Little Buffalo State Park
Certain places just attract people. The cool, clear water of Little Buffalo Creek has been attracting people for centuries. American Indians frequented Little Buffalo Creek on hunting trips. Farmers and merchants used to gossip and pass news while the grain was ground at Shoaff’s Mill. Nearby, merchants, local people and travelers met at Blue Ball Tavern. Today, thousands of people meet at Little Buffalo State Park to picnic, swim, fish, hike and experience nature and history.
Picnicking: Many picnic tables offer nice views of the lake and most are shaded by beautiful oak, maple and ash trees. Charcoal grills are scattered throughout the picnic areas. All picnic areas are open from 8 a.m. to sunset. Picnic pavilions can be reserved up to 11 months in advance for a fee. Unreserved picnic pavilions are free on a first-come, first-served basis.
Main Picnic Area is a large, shaded lawn surrounding the swimming pool. There are showers, first-aid station, play field, seasonal food concession, playground equipment, boat rental, two picnic pavilions that each seat 80 people, horseshoe pits, restrooms and many picnic tables. Main Picnic Area is closed November through April.
East Picnic Area, by the Little Buffalo Historic District and open year-round, features picnic tables, restrooms, horseshoe pits, Classroom Annex, a picnic pavilion that seats 50 people and the Entertainment Pavilion.
Swimming: A state-of-the art swimming pool which is nearly half an acre in size sits along Holman Lake. The pool varies in depth from one to five feet and has 17- and 11-foot waterslides and a sprayground. The pool has a capacity of 1,285 swimmers and has a ramp for people with disabilities.
The summer hours are 11 a.m. to 6:45 p.m. The pool opens for the Memorial Day weekend then weekends only until the second weekend in June when it begins seven days a week operation until mid-August. Please call the park office for the official opening date and late season schedule. There is a fee for pool use. Swimmers arriving after 4 p.m. receive a discount. Season passes are available at the park office.
The pool is very popular and reaches capacity on holidays and many weekends. Mid-week swimming is often less crowded.
Swimming is prohibited in Holman Lake.
A seasonal snack bar has hot and cold foods and beverages.
Boating: electric motors permitted
Next to the swimming pool, a boat rental operates the weekend of Memorial Day through Labor Day from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily, unless otherwise posted. Canoes, rowboats and pedal boats are available.
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.
Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission laws apply. Complete information on boating rules and regulations in Pennsylvania is available from the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission Web site.
Fishing: The 88-acre Holman Lake offers year-round fishing opportunities. This warm-water fishery enjoys natural reproduction of largemouth bass, catfish and panfish.
The lake is designated as a “Big Bass Lake.” Bass must be at least 15 inches long with a daily limit of four. Brook, brown, and rainbow trout, and fingerlings of tiger muskellunge are stocked several times a year. An ADA accessible fishing pier is by the Main Boat Launch.
Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission laws apply. Complete information on fishing rules and regulations in Pennsylvania is available from the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission Web site.
Hunting and Firearms: About 300 acres of Little Buffalo State Park are open to hunting, trapping and the training of dogs during established seasons. Common game species are deer, turkey, grouse, rabbit, pheasant and squirrel.
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 car, trailer or leased campsite. 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.
Recreation Hall: Located in the campground, the rentable Recreation Hall seats 200 people for wedding receptions, family gatherings and meetings. Contact the park office for reservations and additional information.
Hiking: 8 miles of trails
Volksmarching: Governed by the American Volksport Association and the International Federation of Popular Sports, Volksmarchers earn awards for hiking. Little Buffalo State Park has a Volksmarcht Year Round Walk. White arrows point out the 10K (6.2 miles) walk on Mill Race, Fisherman’s, Buffalo Ridge, Little Buffalo Creek, Middle Ridge and Exercise trails and Little Buffalo State Park Road. For official information contact the park office.
Little Buffalo Creek Trail: 1 mile, easiest hiking, blue blazes
Exercise Trail: 1.2 miles, easiest hiking, mowed path,
Blue Ball Trail: 0.25 mile, easiest hiking, paved
Campground Spur: 0.5 mile, easiest hiking, green blazes
Fisherman's Trail: 1 mile, easiest hiking, yellow blazes
Mill Race Trail: 0.5 mile, easiest hiking, orange blazes
Middle Ridge Trail: 2.5 miles, most difficult hiking, red blazes
Buffalo Ridge Trail: 1.5 miles, most difficult hiking, white blazes
Camping: flush toilets, warm showers, some electric hook-ups
Explore the campground map.
Explore camping for more information.
Camping Cottages: Five, rustic cottages sleep five people in single bunks and double/single bunks, and have a dining table and chairs, wooden floors, windows, electric heat, picnic table, fire ring, electric lights and outlets. The nearby campground shower house provides toilets, showers and drinking water. In 2014, up to two dogs will be permitted in cottages 4 and 5 for a fee.
Modern Cabin: The ADA accessible cabin sleeps 12 people in three bedrooms and is open year-round. Amenities include heat and air conditioning, stove, refrigerator, microwave oven, dishwasher, clothes washer and dryer (HE detergent required). Renters should bring their own bed linens, bathroom articles, kitchenware and eating utensils. Pets are prohibited in the cabin.
Explore cabins for more information.
Explore the Winter Report for the current snow and ice depths.
Cross-country Skiing: All hiking trails in Little Buffalo State Park are open for cross-country skiing, but skiing is recommended on Little Buffalo Creek Trail. A 2.5-mile loop can be skied by taking Little Buffalo Creek Trail to Main Picnic Area, then ski the Newport and Sherman’s Valley Railroad trace. Return to Little Buffalo Creek Trail along the edge of woods.
A popular loop in East Picnic Area starts in the parking lot and follows the path to Clay’s Covered Bridge. The trail passes Shoaff’s Mill then returns to the starting point on either Mill Race Trail or the shorter service road.
Skiing is also permitted on service roads and unplowed roads in the day use area.
Ice Fishing: Ice fishing is permitted on Holman Lake except in the ice skating area. The lake is noted for a high panfish harvest, along with trout and warm water game fish. Ice thickness is monitored in the skating area only. For your safety, be sure the ice is four inches thick and carry safety equipment.
Ice Skating: Conditions permitting, a two-acre skating area is maintained on the east end of the lake by the Main Boat Launch. Heated restrooms are provided. The skating area is open from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Ice thickness is monitored in the skating area only.
Environmental Education and Interpretation
Little Buffalo State Park offers a wide variety of environmental education and interpretive programs. Through hands-on activities, guided walks and campfire programs, participants gain appreciation, understanding and develop a sense of stewardship toward natural and cultural resources.
Curriculum-based environmental education programs are available to schools and youth groups. Teacher workshops are available. Group programs must be arranged in advance and may be scheduled by calling the park office.
Programs are offered year-round. Many programs feature Shoaff’s Mill. Over 12,000 people visit the mill annually. Contact the park office for more detailed information on programs.
Explore the Calendar of Events for a listing of events from today forward.
Explore environmental education and interpretation for more information.
Old Fashioned Apple Festival: Held the third weekend of October in time for fall foliage, this festival will take your taste buds back to the mid-19th century. You can see and taste apple butter cooked in a large copper kettle in front of Shoaff’s Mill. Apples are ground and squeezed in a century-old water powered press. Shoaff’s Mill grinds cornmeal, cracked corn and apples. Visitors may taste samples of apple cider, apple butter and cornmeal recipes as long as supplies last.
Halloween Night: Held in East Picnic Area on the Saturday before Halloween, this program features storytelling, pumpkin carving, refreshments and haunted hayrides. Activities start at 6 p.m.
Christmas Walk:This family-oriented activity has become a popular holiday event in the county. Thousands of lights and holiday cutouts dot East Picnic Area and provide the perfect holiday atmosphere. Santa always makes an appearance. Local 4-H Clubs sell cookies and hot chocolate. Area choirs sing carols many of the nights. The program runs December 17 through December 23 from 6 to 9 p.m.
Explore the Calendar of Events to see when these events are scheduled.
Access for People with Disabilities
An ADA accessible fishing pier is at the main boat launch. There is a paved trail from the swimming pool to the boat rental. Blue Ball Trail is paved and ADA accessible in East Picnic Area.
If you need an accommodation to participate in park activities due to a disability, please contact the park you plan to visit.
There are many opportunities to see wildlife, but please observe from a safe distance and do not feed wildlife. Little Buffalo Creek Trail offers good opportunities for seeing white-tailed deer. The tracks of beaver, muskrat and mink can be found in the stream beside the trail. Middle Ridge Trail is a good place to see turkey, grouse and also large colonies of Allegheny mound ants.
Holman Lake provides habitat for many animals, including green herons, egrets and beavers. The west finger of the lake is a good place to see wood ducks. Although not residents, bald eagles and ospreys are often seen near Holman Lake. Many waterfowl use the lake as a rest stop during migration, including Canada geese, mallards, blue-winged teal, mergansers, buffleheads, common loons and ring-necked ducks.
Many species of warblers inhabit the forests of the park. Common yellowthroat, yellow warbler and the blue-gray gnatcatcher are common. The blue-winged warbler can be seen by the power line along Millrace Trail and on the west side of the lake.
Nest boxes are scattered throughout the park, but the best place to see eastern bluebirds is along Exercise Trail. Please enjoy viewing the bluebirds, but do not disturb the nest boxes.
Most of the Little Buffalo Valley is underlain by limey shale, which is the basis of the habitats of the park. Even though Little Buffalo State Park has reported record acid rainfall for the state, Holman Lake is full of life and is an excellent fishery. The limey shale neutralizes the acidic rain water which helps support a great amount of life in the lake and surrounding wetlands.
Natural History of Little Buffalo State Park
The shallow water of Little Buffalo Creek is easily warmed by the sun, making a warm water fishery. Although trout tolerate the water, largemouth bass, black crappie and sunfish thrive. Bass eat almost anything in the lake, including other fish, frogs, crayfish and ducklings. The most common fish in the lake is yellow perch. Somehow yellow perch was introduced into the lake in 1979 and the population skyrocketed. To keep the yellow perch population under control, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission stock walleye and channel catfish.
In addition to the many human anglers that use Holman Lake, there are many wild anglers. These natural fishers rarely take fish of legal size and so do not compete with human anglers. The most spectacular of these natural anglers are the bald eagle and the osprey. Neither bird nests at Little Buffalo State Park, but they are frequent visitors. With its dark body, and white head and tail, the bald eagle is a regal hunter. The brown, black and white osprey is less striking in appearance and can be overlooked, but this excellent hunter's "killi killi killi" call is almost as dramatic as its feet first dive into the water to catch fish.
The largest avian angler at the lake is the great blue heron. Reaching four feet tall, this bird is all neck and legs. The legs allow it to wade into deep water and the long neck is a lightning quick spear to snare fish, frogs and crayfish. The little green heron is a cousin of its bigger relative and prefers to hunt perching on logs on the shore of the lake. Sometimes this bird uses its wings to create shade on the water. Small fish, particularly minnows and fry, go to the shade for safety only to be eaten by the heron.
A nocturnal mammal is also a clever angler. The mink, a relative of the weasel, hunts along streams and the edge of the lake. An excellent swimmer, the mink is often confused with its much larger relative the otter. A fierce predator, the mink eats anything it can kill, which is anything smaller than itself.
Many other lake residents do not fish, but eat plants. Arguably the prettiest bird in North America is the wood duck. The dazzling drake and the only slightly less attractive female are secretive lake dwellers. Unlike most ducks, these waterfowl nest in tree cavities instead of in a nest on the edge of water. When leaving the nest, the ducklings can drop 30 feet to the ground, then walk to the lake.
One of the most conspicuous lake dwellers is the red-spotted newt. This five inch long, green animal with red spots is often called a lizard, but it is an amphibian. Newts are often seen basking, floating near the top of the water. Many people wonder why fish do not eat these bold animals, but fish do-only once. Newts have a mild toxin in their skin which does not taste good and can cause irritation. Animals that eat a newt usually take it off of their menu.
Newts have odd life histories, even for amphibians. Adult newts live in water. In the winter they burrow into the mud to hibernate and breathe through their skin. In late spring, newts mate and the female lays gel covered eggs on aquatic plants, then leaves the young to fend for themselves. The eggs hatch into larvae which are tiny copies of their parents, except they have large feathery gills on the sides of their heads. After a year or so as a larva, eating aquatic insects and crustaceans, the larva develops lungs and loses its gills. Its drab colors are replaced with a brilliant red, and the teenager newt leaves the water to spend several years living on the land and hibernating under rocks and logs.
These small brightly colored creatures called "red efts" are often caught by children in the streams around the park, particularly the channel below the dam. Be sure to wash your hands after handling red efts because their bright color advertises their mild skin toxin. At some unknown signal, the bright colors fade, the eft grows a little larger, its tail lengthens and flattens, and the newt returns to the water to become an adult. Depending on conditions this transformation can take from several years up to 5 years.
Plentiful, clean water not only supports many aquatic animals and plants, but encourages life on the land near the water. Many aquatic plants thrive in and near the water. A unique plant is jewelweed, also called touch-me-not and silverleaf. This succulent plants contains a salve in its juice. Mosquito bites and poison ivy can be soothed with the juice of jewelweed plants. The odd-shaped orange flowers are pollinated by bees and turn into seed pods about an inch long. When ripe, the passing of an animal or even a slight wind is enough to cause the seed pod to explode and hurl the seeds up to 5 feet away.
Adjacent to Holman Lake are many old farm fields that are slowly changing from fields to forest, a process called succession. These fields are habitat for eastern bluebirds, fireflies and many species of butterflies.
A relative of the American robin, the bluebird is a thrush and like its relatives has a beautiful singing voice. Male bluebirds have bright red breasts, white bellies, and a back, head and tail the color of the sky. Females and juvenile birds are muted colors. Once a rare species due to the loss of tree cavities for nest sites, people have helped the bluebird by constructing houses of wood that mimic old woodpecker holes in trees. An insect eater, the bluebird usually sits on a fence post or low tree and flies out to catch flying insects. Bluebirds also eat many caterpillars. The best place to see bluebirds at Little Buffalo State Park is on the Exercise Trail. The park has 30 boxes and usually fledges about 80 peeps a year.
It is unknown why the stream is called Little Buffalo Creek or the adjacent ridge is called Buffalo Ridge, but local tradition holds that the buffalo, also called bison, inhabited the area.
Little is known of the original inhabitants of the land that became Little Buffalo State Park. It was occupied by many American Indian tribes and nations for short periods of time as they migrated away from the increasing European population. The Albany Purchase of 1754 acquired the land from the Iroquois League of Six Nations.
The park area was gradually settled after the American Revolution. These settlers farmed the fertile land, a lifestyle that continues even today. John Koch opened the Blue Ball Tavern in 1811 along the Carlisle Pike, the main road between Carlisle and Sunbury, currently called the New Bloomfield Road.
In 1808, David Watts of Carlisle built a charcoal burning iron furnace along Furnace Run just south of the present day park. The need for charcoal brought colliers to the area of Little Buffalo Creek.
Making charcoal was very time consuming. In winter, colliers cut wood and allowed it to dry. In summer, several days were spent stacking the wood into piles. Leaves and then soil or clay was packed on the pile, then the wood was set to burn. To get charcoal, the wood burned slowly for eight to ten days while the colliers watched the piles and extinguished flames which kept the wood smoldering. It then took several days for the charcoal to cool.
Each mound was 20 to 25 feet in diameter and made 300 to 500 bushels of charcoal. The wood from one acre of land would make enough charcoal to run the furnace for 24 hours.
The Juniata Iron Works smelted iron until the prized hardwoods used in charcoaling were depleted around 1848. Visitors can see remains from these “burns” along Buffalo Ridge Trail. Look for the 20 to 25-footdiameter circles of darkened earth along the trail.
About 1840, as part of the iron works community, the company built a water-powered gristmill which served the neighboring farms long after the furnace fell silent. Shoaff’s Mill operated until 1940. Farming continued to be the main use for the land until the 1960s.
During the late 1960s, the state legislature and Secretary Maurice K. Goddard of the Department of Forests and Waters (now the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources) instituted the goal of providing a state park within 25 miles of every citizen in Pennsylvania. To raise money to reach this goal, there were two voter-approved state bond issues. At Little Buffalo State Park, money from Project 70 purchased the land, and the park facilities were constructed with Project 500 funds. Little Buffalo State Park officially opened its gates to the public on June 11, 1972.
Little Buffalo Historic District, National Register of Historic Places
Shoaffs Mill: When the Juniata Iron Works closed in 1848, its lands, buildings and equipment were divided up for sale. In 1849, William Shoaff purchased 63 acres of land including the gristmill and a log cabin. William continued to mill wheat flour, buckwheat flour, cornmeal and livestock feed, and made extensive improvements to the mill. A successful miller, he built a fine brick home for his family in 1861. This brick home is currently a private residence.
William died in 1888 and his wife, Catherine, took over operation of the mill until their son Ellis Shoaff bought and took possession of the mill in 1900. To increase the speed and power of the mill, Ellis made improvements and bought one of the largest waterwheels east of the Mississippi. The wheel is still in use. Shoaff’s Mill continued to operate until 1940. The mill has been renovated and is back in operation milling cornmeal, cracked corn and grinding apples for cider during educational programs and demonstrations.
The brochure "Shoaff's Mill" is available at the park office.
The Blue Ball Tavern: Travelers knew that the tavern was full when a large blue ball, the tavern’s namesake, was placed outside of the tavern.
John Koch began farming the site in the late 1790s and in 1811 opened Blue Ball Tavern. The tavern offered food and drink, and a sleeping loft for travelers. Local people met at the tavern to gossip and exchange news. During the War of 1812, the tavern served as a stopover point for messenger riders coming from Carlisle to Sunbury. It is rumored that the Blue Ball Tavern was the meeting place in 1821 where plans were laid to create the new county of Perry.
For unknown reasons, the tavern closed in 1841. The current farmhouse was built around 1865 on the foundation of the tavern. Recycled boards and hardware found throughout the farmhouse may have originated in the tavern.
Today the Perry County Historical Society operates and maintains a museum and library in the farmhouse. Members volunteer to open the museum every Sunday during the summer months.
Clays Covered Bridge: Originally built in 1890 by bridge contractor George Harling, the 82-foot bridge spanned the Little Buffalo Creek and was located one mile west of its present location. The bridge was moved when Holman Lake was created.
The bridge architecture is a Burr Truss, patented by Theodore Burr of Connecticut. One large arch extends from one side of the bridge to the other. The roof and floor are attached to this arch, as are many king posts. The Burr Truss allowed longer distances to be bridged. There were many Burr Truss bridges built in the Susquehanna watershed, including the longest, single-arch wooden span bridge in the world built at McCalls Ferry. Clay’s Covered Bridge is one of 14 covered bridges that can still be found in Perry County.
Newport and Sherman's Valley Railroad: In 1890, railroad Owner David Gring moved his narrow gauge railroad from Huntingdon County to the western half of Perry County to harvest the valuable timber. For several years the railroad hauled logs and freight, then eventually passengers. Gring faced fierce competition from the Perry County Railroad, a standard gauge railroad from Duncannon through New Bloomfield to Loysville. (Standard gauge track is 56 ½ inches wide and narrow gauge track is 36 inches wide.) After 44 years, the narrow gauge railroad lost out to its larger competitor and went bankrupt in 1937. The small engines and trains could not haul enough cargo to compete against the larger, stronger standard gauge railroad.
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Little Buffalo State Park
Information on nearby attractions is available from the Perry County Tourist and Recreation Bureau. 717-834-4912
Box Huckleberry Natural Area: Just south of New Bloomfield on Huckleberry Road, this 100-acre plot is managed by the Pennsylvania Bureau of Forestry. Visitors can hike a self-guiding loop trail and see the rare box huckleberry which grows here and in only two other locations in Pennsylvania. This is also a good place to see wildflowers like trailing arbutus and may apple. Limited parking is available.
Hemlocks Natural Area: Located in the Tuscarora State Forest, this 120-acre plot of old growth timber is covered by massive trees 100 feet tall and four to six feet in diameter. Some of these giant trees started as seedlings about the time Christopher Columbus was discovering America! From the park it takes about 45 minutes to reach this site. Take 274 west to Big Spring State Park, turn left onto Hemlock Road. It is five miles to the natural area.
Maps and Downloadables
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Little Buffalo State Park Map (.pdf) (1,152 kb, 7/13)
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
Common Birds of Little Buffalo State Park (.pdf) (320 kb, 3/11)
From PA 322, take the Newport Exit and follow PA 34 south through the town of Newport. One mile from town, turn right onto Little Buffalo Road to the park. From PA 322 to the park entrance is 4.6 miles.
GPS DD: Lat. 40.4585 Long. -77.1682
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.
Little Buffalo State Park