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It's all about Clean Water.  Post your pictures of our events, water conservation, floods, pollution.  Share your memories about the Swatara....  Our projects and areas of interest include the Bordner Cabin, Eagle Scout Projects, PA Conservation Corps, Swatara State Park, Swatara River, Swatara Sojourn, Swatara Water Trail, Tenaska, Swatara Watershed Park, and Water Companies

 Planning a Swatara Outing? Tips:

bullet Updated Map  
bullet Swatara Water Trail map and guide 7MB 10.12.2017.pdf
bullet Public     access points about every 7 miles.

For comparison, when the Harpers gauge at our launch @ 1929 Blacks Bridge Road, Annville reads the following heights:

5.5, the Road to site #1 is almost covered, not             accessible and partly flooded;  


7 our ramp is covered to the top gravel border; 


9 the swell puts water onto sites 1-4 & site 8; and


10.56', only sites 26-35 do not flood. 

Depth  USGS Guages  National Weather Service provides forecasts for Harper's and Hershey gauges. Check the gauge nearest your start point.  Beginners should reschedule at 2.2' deep.  Reschedule if experienced, but water is rising between 3.5' & 4', or below .4'.  Kayaks may float a bit lower.  Memorial Lake is an option when the Swatara is too high or too low. 

bulletUse caution at dams:  With groups, avoid low-head dam in Jonestown.  Uneven portage on left bank, which disappears  into tree line in high water.  Hershey dam portage is also on the left.  Long, but flat, mowed route.  Take out at feeder stream on left before warning sign.
bulletU-Tow Canoes Available

Canoe Use agreement: CANOE USE CONTRACT.pdf


Seasonal Primitive Camping Camp/2019 Campsite Agreement.pdf  Fishing, hiking, picnicking 


Visit the Bordner Cabin in Swatara State Park:  Bordner Cabin Drive thru Swatara State Park 9AM-3PM the 2nd Fri & Sat monthly & 4th Fri & Sat Mar, Apr, Sep & Oct.


Most recent Newsletter: 

2017 Swatara News .pub.pdf


newsletters/Swatara News 2018 final.pdf



Envisioning an Environmental Legacy for the Swatara EELS, the Book in pdf file


Mills and Bank Barns Mills and Bank Barns Book.pdf\


 Minutes/Statement of Importance of the Swatara Creek.pdf

About the Swatara Watershed


Watershed Description


Virtual Driving Tour


Maps of the Watershed


Swatara State Park (position papers: Bordner Cabin and Old State Road


Watershed Links (more than 200 links to Recreational opportunities, Schools, local government, and MORE!)


Tourist Destinations (New Feature)


Contact Information/Press Room



About SWA


Our History and Mission


Officers and Board Members


Legacy Giving


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Rivers Conservation Plan


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Canoe Guide

Berks, Dauphin, Lebanon & Schuylkill Counties PA

Lebanon PA 17046

(717)644-4698; email

I want to help preserve our natural resource, the Swatara Watershed. Please enroll me as a member with full benefits and use my dues to help preserve our watershed.

__I enclose $20 for one year’s dues

__I enclose $200 for a life-time membership\

__I enclose $500 for a life-time business membersip

Name __________________________     Address ________________________

Phone # _______________________       Email _________________________

Canoe the Swatara Guide

Compiled by Jo Ellen Litz

Depending on water depth and skill of the canoeist, the time it takes to complete each segment will vary. Canoeing the Swatara is like exploring a wilderness. One of the only ways to tell where you are is by the bridges that cross the stream. This guide is designed from the canoeist perspective. You are welcome to participate in a GROUP CANOE & CLEAN-UP the first Saturday in May. For more details, visit our web site.

1st Segment Approximately 16 miles. Approximately 3 hours. Launch at Route 645 between the trailer park & sewage treatment plant on the south end of Pine Grove where the Lower Little Swatara empties into the main Swatara. Encounter at least 12 bridges.

2 @ Route 81, Pine Grove Interchange

1 small cement bridge @ the former culm piles on the north end of Swatara State Park. Next tributary on right is Mill Creek, from Christian E Seigrist Dam.

Lunch at "The Steps", near a new footbridge spanning the Swatara in the middle of Swatara State Park.  Walk on Old State Road upstream about one-half mile to visit the Bordner Cabin (on right), a hand-hewn log structure (Rustic Architecture) featuring logs and stone found on the site.  Built over 70 years ago by Armar Bordner and his students along Acycrigg's Falls, this is our Falling Water.  Further,  this is Lebanon County's only waterfall, which is spectacular in spring or after a rainfall. 

The next bridge is the Iron Appalachian Trail Footbridge, one of only 3 lenticular structure spans in PA. Large rocks are in the stream. See a Union Canal lock. 

2 @ Route 81 on high cement pillars. Fossil beds, right bank, are closed to the public.

Iron bridge @ previous Vasil’s junkyard.

Newer cement bridge @ Monroe Valley

Iron bridge @ Lickdale Camp Grounds (717)865-6411.

2 @ Route 78

Cement Route 22 bridge with 3 arches. Exit before bridge on the right bank. A The Lebanon Water Authority low-head dam is down stream.  Never float across a low-head dam.  If your boat capsizes, the hydraulics will suck you to the bottom. Looks are deceiving.  People have drowned at this dam.  Be safe.

2nd SegmentApproximately 14.6 miles. Approximately 4.5 hours.

Launch on down-stream side of Lebanon Water Authority low-head dam intake in Jonestown @ The Kool Zone ice cream parlor.  Encounter 8 bridges.

Jonestown bridge

Abandoned iron L&T (Lebanon to Tremont) Railroad bridge.  The LV Rail Trail will create a viewing platform on this bridge, and eventually a crossing.

72/Frog’s Hollow bridge

Heilmandale bridge near the Lebanon Landfill.

Waterworks bridge @ weigh-lock & ice houses.

West of Ono Road near the Water Works is a Fish and Boat Commission Canoe Launch created by SWA. A distance down-stream, watch for Blue Rock, a magnificent limestone out-crop, on the right bank—on a hard bend in the Creek.

Yordy’s bridge

Harper’s bridge-Tavern is a former state coach stop (717)865-2584. Swatara Creek Inn (717)865-3259 is high up on the right bank. Also, a good hike north is Conrad’s Mill where an Amish Store will soon open & Fort Indiantown Gap Military Reservation & National Cemetery

Black’s Bridge

Exit 2 miles on right @ Swatara Watershed Park with primitive camping.

3rd SegmentApproximately 10 miles. Approximately 3.0 hours. Encounter 3 bridges. Start at Swatara Watershed Park. On left bank watch for Valley Glen, formerly a recreational park, and Bindnagle’s Church (717)838-6176.

Gravel Hill Road bridge

Route 743 bridge. The Horseshoe Trail crosses the Swatara from a junction in the Appalachian Trail on top of Stony Mountain in State Game Lands 211 and runs to Valley Forge

Sand Beach bridge

End @ Boat House Road Park on left bank right after Sand Beach bridge.

Because of a dam a short distance down-stream, stop here, or carefully portage on the left bank. Hotel Hershey, HersheyPark and Hershey Gardens are well know tourist attractions in the area. Smell the chocolate, enjoy rides in the amusement park, watch a show, or stroll through the flower gardens

4th Segment Approximately 17 miles. Approximately 6 hours. At least 17 bridges.

Start @ Union Deposit bridge. Union Canal House Restaurant (717) 566-0054 is nearby. Hershey Highmeadow Campground is between the Swatara Creek and Route 39 near Hummelstown. The camp is owned by HERCO. Call (717)566-0902 for more information

Pennsy Supply bridge

A 3-arch limestone bridge

A 5-arch red sandstone bridge @ Duke St.

A tall 5-arch bridge

Remnants of railroad bridge pylons in the stream. LUNCH SITE on right bank

Route 322 bridge

Fidler’s Elbow bridge – Indian Echo Caverns will soon appear on the left bank. Call (717)566-8131.

Railroad bridge – Cave on right bank

Route 283 bridge

Vine St. bridge

Route 76/Turnpike bridges

Old Route 230 bridge

Unnamed bridge-tan complex right bank (Kelly tires, P&A Warehouse, Safemark, Jack & Jill)

Unnamed bridge-Water treatment plant on right bank

Railroad bridge – Track shared by M&H Railroad (call (717)944-4435) on right & Amtrak

Route 441 bridge – Log cabin on right bank

EXIT on right bank @ PA Fish & Boat Commission Launch. Watch for TMI towers on the Susquehanna River.

Canoeing is a wet-water sport. Expect to get wet! Life jackets must be worn. Carry a whistle. Canoes must be registered. Work together and help out other boaters.


bulletPlace your heavier, more experienced person in the back seat
bulletBack person drags left, your canoe goes left.
bulletBack person drags right, your canoe goes right.
bulletBoth partners paddling on the left causes the canoe to go right.
bulletBoth partners paddling on the right causes the canoe to go left.

To make sure the Swatara isn’t left out when money is spent on access points, organized trips are encouraged to file a Fish and Boat Commission Special Activities Permit Application (PFC 500) 60 days prior to an event. Call (717) 657-4542 or write Bureau of Boating at PO Box 67000, Harrisburg PA 17106-7000

Middletown Fire Company, 660 S. Union St., Middletown, has a water rescue team. For assistance call (717)948-3019

C Litz 1997, revised 2000 and 2013


Do you want to combine water, good food, recreation, open space, history, culture, scenic beauty, and geology into one day-trip? We’ve got you covered. Floating the Swatara is like exploring a wilderness. One of the only ways to tell where you are is by the bridges that cross the stream. The Swatara Creek Water Trail is a 72-mile segment of the Swatara Creek from Jonestown, Lebanon County to the PA Fish & Boat Commission Access in Middletown, Dauphin County, Pennsylvania. Don’t be surprised to see farms and bank barns, Union Canal locks, forested riparian buffers, the abandoned Lebanon to Tremont Railroad and bridge, Harper’s Tavern, limestone outcrops, and the only lava deposits in the State. If you want to stay in the area overnight, try the Swatara Creek Inn or Hershey Highmeadow Campgrounds. Fort Indiantown Gap, the national cemetery, and historic Lindley Murray/Conrad mill are a great hike from the water.

North to South, here are some of the sites you can expect to see:

  1. Just east of Route 72 and north of Jonestown, the Lebanon Water Authority withdraws water from a low-head dam on the Swatara. Upon closer inspection, you will see remnants of the South Mountain Railroad Piers. Access the Creek at the bridge going into Jonestown.
  2. Kool Zone ice cream parlor is near the Jonestown access. When your go back for you car, it’s a great place for dinner.
  3. On the west bank at the abandoned Lebanon to Tremont railroad bridge, are the only lava deposits in the State. There is a sharp cliff to the railroad bed. The lava is a few hundred feet down the old rail bed.
  4. On the north bank of the Creek, just past the Route 72 bridge, is the Frog’s Hollow Complex—motorcycles, flea market….
  5. Along the entire Creek are remnants of the Union Canal operated 1828-1884. The Canal once connected the Susquehanna at Middletown with the Schuylkill River at Reading, following the Swatara and Tulpehocken Creeks. The old towpath is still visible in many areas. Suggested by Wm. Penn, the Canal was surveyed in 1762. Much coal and iron ore were transported. One can find remains of locks and aqueducts by which boats descended to the Schuylkill River.
  6. Just east off of Ono Road, Water Works was a community built to support the canal. The Weigh Master’s house was used as a headquarters for the Union Canal at Water Works. A ‘weigh wall’ still stands where boats were tied for weighing freight-load of the Union Canal boats. And an old Icehouse that stored ice cut from a dam in winter provided employment for canal workers in the winter months.
  7. To the west of Ono Road near the Water Works is a Fish and Boat Commission Canoe Launch created by SWA.
  8. On the right bank, Blue Rock is a magnificent limestone outcrop. In early spring, wildflowers of numerous color plant themselves on the face.
  9. Reed’s Fort—The house of Adam Reed, Esq. was turned into a fort in 1755. Here with Rangers from Hanover Township, Reed protected the people of the countryside against Indian raids.
  10. Near Route 934 north of Annville, the Harper’s Tavern {(717)865-2584}was an 1804 stagecoach stop on old Route 22 between Allentown and Harrisburg. By the way, you can’t go wrong with a meal at Harper’s Tavern.
  11. The old ‘General Store’ is the building next to Harper’s Tavern and is currently a doctor’s office.
  12. Just north of Harper’s Tavern is Conrad’s Mill, formerly Shuey's Mill. June 7, 1745, the site was birthplace of Lindley Murray, a famous grammarian, and author of the English grammar. Robert Murry, Lindley’s father, owned the mill from 1745-1746. For a time, the site was known as Shuey’s Mill.
  13. A little further north, Fort Indiantown Gap Military Reservation was authorized in 1929. The first land was bought in 1931 and first used by the National Guard in 1932. Total acreage is now more than 16,000 acres. A national cemetery is also housed at the Gap.
  14. To the west of Harper’s on old Route 22, the Swatara Creek Inn {(717)865-3259}is a three-story Victorian mansion built in 1860 for Jacob Ulrich. From 1917-1941 Milton Hershey, who used if for a boys’ home, owned the mansion. Today, the structure is a bed and breakfast inn.
  15. Along Black’s Bridge Road, you will find Swatara Watershed Park, which is owned and operated for SWA.  Commercial grade canoes that are ideal for families, scout and church groups are available. In addition, you can camp, fish, hike, bird watch, or explore an old canal lock.
  16. Until the 1930’s, Valley Glen was a recreational park near Bindnagle’s Church for swimming, boating, and carousel rides.
  17. Bindnagle’s Church is where John Palm, the founder of Palmyra is buried. German settlers established Bindnagle’s on January 27, 1753. The current church dates back to January 1, 1803. Call Heidi Neiswender, (717)838-6176 church historian, to arrange a tour.
  18. Milton Hershey Schools own Camp Catherine, Spartan Meadows, Camp Swattee, and Camp Milton.
  19. Boat House Road park is a public access maintained by Derry Township but owned by Milton Hershey Schools.
  20. Crossing the Swatara Creek just before Sand Beach Road, the Horseshoe Trail runs from a junction in the Appalachian Trail on top of Stony Mountain in State Game Lands 211 to Valley Forge--130.1 miles long.
  21. Hotel Hershey, HersheyPark and Hershey Gardens are well know tourist attractions. Smell the chocolate, enjoy rides in the amusement park, watch a show, or stroll through the flower gardens.  
  22. Union Deposit is a great access below the American Water Company Dam. Indians lived in Union Deposit until the late 1700’s. Later, farmers brought their grain and other produce from the PA Dutch areas here for shipment to the market via the Union Canal. Beneath the Union Canal House Restaurant {(717)566-0054 and between the Restaurant and Fort Swatara, an underground railroad once ran. Also in Union Deposit, a great anthracite furnace once turned out tons of iron until it blew up. And, a band rehearsal hall formerly served as quarters for Union Canal workers.
  23. Hershey Highmeadow Campground is between the Swatara Creek and Route 39 near Hummelstown. The camp is owned by HERCO. Call (717)566-0902 for more information.
  24. Keller ball fields, municipal park
  25. Hummel Nature Trail, municipal park
  26. Indian Echo Caverns is a large underground display of geology created by dripping water and the region’s limestone deposits where the Susquehannock Indians once lived and hunted--visited by settlers as early as 1783. Located three miles west of Hershey off US Route 322 near Hummelstown, the cave is open for tours. Call (717)566-8131 for more information.
  27. Numerous small limestone caves dot the water trail. Legends place horse thieves residing in these caves.
  28. A washed-out covered bridge is planned for reproduction at Clifton.
  29. Swatara Park, former amusement park
  30. Hoffer Park, municipal park
  31. M&H (Middletown & Hummelstown) Railroad, an historic steam engine pulled train provides a ride parallel to Swatara Creek. Great fun. For more information, call (717)944-4435, 136 Brown St., Middletown.
  32. Middletown is the oldest town in Dauphin County, PA—established 1755 by George Fischer, a Quaker. Boats were poled by manpower until 1873 when the first paddlewheel was acquired. In the 1920’s, gasoline engines replaced steam power, and the paddlewheels were shifted from the side to the stern. The ferry landing is a short distance west.
  33. PA Fish and Boat Commission Public Access, Middletown. FYI: Middletown Fire Company, 660 S. Union St., Middletown, has a water rescue team. For assistance call (717)948-3019.

If you’re ready, depending on water depth and skill of the canoeist, the time it takes to complete this segment will vary. For water depth/flow, check out the Swatara Creek Watershed Association’s website at . If you’d rather go with an organized group, on the first Saturday in May, the Swatara Watershed Association does a float and clean-up. We usually have around 100 participants. A specific Water Trail segment is done every four years. Again, visit the rest of our web site to find out more about the entire 72 mile length of the Swatara Creek.

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