Swatara State Park
The 3,520-acre Swatara State Park consists of rolling fields and woodlands situated in the Swatara Valley, between Second and Blue mountains. Scenic Swatara Creek meanders the length of the park and is surrounded by forests and wetlands that support a diversity of wildlife.
Swatara State Park was acquired with capital development funds appropriated by the Pennsylvania General Assembly. Planned facility and infrastructure improvements will support day use outdoor recreation such as canoeing, fishing, hiking, picnicking and bicycling.
Boating: non-powered boats only
Be aware of naturally occurring hazards which may be encountered on Swatara Creek.
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.
Complete information on boating rules and regulations in Pennsylvania is available from the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission Web site.
Fishing: Spring attracts many anglers to Trout Run; the park’s only trout stocked stream. Other cold-water tributaries within the park support native populations of brook trout.
Warm-water fish like smallmouth bass and panfish can be caught in Swatara Creek. Wagners Pond provides opportunities to catch largemouth bass and panfish.
Complete information on fishing rules and regulations in Pennsylvania is available from the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission Web site.
Hunting and Firearms: Most of Swatara State Park is open to hunting, trapping and the training of dogs during established seasons. Common game species are deer, turkey, ruffed grouse, pheasant, rabbit, squirrel and waterfowl, with populations of furbearers including muskrat, raccoon, opossum and fox. Be alert for trail users and the 150-yard safety zone surrounding each of the occupied buildings in the park.
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.
Hiking: The trails of the park are generally flat and wide.
Appalachian National Scenic Trail: Stretching from Georgia to Maine, this backpacking trail traverses two miles of the southern portion of Swatara State Park. Kittatinny Ridge, also known as Blue Mountain, has been designated by Audubon Pennsylvania, as the largest of the state’s “Important Bird Areas.” Overnight parking for through or section AT hikers is on SR 443 just west of SR 72. Hikers may leave an itinerary with the park for emergencies. www.nps.gov/appa/index.htm
Swatara Rail Trail: Swatara Rail Trail is ten miles in length from Lickdale Interchange (Exit 90) of I-81 to the Pine Grove Interchange (Exit 100) of I-81. The trail grade is relatively flat, with variable surfaces (stone, gravel, and pavement) requiring wide tires. Please note the bridge over Mill Creek is out and SR 443 is the alternative route.
Bear Hole Trail: Running along the eastern side of Swatara State Park, Bear Hole Trail (previously Old State Road) is a wide, rolling trail for hiking and biking. A ten-mile loop can be completed by using Swatara Rail Trail and Bear Hole Trail and crossing the creek at the Waterville Bridge and the Swopes Valley Road.
Mountain Biking: Accessible from the State Park Lane trailhead, six trails are designed as mountain bike trails. These single track natural surface trails are a maximum 24” wide with log obstacles and stream crossings. They are considered “most difficult” by DCNR trail standards, but “easy” by International Mountain Bike Association (IMBA) standards. Each trail loop is about 1.5 miles in length and twist through the woods and up and down hills.
Horseback Riding: Horseback riding is permitted on the Swatara Rail Trail north of the Sand Siding Bridge and on the Bear Hole Trail north of the Sand Siding Bridge. Riders may use the Sand Siding Bridge to access both trails. Horseback riding is not permitted on any trails south of the Sand Siding Bridge.
Explore the Winter Report for the current snow and ice depths.
Cross-country Skiing: The Swatara Rail Trail is good for skiing with adequate snowfall.
Trash Disposal and Recycling
Swatara State Park participates in a carry-in/carryout trash disposal program for small parks. There are no trash collection or recycling facilities. Visitors are asked to limit the amount of disposable items brought to the park and to take all trash and recyclables home.
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.
Swatara State Park has a combination of woodland and old fields in various stages of forest succession. The blending of these habitats results in a remarkably wide variety of trees, wildflowers and wildlife. Bird boxes are maintained for game and non-game species like bluebirds, hawks, wrens and ducks.
The geology of Swatara State Park is predominately sedimentary rocks that formed in a shallow ocean during the Middle Devonian Period of the Paleozoic Era, about 375 million years ago.
An Upper Mahantango Formation that contains significant marine fossil beds is exposed at a site along Bear Hole Trail. It provides excellent opportunities for fossil collecting, including the state fossil Phacops rana, a type of trilobite.
The Fossil Site is a 0.5 mile hike from the Swopes Valley Trailhead off of Swopes Valley Road south of Suedburg.
Native and Warm Season Grass Fields
When the park was created in the 1960s, most of the land had been small farms. Since then, the fields have become overgrown with non-native species like autumn olive and multiflora rose. The park has reclaimed many of these fields and planted them with native warm-season grasses like indiangrass, big and little bluestem and switchgrass. These grasslands provide a critical habitat which is rare in Pennsylvania. The fields benefit grassland birds like meadowlarks, bobolinks, and grasshopper sparrows as well as turkey, rabbits and other small mammals.
The bedrock of Swatara State Park is predominately sedimentary rocks formed during the Middle Devonian Period, about 375 million years ago. The area was a shallow, sunlit seafloor where mostly filter-feeding organisms thrived in gentle sea currents. Today we find these concentrations of shell and skeletal matter exposed as rock. The Fossil Site near Suedberg contains an Upper Mahantango Formation of significant marine fossil beds.
After the area was settled by Europeans in the 1750s, anthracite coal was discovered in the Tremont area. In the 1820s, as the demand for coal rose, a need for better transportation led to the construction of the Union Canal that connected the Schuylkill and Susquehanna rivers.
The Union Canal Company’s Branch Canal to Pine Grove had its beginnings as a 6.4 mile navigable feeder canal completed in November 1827. The Swatara Feeder, as it was called, ran from the Water Works Dam north along the Swatara Creek to Finnegans Dam about 2.4 miles north of Jonestown. In 1828, work began to extend the canal to Pine Grove. When completed, the canal ran approximately 21.6 miles along the Swatara Creek from Water Works to its terminus at the head of the Pine Grove Basin. From the basin, the Union Canal Railroad forged north for approximately 3.6 miles to the southern end of the anthracite coal region at Lorberry Junction.
Major features of the Branch Canal included fourteen lift locks, one guard lock, 6 aqueducts, and 4 large dams. There were also basins, culverts, farm bridges, road bridges, and several towpath bridges built and maintained by the Union Canal Company of Pennsylvania, local governmental bodies, and private owners. Numerous small feeder dams dotted the landscape along the canal. The canal was a complex water management system that required constant vigilance, maintenance and competent, reliable personnel to operate it.
The canal operated until it was destroyed by a flood in June of 1862.
The remains of 7 locks, a towpath bridge, major sections of the towpath, and three dams are still visible in Swatara State Park. The canal was never rebuilt because the railroad soon went into operation on the opposite bank of the Swatara Creek. The Swatara Rail Trail is what remains of the railroad bed. Map of the Union Canal in Swatara State Park (.pdf) (848 kb.)
The Commonwealth began acquisition of the park in 1971 and was completed in 1987 by the Department of General Services.
This cast iron bridge was built in 1890 by the Berlin Iron Bridge Company of East Berlin, Connecticut, to cross Little Pine Creek in Lycoming County. The Bridge is a 221-foot long lenticular truss bridge. It is one of several such bridges built in north central Pennsylvania in the late 19th century.
In the 1980s, the bridge was determined to be too narrow for modern use. Instead of being demolished, the bridge was dismantled, repaired, moved and rebuilt across the Swatara Creek to allow hikers on the Appalachian Trail to cross the stream.
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The non-profit Friends of Swatara State Park (FOSSP) aims to include visitors in conserving, protecting, and enhancing the natural, educational, and recreational resources of the park. The Friends conduct activities and projects, as well as host opportunities to volunteering. Any money that donated to the FOYC benefits Swatara State Park directly. As an affiliate chapter of the Pennsylvania Parks and Forestry Foundation, contributions are deductible under the fullest extent of the law. http://www.friendsofswatara.org/
Pennsylvania Parks and Forests Foundation
Believing that each generation is responsible for leaving behind a better legacy of good conservation, the Pennsylvania Parks & Forests Foundation (PPFF) was created in 1999 to give supporters and users of Pennsylvania's parks and forests a positive way to contribute to the conservation of our publicly-owned properties. The Pennsylvania Parks & Forests Foundation welcomes the support of individuals and businesses who share a commitment to conserving, protecting, and enhancing the natural, scenic, and recreational areas of this commonwealth. www.paparksandforests.org
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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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Swatara State Park
Information on nearby attractions is available from the Hershey Harrisburg Regional Visitors Bureau. www.hersheyharrisburg.org
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.
Map of the Union Canal
Map of the Union Canal in Swatara State Park (.pdf) (848 kb, 3/14)
Swatara State Park is in Lebanon and Schuylkill counties, 14 miles north of Lebanon and 3 miles west of Pine Grove. The park is easily reached from I-81: at Exit 90, Lickdale, follow PA 72 north; at Exit 100, take PA 443 west.
GPS DD: Lat. 40.48305 Long. -76.54564
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.
Swatara State Park