Cumberland Valley’s wide-open spaces provide the perfect opportunity to reconnect with nature. Outdoor recreation was one of the few activities available to individuals during stay-at-home orders in March and April and many of our most popular trails saw unprecedented usage during this time. To stay away from the crowds, you might consider exploring some of Cumberland Valley’s lesser-known trails and parks. Here are some suggestions.
Home to Cumberland Valley’s only waterfall, LeTort Falls Park provides a peaceful setting that is not far from the heart of downtown Carlisle. Despite being only five-feet tall, the picture-perfect waterfall offers a soothing backdrop where you can unwind. The two-acre park also features access to the Conodoguinet Creek and is a great location for fly-fishing. The falls can be viewed from the front of the park toward the bridge. They are located across the creek from the park. There are no pavilions or picnic tables, but the shady, grassy area is perfect to set up chairs.
Escape into nature and enjoy a scenic view of four counties from this 26-acre park nestled on a hilltop. Just a short drive from downtown Mechanicsburg, guests can enjoy several miles of hiking along five trails, all of which lead to a stream at the bottom of a ravine. A unique aspect of this park is the Heritage Tree Project, a large meadow featuring a scale model of the United States where historical trees represent the nation’s major cities. There is tulip poplar from Mount Vernon, a black locust tree from Philadelphia’s Independence Hall, and a sycamore tree that was planted from seedlings that went to the moon and back on the Apollo spacecraft. Oak trees on the property date back more than 200 years. With over 75 different species of trees, the park is also a great location for bird watching. If that’s not enough, the site also features a pavilion with picnic tables, a bird blind, and a pre-Civil War farmhouse. Although not open to the public, the building is well-maintained and offers a nice photo opportunity.
Buck Ridge Trail promises a more challenging hike with some steep and rocky sections. The 6-mile linear trail runs through Michaux State Forest and connects Pine Grove State Park to Kings Gap Environmental Education Center. Bring along water and pack snacks and a picnic lunch. The trail is particularly scenic with brightly-colored leaves during the fall season. Tip: Wear waterproof hiking boots. The trail can get muddy in wet weather.
This by-pass route of the Appalachian Trail is less busy and a bit more rugged. Be prepared for the hike with sturdy boots, a walking stick, and warm clothing during the cooler months. The trail is over 220 miles long with 110 miles in Pennsylvania. In Cumberland Valley, the trail can be accessed at Waggoners Gap Hawk Watch and Colonel Denning State Park. Hike 13.2 miles from Waggoners Gap to Colonel Denning or start at Colonel Denning and hike 8.1 miles to Cowpens Road in Tuscarora State Forest. The Tuscarora Trail meets up with a number of other trails including the well-known Flat Rock Trail in Colonel Denning State Park. Hikers seeking a remote wilderness location will truly enjoy this unique hiking adventure.
The little-known section of Kings Gap State Park offers a fantastic hiking experience without some of the larger groups of people you might see while hiking other trails in the park. Located just down the road from the main entrance to the park, hikers start on the short Irish Gap Hollow Trail accessed just off the parking lot. The linear trail is relatively wide and flat and follows along the edge of the stream. As the trail climbs, it turns into the longer Two Hollows Trail, which provides a more challenging hike with a slight incline and some rocky outcroppings along the path. You will cross several wooden footbridges as well as manmade stone bridges over the creek. If you follow the trail to its end (continue to look for the yellow blazes), you will connect with the Boundary Trail. You can choose to turn around at any time or proceed on the Boundary Hollow Trail to explore more of Kings Gap.