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The Swatara Rail-Trail uses the corridors left behind by a canal and a railroad to snake around an Appalachian mountain in eastern Pennsylvania, passing through the forests of Swatara State Park most of the way.
The trail route got its start with the discovery of anthracite coal in nearby Tremont, prompting construction of the Pine Grove feeder canal in the early 1800s that ran along Swatara Creek and connected with the main Union Canal near Lebanon. In 1862 a flood wiped out the feeder canal, which was never rebuilt. In the meantime, the Reading Railroad had built several connecting lines along the canal that were consolidated as the Lebanon and Tremont Branch in 1871. The Union Canal closed 14 years later.
Operating under several subsequent owners, the rail branch closed in segments from 1965 to 1981. The state acquired the land and built the trail. The 10-mile trail begins in Lickdale, crosses a gap in Blue Mountain created by Swatara Creek, and ends in Pine Grove. Much of the trail is crushed limestone and asphalt, although segments at either end are dirt and grass and may be more conducive to mountain bikes than road and hybrid bikes. There are several trail junctions, including one with the Appalachian Trail, along the way. Future plans call for the Lebanon Valley Rail-Trail to meet up with the Swatara Rail-Trail in Lickdale. Horseback riding is allowed from the Sand Siding Trail east to Pine Grove. Cross-country skiing is permitted in the park, although the trail is not groomed.
The southern trailhead begins in the vicinity of a commercial campground in Lickdale, where you’ll also find multiple restaurants, hotels, and an RV park. Heading north toward Swatara State Park, you’ll pass a small trail parking lot and reach another trailhead on Monroe Valley Road in 0.8 mile. A historical marker nearby shows the spot of Fort Swatara, a stockaded blockhouse built in 1755 to guard settlements against attacks through the Swatara Gap during the French and Indian War.
In another 1.2 miles, the trail begins a narrow passage through the water gap through Blue Mountain created by Swatara Creek. Here, you’ll pass the 1890 vintage Waterville Bridge, a 221-foot steel bridge that was relocated here after it was retired in the village of Waterville, more than 100 miles from here. The bridge carries the Appalachian Trail across the creek and connects with the Bear Hole Trail that runs 5 miles through the state park on the other side of the creek. Remains of seven locks and three dams, as well as sections of towpaths, are visible in the state park, and you’ll spot the first ones in this gap if you cross to the Bear Hole Trail for a short distance.
Trending right after the water gap on the Swatara Rail-Trail, you’ll pass six mountain bike singletrack runs to your left of about 1.5 miles each. About 4.3 miles from the Monroe Valley Road trailhead, you’ll pass a pedestrian bridge for the 0.4-mile Sand Siding Trail. A side trip here crosses the creek and turns left for a mile on the Bear Hole Trail to an old log cabin built from on-site lumber and stone in 1939. The owner refused to leave when the park claimed the land, and the state let him live out his days here.
From the bridge, the trail runs another 2 miles through the park and then continues 3 miles through mostly wooded terrain to a truck stop and hotel in Pine Grove.
To reach the southern trailhead in Lickdale from I-81, take Exit 90 toward SR 72 N/Fisher Ave., and turn left onto Fisher Ave. Continue onto Lickdale Road, crossing over SR 72, and then turn left into the parking lot by the camping sign.
To reach the Monroe Valley Road trailhead from I-81, follow the directions above, but instead of continuing on Lickdale Road, turn left onto SR 72 N. Go 0.9 mile, and turn right onto Monroe Valley Road. Go 0.2 mile, and look for trailhead parking on the right. The endpoint is located 0.8 mile farther south along the trail.
To reach the northern endpoint in Pine Grove from I-81, take Exit 100, and head west onto SR 443/Suedberg Road. Go 2.3 miles, and look for roadside parking on the left. The endpoint is located 2.2 miles farther east along the trail at Anspach Dr. (facing the trail from the road, turn left to head east).
To reach a centrally located parking area in Swatara State Park from I-81, take Exit 100, and head west onto SR 443/Suedberg Road. Go 5.1 miles, and turn left at the entrance for Sand Siding Road. Go 0.6 mile, and look for parking straight ahead, where the road intersects with the trail. From the parking lot, turn left to head 5 miles toward the southern trailhead in Lickdale, or turn right to head 5 miles toward the northern trailhead in Pine Grove.
I will start by saying I did this with a gravel bike. Mostly used to flat rail to trail. This was fun because it had some abandoned road hills mixed styles of surfaces. Completed 13 or so mile loop including the bear hole trail. Very scenic. Started my trip from the campground north of the park.Can’t wait to do it again.
My first trail since coming back to PA late this summer. Nice crushed gravel mostly tree lined trail along the Swaty. Took a quick 6.5 mi out and back on a smooth and relatively empty weekday morning. Nice parking and access from the state park. I didn’t see the marked parking on the south side near the KOA so drove further up. Will definitely come back and explore the other improved trails in and around this area!
My wife and I road the entire ten-mile length of the Swatara Rail-Trail (SRT) on Monday, May 28th. Overall the trail is wonderful, with great access, parking lots, and many different trails branching off of it. It is a true rail trail, almost completely flat, and 80% of the trail has a great riding surface for all manner of bicycles. The other 20% is ride-able, but a bit slow, and not good for baby strollers or road bicycles. Hopefully the last bit will receive its final crushed stone topper soon. Don't let that little bit of roughness discourage you, as you can skip it and join the trail at the Waterville bridge by coming in on Old State Road on the other side of the creek.
We entered the Lickdale trail head, and includes a beautiful paved road and creek access. Heading North the first 2.3 miles is a bit rough...clunker-sized ballast stone with dirt and grass in places. It is fine for hybrid and mountain bikes, but a little "slippy". After you reach the first bridge (closed) to the Bear Hole Trail (another gem we just discovered), the surface changes to modern rail trail crushed gravel that is well compacted and easy on the tires or feet. After a bit you reach a second iron bridge (Waterville) and it is a beautiful tribute to the old iron workers of the area. The bridge crosses the Swatara creek to connect Bear Hole and Appalachian trails and also has a parking lot accessed by Old State Road. Just before the Moonshine trail branch, an old, unused highway appears to become a major leg of the SRT. It goes for miles, and is oh so easy to ride, being aging asphalt. Just before the big Northern bend in the river the "Zombie Highway" as we call it, is blocked by a permanent barrier and a short connector appears to take you back to the crushed stone trail. The SRT goes for miles between the river and hillside, and it is very beautiful. We saw a lot of kayakers on the Swattie on Memorial Day. The next feature is the Sand Siding Pedestrian Bridge, which is iron and boardwalk, attached sections allowing the bridge to change direction. The Sand Siding Trailhead, a little further North on the trail, has a nice parking lot. From there to the end of the trail is just scenic beauty and good riding surface, following the creek.
All of the services are at the Lickville end of the trail. Lots' of fast food, gas, and hotels. We loved our day on the SRT and will be returning with friends soon.
I rode the Swatara Rail Trail on the afternoon of Sunday, July 23rd. It was a bit overcast but still hot and muggy, 80 degrees. I started at the Trout Run trailhead and rode one of the connector trails to the mountain bike complex. There are several options within Swatara State Park for mountain bikers, I prefer the four established trails which can be accessed from the rail trail at Green Point Station. After riding trail A I returned to the rail trail and rode south to the Lickdale trailhead. Upon exiting the state park the trail surface is regular gravel and this makes for a bit more difficult ride. I noticed several groups of people walking this section but no fellow bike riders. At the roundabout loop near the Lickdale terminus there are many raspberry bushes, good for an afternoon stop in July. I continued back the way I came running parallel to the Swatara Creek on the right and route 72 on the left. Upon reentering the state park I stopped at the waterville bridge and checked the map. then I continued on the trail through the state park to the east. This is mainly wooded area running along Swatara Creek. Along the way there are several other paved trails for cycling and you may choose to meander at will. I do not recommend riding the Swatara Rail Trail east past the Swopes Valley Trailhead. I was disappointed to find that the trail is maintained differently past this point. There is a marshy area near Wagner's pond with a sign stating "wet trail". This did not deter me from finishing the route but maybe it should have. The trail passes along the edge of the state park with a line of farm communities to the left. There were several deficiencies in the trail surface at this point, which is mainly packed silt from a nearby marsh area and large pools of shallow water which I had to roll through. The last mile of the trail in this direction is mowed grass, almost like passing through someone's back yard. The trail terminus is marked by a Hampton Inn and a busy highway interchange. Overall the Swatara Rail Trail is pretty nice. The central section is on an abandoned paved road and you can cruise a little faster. People also hike and walk their dogs here. Definitely worth the ride from the Waterville bridge to the Swopes Valley Trailhead.
Brought my 7 year old 9 year old 12 year old and they enjoyed the different trail surfaces. Was an easy ride with well-marked trails. We'll return and ride the loop trails off of the Swatara Trail.
trails are maintained nicely & well marked. we have hiked & biked here. will definitely return.
We decided to ride on Super Bowl Sunday and check out this trail. We started from the Lickdale trailhead. We had two issues right from the beginning. First the trail isn't marked and we went the wrong way about 3/4 of a mile into a KOA campground. Once we hit the right direction, we encountered very large limestone, with the bikes sliding all over the place. After a mile, we hit crushed stone, which was great, then an old abandoned paved road. We could have used 3 different tires on this trip. Then at the halfway point the trail allows horses. It was all chewed up, very bumpy and not so much fun dodging the horse petunias on the trail and bridges! This could be a great trail if it were finished properly and horses were restricted to one side of the trail, said leaving part of the path smooth. The trail has some beautiful scenery and there was ice on the creek. The scenery will bring us back but the state of PA should/must do better to make this trail safer and to facilitate maximum enjoyment and not just survival. I beginning. The trailhead map doesn't indicate the direction of the trail. We went right and in 3/4 of a mile ended up in a campground. Once we got squared away we had our second issue. The state of PA put down large limestone on the trail. It was very dan
Trailhead was different than my 2016 edition guidebook. The southern end starts at a newer, state-developed parking area and canoe launch. Take Route 72 to Monroe Valley Road, then take first right down a long entrance driveway. You can see the trail to one side of this entrance road.
Swatara Rail Trail starts as crushed stone and grass until it crosses Monroe Valley Road, where it turns to gravel (1-2" size) for about half a mile. But this is the only part of the trail that is gravel. Once you pass this section, you continue onto crushed stone followed by an old, unused but paved road, back to crushed stone and finally to dirt and grass at the northern end.
Riding south to north is a gradual ascent almost the whole way. You can make use of two bridges that connect to the Bear Hole Trail to make a loop ride. Good views of Swatara Creek but I didn't see many places to stop and go down to the creek. Still, a fun ride.
Did a 40+ mile ride there today, mostly on Monroe Valley Road but also did most of the park trails, Trout Run, Bear Hole, etc. The only problem is a most of the trails are pretty chewed up with horse tracks. Even with my low pressure 35c tires it was pretty bumpy. Front tire blew out a couple of miles from the car because of the constant hammering.
We decided to take advantage of the weather and ride this trail on Christmas Day. We started at what looked to be a recently developed parking area near the southern end of the trail. It is noted that the map on traillink took us to a RV camp at the very southern end of the trail. So if you are using the traillink map to get to the southern parking area you will need to proceed about 3/4 of a mile north on 72 and then hang a right on Monroe to get to the parking area. We rode the trail from Lickdale on the southern end to highway 81 on the north end. As stated in other reviews, the 2 miles at each end of the trail are not quite as improved as the middle portion of the trail. The southern end had a lot of ballast and was probably a little rough for our bikes. The northern 2 miles of the trail was mostly dirt with lots of pot holes but actually made for kind of a fun ride. We also jumped over the creek at the new bridge and rode the Bear Hole trail. The Bear Hole trail was hilly but had a nice cinder surface over the entire length of the trail. A very nice trail to ride. Combining the 2 trails as we did made for about a 30 mile ride and a perfect Christmas afternoon.
The state park system has continued to improve the trails in Swatara State Park. The new Mill Creek bridge in Suedberg is in with access from Swopes Valley road and opens up more yards of trail. The trail in the other direction to Pine Grove Interchange is open but the sign says road closed. The section that says no horses is good but the other sections with horses the trail is smooth along the edges as the horses stay in the middle. At one point the trail switches from the old rail bed to the old paved highway. Here the road joints are pretty bumpy so pay attention. When you get to the Waterville Bridge the surface changes to large ballast and is awful for bikes and I almost fell. Be careful. Youker
I had a good ride on the Swatara-Bear Hole Trails today with a close friend. I'm 56 and he's 53 (and in better shape) so keep that in mind. The day was heavily overcast (but, no rain while on the trail) with a temp. about 70°. Some points:
1) If you start at the Lickdale trail head on Monroe Valley Rd. (about 15-20 parking spots), you will have to deal with the thumb sized crushed stone surface over the first 1.5 miles (and then again at the finish, of course). I'll avoid this next time. The surface beyond this point is paved first (and in reasonably good shape) and then crushed gravel.
2) If you start at the southern trail head of the Bear Hole Trail in order to avoid #1, be aware that there are only 10 parking spots.
3) Ignore the final 1.8 miles east of Swopes Valley Rd. It's unimproved, muddy, and potholed. And there's not much to see other than the marshes bordering the trail. Instead, go down Swopes Valley Rd. for .5 miles to pick up the northern trail head of the Bear Hole Trail. (This would also make for a good alternative starting point if the parking lot at the southern trail head is full.)
4) Be aware that the Bear Hole Trail is not a rail trail. It's a rehabbed crushed gravel surface of an old state route. As such, it has some hills to deal with. The first was 50-100 m. and relatively steep. The other two were longer, but not quite as steep, but still challenging enough for me at this point in the ride. I would not recommend biking in the opposite direction, however, because the hills are even steeper and more numerous.
5) Make sure you stop at the old Bordner Cabin on your way down the Bear Hole Trail. It's about 2.5 miles from the northern trail head and 100 m up to the left on a visible trail, but easy to miss. Take some time to admire the workmanship, appreciate the Agriggs waterfall, and visualize what this place must have been like when it was inhabited (the large photos on the walls help). Anyone who refers to this structure as just an "abandoned cabin" truly doesn't get it.
6) This would undoubtedly be a magnificent foliage ride in the fall, but the amount of rhododendron on the Bear Hole Trail suggests that late spring would be equally impressive.
Had trouble finding the parking lot in Lickdale so I drove to Pine Grove and parked at the Swopes Valley Trailhead parking lot. Nice size and not many people there on this Saturday morning. Rode Bear Hole trail down to the Waterville bridge which joins it to the Swatara rail trail. Rode to the Sand Siding 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 paved where it followed the Old State road then crushed stone the rest of the way to Swopes Valley Road. Overall a great trail.
The trail surfaces vary greatly. Most of it is crushed limestone and was fairly well groomed. There is a 1.6-mile stretch of old, no longer maintained paved roadway - bumpy but passable. Below the Appalachian trail bridge it's a fairly coarse gravel for nearly two miles that I did not like. At the western (northern ?) end the final leg is completely unimproved and for me impassable.
Some other reviewers were sharply critical of the impact of horses. Hoof marks and horse flops became increasing evident as I went west/north, but IMHO were never more that a minor nuisance. And I did not encounter any horses anywhere (on a Monday afternoon).
If/when the southern and northern/western segments are upgraded to crushed limestone I would rate the trail five stars and happily do it again. It's an attractive, fairly interesting route. Although I took a brief side trip across the Bear Hole trail bridge, I didn't do any of that trail.
We rode and fooled around on this trail 5-2015. We saw only 2 horse back riders, 3 bikers and 2 hikers. The horse riders were very nice--slowing their horses to let us pass. The trail was a little rough from them but not terrible.
We did this on a Friday so maybe that is the reason for the lack of people--this trail is beautiful and if you take the time to look you can see nature at its best.
We are planning on doing this again, hopefully the Lickdale section will be open.
Pennsylvania State Parks are the best!
Rode this trail on 4/18/15. This trail is beautiful. However, we rode for about two miles of horse divots (it was like riding on railroad tracks) then gave up and turned around. Our wrists were so sore. Sad. Won't go back on this one.
I rode my bike on the Swatara Rail Trail as part of visiting Swatara State Park in August 2014. I had researched the trail, and read the reviews, so I was a little leery about what I would find. I came to Swatara from the west, from Route 81, and easily found the Swatara State Park sign, and assumed I'd easily find the trailhead to the rail trail. No such luck. I drove around for almost an hour looking for it! Finally, using the state park map, I located a portion of the trail that seemed to run along the road (Route 72 I believe). It was right by the Swatara State Park DCNR sign. I parked here (even though it didn't look like a "parking area". Going down the hill a bit, I found some trailhead, I think here you can also get on the AT (Appalachian Trail)! So here, I got on the trail. The first mile or so was a paved trail with several branch-offs of different trails (not sure if these were state park trails or what). Then the next mile or so was an old abandoned road, which was actually a little challenging (hilly). Then the flat, crushed stone rail trail. Now this part was very nice, more like other rail trails I've ridden in the past. This continues for about 5 miles and then, to make a loop, you have to get on the Bear Hole Trail. The entrance for this was a little tricky. At Swopes Valley Road, DON'T keep going straight (there IS a trail there). Go right on the road about a half mile, and the entrance for the Bear Hole Trail is on your right. This portion is rather flat, but there are some up and down hills. It's very scenic, as part of the trail runs along Swatara Creek. The trail now goes another 5 miles back to where you started, after you cross the bridge. Overall, the ride was nice, not really a typical rail trail, but you have to remember, this trail is relatively new, and still a work in progress. When reading the reviews, I saw a lot of negative comments about horses. On my visit, I didn't encounter any horseback riders, but there was a good many piles of horse poop. Just watch where you're riding, and share the trails!
Trail is beautiful but would be very scary if I shared with a horse. If I had a horse I would be afraid on the section from Sand Siding Road to Swopes Valley Rd.About a 50 ft.drop to creek !! WHOAA!! Many hoof divots on that section makes for a bumpy ride.All in all, nice ride except for the aforementioned.
I didn't ride the whole trail (I skipped the part the runs along the active roadway). It was nice enough. A couple of new bridges to cross the streams. Some nice off-shoots into woods.
What I didn't like was that a section of the trail (maybe a mile or so) is on an old, abandoned road. Tolerable, but spoils the mood.
If I were in the area I would definitely ride it again. But I wouldn't drive out of my way a second time to go there.
I enjoyed my ride but was disappointed with the surface of the trail. The old route 72 road should be replaced with crushed stone and the last section of the trail looks unmaintained. Swatara park is building new trails and doing a lot of very nice things but they should address this trail before building anymore. I wouldn't think it would take all that much. I will ride this trail again but Lebanon Valley is a lot better.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
A lot of trails that branch off the main trail. If you like mountain biking this is the place you have to go.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.
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 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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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....
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...
"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.
"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."
"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: 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:
Or, you can contact the Park Office at 717-865-6470 and they will send you a large copy of that same map."
"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."
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