The discovery of anthracite coal in the Tremont area of Pennsylvania shaped commerce and development well into the 1800s. The Union Canal was constructed in the 1820s to connect the Schuylkill and Susquehanna rivers and improve transport of anthracite coal. A branch canal was constructed from Lebanon to Pine Grove through what is now Swatara State Park. The flood of 1862 destroyed the branch. By then because the Lebanon–Tremont Branch of the Reading Railroad on the opposite bank of Swatara Creek served all transport needs, the canal was never repaired.
The Swatara Rail-Trail stretches 10 miles along the western side of Swatara Creek, from Pine Grove almost to Lickdale, revealing remnants of both the canal and the railroad along the way. A new bridge, several hundred feet long, crosses the creek and provides a connection to Bear Hole Trail on the other side. Together they span over 15 miles.
Both trails are primarily surfaced with crushed limestone, but the rail-trail includes a short paved section along an unused road at its southern end at Waterville Bridge for the Appalachian Trail crossing. There is then about two miles of as yet unimproved but passable trail from the bridge to the Lickdale trailhead. Note that there is also an unimproved section on the rail-trail's northeastern end, between Suedberg and the Pine Grove Interchange, that is closed as of July 2013.
Swatara State Park covers more than 3,500 acres of land, offering lush forest surroundings that create a sense of remoteness perfect for the adventure lover. Although the rail-trail starts and ends outside the park's boundaries, the majority is within it. Several new trailheads with parking and informational kiosks offer a choice of where to begin your explorations. Paddling and fishing are allowed in Swatara Creek and access to the water is provided at the Lickdale and Swopes Valley trailheads. From the State Park Lane trailhead, you can also access six single-track, natural-surface trails for mountain biking. Each one is roughly 1.5 miles long with twists and hills through the woods.
Nearby, a few miles north of the park, the Stony Valley Railroad Grade offers another backcountry treat; an extended day or weekend excursion on both trails may be in order. The trail also connects to the Appalachian Trail near Inwood.
There are several places with parking and informational kiosks along the Swatara Rail-Trail, as listed below from south to north.
- Lickdale Trailhead: located on the southern tip of the trail on Monroe Valley Road; includes spaces for horse and boat trailers
- Trout Run Trailhead: located on Route 72; a new restroom facility is planned for this trailhead
- State Park Lane Trailhead; a good choice for accessing the park's mountain biking trails
- Sand Siding Road parking lot: located mid-trail along Swatara Creek, south of State Route 443
- Swopes Valley Trailhead: located on the northeastern end of the trail, across from Wagner's Pond