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Picture of the Waterville lenticular truss bridge, now over Swatara Creek in Swatara State Park

Waterville lenticular truss bridge over Swatara Creek in Swatara State Park. Photo: Joseph Elliott, Wikimedia

Nestled within Pennsylvania’s southeastern quadrant, about 30 miles from Harrisburg, Swatara State Park is a 3,520 acre playground for those who love the great outdoors.

Set within the Swatara Valley, between Second and Blue mountains, the park boasts a stunning landscape of rolling fields, dense woodlands, scenic creeks and stunning waterfalls.

A haven for nature lovers who revel in the diverse flora and fauna of the area, Swatara is also a popular spot for those who enjoy recreational pursuits like hiking, fishing, boating and hunting.

Unfortunately there is no camping available onsite, so the park is day-use only. However, just a stone’s throw from it is a wonderful Jonestown/Hershey NE KOA camping facility.

Which means you can use that as an overnight base, and really take your time to explore Swatara State Park over the course of a couple of days or more.

Activities

During their time at the park, visitors can enjoy a wide selection of outdoor recreational activities.

Here are some of the things you can do while there.

Boating at Swatara State Park

The likes of kayaking, canoeing, SUP and tubing are all very popular activities at the park during the spring and summer.

Taking place at the creek, you will find designated launches that provide access to it for non-powered, put-in and take-out boats.

You will find these at the Lickdale Trailhead, Swopes Valley Trailhead and Waterville Bridge Parking Lot.

Whilst boating, please be mindful of naturally occurring hazards. Also be sure you have the proper boat registration and launching permits before taking to the water.

Fishing at Swatara State Park

While Swatara State Park does not have a lake, you will still find plenty of spots in which to cast a line.

All along Swatara Creek there are plenty of places to fish, particularly at ‘Trout Run’, which is where a large population of brook trout reside.

Some of the other fish you can hook at the creek include panfish and smallmouth bass.

As with boating, if you want to fish in the park, you will have to hold a valid state licence and abide by the laws and regulations of the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission.

Hiking at Swatara State Park

If you are into hiking you will be pleased to know that the park accommodates over 18 miles of trails for you to explore on foot. Many of which interloop via small connector trails to make it easier for you to traverse more of them.

Overall the park trails are generally flat and wide. Some of them are rated as easy, whilst others can be more challenging.

All of them showcase some of the park’s outstanding natural beauty, in a way that is unique to the rest of them.

Here are some of the most popular trails you can tackle at Swatara State Park:

  • trail 1 – Sand Siding Trail. Length: 0.4 mile Degree of Difficulty: easy
  • trail 2 – Appalachian Trail. Length: 2.4 miles Degree of Difficulty: moderate
  • trail 3 – Bear Hole Trail. Length: 4.8 miles Degree of Difficulty: challenging

Birding at Swatara State Park

Birdwatchers from all over Pennsylvania, as well as the surrounding states, come to the park for the excellent spotting opportunities it provides.

As a combination of dense woodland and lush fields that lie within different phases of forest succession, the park is home to many different species of birds.

At any given time you should be able to spot bluebirds, hawks, ducks and wrens among many other breeds.

If you head to Kittatinny Ridge, just to the north of the park, you will find yourself at an important juncture in the migration route for birds.

Some of the species you might see here include bobolinks, meadowlarks and grasshopper sparrows.

Nature & Wildlife

If you love wildlife then you should definitely bring your binoculars with you to the park.

Throughout its diverse landscape, many animals reside within it, including the likes of turkeys, deer, grouse and rabbits.

Nature lovers should also enjoy the opportunity to spot different species of flora including Indiangrass, big and little bluestem and switchgrass. As well as a wide range of trees and gorgeous wildflowers.

Hunting at Swatara State Park

During the established season, the large majority of the park is open to hunting, trapping and dog training.

Those who partake in these activities can attempt to snare deer, pheasant, turkey, rabbit, ruffed grouse, waterfowl, squirrel and a range of furbearers including fox, raccoon, muskrat and opossum.

While hunting, be mindful of other trail users, and be aware of the 150-yard safety zone that surrounds each of the park’s occupied structures.

Pets at Swatara State Park

Pets are only permitted in certain designated areas.

If you plan on bringing your dog with you, it is a good idea call the main office to clarify what these areas are.

Camping at Swatara State Park

While there are no camping facilities at all within the park, you will find the Jonestown/Hershey NE KOA campground just a few minutes drive south from it.

This campground features plenty of sites for RVs, many of which can accommodate rigs of up to 90 feet, and also comes with either 20-amp, 30-amp or 50-amp hookups. There are also several sites for tent camping too.

Amenities here include centrally located comfort stations that have flushing toilets, warm showers and laundry facilities.

There is also a camp store onsite that sells food and drink items, as well as firewood, propane and other necessary supplies.

WI-FI, cable TV, bike rentals, mini-golf and a dog park are some of its other notable features.

Park Location

Swatara State Park
1450 Suedberg Rd
Pine Grove, PA 17963
Phone: 717.865.6470

Website

Map

Video

Here is a short YouTube video giving some history of Swatara State Park: