Swatara Creek Water Trail
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Enjoy boating, primitive camping, fishing, wildlife-watching, and other activities on this water trail.

water trail logoFor Your Safety & Enjoyment

This project was financed in part by a grant from the Pennsylvania Recreational Trails Program under the administration of the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR), Bureau of Recreation and Conservation. Funding for this program is provided through the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA 21). If anyone believes he or she has been subjected to discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin, he or she may file a complaint alleging discrimination with either the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Bureau of Recreation and Conservation, P.O. Box 8475, Harrisburg, PA 17105-8745, or the Office for Equal Opportunity, U.S. Department of Transportation, Washington, D.C.


Volunteer Opportunities/For More Information

If you'd like to join an organized float trip, the first Saturday in May has traditionally been the Swatara Creek Watershed Association float and clean-up. There are usually around 100 participants. For more information on this event, or for more details on the entire 91-mile length of Swatara Creek, contact the Swatara Creek Watershed Association at www.mbcomp.com/Swatara.

The information in this guide is for background information only. The Swatara Creek Water Trail partnership provides no particular endorsement via this publication, nor is it responsible for errors or omissions in this guide.

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Do you want to combine water, good food, recreation, open space, history, culture, scenic beauty and geology into one day-trip? We have you covered. Canoeing the "Swattie" is like exploring a wilderness. One of the only ways to tell where you are is by the bridges that cross the stream. "The Swattie" is an urban/suburban wilderness less than 50 minutes from Pennsylvania's capital.

The Swatara Creek Water Trail is a 42-mile segment of Swatara Creek from Jonestown, Lebanon County, to the PA Fish & Boat Commission's Middletown Access, in Middletown, Dauphin County, Pennsylvania. You will see farms and bank barns, Union Canal locks, forested riparian buffers, the abandoned Lebanon to Tremont railroad and bridge, Harper's Tavern, limestone outcrops and the only lava deposits in the state. If you want to stay in the area overnight, try the Swatara Creek Inn or Hershey Highmeadow Campground. Fort Indiantown Gap, the national cemetery, and historic Lindley Murray/Conrad Mill are a great hike from the water.

In central Pennsylvania, the Swatara Creek Watershed encompasses 570 square miles in Berks, Dauphin, Lebanon and Schuylkill counties. Swatara Creek flows into the Susquehanna River, and eventually, Chesapeake Bay. In addition to the four counties, there are 46 municipalities in the watershed with a total population of more than 800,000 people.

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Access to the Swatara Creek Water Trail is provided at two formal trailheads, Scotto's Italian Restaurant, Jonestown, Lebanon County, and Boat House Road Park, Derry Township, Dauphin County, and at other public and private access points identified on the trail guide/map. The normal flow of the Swatara accommodates most unpowered recreational watercraft throughout the summer. Users must know their capabilities, their travel route and their approximate float times. You can assume you will float at about 2 to 3 miles per hour with light paddling. Avoid being on the water after dark, and be aware that creek levels can vary widely and change quickly. Boat only at water levels appropriate for your capabilities. For water depth/flow, check the Swatara Creek Watershed Association's website at www.mbcomp.com/Swatara.

The access points include:

 Name Owner   River Mile
Scotto's Italian Restaurant, Jonestown Angelo Scotto 1
Swatara Creek Watershed Association Waterworks Access PA Fish & Boat Commission 4
Union Canal Canoe Rentals, East Hanover Township Bill and Ruth Wise 14
Boat House Road Park Derry Township 23
Swatara Park, Union Deposit South Hanover Township 24
Hanover St. Bridge & Hummel Nature Trail Hummelstown Borough 28-29
Clifton Covered Bridge Project, Fulling Mill Road Lower Swatara Township 37
Middletown Access PA Fish & Boat Commission 42
All boats, including rafts, using Commission access points must have a valid boat registration.

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Points of Interest

North to south, here are some of the sites you can expect to see:

South Mountain Railroad Piers. Just east of Route 72 and north of Jonestown, the Lebanon Water Authority draws water from a low-head dam on the Swatara. On closer inspection, you can see remnants of the South Mountain Railroad piers.

Scotto's Italian Restaurant. Access the creek at the bridge going into Jonestown, at Scotto's Italian Restaurant (717) 865-3487. When you go back for your car, it's a great place for dinner.

Lebanon to Tremont railroad bridge. On the west bank, at the abandoned Lebanon to Tremont railroad bridge, are the only lava deposits in the state. There is a sharp cliff to the railroad bed. The lava is a few hundred feet down the old railbed.

Frog's Hollow. On the north bank of the creek, just past the Route 72 bridge, is the Frog's Hollow Complex - motorcycles, flea market.

Union Canal. Along the entire creek are remnants of the Union Canal, operated 1828 to 1884. The canal once connected the Susquehanna River at Middletown with the Schuylkill River at Reading, following Swatara and Tulpehocken creeks. The old towpath is still visible in many areas. Suggested by William Penn, the canal was surveyed in 1762. Much coal and iron ore were transported. One can find remains of locks and aqueducts by which boats descended to the Schuylkill River.

Water Works. Just east off of Ono Road, Water Works was a community built to support the canal. The weigh master's house was used as a headquarters for the Union Canal at Water Works. A "weigh wall" still stands where boats were tied for weighing their freight loads. An old icehouse that stored ice cut from a dam in winter provided employment for canal workers in the winter.

Waterworks Access. To the west of Ono Road near the water works is the Fish & Boat Commission Waterworks Access, created in partnership with the Swatara Creek Watershed Association.

Blue Rock Limestone Outcrop. On the right bank, Blue Rock is a magnificent limestone outcrop. In early spring, wildflowers of many colors appear on the face.

Reed's Fort. The house of Adam Reed, Esq., was turned into a fort in 1755. Here, with rangers from Hanover Township, Reed protected the people of the countryside against Indian raids.

Harper's Tavern. Near Route 934 north of Annville, Harper's Tavern (717-865-2584) was an 1804 stagecoach stop on old Route 22 between Allentown and Harrisburg. By the way, you can't go wrong with a meal at Harper's Tavern.

Old General Store. The old "General Store" is the building next to Harper's Tavern and is currently a doctor's office.

Conrad's Mill. Just north of Harper's Tavern is Conrad's Mill. On June 7, 1745, the site was the birthplace of Lindley Murray, a famous grammarian and author. Robert Murray, Lindley's father, owned the mill from 1745 to 1746. For a time, the site was known as Shuey's Mill.

Fort Indiantown Gap Military Reservation. A little farther north is Fort Indiantown Gap Military Reservation, authorized in 1929. The first land was bought in 1931 and first used by the National Guard in 1932. Total acreage is now more than 16,000 acres. A national cemetery is also housed at the Gap.

Swatara Creek Inn. To the west of Harper's Tavern on old Route 22, the Swatara Creek Inn (717-865-3259) is a three-story Victorian mansion built in 1860 for Jacob Ulrich. From 1917 to 1941, Milton Hershey, who used it for a boys' home, owned the mansion. Today, the structure is a bed and breakfast inn.

Union Canal Canoe Rentals. Along Black's Bridge Road you will find Union Canal Canoe Rentals. As the business name suggests, you can rent canoes. In addition, you can camp, golf or explore an old canal lock. At Halloween, there's even a haunted trail. For real hospitality, call (717) 838-9580.

Bindnagle's Church. Until the 1930s, Valley Glen was a recreational park near Bindnagle's Church for swimming, boating and carousel rides. Bindnagle's Church is where John Palm, the founder of Palmyra, is buried. German settlers established Bindnagle's on January 27, 1753. The current church dates back to January 1, 1803. Call Heidi Neiswender (717-838-6176), church historian, to arrange a tour.

Camps. Milton Hershey Schools owns Camp Catherine, Spartan Meadows, Camp Swattee and Camp Milton.

Boat House Road Park. Boat House Road Park is a public access maintained by Derry Township but owned by Milton Hershey Schools.

Horseshoe Trail. Crossing the Swatara Creek just before Sand Beach Road, the Horseshoe Trail runs from a junction in the Appalachian Trail on top of Stony Mountain in State Game Lands 211 to Valley Forge - 130.1 miles long.

Hersheypark/Hershey Gardens. Hersheypark and Hershey Gardens are well-known tourist attractions. Smell the chocolate, enjoy rides in the amusement park, watch a show or stroll through the flower gardens.

Union Deposit. Union Deposit is a great access below the Hershey Dam. Indians lived in Union Deposit until the late 1700s. Later, farmers brought their grain and other produce from the Pennsylvania Dutch areas here for shipment to the market via the Union Canal. Beneath the Union Canal House Restaurant (717-566-0054) and the street between the restaurant and Fort Swatara, an underground railroad once ran. Also in Union Deposit, a great anthracite furnace once turned out tons of iron until it blew up. And a band rehearsal hall formerly served as quarters for Union Canal workers.

Hershey Highmeadow Campground. The Campground is between Swatara Creek and Route 39 near Hummelstown. The camp is owned by HERCO. Call (717) 534-8995 for more information.

Keller Fields. Keller ball fields, municipal park.

Hummel Nature Trail. Hummel Nature Trail, municipal park.

Indian Echo Caverns. Indian Echo Caverns is a large underground display of geology created by dripping water and the region's limestone deposits where the Susquehannock Indians once lived and hunted - visited by settlers as early as 1783. Located three miles west of Hershey off U.S. Route 322 near Hummelstown, the cave is open for tours. Call (717) 566-8131 for more information.

Limestone Caves. Many small limestone caves dot the water trail. Legends place horse thieves residing in these caves.

Clifton Covered Bridge Project. A washed-out covered bridge is planned for reproduction at Clifton.

Former Swatara Park. former amusement park.

Hoffer Park. municipal park.

M&H Railroad Rides. M&H (Middletown & Hummelstown) Railroad, an historic steam engine train, provides a ride parallel to Swatara Creek. Great fun. For more information, call (717) 944-4435, 136 Brown Street, Middletown.

Middletown. Middletown is the oldest town in Dauphin County, PA, established 1755 by George Fischer, a Quaker. Boats were poled until 1873 when the first paddlewheel was acquired. In the 1920s, gasoline engines replaced steam power, and the paddlewheels were shifted from the side to the stern. The ferry landing is a short distance west.

Middletown Access. PA Fish & Boat Commission's Middletown Access, Middletown. The Middletown Fire Company, 660 South Union Street, Middletown, has a water rescue team. For assistance, call (717) 948-3019.

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Paddling and Boating Safety

  1. Keep weight centered and as low as possible at all times, especially when entering and exiting the boat.
  2. Paddle on opposite sides of your canoe.
  3. Keep all ropes coiled when not in use. Never tie a rope to yourself or another person, especially a child.
  4. Do not exceed the capacity of your boat.
  5. Boating safety increases with numbers. Boat with others.
  6. Obstacles encountered along the river include rocks, rock ledges, trees, sandbars and dams. A surface obstacle forms what looks like a "V" pointing upstream (at you). Avoid these and look instead for Vs pointing downstream to take advantage of the deeper water flowing between these obstacles. Keep away from dangerous dams and submerged trees ("strainers"). Know the hazards of your route.
  7. In canoes, kneel when running rough water and during windy conditions. If your boat flips over, remain calm. Hold onto your paddle(s) and the boat, if possible. Never position yourself downstream of a boat! Drag your canoe to shore in a shallow, calm spot or shoreline. Then empty the boat and reenter. Never try to stand in fast-moving water. If you lose your boat, lie on your back with your feet pointing downstream until you paddle to shallow, calm water where you can reach shore.
  8. Make sure you are prepared for inclement weather and have the gear that you need. Be alert to sudden weather changes. If improperly dressed, windy and rainy weather, even in summer, can lead to hypothermia.
  9. Cold water is dangerous and can kill unprepared boaters. Always wear your life jacket but especially when the water is cool. Sudden immersion in cold water contributes to most boating deaths in Pennsylvania. Dress appropriately - wear a hat, and dress in layers of wool, pile or polypropylene. Avoid cotton.
  10. When it is hot, make sure you wear light clothing, sunglasses and a hat, and apply sun block and drink fluids.
  11. Be aware of other boaters. Keep a sharp lookout to avoid collisions.
  12. Be careful of sharp objects in the river. Floods carry an assortment of items downstream that can cut your feet. If you wade, wear protective footwear.

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Boating Regulations

One wearable, Coast Guard-approved personal flotation device (PFD or life jacket) in serviceable condition and of the appropriate size is required for each person in your boat. If your boat is 16 feet or longer, one throwable device (seat cushion or ring buoy) is also required. Canoes or kayaks, regardless of length, are not required to carry a throwable device.

PFDs must be worn by all children 12 years and younger on all boats 20 feet and less in length, while under way, and on all canoes and kayaks. Others are strongly encouraged to wear a PFD. If a larger person needs to be rescued by a smaller person, flotation is a huge safety factor for both parties.

All boats must display an anchor light (a white light visible 360 degrees all-around) when at anchor between sunset and sunrise. Boats can use a lantern or clip-on battery-powered unit to meet this requirement.

All powered boats must show running lights between sunset and sunrise. Between sunset and sunrise, unpowered boats must carry a white light (visible 360 degrees all-around) - installed or portable - ready to be displayed in time to avoid a collision.

All boats are required to carry a sound-producing device, some mechanical means of making a sound signal audible for a half-mile. Athletic whistles meet this requirement.

All motorboats and all boats using PA Fish & Boat Commission access areas must be registered. Operating watercraft, including canoes, kayaks and rafts, under the influence of alcohol or drugs is illegal. The law is strongly enforced for user safety.

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