CTS trail guide Text
CTS trail guide maps-Handdrawn
CTS topo maps and profiles
Section A

Trail Maintenance
Photo Gallery



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



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 it.

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 Lancaster County.

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 abound.

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.


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 which survived.

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 Country".

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 of farming.

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 food.

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 [150] 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 Wood Bridge.

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 also blooming.

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, Smart Weed

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 flowing behind.

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!






Contact Us

Home Webmaster