Swatara State Park in Lebanon County, Pennsylvania allows visitors a glimpse back in time. In different sections of the park, visitors can view a cast-iron highway bridge, an abandoned railroad bed, portions of the old Union Canal, or even fossils from the state's ancient past.
The park covers 3330 acres in Lebanon and Schuykill counties in south-central Pennsylvania. The most striking feature of the park is the Swatara Creek Water Gap - where the creek cuts through the hard stone of Blue Mountain. At its narrowest, the gap is only 800 feet across and it is about a mile across at its widest.
There are two areas in the park where fossils can be found and the park is unique in that collectors are permitted to keep what they find.
- The southern fossil bed is located within the water gap. The fossils here are about 440 million years old and trilobites can be found in whole specimens and in fragments. Various species of brachiopods, gastropods, and sea lillies can also be found in this site.
- The Suedberg fossil pit contains fossils some 375 million years old. The fossils here are more abundant than at the water gap site. Various species of brachiopods, corals and sea lilies can be found here.
The Union Canal passed south of this area connecting the Susquehanna and Schuykill rivers. A branch which connected the coal fields of Pine Grove with the canal passed north through the park. The ruins of several canal locks and a dam can be seen along the creek.
After the demise of the Union Canal a railroad ran along the north side of the creek. Today, a paved multi-use trail runs along the abandoned railroad bed. This trail is perfect for hikers, bikers and even families with baby carriages.
The cast-iron bridge which crosses the creek is used by hikers on the Appalachian Trail which runs through the park for a few miles. This bridge originally spanned the Little Pine Creek in Lycoming County. Built in 1890, it was declared too narrow for modern vehicle traffic in the 1980s and taken apart and rebuilt over the Swatara Creek in the park.
What To Do
There are few trails within the park, which is in a very natural state. Many hikers will take a day-trip along the Appalachian Trail before returning to their cars. The multi-use trail along the abandoned rail bed provides other options including biking.
There are several locations along the creek where canoes may be put in the water. Only nonpowered boats are permitted on the creek.
Fossil hunting is permitted. A small rock hammer might be helpful at water gap site, but the rocks at the Suedberg fossil pit are much softer and easily crumble in your hand.
Anglers can find plenty of fish in the creek and nearby Trout Run. The creek contains smallmouth bass and other warm water species. Trout Run is stocked with trout. Several smaller tributaries contain native populations of brook trout.
The park is open year-round from dawn to dusk. There is no on-site park office or facilities.