Kings Gap Environmental Education Center
Kings Gap’s unique attractions are its mountainous terrain, extensive forest and panoramic views, which may be experienced while driving the winding road to the mansion area, or while hiking the trails. The sweeping view of the Cumberland Valley from the Cameron-Masland Mansion is impressive at any time of the year.
Kings Gap Environmental Education Center is one of several state parks specifically dedicated to provide environmental education and interpretive programs to the citizens of Pennsylvania. A variety of programs are available for children, teachers and the general public that increase knowledge and awareness of the values and function of our natural resources. Whether enjoying Kings Gap through recreational activities, educational programs, or its scenic beauty, visitors can be inspired to become stewards of Pennsylvania’s outstanding natural resources.
Kings Gap consists of 2,531 acres of forest on South Mountain, with more than 18 miles of hiking trails, a permanent orienteering course, picnicking, hunting and other recreational and educational opportunities. The mansion provides facilities for meals and overnight lodging, and may be reserved for meetings, weddings, receptions and similar functions.
Seasons and Hours: The center is open every day of the year, sunrise to sunset. Day use areas close at dusk. The center office is open specific hours. Contact the center office for facility seasons and hours.
Picnicking: Picnic tables are located throughout the center property. Drinking water is only available in the Mansion Area. Restrooms are available at the education building, Pine Plantation and Kings Gap Hollow areas.
Orienteering: A permanent orienteering course is located at Kings Gap. Orienteering is a sport that involves using a map and compass to navigate a designated course. Additional information on orienteering and copies of beginner course maps are available at the education building foyer. Additional course maps are available upon request. “Introduction to Orienteering” programs are offered in fall and spring.
Hunting and Firearms: About 1,860 acres are open to hunting, trapping and the training of dogs during established seasons. Common game species are deer, turkey and squirrel. An additional 633 acres is listed and posted as no hunting. However, this area is open to deer hunting (both antlered and antlerless) from the first Monday after Thanksgiving through the third Saturday after Thanksgiving - the traditional deer season. This area is closed to all types of hunting during the remainder of the year. Hunters should be aware of “Safety Zones” both posted and not posted. Contact the center office for additional information on the hunting areas.
Hunting woodchucks, also known as groundhogs, is prohibited. Dog training is only permitted from the day following Labor Day through March 31 in designated hunting areas. The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and the Pennsylvania Game Commission rules and regulations apply. Contact the park office for ADA accessible hunting information.
Use extreme caution with firearms at all times. Other visitors use the park during hunting seasons. Firearms and archery equipment used for hunting may be uncased and ready for use only in authorized hunting areas during hunting seasons. In areas not open to hunting or during non-hunting seasons, firearms and archery equipment shall be kept in the owner’s vehicle or enclosed trailer. Exceptions include: law enforcement officers and individuals with a valid Pennsylvania License to Carry Firearms are authorized to carry a firearm concealed on their person while they are within a state park.
Complete information on hunting rules and regulations in Pennsylvania is available from the Pennsylvania Game Commission Web site.
Hiking: 20 miles of trails
Trail Difficuly Ratings:
Ratings are based on technical challenge, not physical exertion.
Easiest: Elevation gain or loss is minimal, less than 5% slope, maximum 20% up to 100 feet
More Difficult: Elevation gain or loss is moderate, 12% slope, maximum 30% up to 300 feet
Most Difficult: Elevation gain or loss is usually severe, less than 18% slope, maximum 30+% up to 500 feet
Distances listed are one-way.
1. Pine Plantation Trail: 0.6 mile, easiest hiking
2. Whispering Pines Trail: 0.3 mile, paved, easiest hiking
3. Rock Scree Trail: 1.9 miles, more difficult hiking
4. Ridge Overlook: 0.8 mile, most difficult hiking
5. Forest Heritage Trail: 1.8 miles, more difficult hiking
6. Maple Hollow Trail: 1.3 miles, more difficult hiking
7. Woodland Ecology Trail: 0.6 mile, easiest hiking
8. Scenic Vista Trail: 2.5 miles, more difficult hiking
9. White Oaks Trail: 0.3 mile, paved, easiest hiking
10. Watershed Trail: 1.9 miles, more difficult hiking
11. Boundary Trail: 1.5 miles, most difficult hiking
12. Kings Gap Hollow Trail: 2.8 miles, more difficult hiking
13. Locust Point Trail: 1 mile, most difficult hiking
14. Buck Ridge Trail: 6 miles, most difficult hiking
15. Black Gum Trail: 1.1 miles, more difficult hiking
16. Nature Trail: 0.2 mile, easiest hiking
17. Cold Spring Overlook Trail: 0.04 mile, easiest hiking
Organized Group Tenting: This wooded area located in the Kings Gap Hollow Area has one site with a capacity of 30 people and may be reserved year-round by organized adult or youth groups. Reservations from 11 months up to two days in advance can only be made by calling toll-free 888-PA-PARKS, 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Saturday. Reservations two days or less in advance can be made by contacting the center’s office at 717-486-5031, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday to Friday.
Explore organized group tenting for more information.
Meetings, Retreats and Trainings: The mansion is available to host meetings, retreats and trainings for government agencies, private businesses and non-profit organizations. Meeting rooms, food service and overnight accommodations are available from mid-April through mid-November. Contact the center office for additional information, availability, prices and to make a reservation.
Weddings, Receptions and Other Special Events: From sweeping views of mountains and the Cumberland Valley to the historical backdrop of the Cameron-Masland Mansion and surroundings, Kings Gap offers a unique setting for weddings and receptions. The mansion and grounds are available to rent for weddings, receptions and a variety of special events from mid-April through mid-November. Overnight accommodations are also available. Contact the center office for additional information, availability, prices and to make a reservation.
Access for People with Disabilities
If you need an accommodation to participate in park activities due to a disability, please contact the park you plan to visit.
Kings Gap straddles South Mountain, which rises in elevation from 700 feet to 1400 feet above sea level. This dramatic elevation change gives Kings Gap two distinct forest habitats.
On the lower slopes of South Mountain is a forest habitat of white oak, red oak and tulip trees, and sparse undergrowth. In the tree canopy, birds like scarlet tanagers, Baltimore orioles and vireos hunt for insects to feed their young. Ovenbirds, eastern towhees and wood thrushes scour the ground for insects. Sharp-shinned hawks hunt for songbirds, reptiles and amphibians. These woods are also wet with spring seeps, small natural ponds and vernal pools found after the spring thaw and rains. Wood frogs and spotted salamanders journey to the fish-free waters to mate and lay their eggs to hatch and grow in relative safety. Summer brings on the blooms of fly poison and white snakeroot.
The Pine Plantation, a man-made habitat at the foot of the mountain, is home to animals that prefer coniferous forests. The chatter of a red squirrel often breaks the silence of the pine forest. In winter, red-breasted nuthatches scour the tree bark for food. Although impacted by invasive plants, the understory is also home to spicebush, a good food for mockingbirds, catbirds and bluebirds. Barred owls nest here.
The dry ridge tops of South Mountain are a forest habitat of chestnut oak trees, with an understory of mountain laurel, blueberry and black huckleberry. Pileated woodpeckers, eastern wood-peewees, brown creepers and kinglets thrive in the dry forest. The showy blooms of pink lady slipper and the tiny flowers of trailing arbutus show briefly in the spring. White-tailed deer, turkey and fox squirrel feast on the acorn crop each fall. The ridge tops are excellent sites to view both black and turkey vultures soaring on warm updrafts from the valley.
Kings Gap is great habitat for a variety of reptiles, including box turtles, five-lined skinks, northern copperheads and timber rattlesnakes. Snake sightings are not uncommon in the summer months. If left alone, snakes are usually not aggressive. The timber rattlesnakes of South Mountain are an isolated population whose numbers have dramatically declined in recent years. For this reason it is unlawful to hunt, take, catch or kill timber rattlesnakes in the South Mountain region. For additional information on these reptiles, contact the center office.
The Irishtown Gap Access and Pine Brook Access areas are gateways into an undeveloped section of the center grounds. This tract is crisscrossed with existing old trails and logging roads which are not blazed or marked. Many of the trails can be impassable due to wet conditions which support abundant moisture-loving plants like royal fern. For the adventurous, wildlife abounds. Black bear, coyote and fox are sometimes sighted in this area. The calls of the common flicker and black-capped chickadee breaks the silence of the woodlands.
Mansion Use Area
The center's offices and the Mansion Day Use Area are located on the mountaintop, four miles from the entrance of Kings Gap. The patio of the mansion provides a sweeping view of the Cumberland Valley. Turkey vultures are a common site at this vista as they catch the air currents created by the gap.
Kings Gap is suitable habitat for a variety of reptiles, including the box turtle, the five-lined skink (one of Pennsylvania's few lizards), the northern copperhead and the timber rattlesnake. Sightings of these reptiles are not uncommon in the summer months. In the Mansion Day Use Area, copperheads and rattlesnakes are sometimes seen hunting rodents along the stone walls of the mansion patio and garden. Although these snakes are venomous and should be respected, in their natural habitats they retreat when threatened. Remember it is unlawful to hunt, take, catch or kill a rattlesnake in the South Mountain Region. For additional information on these reptiles, contact the center office.
Chestnut oak dominates the forest while blueberries, huckleberries and mountain laurel make up the shrub layer of the Mansion Day Use area. The Woodland Ecology Trail is a signed interpretive trail that explores this oak forest habitat.
The garden, surrounded by a low stone wall, was used by the original owners of Kings Gap to raise vegetables. Restoration of this site began in January 1992 by the Master Gardeners of Cumberland County. The goal of this project is to establish an educational garden that will inspire and teach about the benefits of plants.
The garden is divided into three educational areas. The herb garden displays beds of coloring, cooking, fragrant and healing herbs. The wildlife habitat garden uses native plants in a meadow, pond, woodland and shrub border habitat to demonstrate how a wildlife habitat can be created in a "backyard." Finally, a compost demonstration garden provides examples of several different composting methods.
Pine Plantation Use Area
In contrast to the deciduous forest that covers most of the center grounds, the Pine Plantation lets you experience the shaded environment of a coniferous forest. The plantation of white pine, Douglas fir and larch is located near the entrance of Kings Gap. The C.H. Masland and Sons Carpet Company of Carlisle planted this forest as an experimental tree farm in the 1950s.
During the winters of 1995-97 with assistance from the Pennsylvania Bureau of Forestry, the plantation was thinned to insure its continued health. The removal of excess trees has reduced the competition for sunlight, water and nutrients, lessening the stress on the remaining trees.
The paved Whispering Pines Trail winds through the plantation.
The pine plantation is home to many animals that prefer a coniferous habitat. The silence of the pine forest is often broken by the chatter of a red squirrel as it announces your presence. In the winter months, you may catch sight of a red-breasted nuthatch as it searches the bark of a nearby pine for food.
In the spring, several vernal ponds dot the landscape. Vernal ponds are temporary ponds that fill up with water in the spring as a result of snowmelt, spring rains and/or elevated ground water tables. These important wetland habitats provide a breeding area for a variety of amphibians including spotted salamanders, spring peepers and wood frogs. Each spring participants in the program, "Experiencing a Spring Night," brave the darkness looking for a very small but very noisy tree frog, the spring peeper.
Pond Day Use Area
Located two miles from the entrance of Kings Gap, the Kings Gap Hollow Use Area features a scenic pond and mountain stream. This area is used extensively for environmental education programming because of its diversity of habitats.
Kings Gap Hollow Run is a spring-fed stream that periodically dries up and reveals a stony bottom. However, in the spring when the water flow is at its peak, this stony bottom is home for many aquatic animals. Pick a stone out of the stream and observe the larva of the black fly as they cling to the stone and filter food from the water. Although the adult black fly is considered a pest, the presence of its larva in the stream is an indicator of good water quality..
The black fly larva and the diversity of the other aquatic life found in the stream indicate good water quality, but the stream is vulnerable. Chemical tests reveal low pH and alkalinity levels due to the geology and vegetation of the area. Low levels of alkalinity indicate the stream has a limited capacity to "buffer" any acid that may enter in the form of acid rain or snow. Without this ability to neutralize additional acid, the pH level can drop. A low pH level means a high acid content. When the acid content becomes too high, the stream no longer supports life.
The deciduous forest that brackets the stream features wetland areas categorized by sphagnum moss, cinnamon ferns, skunk cabbage and tulip trees. In late spring and early summer, hikers may chance upon the clump of grass-like leaves with a white to pale green bloom of the lily of the wildflower fly poison.
The pond supports a wealth of aquatic animals adapted to slower water. It includes frogs, salamanders, turtles, snakes and various aquatic insects. A small, floating platform anchored in the pond provides a safe haven for "basking" painted turtles and water snakes. The pond also serves as an aquatic study area for students participating in field learning experiences.
The paved White Oaks Trail winds through an oak forest.
Human Impacts on South Mountain 1750-1900 Era
The origin of the name "Kings Gap" is not known, although it is believed to date back to early settlers in this region. The forests of Kings Gap reflect the influence of the charcoaling industry that began in the 1700s and persisted through the late 1800s. Before the discovery of coal, charcoal fueled the iron furnaces located nearby. Some furnaces were as close as Huntsdale, one mile to the southwest of the entrance to Kings Gap. Iron furnaces required tremendous amounts of charcoal as fuel. In 1786, an average furnace consumed in one day the charcoal produced from one acre of forest. The forests of South Mountain were clearcut on a 20 - 25 year cycle to satisfy the unquenchable thirst for charcoal by nine iron furnaces located in the Kings Gap area. A relatively young forest now exists as a result of these repeated cuttings.
The process of making charcoal demanded great skill and vast quantities of trees. During winter months, wood was cut and stacked. When colliers selected a site for the hearth, they stacked the wood into a conical shape by standing the sticks on end around a central chimney. The dangerous job of firing and tending these hearths belonged to the collier and one or two helpers. These men usually managed as many as eight or nine hearths at one time. To keep the fires smoldering, fires were carefully controlled 24 hours a day for ten days to two weeks -the time needed to produce the charred wood or charcoal.
The colliers lived in crude huts placed near the group of hearths being "coaled." Because of these rough living conditions, charcoaling took place during the milder seasons of the year. After the collier determined that the wood was ready, he extinguished the fires and raked the charcoal into piles. He then loaded the charcoal onto wagons and took it to the furnaces. The discovery of hotter-burning coal eliminated the demand for charcoal and the industry disappeared completely by the end of the 19th century.
The remains of these hearth sites are visible throughout Kings Gap. Flat, dry spots about 30 - 50 feet in diameter remain fairly free of vegetation revealing the location of a former charcoal hearth. Look for pieces of charcoal that sometimes can be found among the forest litter.
James McCormick Cameron 1906-1951 Era
Near the turn of the century, James McCormick Cameron, a member of the politically prominent Cameron family from Harrisburg, purchased many parcels of land surrounding Kings Gap. Around 1908, Cameron erected a 32-room stone mansion as a summer home. The threat of fire was the most likely reason Mr. Cameron chose to have the mansion exterior faced with the hard native Antietam quartzite quarried nearby and built the interior structure of reinforced concrete. At the turn of the century, forest fires on South Mountain were a constant threat due to poor forestry practices.
James McCormick Cameron's grandfather, Simon Cameron, was a U.S. senator from Pennsylvania and served briefly as Secretary of War under Abraham Lincoln. Donald Cameron, father of James, also was a U.S. senator. Both men amassed fortunes through business interests in banking, steel mills, printing and railroading, among others. James McCormick Cameron carried forward with the business tradition but shunned politics. He was educated at Harrisburg Academy, Phillips Exeter Academy and Harvard University. A hearing problem accounted for his shy and soft-spoken nature. He did not marry until 1927 when he was 62 years old. He had no children. He divided his time among residences in Harrisburg, Donegal in Lancaster County, and Kings Gap. Eventually purchasing 2,700 acres, Mr. Cameron instituted stewardship practices that helped to protect the land.
Still remaining from the Cameron mountain estate is the water tower, carriage house and small generator building, stone walled mansion garden, caretaker’s house (currently a private residence), and ice house where ice, hauled from Pine Grove Furnace each winter, kept food cool during the summer months.
Mansion: The mansion is approximately 200 feet long and is built of native Antietam quartzite quarried from a nearby ridge. The 32-room house was designed to resemble an Italian villa with its flat roof, huge windows and flagstone terrace. The use of steel-reinforced concrete for the internal structure of the building is believed to be one of the first such applications in local construction. The materials used in the construction were intended to make the mansion as fireproof as possible. Nevertheless, Mr. Cameron only lived at Kings Gap from May through October, when fire danger is at its lowest.
Ice House: The ice house rises 15 feet above ground level and extends downward 10 feet. The Camerons used it to store vegetables grown in the garden. The ice was brought from Laurel Lake at nearby Pine Grove Furnace until 1931.
Garden: The stone-walled garden provided vegetables for the household during the Cameron residency. Recently, a wire fence was erected in front of the stone wall to discourage deer.
Water Tower: The 10,000-gallon capacity wooden tank atop the brick tower supplies water to the surrounding buildings as it did when first constructed. Originally a water-powered pump located in the pumphouse near the foot of the mountain sent water from a spring approximately two miles up hill to the water tower. A well located at the pumphouse now serves as the water source. Gravity flow still feeds all of the buildings from the tank.
Carriage House: The former carriage house and stable now serves as the center's maintenance building. The building contained an apartment on the second floor for the carriage drivers and stable help. An automatic carriage wash in the middle bay and a hand-operated large equipment elevator in the carriage section are evidence of the modern conveniences of the time.
Generator Building: Across the road from the carriage house is a stone building that was originally constructed as the generator building. In the 1930s, a 12-volt electrical system powered by two gasoline engines was installed to generate electricity for the mansion. This system has long since been replaced by a public utility service.
Caretaker's House: This two-story brick building was occupied year-round by the caretaker of Kings Gap. The building is currently a private residence and is not open to the public.
C.H. Maslands and Sons 1951-1973 Era
With Mr. Cameron's passing in 1949, C. H. Masland and Son Carpet Company of Carlisle purchased the mansion and the surrounding 1,430 acres. The remaining acreage passed into other ownership. Masland refurbished the mansion, then called the "Masland Guest House," which was used as accommodations for potential clients and as a training site for employees and sales representatives. The bedrooms were used to showcase Masland carpet. The bedroom carpet was changed frequently as product lines were dropped and new designs were added.
The Masland family also became involved in several land management projects, including the planting of the pine plantation located at the base of the mountain. Thirty thousand trees were planted in the 42-acre plot during the 1950s. In addition, the Maslands were responsible for the construction of the pond, which is currently used as a site for aquatic studies.
As conference rooms and overnight facilities became more available in the Carlisle area, it was no longer economical for the company to operate its own guest house.
For Future Generations
The Nature Conservancy, assisted by the Commonwealth, purchased the mansion and 1,430 acres of South Mountain in 1973. Kings Gap was dedicated as the third state park environmental education center in 1977.
In 2011, the Nature Conservancy, assisted by the Commonwealth, purchased 1,077 acres, designated as "Irishtown Gap Tract," reuniting most of the original Cameron estate.
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Join a Friends Group
The Friends of Kings Gap Environmental Education Center is a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving, protecting, and enhancing Kings Gap State Park. It as an affiliate chapter of the Pennsylvania Parks and Forests Foundation, and is a qualified 501(c)(3) organization, which means that your contribution is tax deductible. Any money that you donate to the Friends will benefit Kings Gap State Park directly. The Friends coordinate a wide variety of volunteer activities that benefit the park. www.friendsofkingsgap.org
Pennsylvania Parks and Forests Foundation
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We love when young people ask us how to get involved!
DiscoverE has programs for young people ages 4 to 17, provided by Pennsylvania State Park educators. By combining recreation and education, we hope to motivate children to learn more and return often, leading to a lifetime of outdoor enjoyment and conservation leadership.
In Watershed Education, teachers and students assess water quality of a local stream on a quarterly basis and develop strategies to solve local water quality problems.
ECO Camp - Exploring Careers Outdoors - is a week-long residential camp for a cross-section of high school youth from across Pennsylvania, sponsored by the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR). Participate in action-packed, hands on activities and recreational adventures in Pennsylvania’s state parks and forests that expose youth to conservation, recreation and careers in natural resources. Learn how people make a living working in the outdoors.
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Kings Gap Environmental Education Center
Information on nearby attractions is available from the Cumberland Valley Visitor Bureau. www.visitcumberlandvalley.com
Pine Grove Furnace State Park: Visitors enjoy many recreational opportunities, including two mountain lakes, Laurel Lake and Fuller Lake, hiking the Appalachian Trail, biking the rail trail, camping, fishing, swimming, visiting the Appalachian Trail Museum and imagining when the park was a charcoal-fired iron furnace community.
Michaux State Forest: This 85,000-acre forest offers general recreation like hunting, fishing and hiking. 717-352-2211
The Nature Conservancy’s Forest Pool Preserve at Kings Gap and Mount Holly Marsh Preserve: This 70-acre natural area adjacent to Kings Gap State Park in Cumberland County is part of the South Mountain landscape and serves as a demonstration site for The Nature Conservancy’s restoration of vernal pools. Visitors can take a self-guided tour of the project. Kiosks explain the technique used to restore each pool. 717-232-6001 www.nature.org/Pennsylvania
Huntsdale State Fish Hatchery: The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission raises trout and other fish for release into Pennsylvania lakes and streams. Visitor Hours Daily, 8 a.m. - 3:30 p.m. 717-486-3419
Maps and Downloadables
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Interactive GIS Map
The Interactive GIS Map uses Geographic Information Systems to create a map that does not need to be downloaded and features driving directions, searchable park amenities and customizable maps. Please note that the background maps are maintained by a variety of public sources and driving directions usually go to the nearest large road.
Common Birds Brochure
From Interstate 81, take Exit 37. Travel south on PA 233 for about 2.3 miles. Turn left onto Pine Road and continue 2.2 miles. Turn right onto Kings Gap Road.
The Cameron-Masland Mansion is 3.5 miles from the center’s entrance. Follow the winding, paved road to the top of the mountain. In the Mansion Area, bear left to follow the one-way directional signs. Parking is available in several lots adjacent to the education building and mansion.
GPS DD: Lat. 40.09321 Long. -77.2683
Driving Directions: The Interactive GIS Map has turn-by-turn driving directions to the park office from the Park Information Window. Please note that the background maps are maintained by a variety of public sources and driving directions usually go to the nearest large road.
Kings Gap Environmental Education Center