Whether you're a seasoned hiker or someone who picked up hiking as a pandemic hobby, Lancaster County offers a plethora of trails for a variety of skill levels. Whatever your motivation to explore the outdoors, Lancaster County has plenty of hiking and walking trails to satisfy your desires.
Not sure where to start to enjoy the array of natural beauty Lancaster County has to offer? The "best" hikes in Lancaster County are up for debate depending on what you're looking for. Instead, let me offer you five of the most magical hikes our family has experienced on our outdoor adventures.
Any conversation about hiking in Lancaster County should start with the Lancaster Conservancy (whose work actually extends into York, Dauphin, and Chester counties as well.) The Conservancy manages 50 preserves with more than 45 miles of hiking trails. During the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, when most people were on lockdown, our family sought out these preserves for weekly hikes within short driving distance. Preserve trails can be narrow and minimally maintained and parking at some preserves is limited, so if you can go early or at an off-peak time, I'd recommend it.
While local hiking enthusiasts might be familiar with the Conservancy's preserves and trails such as Turkey Hill, Steinman Run, and Tucquan Glen, which offer an amazing display of the area's great outdoors, some of the lesser-known trails offer their own kind of magical experiences.
Windolph Landing Nature Preserve
Windolph Landing Nature Preserve is one such place. The hiking trail is a less-than-a-mile loop that takes hikers close to the Conestoga River. Catch the preserve at just the right time in early spring, and the Virginia bluebells will delight your senses. The trail is a bit steep in places and is fairly secluded, which are two cautions to keep in mind. Windolph Landing is just west of Lancaster County Park. For the most accurate directions to parking, consult the Conservancy website.
Texter Mountain Nature Preserve
Another of the Conservancy's hidden gems is Texter Mountain Nature Preserve nestled in the tip-top corner of Lancaster County, almost into Berks County. Texter Mountain is the highest point in Lancaster County at nearly 1,200 feet above sea level. The preserve's 2-mile loop trail feels like it's an entirely different part of the state. The rocky trail is shaped like a lollipop with a half-mile "stick" from the parking lot to the loop portion of the trail. The loop is about 1 mile and can be trekked in either direction. Hikers cross the creek twice on the loop portion before returning to the "stick" of the lollipop that leads back to the parking area. Overall, the trail features varied terrain—steep ascents and descents, rocky paths, a brief open meadow, and lots of greenery (in the summer). It's a peaceful and challenging hike. The preserve is located off of Deer Road in Robesonia, PA. Again, for the most accurate directions, consult the Conservancy's website.
Northwest Lancaster County River Trail
If a steep hike through the woods isn't your style, but you still want a breathtaking experience, then take the Northwest Lancaster County River Trail to the White Cliffs of Conoy. It's 3 miles out and back from Koser Park in Bainbridge, and you'll likely dodge bicycle traffic as you walk, but the unique views of the Susquehanna River from the cliffs, and the cliffs themselves (which were caused by a buildup of limestone and dolomite from a nearby quarry) are worth every step. Parking for the trail is at Koser Park.
Money Rocks County Park
Also part of the county park system is Money Rocks County Park on the eastern side of Lancaster County in the Welsh Mountains. These mountains contain the second-largest continuous forest in Lancaster County, and Money Rocks offers some beautiful views of the surrounding farmlands. The Overlook Trail is less than a mile and the park offers two longer trails through the dense forest. The park gets its name from a ridge of boulders where once upon a time local farmers supposedly hid their cash. Today, only natural treasure awaits in Money Rocks County Park! The main parking lot can be found at 936 Narvon Rd., Narvon, PA 17555.
Susquehannock State Park
At the southern end of the county, located in Susquehannock State Park, the Rhododendron Trail will keep hikers on their toes. The 1.3-mile connector trail sounds like a walk in the park, but don't let its length lull you into complacency. The trail is the park's longest and is labeled as "most difficult hiking." The steep inclines and descents are worth it for the views and the creek along the path. Hiking poles or sticks recommended, especially if the weather has been rainy. At times, the path is narrow but if you catch it at just the right time, in late June to early July, you'll be surrounded by blooming rhododendron. Access to this trail is via other trails in the park.
Starting at the Overlook Trail is one of the easiest ways to hook up with the Rhododendron Trail. Look for the yellow blazes and consult a trail map or app to ensure you find the right path. If you hike the trail counterclockwise, you'll come out of the woods near the park offices and can walk the road back to the parking area. Look for the remnants of a homestead and an imposing beech tree on the trail. Susquehannock State Park is at 1880 Park Drive, Drumore, PA, 17518.
I’m of the opinion that you can’t go wrong by being outdoors on any of Lancaster County’s ample trails. I hope you find magic wherever your hiking boots take you!
Written by Lisa Bartelt
Lisa Bartelt is a freelance writer and middle school paraprofessional living in Lancaster County with her husband and two kids. When she’s not shopping local farmers markets, she’s browsing the shelves at a local bookstore or reading on her porch. Her other passions include nature, coffee, travel and cheering on her kids’ sports.