Have you ever wondered what the birds see as they soar across the rolling landscape of
Cumberland Valley? If so, you can catch a glimpse at Waggoner’s Gap Hawk Watch
, positioned on Rt 74 on the border of Cumberland and Perry counties. Whether you are interested in experiencing the hawk migration that takes place each year from August-December, or just taking a leisurely hike, you’ll be sure to find stunning views from the top.
Waggoner’s Gap Hawk Watch is situated atop Blue Mountain, and is one of seven hawk watch sites along the Kittatinny Ridge. This extraordinary ridge boasts 185 miles of forests stretching from the Delaware River to the Mason-Dixon Line. The ridge serves as a road map for the tens of thousands of hawks, eagles and falcons that migrate each fall.
The Audubon Society has been involved with the site since 2000, although hawk migration statistics at Waggoner's Gap date back to 1952. Hike the .18 mile trail to the top of the rocks and you will find avid bird watchers recording hawk sightings, snapping photos or just enjoying the view. There are sixteen species of birds that are counted each year, including Turkey Vultures, Coopers Hawks, Sharp-Shinned Hawks, Broad-Winged Hawks, Red Tail Hawks, Golden Eagles and Bald Eagles. Visit during the last two weeks of September for peak migration counts, where over 5,000 Broad-Winged Hawks have been spotted in just one day!
If you're not a birding enthusiast, the site is still worth the visit as it offers stunning views for a relatively short and easy-to-moderate hike. Although you'll feel totally remote standing at the peak of the rocks, you are just a short, 15 minute drive from downtown Carlisle. The vista, rising 1,535 feet above the Valley, is a gift, allowing you to unwind, enjoy the bird song of the woods and gaze out over the communities of Cumberland Valley. If you're lucky enough to enjoy repeat visits through the years, you'll be able to see a bird's eye view of how our landscape develops and changes.
The site is family-friendly and a fun, informative hike for school-aged children. The trail head is well developed and includes history of the site, while an interpretive marker for each species of bird counted is located along the trail. Pick up a self-guided fauna brochure to learn even more. If the younger hikers in your group aren't quite ready to navigate the rock outcrop, veer to the right at the top of the trail and visit the picnic area instead. You'll still be rewarded with a spectacular view, and can enjoy the picnic tables and rock amphitheater. Best yet, you can easily leave Carlisle, hike the trail, enjoy a picnic lunch and return back to Carlisle in just 2-3 hours time.
It is important to note that the Hawk Watch is only open from August 1 - December 31 each
year. Find more information, including links for finding current and past migration numbers, here