View from "House Rock" on the Conestoga Trail System looking south towards the "Pinnacle Overlook"
Welcome to the Website of the Lancaster Hiking Club
and official site for the Conestoga Trail System
in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.
Our Mission- "To provide a program of outdoor
recreation and to maintain the Conestoga Trail System!"
THE CONESTOGA TRAIL SYSTEM An Introduction & History
The Conestoga Trail System is blazed with painted orange 2" x 6" rectangles.
In addition we use these informational signs at road crossings and parking areas.
The hiker is on his own and assumes his own liability. Some parts
of the trail lack cell phone reception. This trail guide does not give
minute details, and trail conditions are variable, changing with the
weather and the season. Anyone hiking the Conestoga Trail System
does so at his/her own risk. The Conestoga Trail System crosses
much private property. Continued permission to cross public and private
land will depend on how carefully the hiker treats the trail. Please
respect other people's property. Pack out what you carry in! Take only
pictures and leave only footprints!
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS Richard Tobias envisioned the Trail and helped his
vision become a reality. Lee Greenawalt wrote the Introduction and History
of Lancaster County for the Trail Guide ca 1975. Members, past and present,
of the Lancaster Hiking Club have helped to construct and still maintain
the Trail. Their continued support is essential to the Trail. Private
and Public landowners gave permission for the Trail to cross their property.
Without their support no trail would exist. A HEARTFELT THANK YOU TO
ONE AND ALL
THINGS EVERY HIKER SHOULD KNOW & REMEMBER
1. Respect private land. The trail exists only through the kindness
of the landowners. Without their cooperation there would be no trail.
2. Relocation occurs time to time. Due to growth in Lancaster County
sometimes relocation becomes necessary. Use this guide as that, a guide,
and be observant for the orange blazes as well.
3. Carry or treat water. Most of the water on the trail is untested.
Reed's Run has the only tested water, but due to the inconsiderate acts
of other people it is always best to treat the water before you drink
4. Before camping on any land not mentioned as a camping area in the
guide, please obtain permission from the landowner.
5. Where the trail is on the road, please respect the traffic laws.
Walk towards oncoming traffic, single file and use common sense.
Notes: Conestoga Trail Patches are available from the Lancaster Hiking
Club for a fee. For information, write to: Lancaster Hiking Club, PO
Box 7922, Lancaster PA 17604 The club also welcomes new members. Information
is available at the same address or go to www.LancasterHikingClub.Org
Help is also needed to keep the CTS open through the summer, growing
months. Work must be suited to the property owner, so please work with
the owners and us. Use the above addresses, or go to www.ConestogaTrail.Org
The Lancaster Hiking Club welcomes you to hike on the Conestoga Trail
System. The CTS as it will be referred to hereafter, offers the backpacker,
hiker, or casual stroller the history, beauty, and diverse terrain of
The 63 mile trail developed, maintained, and protected by the Lancaster
Hiking Club has its northern terminus at the old Lebanon Pumping Station
just off route 322. The Horseshoe Trail also crosses the CTS at this
point. The southern terminus is located at Lock 12 in York County just
across the Norman Wood Bridge and off route 372. At this southern terminus,
the CTS reaches the Mason-Dixon Trail.
The CTS offers scenes of the many different land uses and natural
terrain that exist in Lancaster County. It crosses rich farmland, passes
pleasant residential areas, glimpses industrialized sites, meanders
through the Lancaster County Park, and climbs about in the River Hills.
In tracing creeks and rivers the CTS crosses and recrosses them by a
variety of means. There are covered bridges, more modern bridges, such
as the Norman Wood Bridge, and the inevitable rock hopping, which is
necessary at scenic rural rills.
Along the CTS ahiker may be lucky enough to spot an osprey rising
in flight along the Susquehanna River or a black-crowned night heron
along the banks of the Conestoga. In the spring trillium and other wildflowers
Ruins of old magnetite mines are on both sides of the Pequea Creek
within a few hundred yards of Sickman's Mill. Long deserted locks and
dams on the Conestoga once made it possible to ship goods from Lancaster
to the Susquehanna River, thence to the Tidewater Canal, Chesapeake
Bay, and Philadelphia.
No shelters are available along the CTS for camping. Designated areas
for camping are noted in the trail guide.
Enjoy the CTS, a public service of the Lancaster Hiking Club.
HISTORY OF LANCASTER COUNTY
In 1861 William Penn received a land grant charter from King Charles
II of England. The charter, which was to become Pennsylvania, was in
payment for a crown debt owed to Penn.
Penn tried to establish a free, tolerant, and enlightened government.
He tried to please everyone. Three counties were formed: Buck, Philadelphia
and Chester. Three other "lower" counties were established too, but
eventually they became part of Delaware. Despite bickering and disputes
among the settlers, they managed, with Penn's guidance, to form a government
As more settlers arrived and moved into the hinterlands, Chester County
expanded until it became almost unmanageable. A map of Pennsylvania
showed Chester County's northeast boundary touching the Schuylkill River.
The boundary continued just west of Philadelphia then along the Delaware
River on the south. At that time, about 1700, no firm northern boundary
was established. Its western border, the Susquehanna River, was a wilderness-"Indian
Law, order, and government did come to western Chester County. From
the western portion of the county it took a two-day trip to conduct
legal business at the County seat of Upland (Chester). On February 27,
1728, a petition came before the Provincial Council in Philadelphia
to establish a new county in the western portion of Chester County.
The new County of Lancaster was enacted into law on May 10, 1729.
Eight magistrates were appointed. They met on the 9th of June 1729 in
John Postlethwaites' Tavern. The tavern, now a private residence, still
stands on Long Lane (Section C of the trail guide/maps) southwest of
Lancaster City near Rockhill.
Towns and villages formed rapidly. Settlers quickly recognized the
fertile ground and beauty of the area. From the northern terminus of
the Conestoga Trail to the City of Lancaster is a wonderful panorama
Religious groups: Lutherans, Episcopalians, Roman Catholics, and
more arrived. Nationalities such as Germans, French, English, Swiss,
Scotch-Irish, and Welsh came. All were welcomed. They cleared land,
planted crops, established communities and pushed the frontier across
the Susquehanna and westward.
In 1729 Lancaster was known as Gibson's Pasture or Indian Field. It
was a small village. By day the business was building roads and houses.
At night wild animals roamed, especially wolves. Game was plentiful;
deer, turkey, grouse, rabbit, and beaver were common. The Susquehanna
River was teeming with fish of many kinds. There was no shortage of
Gradually industry took hold. Speedwell Forge at the northern terminus
of the CTS was established in 1760. The Forge supplied iron products
for the Revolution. Another prominent industry, having a vital part
in the opening of the West, was the Conestoga Wagon. The famous "Kentucky
Rifle" was also developed here in Lancaster County.
The town of Lancaster was laid out by James Hamilton in 1730. It became
a borough in 1741 and in 1818 was designated a city.
The locale for the history, as well as other subjects in this guide,
deals primarily with the western portion of Lancaster County. It is
through this area that the Conestoga trail traverses.
Progress and sorrow came to Lancaster County. Factories, railroads,
towns, villages, and farms sprang up. Forests were cleared, and game
was either hunted out or left the area. The Native Americans were driven
out or killed. The rivers and streams were fished out, or nearly so,
and then badly polluted.
In this era of irreverence for our resources, there began to emerge
a desire to preserve the natural beauty of this fertile land. People
began to take pride in what they had and where they came from. Gradually
some of the natural beauty began to shine forth once again. The CTS
exposes the hiker to this beauty. From farmland in the northern section
of the county to the rugged, wooded hills along the Susquehanna River,
that beauty abounds.
The hiker is urged to look at the countryside along the trail and
project himself backward at least 100  years. Have a romance with
Lancaster County through the Conestoga Trail System.
Together with the benefits of exercise and soul restoration, walking
the length of the CTS is also a stroll through geologic history. Recorded
in the rocks beneath the path are the results of gigantic plate-like
sections of the earth's crust majestically rafting entire continents
into either slow motion collisions or configurations creating new ocean
basins. Though fossils are not abundant on the trail, the remains of
primitive marine creatures have been found in rock layersbeneath it.
Other layers have even preserved the footprints of dinosaurs. Some local
fossils are on display in Lancaster's North Museum.
Parts of the CTS, such as the River Hills section, are undeniably
rugged and may stimulate an inquiring hiker to ask why. The answer is
simple-EROSION. Streams and rivers tend to cut down in their channels
and the resulting overly steepened slopes crumble and wash away in an
endless process. As a result, valleys are created and enlarged, and
the remnants left are hills. Occasionally down-cutting pauses for a
while during which time sediment accumulates in the valley bottoms,
thus creating floodplains.
The northern trailhead near the Lebanon Pumping Station actually lies
in a rift zone formed when Europe and North America, more than 200 million
years ago, began to separate from each other. As the continents slowly
pulled apart, the tension allowed several inland crustal blocks to settle
downward. This rift zone, the Gettysburg-Newark Basin, subsequently
was filled in with layered sediments in the form of red and buff colored
silt, sand, and pebbly conglomerate. It is in this material that early
dinosaurs made their footprints. Although no tracks have been found
in Lancaster County, many are to be seen in a similar formation just
north of Hartford, Connecticut. In many parts of the basin hot magma
was injected into the sediment layers where it cooled to form various
bodies of exceptionally hard, dense igneous rock. Boulders commonly
stained with a rust colored exterior have weathered free from a small
intrusion. An example may be seen along the trail at mile 1.36 of Section
A. Nearby at Cornwall magma injected into the limestone was responsible
for creating the famous iron ore mined there for more than 200 years.
South of the Pennsylvania Turnpike the trail gradually opens into
the great Lancaster County agricultural district now mostly cleared
of forest cover. Limestone and some shale, all of which are much older
than the rocks found in the first few miles, underlie this area. Dating
from about 450 million years ago, the shale is best seen around the
Speedwell Forge Lake area. Just below the dam (Section A, mile 4.62)
the trail traverses a floodplain deposited along Hammer Creek. This
floodplain hides the ancient rocks under it.
Further south, as in Lancaster County Park, the limestone is seen
to be contorted in tight folds almost as if they had been deformed like
plastic. This condition resulted from heat and pressure generated before
the Age of Dinosaurs, as Europe and North America suffered a continental
collision. Rock of this type is encountered all the way from near route
30 through to Rockhill (Section C, mile 8.4) where the trail leaves
the Conestoga River and cuts overland to the Pequea Creek. In this traverse,
the rugged topography represents interplay between complex metamorphic
rock patterns and forces of erosion, which tend to carve away certain
materials and leave resistant formations standing as hills in relief.
Beyond the Martic Forge Hotel site, the rock walls of Pequea gorge
are composed of a metamorphic rock. Geologists call this rock the Wissahickon
Schist. Formed by a similar heat and pressure as that which contorted
the mid-county limestone, ancient shale was altered to produce not only
a foliation resembling layers, but also a set of new materials. One
of these new materials, mica, weathers free of the rock, attracting
attention along the remainder of the trail as it sparkles in the sunlight
like tiny jewels in the soil. Other dramatic exposures of the Wissahickon
schist can be seen at Tucquan, Holtwood Pinnacle, Kelly's Run, and in
the bed of the Susquehanna River, best viewed while crossing the Norman
To some adventuresome hikers perhaps the most exciting trail occurrence
of the Wissahickon schist is the cave at Section D, mile 1.1. Locally
it is known by various names as Wind Cave, Cold Cave, and Pequea Cave.
Unlike caves in limestone created by the dissolving action of water,
Cold Cave was formed as blocks of Wissahickon schist slid apart in response
to the downward cutting of the Susquehanna River. While exploring the
cave's several hundred feet of passageways, one can see how it was formed
by noting the matching irregularities on opposite walls and observing
the boulders that have fallen from the ceiling, released when their
means of support crept toward the river. Though danger of becoming lost
is minimal, great caution is needed to avoid being injured on broken
glass left behind by too many thoughtless beer drinkers.
Beyond the cave is House Rock, an excellent vantage point from which
to view the magnificent Susquehanna-Piedmont River Gorge, currently
[1975?] being considered for National Landmark status. From House Rock
one can easily visualize the dominant role of the river and its small
tumbling tributaries as the carving agent of this beautiful landscape.
It is a good place to sit alone for a moment and weld together a mental
picture of huge, however slow, crustal motions compressing and lifting
up the ancient rocks. Three hundred million years have elapsed since
that tectonic event, and in those passing eons huge mountains have worn
away to leave the rugged natural legacy over which the CTS hiker is
privileged to walk.
Wildflowers bloom spring through fall near the trail. It is important,
however, to take care not to kill these delicate plants. Picking the
blooms is a very temporary pleasure and may result in the plants' decline.
Some varieties may already be endangered in many areas, as is the Trailing
Arbutus found near power lines along the trail.
Beginning in March, the hiker may see the following flowers along
the roadside or in fields: the violet-blue Speedwell, white Whitlow
Grass and Chickweed, yellow Common Dandelions, Coltsfoot, and Dwarf
Cinquefoil. The creeping violet groundcover Periwinkle or Myrtle is
April will bring the yellow Kidneyleaf Buttercup, Winter Cress, Golden
Alexanders, Common Cinquefoil, Japanese Honeysuckle, Indian Strawberry,
Bladder Campion, Field Pussytoe, Garlic Mustard, Canadian Violets, and
Shepherd's Purse. The blue Grape Hyacinth, Corn Salad, the violet Red
Dead Nettle, and the ever-abundant Gill-over-the-ground will also appear.
In May still more varieties make their appearance. Possible sightings
include the white Wood Strawberry and Bedstraw, the blue Venus-Looking
Glass and the blue-yellow Bittersweet of Nightshade. Violet Heal-all
or Selfheal and the yellow Common or Tall Buttercup also appear. Woodland
flowers are not to be overlooked. The Lancaster County Park area and
Sections C and D of the CTS are good places to keep a watchful eye for
them. Following is a partial list of common names, colors, and times
when the flowers are likely to blossom.
March- May " White: Rue Anemone, Bloodroot, Trillium, & Early Saxifrage
" Pink: Round-Lobed Hepatica & Spring Beauty " Yellow: Trout Lily "
Blue: Violets & Mertensia (Bluebells)
April-May " White: Meadow-Rue, Miterwort, Foamflower, & Dutchman's
Breeches, " Blue: Cut-Leaved Toothwort
April-June " White: Dwarf Ginseng, May apple, Pale Violets, & Star
of Bethlehem " Purple: Wild Geranium, Shooting Star, & Phlox " Yellow:
Smooth Yellow Violets, Marsh Marigolds, True Solomon's Seal, Ragwort,
and Celandine " Green: Jack-in-the-Pulpit " Red: Columbine
May-June " White: Sweet Cicely " Pink: Lady Slipper May-July " White:
False Solomon's Seal
May-September " White: Violet, Wild Sweet William " Pink: Lady's Thumb,
May-October " Violet: Herb-Robert
While the spring and summer are offer picturesque flowers, it is in
the fall that nature unfolds her resplendent and colorful foliage. Again,
the best show will occur in the southern portion of the county along
the Susquehanna River, where larger flora proliferates. The Kelly's
Run area offers Hemlock trees, Mountain Laurel, and Rhododendron.
Mountain Laurel, the state flower, consists of a cluster of pink cup-shaped
flowers. Rhododendron is often found in the same general area as Mountain
Laurel but has a larger leaf and larger pink flowers. Mountain Laurel
is in bloom from late May until mid-July and Rhododendron from May until
June. If you are very observant you may even see a Pinxter (Wild Azalea).
Pinxters bloom in May and June. The Holtwood Arboretum, through which
the trail passes (section D), offers a variety of labeled trees for
any interested hiker. The Arboretum can be a wonder spot for lunch or
a rest stop.
The mammals one encounters on the trail are, in large, the same ones
that are seen over most of the North Central part of the country. Still,
it is a delight to see the white retreating end of the Eastern Cottontail
Rabbit or the erect chunky body of the Woodchuck, as he views intruders
from his hillside home before scurrying inside. This also means watching
your footing so as not to step in her hole.
One may not be as delighted to meet with the Striped Skunk along the
pleasant meadows or forest borders. If you remember that a stamped foot
is a warning, you may be able to avoid his spraying you. Also, giving
the skunk plenty of room, not approaching closely to see better, may
avoid a distasteful encounter.
The slow-moving Opossum, with its pointed nose on a white face is,
sadly, most often found dead along the roadside. A hairless tail distinguishes
its gray body. The female uses her tail to carry her young.
The hiker has a good chance of spotting a White-tailed deer. Along
the riverbanks the black-masked face of a Raccoon is a common sight.
As the raccoon scurries away though, one may only be able to make identification
from the black-ringed tail. Muskrats are also visible along stream and
river banks swimming along, head above the water and flattened tail
At dusk, bats or fox may come into view. The most common bat in Lancaster
County, the Little Brown Bat, will undoubtedly be swooping around in
search of insects. A glimpse of the Red Fox may reward for a late hiker.
Unlike the Gray Fox, the Red Fox has a white tip on its tail.
For the serious birder the CTS can be very rewarding. From 1973 to
1976, 229 species of birds were identified in Southern Lancaster County.
While 100 or so species regularly breed in this area, attracted by the
extensive isolated woodlands and abundance of water, many of these birds
are migratory and seen only during spring or fall. There is the possibility
of spotting the rarity, such as the White Ibis, Bald Eagle (more common
by 2000), or Yellow-throated warbler. Although it takes a great deal
of knowledge as well as patience and practice to sight the uncommon,
it is quite possible to see the common, permanent residents while hiking.
Walking through the fields and pastures of the trail, one might spy
a small bird with two black bands on its neck. As the bird is approached
it may appear to have a broken wing. This clever maneuver is enacted
to keep the possible intruder away form the nest. This little faker
is the Killdeer and is a permanent resident that generally nests in
the meadows. The Turkey Vulture, another permanent resident, can often
be seen soaring over the trail as it scavenges for its meal. This large
black bird holds its wings in a broad V-shape. As it soars it will tilt
quickly from side to side.
Along the CTS waterways you may happen upon a Belted Kingfisher diving
headfirst into the water after fish. The large crested head and rattling
call make this permanent resident easy to identify. In summer the Black-Crowned
Night Heron is common along the banks of the Conestoga River. Characteristics
include a large heavy body, dark on top and white on the bottom, a short
thick neck and short legs. Another summer resident is the Common Egret.
The white plumage, yellow bill and glossy black feet and legs make spotting
it easy. Usually, the common egret will be standing still with its neck
in an S-shape waiting for some unsuspecting fish to swim by. The Cattle
Egret is another summer resident. Unlike the common egret, the cattle
egret will be in pastures feeding on insects. The cattle egret is a
white bird also, but it is smaller and thicker bodied than its cousin.
Cattle egrets will usually be seen in groups feeding among cattle or
following after a farmer as he plows his field. An uncommon bird, the
Osprey, might be along the Susquehanna or Conestoga River below Lancaster,
but usually only during its migration. The plumage is dark above and
white below. The long wings have a crook and are marked by a black semi-circle
below the crook. This marking makes identification easy to confirm.
A white head with a black eye stripe are also trademarks of the osprey.
Obviously many more varieties of birds abound here like blue birds,
cardinals, finches, orioles, sea gulls, and, of course, wood peckers.
If you have further interest, please use your field guide to birds,
learn their songs, and, if you like, get a checklist from the Lancaster
County Parks, 1050 Rockford Rd, Lancaster, PA 17602.
LET'S HIKE… Now that you know what is here, it is time to hike. Have
a good time with stops to look around. You have plenty to see, do, and
think about. Enjoy!