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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!

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 Kuula.co

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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