View of the Susquehanna River


Susquehanna River area hiking and paddling
October 2008

Last updated October 6, 2008



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Day One | Day Two

I know the state of Maryland quite well...almost too well. Don't get me wrong. There are still plenty of places I have yet to paddle and a few places I still plan to hike but these are becoming few...especially if I don't want to drive more than 2 hours. Hence, when the opportunity to do a scenic hike in southern Pennsylvania came up, I jumped at the chance.

Norma decided to one up the ante by suggesting we make it a whole weekend adventure. After significant arm twisting, I finally gave in. We would hike one day and paddle the next, camping in between. It was time for me to stop saying I would like to explore Pennsylvania more and time to actually start doing it.

Day One: Saturday, October 4, 2008

It was the perfect weekend for a hike. The forecast read
Saturday: Partly sunny, with a high near 65. Calm wind becoming west between 5 and 8 mph.
Saturday Night: Mostly cloudy, with a low around 44. Calm wind.
Sunday: Partly sunny, with a high near 70. Light east wind.

Norma and I drove to Holtwood, Pennsylvania for a Maryland Outdoor Club (MOC) hike at Kelly's Run/Tucquan Glen. John F. led this well organized hike.

A few folks missed a turnoff so while they caught up, John arranged the car shuttle so our hike would only be one way. Norma, Maureen, and I kept ourselves busy by tossing the flying disc.

Fourteen motivated hikers began our trek at about 1100.

We passed several paw paw trees. I got to taste them recently for the first time on my September 28, 2008 hiking/paddling adventure. It was now a first taste for several in the group.

Unlike most the places in the Baltimore and Washington D.C. area, much of the terrain was rocky. See first photo at left.

As we walked down into the valley, several minor stream crossings were made. It may have been fall, but few did. See second photo. The combination of fresh water, wet rocks, shade, moss, and ferns reminded me of my numerous backpacking trips in West Virginia. This location was truly a gem in that it gave me similar scenery as what I would normally drive twice as far for. See third photo.

Our group climbed up to Pinnacle Overlook where we had a fantastic view of the mighty Susquehanna River. See fourth and fifth photos. Also see the Susquehanna in the photo at the top left corner of this page.

A little beyond the Pinnacle was a nice rock for sunning and eating.

At a railroad track, we stopped for a break. I spotted a snake catching some rays (sixth photo).

The trail was fairly well marked, well maintained, and interesting. A little rock scrambling but not much (seventh photo).

We passed a stone chimney. We also walked by hemlock, rhododendron, and Chinese chestnut trees.

It was an easy and very scenic 7 mile hike to which I would gladly return...especially on a really hot day. There were some nice swimming holes and sunning rocks that could make for a relaxing summer day hike.

Norma and I thanked our hike leader then did some scouting of launch sites on the Susquehanna River. We found Muddy Creek and York Furnace, both in York County. We were hoping to explore spots along the Conestoga River but with limited time and few good maps, we decided to leave that for another time.

Next, Norma and I checked into Otter Creek Campground. This is another gem. It is walking distance from York Furnace, has clean campsites, and is family run by a nice group of people. We set up the tent then went for about a 2 mile walk down to Otter Creek and beyond. The trailhead is only about 50 meters from campsite 47. Along the way, we caught a nice view of Otter Creek and saw an interesting fungus. See eighth photo at left. Initially I thought we were on the campground nature trail but later we thought it might have actually been on part of the 190 mile long Mason-Dixon Trail.

Having built up a good appetite, the next mission was to find some eats. We accomplished this arduous mission at Sugar and Spice Family Restaurant, about 15-20 minutes away at 2512 Delta Road, Suite 9, Brogue, Pennsylvania 17309, phone: 717-927-6830. Good prices and big selection of good ole American food.

We managed to get a campfire going but after about 20 minutes, we were tired and ready for bed. It was a good day.
Click thumbnails to enlarge.

Day Two: Sunday, October 5, 2008

Norma and I were well rested after about 9 hours of sleep.

After packing up, we went to the campground pavillion where the owners cooked us a traditional breakfast of pancakes, sausage or bacon, eggs, toast, juice, and coffee. Only $5 for a full meal or $3 for a half meal.

About a mile from the campsite was Indian Steps Museum so we made sure to stop in. It turned out to be much more interesting than we expected. There were a good number of archaeological finds in the area and many of them are well preseved and documented at this museum. Some of these artifacts date back to 10,000 B.C.; thousands of years before the pyramids of Egypt were built!

The next stop was Shank's Mare, where I bought my beloved Cobra Expedition kayak. There, we asked about paddling and hiking. I bought some maps. The woman at the store recommended we stop at a place called Highpoint for a fantastic view. Hence, that was our next destination.

A short walk on the Heritage Trail and the Mason Dixon Trail (less than a mile total) took us to the vista. See first photo at left to see Norma pumping water the the summit.
This area, known as the Highpoint Scenic Vista and Recreation Area was created in 2007. It is comprised of 79 acres of scenic meadowlands located in the Lower Windsor Township. It offers a spectacular 360 degree view of the Susquehanna River and surrounding hills.
- from Highpoint Scenic Vista and Recreation Area pamphlet.

Finally, we were off to launch. We set sail at Muddy Creek launch site in the Conowingo Reservoir of the Susquehanna River. After paddling downstream for 0.6 miles, we kayaked up Muddy Creek. We managed to paddle up maybe a half mile before we came to some small rapids. After a short portage, Norma and I were paddling again for only about 200 meters until we came to more rapids. Our turnaround point was a really scenic shaded area that would have made for great swimming. See second photo.

Paddling back downstream, we saw lots of fish, some in schools as big as 50. Muddy Creek is very pretty...I just wish there was more of it.

We then kayaked upstream towards Holtwood Dam (third photo). There were lots of islands and big rocks to explore. See fourth photo. We stopped for lunch on one of them (fifth photo). They're not as easy to climb as they look...Norma broke my fall.

On the east side of Piney Island, we saw two bald eagles that were quite cooperative in posing for my camera. See sixth photo at left.

By 1730, we were done, having paddled an easy 8.5 miles. I was surprised at how many other kayakers we saw. I've spent a significant amount of time paddling in Maryland this year and it is a shame I've seen so few paddlers on the water. I was glad to see the Pennsylvanians are a little more eager to get on the water but with such pretty scenery, I don't imagine it would take much convincing.
Click thumbnails to enlarge.

The day after returning from our trip, I read on the Chesapeake Paddler's Association forums page about a trip a little north of where we paddled. A group had the chance to explore the area and see artwork carved into stone hundreds of years ago!

Long before the Europeans came, native people carved images of humans, birds, animals and their tracks into the rocks that lay in and along the Susquehanna River. The carvings, or petroglyphs, conveyed information. Perhaps they described a tribe’s boundaries or hunting grounds or maybe it told of the people who lived there or who had passed through. Sometimes figures were carved directly over the top of others, suggesting that many generations contributed to this legacy. Perhaps 1000 petroglyphs could once be found among several sites on the river between Columbia, Pennsylvania and Port Deposit, Maryland. Little Indian Rock and Big Indian Rock south of Safe Harbor Dam are a few of the last remnants of this art form.
- from Sea Kayak - Safe Harbor Petroglyphs

With me, almost every outdoor adventure is also a scouting trip to find new places to explore. I truly look forward to returning to see the petroglyphs.