover this amazing destination for yourself. Be sure to drop a comment below let us know what you think l, or if you’ve ever been to the falls, we’de love to hear from you!

Grand Eagles

Grand Eagles

In case you somehow hadn't heard the news since Sunday night, the Philadelphia Eagles won the Super Bowl. A historic win for our friends down in Philadelphia. I’m not much of a football fan myself, but I am a fan of the Eagles I’ve had the opportunity to capture around the area. This seemed like a good opportunity to tell you a bit about my feathered friends, and another Pennsylvania Eagles success story.


As the national bird and national animal here in the United States the, Bald Eagle is an iconic symbol of our nation. Images of the eagle can be found all over the place from hats and t-shirts, right down to cash that’s in our pockets. It’s not hard to see why. They are beautiful and majestic creatures, while their massive size and razor sharp talons instill a sense of dominance within the wild kingdom.


A Bald Eagle in Amish Country just outside of New Holland, Pa. We were driving on a Sunday morning and spotted the giant eagle just sitting in the field. Two Mennonite carriages passed by on nearby Voganville Road, off in the distance you can see Faremount Homes sitting on the hill in Farmersville, Pa.

A Bald Eagle in Amish Country just outside of New Holland, Pa. We were driving on a Sunday morning and spotted the giant eagle just sitting in the field. Two Mennonite carriages passed by on nearby Voganville Road, off in the distance you can see Faremount Homes sitting on the hill in Farmersville, Pa.


Darks Days ...

I don’t remember the story of the Bald Eagle being quite so cheerful when I was a kid. At the time these beautiful creatures were struggling to recover from the effects of the agricultural use of DDT in the 1950s and 60s. DDT was a synthetic organic compound used as an insecticide. It was widely available to the public by the 1940s and used heavily in agriculture before it was banned for commercial use in 1972.

Ten years early Rachel Carson had published the book Silent Spring against the widespread use of DDT. It was believed to be a carcinogen and was beginning to show effects on wildlife. The book is considered foundational in the modern environmental movement, and help lead the way for the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency. 

The known nesting population of Eagles in Pennsylvania was only three pairs in 1980. Eagles were one of the species severely affected by DDT, and the recovery effort has taken decades. When DDT was being used the pesticides were applied to the fields, which naturally runoff into nearby rivers and streams, and as a result, the local fish populations essentially lived in the pesticides. Eagles are opportunistic feeders, but their diet largely consists of fish. While the pesticides were not directly toxic to Adult Eagles, it interfered with the bird’s calcium metabolism. It was believed to make some birds sterile, but it was mainly causing their eggs to be less dense and more brittle. Such that they couldn’t support the weight of a brooding adult. As a result, the Eagle population was aging without new offspring.

While stopping by the Pequea Boat Launch to capture the frozen Susquehanna River I could hear Eagles ... somewhere. After some time these two emerged with a younger third behind them. The two were quite playful chasing each other around the ice.

While stopping by the Pequea Boat Launch to capture the frozen Susquehanna River I could hear Eagles ... somewhere. After some time these two emerged with a younger third behind them. The two were quite playful chasing each other around the ice.

In the 1980s the damage was done here in Pennsylvania. However, there was a glimmer of hope in the Pennsylvania Game Commission's eagle reintroduction program. The program ran from 1983-89, and through many years of hard work, the nesting populations continue to rise to this day. In 1990 there were 8 active nests, 48 in 2000, 100+ in 2006, 150+ in 2008, 200+ in 2011, and more than 270 in 2013. Similar trends are also happening around the Chesapeake Bay and New York, but it is expected to slow at some point due to available territory.

The Bald Eagle was removed from the federal Endangered Species List in 1995, and later removed from the Endangered and Threatened Species List altogether in 2007. Here in Pennsylvania its status was changed from Endangered to Protected in 2014. Despite their upgraded status, the Eagles are still protected under three federal acts, and they are heavily monitored.

An Eagles nest in Amish Country near Bird in Hand, PA. One Eagle was in the nest at the time, while the other was in a nearby tree.


There is a lot to know about Bald Eagles, and the Pennsylvania Game Commision has a lot of valuable information on their website including species information, LIVE STREAMING NEST CAMS, where to watch for Eagles, and a lot of information about the years of work put into restoring the Eagle population here in Pennsylvania ...



Ready for A closeup?

Among the many mascots that can be found in South Philadelphia is Noah, the 3-foot tall Bald Eagle with an enourmus 7-foot wingspan. Noah is one of the Educational Birds from the Elmwood Park Zoo in Norristown. He is not an exhibit animal, and only makes appearances for educational programs within and outside the Zoo. Noah suffered an 80-foot fall when he was only eight weeks old and underwent extensive rehabilitation for years before coming to the Elmwood Park Zoo. Now he entertains and informs the public about Eagles and the importance of protecting them.

While Noah isn’t an exhibit animal, a few of his friends can be seen hanging around the Zoo. After you get your tickets in the gift shop the Eagle exhibit greets you as you enter the park. There are a number of bald and golden Eagles hanging out on their perches and soaking up the sunshine in a fairly realistic environment. The open-air pen gives visitors a great view of these beautiful creatures, unlike anything I’ve seen before.

How many Eagles can you spot? There are five in this image of the Eagle's exhibit at the Elmwood Park Zoo.

How many Eagles can you spot? There are five in this image of the Eagle's exhibit at the Elmwood Park Zoo.

A visit to Elmwood Park Zoo is enough for a post of its own. It’s a relatively small zoo compared to the Philadelphia Zoo. They fit a lot in the space they have for a reasonable price, and the close proximity you get to the animals provides an up-close look that is hard to get elsewhere. Particularly the Eagles!


@roadkill4512 Goin WILD ...

When I think of Bald Eagles, there is one of my photography buddies that instantly comes to mind. His name is Steven Maerz, and he captures some awesome shots of Eagles ... and waterfalls, and the stars, and ... well a whole lot of awesomeness! When I started thinking about writing this post I reached out to him immediately and asked if he would be interested in sharing a few of his photos. 

Steve and I met through the Lancaster County Instagrammers Group on Facebook and have been following each other for a few years now. So i know that like myself he's a fan of Elmwood Park Zoo, and you can also find him along the shores of the Susquehanna River near the Conowingo Dam with some long range gear in hand. His dedication and practice in capturing these eagles has resulted in some amazing photos and I'm stoked to share them with you here. Take a look and give him a follow on Instagram ...


The Drop

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A post shared by Steven Maerz (@roadkill4512) on


A post shared by Steven Maerz (@roadkill4512) on

Time for another eagle pic

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Golden Eagle enjoying the snow.

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Flying High

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A little fishin'

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looking to soar? Fly high ...

Lancaster, Bucks, Chester, Gettysburg


Nature inspired designs on Society6 ...


More Stories from the blog ...

Observation Tower at Governor Dick

Observation Tower at Governor Dick

Here's a place I've been anxious to revisit. I first visited Clarence Schock Memorial Park at Governor Dick back in my Amish Road Show days. I'll post the original video further down. That was kind of a crazy time because Zoe was just a baby and had just starting to walk. Basically, we needed out of the house. It was fun, but she screamed the whole way back to the car, and it was slightly less than enjoyable. 

So the other weekend we returned with both kids older and accustomed to a decent hike. The park is located just south of Mount Gretna, Pa on Pinch Road. About a 1/4 mile south of Mount Gretna Road (Rt. 117) you will see a pull-off that provides access to the firetower. If you go another 1/2 mile or so down Pinch Road you'll find the entrance to the Environmental Center Parking Lot. This is where we like to park if we can. With over 15 miles of trails for hiking, biking, and equestrian use there's more than one way to get to the tower.

Panoramic view of the Observation Tower rising beyond the Trees at the edge of the wildflower fields.

The most direct hike is up a service road, but there are plenty of trails to branch off on, and most of them are not really stroller friendly that i saw, just a heads up. Our crew made our way through the wildflower fields. There were plenty of flying and stinging insects around, but for the most part they didn't bother us. That's where I got my Insta360 Nano out and started recording. Check out the video below to see what came next ... 

The climb up the tower is not too bad. The kids did really well with some help and guidance. I guess a lot of people don't realize it's ladders, not stairs. As you can see, when you get to the top you're in a cage. I had my selfie stick with me so I got to poke my Insta360 Nano just a little bit higher. Take a look at the view on the south side of the tower ...

There is a lot I still don't know about this park. However, that's just a reason to visit again. I know that the Park offers a wide range of nature based and  other educational programs. They also work with the Public Schools a good bit as was the desire of the late Clarence Schock. Be sure to stop by their site for more details on all of the activties, rules, and other information about the park.


Blast from the past ...

Like I said, this was our second trip up here. Just over five years ago I came up for my Amish Road Show site. This was back when I first got my GoPro Hero 2. Such a proud moment. Check it out ...

Kilgore Falls - Pylesville, MD

Kilgore Falls - Pylesville, MD

As we kick off August there are definitely hot days ahead. This time of year we love chasing waterfalls and finding cool creeks to splash around in. One such waterfall isn't here in Lancaster, but if you're local or near the area it's worth exploring to beat the heat this summer!

This waterfall is just across the border in Pylesville, MD. It's known by multiple names, but you can find it on Google Maps by searching for Kilgore Falls. This is the second largest free-falling waterfall in the state of Maryland, and it is a beautiful sight.  Check out the image below ...


To access the Falls you will have to park at the Falling Branch Area of Rock State Park. There is a small 28 spot parking area on Falling Branch Road that fills up quickly, so be sure to get there early as they strictly enforce their no parking policy along the road and in the grass. This is a very popular area, so get there early and avoid weekends and holidays. It actually took us two trips to see the falls. The park grounds are open sunrise to sunset, but the parking lot is open at 8am from March through October, and 10am from November to February.

Once you park the falls trail is approximately a 1/2 mile single track hike to the falls. It is NOT wheelchair or stroller accessible, and large coolers are also discouraged. The trail is narrow, rocky and filled with roots, but it's not a strenuous hike by any means. The kids had no problem keeping up, until the falls tired them out of course.

That's because swimming and wading are permitted at the falls. No lifeguard is on duty and cliff jumping is highly discouraged as people have been seriously injured here before.  You should also note that there are no picnic tables, no restrooms, and no trash cans. Keep it light going in and make sure that you leave nothing behind.

This isn't the tallest waterfall I've ever seen, but it is a gorgeous area. Don't just take my word for it, I had my Insta360 Nano along for this adventure. Checkout what I capture below ... 

360 view on

Below you will find a 360 photo I captured with my Insta360 Nano. Not the best 360 photo I've ever captured, but I good sense of what it's like at the base of the falls.

More of Rock State Park

In the event you can't get into the parking lot, or maybe you're looking for more adventure, the main section of Maryland's Rock State Park is home to the King and Queen Seat Overlook. A really fabulous rock outcrop with a stunning view of the valley 190 feet below. Check out this short video ...

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More Fireflies ...

More Fireflies ...

We're still chasing fireflies. I can certainly admit that it is one of the great joys of summer for me. Since one of my other great joys is photography I've been having a blast capturing these interesting little critters.

After a few adjustments to the settings last evening I set my camera on time-lapse mode and walked away. I wanted to capture a number of images so I could stack them together, have a short time-lapse clip, and just generally be able to play around with them a bit. I enjoy experimenting with turning photos into videos in different ways. The result is the composition video and images below. Enjoy!



1300 - Fireflies and house on hillside

This next one I took a step further and edited with Topaz Impressions by Topaz Labs. It's a really cool stand-alone program and photoshop plugin that makes your photos look like paintings. Sound Interesting? Check out the link below the photo and try out the free demo!

1300 - Firelfies Impressions Version