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Susquehanna Life

Get Up, Get Out and Get Moving!

Mar 11, 2015 09:36AM ● By Suzanne Ellis

Three Water Trails

Swatara Creek Water Trail

The Swatara Creek cuts through 91 miles of Schuylkill, Lebanon and Dauphin counties and has two parts to its trail. The upper portion winds through the Swatara State Park, flanked by a canopy of hardwoods on top of mossy cliffs. Each bend brings a new surprise such as a relaxing sunny beach or the roar of rapids. The upper section begins off Swopes Valley Road three miles west of Pine Grove and ends at the last take-out in Lickdale before the dam. Visit to access the water trail map link for the park section.

The first launch area on the lower portion of the Swatara Creek Water Trail is beside Scotto’s Italian Restaurant, just south of the dam near Jonestown. You’ll float under bridges, through scenic farmlands, pass rocky outcrops with lava deposits and discover small limestone caves. Many remnants of the by-gone Union Canal still remain. The Swatara Creek is rated a Class I whitewater and flows into the Susquehanna River at Middletown. For the lower portion map link visit 

Yellow Breeches Creek Water Trail

The Yellow Breeches Creek, designated as a Pennsylvania Scenic River in 1992, begins on the northwest side of South Mountain, near Walnut Bottom. The water trail is divided into three sections; Trip A (lower – 1.8 miles), Trip B (middle – 9.6 miles) and Trip C (upper – 1.5 miles). The main stem carves its way through 49 miles of lush forests, rich farmland, wildflower meadows and neighborhoods until it enters the Susquehanna River across from Harrisburg. Yellow Breeches is designated as a Class I and II whitewater. 

Conodoguinet Water Trail

The Conodoguinet Creek surfaces in the mountains of Franklin County and flows 90 miles through the Cumberland Valley until it intersects with the Susquehanna River at West Fairview Point. In the late 1800s the stream played host to over 140 grain, cider and wood mills. The creek meanders through a tapestry of greens, flora and fauna woven together between delightful parks. The parks are great places to plan for a stop to stretch your legs or picnics. The link for this water trail map is here or at 

Tips: General Water Safety Guidelines

1) Adhere to all PA boating regulations.

2) Be off the water before dark.

3) Do not go after heavy rains.

4) Take food and water.

5) Be aware of prior and changing weather conditions.

6) Plan to travel 2 to 3 miles per hour with light paddling. 

Discover Orienteering

Orienteering is a competitive sport involving topography maps, a set course, rough terrain and sometimes a compass. Participants are given a topography map of an area marked with designated control points to follow, like a dot-to-dot puzzle. The object of the sport is to figure out the fastest way to reach each control point and finish in the shortest amount of time. The shortest way may not be the easiest or quickest. Some courses have “attack points,” obstacles you must make your way around or across such as streams, lakes, boulders and thick brush. Orienteering courses range in difficulty, delineated by the course color. White is the easiest, followed by yellow, orange and green; the most difficult course is red. At each control point participants either use a special paper punch (competitive course) or write down a number/letter combination found on a pole (permanent course) which proves you made it to that control point. 

Orienteering is a great way to get kids to enjoy the outdoors. Many of Pennsylvania’s state parks offer permanent courses that can be done at your own leisure. You’ll enjoy the challenge of figuring out how to reach each control point and avoid attack points. And you’ll see things you don’t encounter every day like skinks, newts, Scarlet Tanagers and toads. Prepare in advance by familiarizing yourself with topography maps and reading legends. Look at the map to find intersecting trails that will be easy to follow and get you close to the control point—instead of taking a more direct route through unmarked territory.

Here is the link to the Pennsylvania State Parks that offer permanent orienteering courses. Visit then select the park’s event tab. Classes and events are usually scheduled in the spring and fall.

Susquehanna Valley Orienteering

For more information on orienteering or to try a competitive course, the SVO sets up at state parks in the spring and fall. 

Gear you’ll need: water, pen, bug spray, orienteering compass (advanced levels only), sturdy footwear and long pants.

Suzanne Ellis is a freelance writer and photographer based in Perry County. 

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