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Swatara Creek runs through the vast woodlands of Swatara State Park in eastern Pennsylvania. Bear Hole Trail traces the eastern side of the waterway, while the Swatara Rail-Trail runs along the other bank. Together, they span over 15 miles. Because Bear Hole Trail follows the route of the former Old State Road, it offers a wide pathway and has a few gentle climbs. Along the way, look for remnants of Union Canal that was built here in 1827; the moss-covered ruins of a few stone canal locks can still be seen from the trail.
A trailhead and parking are available at the end of Old State Road at the east end of the Waterville Bridge. From the town of Lickdale, take Monroe Valley Drive to Little Mountain Road and on to Old State Road.
Additionally, other trailheads with parking and informational kiosks are available throughout Swatara State Park, as listed below from south to north.
- 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-way along Swatara Creek, south of State Route 443
- Swopes Valley Trailhead: located on the northeastern end of the trail, across from Wagner's Pond
We ended up on Bear Hole Trail accidentally, when we turned the wrong way out of the Lickdale trailhead on the Swatara Rail-Trail. We decided to forge onward after crossing the Swatara creek and were surprised at the challenge this trail presented. It was quite hilly, and some of those hills were pretty steep. The trail had been washed out in several spots and some of the gravel was loose and gave way under our tires. It was challenging, but do-able. We're middle-aged white guys with desk jobs, so what's a challenge for us may be easy for you.
The scenery was nice: lots of trees, occasional glimpses of the creek below, some exposed rock formations but nothing noteworthy. It was as beautiful as any place in Pennsylvania.
The turn-around point for us was at Wagners Pond, by the Swopes Valley trailhead. I would have liked a picnic table or a bench or something to sit down on but, at that point, we were happy just to sit on the ground. A few small improvements would go a long way there.
The trail is challenging in both directions, but definitely more so from North to South. The climbs are long and steep at places, but the drops are pretty long and give you a decent rest before you have to climb another hill. You have to keep your eye on the path, though. If you hit a divot or a loose patch of gravel going down one of those steep hills, you could get really hurt — and you'd be in the middle of nowhere with no cell service. This trail is probably better for hikers than on bike.
The ride ended with us laughing at the smart alek squirrel at the Lickdale trailhead who was dropping stuff down on our heads from the trees above. I've never seen a belligerent squirrel with an attitude like this before and he made our day.
Overall, Bear Hole Trail is nice, but certainly not among the nicest. If you're nearby and looking for a good workout, check it out but I wouldn't drive in from out of the area.
It was a bit of a drive from Philly but ended up parking at the Swopes Valley trail head. We started down the Bear Hole trail and found it nicely shaded and lots of scenery. Problem was we were going down hill most of the way and dreaded the ride back up. However, we met a hiker at the lower end of the trail who mentioned that we could cross the Swatara creek, a very nice bridge by the way, follow the lower end of the Swatara trail, cross back over the creek at the bottom at Bear Hole, follow that part of the trail back to the new bridge then back across the Swatara creek, turn right and follow the Swatara trail (rail trail) back to the Swopes Valley trail head. This was so much better going back since the Swatara Rail Trail had a much easier incline back to the trail head. We made a giant figure eight between the two trails and enjoyed it very much.
While visiting this area I researched some local trails for running. Bear hole trail had some good reviews so I decided to check it out. I drove up 72 to eventually get on old state road. I didn't know the exact location of the trailhead so I kept driving until the road narrowed so badly (by the closed iron bridge) I decided to turn around. Not being from the area I wasn't sure if the road was passable. I ended up running the Swatara rail trail at Lickdale that day (it was 3:30 so I was running low on daylight). I decided to do more research when I got home to find that google earth has no street view on old state road. Since 72 runs along the other bank I decided I could find parking near trout run. After parking at the trout run trailhead I entered and followed trout run east until I turned onto the moonshine trail. Part of the trail is abandoned road but all paved. I connected to the Swatara rail trail, and at mile one I hit the Waterville bridge. At last I was at the bear hole trailhead!! There were cars parked there which meant you could access it from old state road ( I was so close!). I went about 2 miles into the trail and turned back around to make it an out and back. The hills were decent and the view was great. Saw no one else as its December (51 degrees though). I did not have any issues with the terrain, the trail was gravel and even. I will definitely come back and run this again!
I parked at the Swopes Valley Trailhead parking lot. Nice size and not many people there on this Saturday morning. Rode down to the Waterville bridge which joins it to the Swatara rail trail. Rode to the Sliding Sand trail bridge which crossed back over to Bear Hole trail. Total trip was about 11 miles. I was looking for a bit longer ride so next time I'll take a few of the many side trails for another adventure.
Found the trail to be hilly and the horses had it drug up a bit but not too bad. Overall a great trail.
This a very nice wide trail. I love the hilly parts for running. Very scenic and not many people on the trail. The cabin about halfway in is a must see for trail enthusiasts
Clean and beautiful scenery
The path is in the process of getting more grooming but very lovely and serene forest all around.Rt 81 above you adds a traffic hum but feels very secluded.Stay at Twin Grove campground and easy access.Lots of horse droppings and shoe divots but very nice for biking.Going back for autumn view.
I walked a part of the Swatara Rail Trail & the Bear Hole Trail on March 22 & found them in pretty decent shape considering the winter we have had. I drove into the Sand Siding Road parking area. A good part of that dirt road was mud, snow & ice but still passable in a car. This parking area does not have restroom facilities. I recommend using another parking area.
I walked upstream (Northeast) on the SRT which was in good shape except for a couple of snow & ice covered sections less than 100 yards long. The surface was a little loose from frost action, but otherwise dry & stable. There were a few road apples from recent horse traffic, but no deep hoof prints. Tossing several fallen branches to the side opens up the trail for bike riders. (Maintenance crews had been through earlier & removed large fallen limbs & trees).
At Suedberg, I followed Swopes Valley Road & then turned downstream (Southwest) on the Bear Hole Trail, which I found to be in similar condition with the exception of a little more ice in the shade of the hemlock stands.
Crossing the new (2012) bridge brought me back to the SRT less than a 10 minute walk from my starting point.
This circuit took just about 2.5 hours at a quick pace, stopping only to clear branches off the trail & eat lunch. It is about 6 miles long. With a few more warm days, the trails should be in great shape for all users. I did not walk the trails downstream of the 2012 bridge, but saw several hikers & a couple cyclists who did not seem impeded be the trail conditions in that direction.
As noted in the trail description, this is NOT a rail trail, but rather a connecting trail that allows for a 10 mile loop when combined with the Swatara Rail trail. There are a few hills on the Bear Hole trail that may challenge those used to rail trail riding. Both trails are open to hiking, biking and horseback riding. The surface is a little uneven in some places due to the horse traffic. Bear Hole trail has a few 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 the option of a shorter loop. Mile markers or a map with trail distances would be helpful to riders on both of these trails.
Overall, this is an enjoyable trail, well shaded most of the way. There are limited views of Swatara Creek along the Bear Hole trail, but much of the Swatara Rail trail overlooks the creek. 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.
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