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!

Light City Baltimore

Light City Baltimore

It's time again for one of the coolest events I've ever attended! It's a short drive for those of us here in Lancaster County, but it's definitely worth it! I would even recommend it for folks further away than us. I'm talking about the Light City event in downtown Baltimore.

When I heard about the first event last year I instantly knew I would like it. Afterall, photography is essentially the process of capturing light. So an entire festival devoted to light is right up my alley. The festival is a full fledged takeover of downtown Baltimore. In addition to the light art installations sprinkled around the city there are a number of mini-events focused on innovation in electricity, and a fair amount of music to get the feet movin.

As the first city to embrace electric street lights Baltimore compliments the festival nicely. The inner harbor also provides a fabulous environment with the rays of light flickering off the surface. It also opens the conversation on the innovative work that is going into cleaning the harbor and the Chesapeake Bay every day.

There is so much more to say about this event, but the best source of information can be found at I would highly recommend downloading their smart phone app too. It's very helpful in navigating visitors to all of the installations, music, and other events. 


2018 Highlights


Get PUMPED for 2018!!

April 14-21, 2018

Light City Baltimore 2017

Unfortunately I only had one free night to make it down to the festival in 2017, and it was pouring down rain. I tried to make the best of it and took a few 360 photos whenever the rain slowed down for a second. Check it out ...

Topaz Glow Remix 2017

Since I only had a few photos I decided to try something a little different. I edited the photos I had using the Topaz Glow 2 Photoshop Plugin. Here's what I came up with ...


2016 Light City Mashup Video

360 fun on Instagram


2016 Photo Gallery

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

A post shared by Steven Maerz (@roadkill4512) on


A post shared by Steven Maerz (@roadkill4512) on


A post shared by Steven Maerz (@roadkill4512) on


A post shared by Steven Maerz (@roadkill4512) on

Time for another eagle pic

A post shared by Steven Maerz (@roadkill4512) on

Golden Eagle enjoying the snow.

A post shared by Steven Maerz (@roadkill4512) on

Flying High

A post shared by Steven Maerz (@roadkill4512) on

A little fishin'

A post shared by Steven Maerz (@roadkill4512) on


looking to soar? Fly high ...

Lancaster, Bucks, Chester, Gettysburg


Nature inspired designs on Society6 ...


More Stories from the blog ...

Frozen Over

Frozen Over

The transition from 2017 to 2018 was a chilly one. Looking at Facebook I saw a number of people going through the same trouble with frozen pipes that I was, and worse. Nearly two weeks with temperatures between zero and freezing is not the norm around here. 

Ever the optimist I saw the opportunity to visit a few of my favorite frozen destinations to share with you. Here are five of my favorite nearby places to visit when everything is frozen over …

Frozen Places

Save this map and take it with you in the Google Maps App!

Save this map and take it with you in the Google Maps App!


#1 Middlecreek Wildlife Management Area

A few years ago I headed to Middlecreek to take some pictures and was astonished by what I saw at the northeastern edge of Lancaster County. There are a few ponds near where I grew up in New Holland, but I had never actually thought about lakes freezing over. One of those humbling moments in adulthood when you realize you’re completely ignorant about something.

At that time a number of ice fishing tents dotted the lake. People in large bright puffy coats could be seen walking across the ice towing small sleds full of their gear. It was my first experience of both seeing a frozen lake and witnessing ice fishing.

The Pennsylvania Game Commission operates a visitor center, but it closes after hunting season until February. A few weeks after they reopen the first flocks of migratory birds will begin appearing around the lake. While the visitor’s center is closed, so are some of the parking and access areas. If you get a chance to park at the small parking area near the dam on Klienfeltersville Road you’ll just be a few steps from the ice.

#2 Ulmer-Root-Haines Memorial Park - Indian Steps Waterfall

The next two spots are going to take us to the York County side of the Susquehanna River. This is one that I had seen some pictures of but wasn’t exactly sure what to expect in terms of accessing the falls.

The Ulmer-Root-Haines Memorial Park is located just across the street from the Indian Steps Museum. That’s another place I want to visit, but it will have to wait for another post because they close over Winter. The Museum's Arts and Crafts Style buildings were quite charming blanketed with snow. I could see what appeared to be a very beautiful view of the river at the edge of the property, but I didn’t want to wander around their property. I was on a waterfall mission. 

I expected the falls to be frozen over, but I was actually quite impressed with how big the ice became given the slow flow of the creek I had seen in photos. After parking in the small pull off along Indian Steps Road we proceeded to the small staircase across the street. There is a large sign to let you know it’s the park and a small rocky trail leading directly up the hill about a quarter of a mile to the falls. This trail could be a little challenging for some due to the rocks and roots, particularly in rain, snow, or ice. Be sure to use caution if visiting this waterfall, and be prepared!

#3 Millcreek Falls

Millcreek Falls is another York County waterfall tucked away along the shores of Susquehanna River. This happens to be one of my favorite places to visit in general. After crossing the Susquehanna River on the Norman Wood Bridge (which towers over the river valley below), you take an immediate right into the Lock 12 Historic Area. There are a number of interesting lock remnants in this area left in time from the Susquehanna and Tidewater Canal that previously extended from Wrightsville, PA to Havre De Grace, Maryland. 

Frozen Mill Creek Falls

After a short drive down the unpaved River Road, you’ll cross Millcreek on a bridge and see the blue blazed entrance to the Mason Dixon Trail on your immediate left. In about a hundred yards or so you’ll notice a pull off area to the right for parking. If you reach the Holtwood Whitewater Park or the Holtwood Dam you’ve gone just a little too far.

Probably the biggest reason this is one of my favorite places to visit is the convenient access to a beautiful waterfall. After starting up this very easy section of the Mason Dixon Trail it’s only about a hundred yards until you see the creek and cascading falls to your left. Where you’ll be standing on the hillside gives you a great view of the falls. Getting to the base of the falls is a bit more challenging and a little risky for inexperienced hikers. If you choose to go down there use caution. 

If you continue up the trail to the top of the falls it’s just a light walk on a heavily used path. The pool at the top makes a great place to let the kids, or your inner-child, splash around in the summer. In the winter the ice forms interesting features all around.

From there the trail continues along the side of the creek. The sound of flowing water is very soothing, but after the falls there are a few spots along the trail that can get slippery. Further up there’s a branch which offers a slightly smaller waterfall, beyond that the Mason Dixon Trail returns to its normal level of intensity reserved for more experienced hikers. Snow and ice were making it especially hazardous when we visited, so we headed back.

#4 Kilgore Falls

Kilgore Falls is Maryland’s second tallest waterfall located in a satellite portion of Rock State Park near Pylesville, Maryland. To get there we crossed the Norman Wood Bridge (Route 372)  like we’re going to Millcreek Falls, but instead of turning onto River Road head straight until the road stops at Route 74. Turn left and it’s only another 20 mins south and a few turns in Maryland. 

Kilgore Falls in Summer

A big thing to remember about Maryland Parks, you typically have to be in a parking space in a parking lot. When the lots fill up in Maryland they tell you to drive around and come back later. Honestly, It’s super frustrating and I’ve been turned away from a few parks. We had no problem getting a space in winter, or when they first open the parking lot in the morning during the Summer months. Typically by the time we’re ready to leave the lot is near or at capacity though.

Kilgore Falls

However, the hassle is totally worth it. This is a beautiful waterfall, and it's a lot of fun to splash around in the pools at the base of the falls in the summer. I stopped by here before the deep freeze and crossing the creek did not look inviting, so we headed to the top of the falls. When I returned during the freeze the entire creek was frozen solid and it became the trail.

The trail to the creek is well worn with few rocks and roots scattered around. It’s about a half mile to the falls and a fairly easy hike. The paths around the base of the falls are a little different. With so many people playing in the falls these paths have a lot of erosion causing roots and rocks to be exposed. Definitely use caution, especially at the top of the falls as there are no safety railings.

#5 Chickies Rock Overlook

Chickies Rock County Park is another favorite place I like to visit. I enjoy the Northwest Lancaster County River Trail at the base of the rock, and the Breezyview Overlook for a great view without the hike, but the overlook at Chickies Rock provides one of the best views in Lancaster County in my opinion. So much so that we captured it a few years ago for Google Streetview. Check it out …

The overlook is about a half mile from the parking lot along Chickies Hill Road (Route 441). The trail is well worn so rocks can be a hazard, particularly when there’s snow on the ground, but the 200-foot view is spectacular!

Need more? Checkout the Grand View ...


Country Frozen

Country Frozen

Like much of the nation we are in the midst of a deep freeze here in Lancaster County. Personally, I'm more of a warm sandy beaches kind of guy, but when I asked some of my photographer friends who's ready for summer I was surprised by their answers. A surprising number of people actually said they prefer the frigid arctic vortex barreling down on us with oppressive force. I kid, to each their own.

Freezin ...

I do enjoy certain aspects of winter life. Winter does bring it's own unique beauty that you only get a short time to really appreciate. In a deep freeze like we're experiencing now we get some very unique ice features to observe. For starters, I love getting out to see some of my favorite waterfalls turn into a cascade of ice. Take a look at this picture I converted into a Plotagraph (moving image) of Millcreek Falls in York County along the Mason Dixon Trail ( i've been visiting a few nearby falls, stay tuned for more to come on that)


Country Frozen Video

Another magical thing to watch is the snow blowing across the open fields. It's kind of hard to capture in a photograph, so I captured a few video clips and put them together in the following video "Country Frozen".


Recent Photos

Below are a few photos I captured while I've been out and about. I don't randomly capture as much as I used to, but when I have my camera along and I see something unigue I like to capture a few frames.

Sunsets are hit or miss this time of year. It's good to keep an eye out the window. When the snow and the clouds work together with the Sun the colors are absolutely breathtaking. Like the wind that will be pounding you in the face.

Two young ladies enjoying a sunset stroll on horseback on Wissler Road

A Mennonite buggy makes it's way down Amishtown Road. I'm never happy to see the horses out in this type of weather. However, seeing it make it's way down the powerline free road I had to take a snap. You've probably seen my other photos along this road. It's one of my favorite places to enjoy a sunrise or sunset because it's convenient, but also because of the lack of power lines. 


Past WINTER Photos



More to see ...