Swatara Rail-Trail Reviews    

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Decent 10 mile ride

By mommag in July, 2014

The directions to picking up the northern end of the trail head near the Hampton Inn were really confusing. Looking "behind the Hampton Inn" there was nothing but a large field. Couldn't find the trailhead, so we moved on down the road until we saw an open spot on the side of the road near the trail. Then we biked back on the trail toward the Hampton Inn to see where the trailhead actually was. The 'trailhead' is simply part of a large field, nearly indiscernible from the rest of the large field. if you do decide to start there, drive toward the back of the Hotel and, before getting clear to the back, notice the buildings to your right. There's a path there. Just get on it and go as far as you can. Then turn right again, and you're on the 'trail'. Mostly grass and dirt for a mile or so. Then you'll pick up a decent crushed gravel path through the very shady and pleasant woods. After another 2-3 miles, you'll come to what appears to be a little-used road--unmarked and going either right or left. Either way has some fairly significant hills. Since we were just looking for a leisurely, flat trail, we turned around at that point. The part we did do was fairly pleasant; but since we thought we were getting a typical flat, crushed stone rail trail, we were pretty disappointed that we only got a 10-mile ride fitting that description. But if you're looking for a variety of trail surfaces and some hills and shade, you might enjoy this trail.

Rude bicycles

By jerry.edinger in July, 2014

We had read that the bike folks do not like the horse riders. We found that to be very true. We were so nice to bikers that we got off the trails so that they could have the entire trail. Some of the bikers were appreciative but others were just RUDE !... They would not say a word to us and rode by as fast as they could. Everyone needs to share the trails.

Be Aware of Horses on this trail

By zig96 in May, 2014

This trail would have a five star rating if it weren't for horse's. I witnessed a biker almost being kicked by a horse. There is not enough room for horses and bike. The horse manure is disgusting and you are always having to dodge that. The trail is fool of holes thanks to the horses. I couldn't imagine what the horses would do if kids were riding bike and got excited and squealed in delight because they saw a horse... The child may get kicked. This trail should not allow horse at all.

Not your average Rail Trail

By pmcttg in May, 2014

The trailhead was a little tough to find (the map is out of date -- there's a new parking lot on Monroe Valley Road, just past the Swift trucking yard) but it's a fun trail.

The first and last 2 miles are odd (that is, barely discernible from the surrounding area. There are several cool bridges and I loved the mix of trail types -- including some abandoned roads.

Bring bug spray and use it. My glow-in-the-dark Irish skin was attracting bugs like crazy. I must have smooshed 10 mosquitoes -- while going 12-15 miles per hour!

Ruined by horse owners

By sean.householder.54 in May, 2014

This would be my favorite place to ride if it weren't for the horses. I once was almost run down by a rider who had her horse in full gallop going down the middle of the trail so that she could catch up to her friends ahead.

Every time I try to give this trail another chance the trail is littered with so much manure I want to gag. I am guessing there must be a horse stable nearby that there are so many rude horse owners here as this isn't a problem on any other trail I have ridden.

Ask!

By joeking5 in October, 2013

I LOVED the trails at Swatara! SO glad the construction is over and we can have full access to the park again.
However, when I have a question about the park, I just call the office and ask them rather than assume what's going on. They've always answered my questions and have been more than helpful.

Improved

By kathy d in September, 2013

This trail has come a long way in the past year. It would be a super ride if it weren't for the horses putting big gouges in it. Understandably they need to exercise too but their hooves wreak havoc on the trail.

Nice trail, but nevertheless a disappointing experience

By taxmanken in September, 2013

My wife and I rode a portion of the trail for the first time this weekend. This could be a very nice ride, with some challenging hills and some really great scenery. However, the use of the trail by horses has the trail surface so filled with hoof-holes that our ride was a bone-jarring jostling adventure. We were glad to get back to the trailhead after just 8 miles and rest our weary bodies. We had planned to bike at least 20 miles but we weren't enjoying all the bumps and jars and dodging road apples left by horses and several times having to navigate past horses being ridden two abreast, leaving us with little more than the edge of the trail to get by. The trail has great potential if the horse problem can be mitigated.

A little gem of a ride

By rbrown11 in August, 2013

We have done this trail several times in the past year, and it just keeps getting better! We start on the Bear Hole trail and do the hills first, then connect with the Swatara for a beautiful flat ride. Saw 2 six point bucks right on the trail last weekend..still in velvet--they were beautiful. I never get tired of looking at the "Swatty" --Swatara creek for non- locals--. The new bridge is beautiful and allows those who want to shorten the ride an easy way to do so. My only complaint is that horses should not be on this bridge as there were "road apples" along the entire bridge, I hesitate to post this because it is not a well traveled trail, and I hope it stays that way! The trail from Lickdale to the Appalacian bridge is quite rough, I don't think it would be much fun on a road bike, but my hybrid goes fine.

A great improvement

By t49 in August, 2013

Last year's construction vastly improved this trail and adds the option of a 10 mile loop using the Bear Hole trail across the creek as a return route. A word of caution,however: the Bear Hole trail is NOT a rail trail, rather a converted dirt road that has been surfaced with crushed stone. There are a few hills that might challenge someone used to rail trail riding.
The surfaces of both of these trails are good, but the horse traffic does leave some roughness (& occasional road apples) that would otherwise not be encountered. There are a few spots on the Bear Hole trail that have small gullies from rain runoff, but they are passable as of 8/11/13.
The new bridge about one third of the way upstream from the the Appalachian Trail bridge offers another option of a shorter loop. Mile markers or a map with trail distances would be helpful to riders.
As an update to an earlier review, there is a port-a-john available at the Trout Run trail head, which seems to be the most spacious & least used parking area. It is also the furthest distance from the main trail.
Overall, this is an enjoyable trail, well shaded most of the way, with views of Swatara Creek from the rail trail. There are remains of a Union Canal lock along the Bear Hole trail. Some historical markers for this & other local features would be a nice addition.

Improving but more needed

By youker in July, 2013

I have done parts of this great trail several times in the last few years but I wanted to check out all the new construction, mostly of new trail heads and parking lots and the one big bridge. The previous review done in May outlines the main new features. I started at the Sand Siding Road parking lot and biked down to the new bridge which allows now for two ten miles circle rides on each side of the creek and then I circled north to the trail head at Swopes Valley trail head. By the way you can get a great Swatara State Park map at their web site. The bridge is placed where the river has three channels which makes for a long bridge but also one that should avoid damage from the frequent high floods. The rail trail and the Bear Hole trail are now both surfaced with very fine crushed stone. The Bear Hole trail which is built on top of the old state road had small washouts in many places. Both trails had continuous small bumps from horses hoofs in the soft fine crushed stone. I then drove down to the State Park Lane trail head and biked down past the two bridges and to the new Lickdale Trail head. The trails in this area are confusing. The main highway now closed years ago but still smoothly paved is parallel and close to the old RR right away which has not been improved. A Portage trail comes down from the new Trout Run Trail Head just off Highway 72. By the way if you cross the Appalachian Trail Bridge one of the old Union Canal stone locks is just across the bridge as is the start of the Bear Hole Trail at a parking lot. The rail trail from Suedberg to Pine Grove Interchange is not improved. I think they ran short of money because the signs say they are not finished. Get the map from Swatara State Park and plan several great trips. Youker

Great Ride

By trail biker in June, 2013

A lot of trails that branch off the main trail. If you like mountain biking this is the place you have to go.

What’s missing? Restrooms.

By al_pine in May, 2013

Spent a couple of hours on the Swatara Rail trail today 5/21/13.

It received a partial facelift last summer. On the south end (Lickdale) there is a new parking area and a resurfaced trail. The improvements include a loop trail, creek access for boaters, spaces for horse/boat trailers. Swopes Valley Trail Head, is further north in the park with improved parking and creek access. What’s missing? Restrooms.

The resurfaced trail is about one mile in length. Crossing Monroe Valley road brings you to a section of rougher trail surface. Rideable but rough. One area where a trail ‘washout’ was repaired two years ago is no longer ‘smooth’ it’s like the fine particles washed out of the surface. It’s only about 100 yards so it shouldn’t discourage riders. It will get better.

Then a couple of miles of unused asphalt highway. Abandoned when there were plans for a dam across the creek. Smooth riding - between bumps every hundred feet or so. At this point I was going to suggest that the Pennsylvania State Park System get out of the trail building business. This trail hasn’t been improved. It will get better.

North of the old highway another section of resurfaced trail starts. Shortly you come up to a new bridge across the Swatara Creek. It’s the longest ‘new construction’ rail trail bridge I’ve seen. This is a connection to the ‘Bear Hole Trail’ that parallels the rail trail on the other side of creek. The Bear Hole Trail is a section of abandoned dirt road that in recent years deteriorated to the point of being impassable. I rode it a few years ago and it was rough on a mountain bike. Improvements listed it as resurfaced in 2013. The park map has it open to biking and horses. This new bridge make is possible for shorter loop rides/walks. This new section will need to be explored.

The resurfaced trail continues. Traveling north you come to a short section of new trail that eliminates the need to ride on the highway. A replacement bridge across the creek leads you to Swopes Road. The resurfaced trail ends here and the surface becomes rougher, muddier, and more likely to be used by ATVs. Since there was a threating rain cloud overhead, I turned around before I got to the end of the trail. Last time I rode here the trail just ended in the middle of a field.


By zipguns in July, 2012

http://www.dcnr.state.pa.us/ucmprd1/groups/public/documents/news/DCNR_009829.pdf News for Immediate Release Jan. 27, 2012 Swatara State Park Targeted for Trail Installation, Other Improvements Harrisburg – A long-awaited construction project that will see trails, parking areas and bridges installed at Swatara State Park in Lebanon and Schuylkill counties is now underway, the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources said today. “Long identified as ‘undeveloped,’ this gem of a state park comprised of woodlands and meadows straddling Swatara Creek is targeted for the type of improvements its visitors have requested,” said DCNR Secretary Richard Allan. “Planned facility and infrastructure improvements will support and enhance day-use recreation that already includes canoeing, fishing, hiking, picnicking and bicycling.” Work will include installation of 10 miles of crushed stone trails along an existing railway bed and a portion of abandoned Old State Road. A new trail and bridge near Sand Siding Road will connect the former rail bed and roadway. Another bridge will span Mill Creek on the rail trail. Four new trailheads, or parking areas, also are planned, affording easy access to the trails and launch areas for canoeing and kayaking. Financed through state capital budget funds, the $4.67 million project undertaken by Kinsley Construction of York County is expected to be completed by mid-July. State acquisition of lands that were to become Swatara State Park began in 1971 and was completed in 1987. Totaling 3,520 acres, the state park was subject of numerous surveys, environmental assessments, Bureau of State Parks research efforts, and governmental and user-group committee studies. The input shaped the park’s future and best utilizes its recreational potential. “With its increased network of trails and access to Swatara Creek launching areas, we see park visitation growing significantly,” Allan said. “We know more than 84,000 visitors came last year to float and fish its waters and hike and bike its scenic woodlands.” Park visitors are advised construction work may affect access to certain areas. Closings may be required along Old State Road/Bear Hole Trail, Rail Trail, the Lickdale Spur, and the boat launch near Swopes Valley Road. Mountain bike trails, the Appalachian Trail, and Waterville Bridge will remain open, as will sections of the rail trail. The Swatara Water Trail will require portage around bridge construction. Updated information can be obtained by contacting Memorial Lake State Park Office, 717-865-6470; or by email at memorialsp@pa.gov. Most of Swatara State Park is located along Interstate 81 between Second and Blue mountains. An 8-mile stretch of the Swatara Creek Water Trail winds through the park, and two miles of the Appalachian Trail, which stretches from Georgia to Maine, cross its southern sector. Part of the Memorial Lake State Park Complex, Swatara Creek is a popular destination for canoeing, kayaking, and tubing enthusiasts, especially in the spring. Designated launches in the northern and southern ends of the park provide access to the creek for boaters. For more information on Swatara and Pennsylvania’s other 119 state parks, visit www.dcnr.state.pa.us (select “Find a Park”). Media contact: Terry Brady, 717-772-9101

Dec 13th, 2011 - Damage from Ireane and Lee -- Trail Repaired arround Interstate Bridges

By al_pine in December, 2011

Dec 13th, 2011 - Damage from Ireane and Lee -- Trail Repaired arround Interstate Bridges.

The short length of trail that was closed because of strom damage has been repaired. Nice work.

Still numerous sections of partial wash-out on other parts of trail.

Sept 19, 2011 - Damage from Ireane and Lee

By al_pine in September, 2011

Sept 19th, 2011. Part of Swatara Rail Trail closed due to storm damage. Creek was about 30 feet above normal banks. Section between Appalachian Trail and Innwood bridge (closed) is closed. About 1/2 mile of trail was washed out and the area is closed for entry. This section can be bypassed if you want to use busy route 72 or longer detour on Monroe Valley - Old State Roads.

Other parts of trail have significant water damage. Trail surface washed out in places down to soft uncompacted sub-surface. Lots of loose gravel. Still ridable but rough. I rode about 8 miles before finding short section under water.

The 'Old State Road' on other side of creek appears closed (at Appalachin Trail) end to end because of damage.

Since the State Park System is short of money it may be some time before the trail is repaired.

Swatara old State Road Trail by Youker 8/25/2011

By youker in August, 2011

Again using a stop on my way south from Vermont I finished my scouting of the several trails in undeveloped Swarta State Park. The old state road starts at the Appalachin Trail Bridge and runs along the east side of the creek while the rail trail runs along the west side of the creek. You can cross at the bridge at the north end at Swopes Valley Rd. near the village of Suedberg off Rt. 443. The old state road is badly eroded asphalt with many big pot holes. You need to pay attention to avoid problems. The State plans to turn it into a non-motorized trail. It is a great shaded trail in the heat of summer with several spots to stop and view the stream. Locals use both trails for a 20 mile round trip. In the reviews of the trail on this web site some people say it is a great trail and others say it is awful. The reason for the difference is that people who do not read all the reviews and do not check the state park web site don't know where to go. There are not any signs and you have to have done your homework. Youker

nice loop trail

By tom3187 in July, 2011

I frequent this trail as its close to home and a nice 12-13 mile loop running up then down either side of the swatara creek. I agree some trimming is in order for the first mile or two on way back after crossing the bridge. Stickers will tear your arms up and path is very tight but eventually opens up to a beautiful shaded ride back. If you want to avoid this section just ride up the macadam road a piece ways there are various points you can jump back onto the trail. Personally I like the fossil pit area to do a little playing around in. The spring rains have gutted the upper trail section and the choice of rock to fill in was a little large, there are nice holes and rocks that will get your attention if your daydreaming but overall i like this trail and recommend checking it out if your passing by, lve yourself roughly and hr to run it but theres some nice relaxing areas to enjoy and usually friendly people to talk to.

July 10, 2011 - - This trail needs a haircut.

By Abdue in July, 2011

If the State Park mowers have a down day it would be nice to see then on the Swatara Trail. Been out on the trail three times this summer and the grass/weeds just keep getting taller. On my last trip encountered a number of face-slappers every mile.

Todays trip --- Deer, Fox, Turkeys, and Grouse were seen. Along with numerous ATV/ORV on the trail. Stay alert - they don't (can't) stop.

Swatara Rail Trail needs improvement

By sportstersteve in June, 2011

I've done many rail trails and most have been great except for this one. This is one of the worst trails I've ever done. The campground is very nice, and the store has a nice deck to eat out on and the food is good. For the first two miles the trail is very rough, then you bike on an abandon road for a ways then jump back on the trail. Problem is we missed were to get back on the trail because the sign is broken off and we continued on the road for almost a mile. Once back on the trail it is pretty scenic for about three miles. So out of ten miles only three to five miles are worth biking. Maintenance also lacks, broken signs and high weeds along the trail.

Return trip

By youker in June, 2010

A trip north on I-81 gave me another chance to explore the Swatara Rail Trail. On my trip last fall I found the trail difficult to follow due to multiple paved roads and no signs. However I found a great map to print on the Swatara State Park web site with detail on all the roads and trails. You do need to study it carefully. We got a room in the Days Inn in Lickdale again and my wife drove shuttle up to Route SR 443 and Swopes Valley Road where the rail trail uses the highway for 100 feet due to a washed out bridge. I biked down stream down the lovely trail mostly single track with a smooth cinder surface and fully shaded. After about five miles my wife was waiting in the parking lot at State Park Lane where there is a gate. You do have to switch from the trail to an old paved road at a spot called Murry Station. I then put in at the corner of Rt SR 443 and SR 72 on an old road and new trail down to the two bridges and with two trips I had completed almost all of the Swatara Rail Trail. Youker June 2, 2010

Swatara gets a bum rap

By eatolerable in October, 2009

In reading some earlier reviews of this trail I almost didn't go, but after riding the length and back I'm very glad I took a chance. Swatara is a hidden gem.

If you're looking for a place for the 5-year-old to ride his tricycle or a place to push your baby carriage, then find another trail, but if you want some out-of-the way running, walking or riding, check out Swatara.

The parking was easy to find from the online directions (the camp store has great rocking chairs -- in season -- to occupy as you eat some ice cream). The trailhead was also just where it was supposed to be. And, though I would agree that the first two miles of the Swatara are a bit bumpy, if you have a hybrid (which I do) or a mountain bike (which my riding companion had) you'll do fine. Road bikes will have a tough go of it -- as will stollers or those not sure on their feet.

After mile two, however, the riding is fantastic. Surfaces range from large stones to gravel to hardpacked earth to roadway to grass. Scenery includes the Swatara waterway, some open fields, beautiful foliage and "Old State Road" -- a section of forgotten highway that Mother Nature is doing her best to reclaim.

The last two miles -- marked quite clearly by a missing bridge (!!) are not so trail-like and not as rider/walker friendly.

In between the slightly rocky start and the rugged end are 6 miles of beauty, old bridges, kayakers, wildlife (I flushed two pheasants, which I haven't had the pleasure of doing since I was a kid) and pleasant scenery.

Not good but getting better

By el rojo grande in September, 2009

I first rode this trail in the mid 90s before the railroad ties were removed. The next time I rode, they had been removed and now it was like riding on a washboard. It certainly still is a challenging ride due to the dissimilar gravel and ballast which comprise the roadway. I challenged it on on my old 1982 Mesa Runner, and I will definitely be using a lighter frame with shocks on the next ride.

It is a beautiful and quiet ride, although somewhat boring as there are few intersections with civilization, but I hope to ride the entire length someday.

According to reps from PA's DCNR, this trail may eventually connect to the Lebanon Valley Rail Trail, and thus afford riders a trail all the way from Elizabethtown to Pine Grove.

Swatara Rail Trail 7/16/2009

By youker in July, 2009

One of the reviewers mis-spelled the word trail into trial which is exactly what this trail is, a bad trial with no signs, bad state park map and impossible to find parking and put-in spots. The trail interconnects with old roads without signs and it is very confusing. I ended up losing the trail and got to the end in Lickdale via local roads. There is a connection off SR 443 south on State Park Lane with parking. The park is totally undeveloped as is the trail. Youker

Was not Sure what to expect...

By mastdog in September, 2008

Ok Let me say I took two days to hit this trail one day just exploring and then another day on the Old State Road.

Day 1
Started off in Lickdale and the trail head sign was blocked by a pick up parked in front of it, so I started down the wrong path, but that was soon corrected. I will say the first 2 miles is tough riding with loose larger gravel, and it is hard to get any real speed. The trail is really, really not marked at all. You have to just guess and hope you are going the right direction, this was not a stretch in the official description at all. Make sure you hit this when there is good daylight. This trail can get dark when the sun is high in the sky, I would not want to be on it at dusk.

The next two miles of the path were a mixture of pavement and ground cinder. But at one point you have to cross up on the road, not sure if its a park road or what, but it was in great shape. I have put pictures of it up there. I chose to stay on the path on the way out, and it was a very nice ride. Lonely, but nice. The smell of Blueberries kept makin my mouth water over the next 3 miles. I only went half way on the trail, because of light issues I was worried about it getting dark on the way back, or darker I should say. On the way back I jumped up on the road that was there, and it was very nice. Some up hills, and down hills. At the Waterville Bridge I could see that you would cut over to the old state road, but I had two miles back to lickdale (picture that sign is actually one of the few on the trail.) and pressed forward. Made a pit stop at the memorial marker about a mile from the trail head (picture). Just something interesting to read...

All in all I will say that this was a great trail to ride once you get past the first 2 miles. My suggestions: bring a light, bug spray and a friend because you will not see a soul....

Day 2
I went right to the shut down bridge today and parked there to start my journey. I wanted to eliminate the 2 miles of loose hard riding. I went about a half a mile to the Waterville bridge and then over to the Old State Road. I put in a total of 10 miles today all on that dang road, and the reviews are right. It is more a logging trail quality than a road now, it has pavement, but an equal amount of gravel, and then those large stones mentioned below. Very Large Stones, like stand up on the pedals to get over them type. A solid bike is needed for this road, but on the other side a hybrid or even a good commuter would work. You do not have to get on this road to ride this trail, actually I only did it for this review and to explore. Again, very lonely, but a little more lit than the bike path on the other side of the river. I wanted to make it to the Fossil pit but I was out of time, that pit is about 6 miles from the first bridge where I parked. I cannot stress enough that this is not a smooth road at all, but it also has some incline to it. You will be going up and down hills on this road, unlike the path on the other side which is smooth and flat almost the whole way.

All in all it was a great, though quiet, ride both days. My critter count was 2 deer, 4 rabbits and a chipmunk. I think I saw a hiker, but not real sure...

Some changes on the way

By H Brillinger in October, 2007

"There have been a few changes since February of 2005 when I last reported on the trail.

The first 2.5 miles of the trail from the beginning of the trail at the Lickdale Campground, by the traffic light in Lickdale (I-81 exit 90), has been somewhat improved. From the campground, the entrance to the trail is now marked and the cement plant has been removed. The swampy sections of the trail have been filled in and the trail has been covered with gravel. Unfortunately the gravel is rather course and in some of the previous mud holes the fill is ballast sized stones. No fine or crushed stone has been laid down to smooth or even-out the trail.

The County Iron Bridge located 2.0 miles from the start, where the trail previously crossed the creek to Old State Road, is now closed but the trail now continues, paralleling route 72 for another 1/2 mile, and brings you to the relocated and restored Waterville Bridge. Here the Appalachian Trail crosses the Waterville Bridge and allows the biker to cross the creek onto Old State Road or continue straight onto the rest of the Park’s trails. Old State Road has deteriorated considerably since my last report. Previously I said it was potholed. It is now cratered. But the rest of the trails are just as good as before.

But there is good news. A few weeks ago a representative of the Park told me that planning is now underway to upgrade the trail and to repair Old State Road in 2008. With a few changes to the trail and the repair of Old State Road, Swatara Park will have an outstanding array of bike trails.
"

Decent trail once you find it.

By Alex in September, 2005

"I decided to take my Labor Day and discover the Swatara Rail Trail.

I first tried to catch the trail at the KOA located at the I-81 and 72 intersection. But there is a temp concret plant on that part of the trial so I got back in the car and drove North on 443 for about 2.5 miles, on the right you will see a steel bridge that is the trial. (Note if you pass under I-81 you have gone too far).

I parked in the limited parking area and took off north, under I-81, on the trail. For the first 2.5 miles it was a old road. I would recommend a mountian bike even for this part of the trail because the road is in terrible shape and in buckling at spots. But is a good place to learn to ride a bike for the first time. while on the old road you will turn left which takes you over a bridge where you will continue on the trail. soon you will come to a place where you can take a left on the road or a right, I went right where the road soon ended. About 50 feet before the road ende there is a dirt trial that bears off to the right, take this for a nice ride in the woods. you will follow the creek for a while and soon you will come to a part where there is a steep slope in the trial, if you go up the other side you come to a dead end where there use to be a bridge. But by this time you will have seen route 443 that runs parallel to the trial. you will have to get on the road for about 300 feet and then make the first right, which will take you by a delapidated building where you will turn left to continue on the trail. on this section you will pass a junk yard and a wildlife refuge. soon you will come upon I-81, this is where I turned back to go back to my car.

Once I passed my car parked near where you cross under I-81 on the trial I crossed over the bridge that whould take you back out on to route 443. but before you hit 443 there is a section of the trial that goes to the left for a few miles. I took the trail till I hit the concrete plant that I first discovered when I tried to catch the trail at the KOA in Lickdale. At this point I turned back for my car to go home.

I was able to cover 11 miles of the trial 22 round trip.

I would recommend a mountian bike with a front shock. this trail is passible for most if you take you time.

Plus the trail is not used hard so you have it to yourself."

On bike

By in April, 2005

"The trail was nice, flat and easy to ride, not rough at all like the website says. There are many nice views along the creek. From one end to the other was about 20.5 miles. It took about 3 hours to ride out and back. We had a good ride and will ride it again."

Better Than Its Reputation

By H Brillinger in February, 2005

"Better Than Its Reputation: Swatara Park’s trails range in character from as smooth as you will find anywhere to virtually impassable. The trick is to pick the riding opportunities that match your interest and ability.

The Park is located next to Routes 72 and 433 that extend from Lickdale (Exit 90 of I-81) to Pine Grove (Exit 100 of I-81). Between those points, the Park provides a total of eighteen miles of three distinctly different types of riding surfaces. There are three miles of smooth two-lane asphalt road; five miles of old potholed one lane road that likely dates back to the early 1800s; and ten miles of rail trail.

The three miles of smooth asphalt roads were once portions of the old State Routes 72 and 433 and were incorporated into the Park when they were replaced with new construction not long ago. These three miles are now closed to traffic and can easily be negotiated by anyone on any kind of bike. You could even use inline skates there if you wished to deal with the moderate hills.

The five miles of the potholed, one lane asphalt, and sometimes dirt Old State Road rises and falls with the hillside terrain as it follows Swatara Creek through the forest. Two of its short hills are steep enough to require my granny gear. Old State Road may have been there since early in the eighteen hundreds. I found a topographical map that shows a number of structures already located along the road when the map was drawn in 1889. The road runs past the remains of five canal locks and the site of a supporting dam that was destroyed by the Flood of 1862. While this road is open to vehicles, there is little traffic. I only encountered five vehicles as they slowly picked their way through the suspension abusing potholes on a pleasant December Sunday afternoon in 2004. While the potholes were a challenge to the motor vehicles, the potholes were easy to avoid on my comfort bike. Two old cast iron bridges cross Swatara Creek to provide access to Old State Road from the rail trail.

Ten miles of rail trail, located on the bank opposite Old State Road and next to Routes 72 and 443, was the site of the Lebanon and Tremont Branch of the Philadelphia and Reading Rail Road that replaced the canal. This is the part of the Park’s trail system that can provide some challenges. The first two miles of the rail trail on the Pine Grove end is virtually unusable and a missing bridge there requires the fording of Mill Creek. You may wish to pass up the opportunity to explore that two-mile section. A more reasonable way to enter the Pine Grove end of the rail trail is located just across from the Swedburg Church of God, 2.2 miles from the Pine Grove exit (Exit 100) of I-81 or, if traveling in the opposite direction, 9.5 miles from Lickdale. After entering the trail there, the first quarter of a mile of the trail is rough and muddy, however, an informal detour around that section is available through the adjacent field.

The other end of the trail, located at the Lickdale Campground by the traffic light in Lickdale (I-81 exit 90) provides challenges as well. From the campground, the trail is currently not clearly marked and wanders through the grounds of a cement plant and provides unmarked opportunities to stray off of the trail. However, it is possible to find your way. After you travel a mile on the trail and cross Monroe Valley Road, the real challenge begins. Here the trail goes through a cut and becomes very muddy and spiced with the occasional fallen tree. In all fairness to the Park, my ride followed three days of December rain. While my Bultaco Alpina from thirty years ago would have handled the mud and fallen trees, I have yet to learn how to make my bicycle do it gracefully. I managed to step off the bike into the mud a number of times. One of those dabs was just at the edge of the roadbed where a slurry of wet, hundred year old, coal dust and cinders fought to hang onto my shoe and cause me to dramatically dismount from my bike. If don’t wish to confront these challenges, I suggest you avoid both ends of the rail trail and use the occasionally narrow but relatively easy six point five mile mid-section of the rail trail.

There are three entrances that will lead you into the less challenging mid section of the Park and its trails. Two point five miles from Lickdale, at the point where route 72 becomes route 433, there is a small parking area and a gated entrance that puts you right onto the Park’s three miles of smooth asphalt road. From there you will have access to the rest of the Park’s trail system. Four point four miles from Lickdale, you can turn onto State Park Lane and drive about one mile to a gate that also accesses the Park’s three miles of smooth asphalt road. Four point seven miles from Lickdale, just before Twin Grove Park, an unmarked dirt road will take you directly to the rail-trail. You will need a car with reasonable ground clearance to comfortably take this dirt road route.

A Park manager told me that they expect to make changes to the trail once the construction project on the I-81 bridges that cross Swatara Creek is completed. That will take another two years. I hope they don’t remove all of the challenges.

You may wish to simply show up at the Park and explore and discover where the roads and trials lead you. On the other hand, if you want to plan your route, go to the excellent park map at:

www.dcnr.state.pa.us/stateparks/parks/maps/swatara_mini.pdf

Or, you can contact the Park Office at 717-865-6470 and they will send you a large copy of that same map."

A changing trail

By in September, 2003

"Of all the trails I have been on this one is ranked highest by my teen. Even after doing a header over the handle bars while breaking for a rabbit and a bridge that looked out (but was not) the teen still managed to have fun.

The trail scenery and condition changes constantly which makes for an interesting trail. One minute you feel lost in the woods with a river on one side and a cliff on the other; the next minute you are sailing though a field where the trail is only as wide as your tire. A few minutes later you on a nice gravel four foot wide trail. The trail never seems to make up its mind what it wants to be.

The trail is not really upkept so you must constantly keep your eyes on the trail for rocks, branches, holes, sections of drain pipe that gave out, glass and mud pits. But on the other hand this is what makes this trail so interesting.

Feel free to take the side trails and explore. Even though you are out in the woods you are blocked in on one side by highway and the other by the water. So it is always easy to find your way back to the main trail. The trail crosses very few roads.

If you are heading from the metal bridge (where the Appalachian Trail crosses the path) to Pine Grove look for the blacktop paved trail leading up the hill on your left. Up the hill you will find an abandoned section of highway that the kids will find creepy to be on. Visually this trail is a treat, from a scrap yard, to bird preserve to an few small examples of old growth forest. Who knows what you will find next. But mind you, take what you need with you. There are few people on this trail.

There are two campgrounds on this trail: the one in Lickdale where the trail starts (they also rent bikes and kayaks) and KOA Twin Grove Park Campground (see www.twingroveparkcampground.com/index.html) near Pine Grove with 53 flavors of ice cream and a full service restaurant. They also have cabins and camper sites, but only three tent sites. They also have a pool, a basketball court and a band shell that are all newly constructed. Either campground looks like a good place to spend a weekend.

From I-81 take exit 100 to 443 west for seven miles. Just past the KOA Twin Grove Park Campground (located on your right), take the first dirt road on your left for 0.7 of a mile. The road ends in a parking area. The trail runs though it.

The trail toward Pine Grove is better maintained. You can take younger kids on this one. This section is only a few miles long.

From I-78 take 501 and then take a left where it dead ends on the main street of Pine Grove. Take a left onto 443 and then you will go past the I-81 exit and follow the above directions.

The trail toward Lickdale is a little rough but do able on a comfortable mountain bike. It's not good for pulling a trailer that kids sit in, though.

Warnings: The trail is located on state game land so it may not be a good place to bike during deer season, Wear long pants and a helmet. The trail is relatively flat, but plan to get muddy."