Hiking Gifford Pinchot State Park

Gifford Pinchot State Park is a gem of a state park, featuring Lake Pinchot. A little pocket of second-growth forest, surrounded by farm fields and lightly populated areas, the park is a lovely place to spend a few days.

The park’s more than 2300 acres offer 18 miles of marked and maintained trails. The feature hike of Gifford Pinchot State Park is its 8-mile long Lakeside Loop trail. However, because most of the trails interconnect, it’s very easy to tailor shorter hikes in the park.

We decided to stay at a cabin in the park. My sister was taking a weaving class nearby. I came along just to find great things to feature in MidAtlantic DayTrips. We realized that renting a cabin at Gifford Pinchot State Park was less expensive and more enticing than renting a room at a local hotel. With Harrisburg, Pennyslvania’s capital, about 20 minutes northeast of the park, there’s a lot to see and do nearby. And of course, there’s also hiking, biking, kayaking and fishing at the park itself.

During our stay — a very rainy week in September — we explored a 2.5 mile out-and- back hike from Boat Moor 3 to the dam. This hike carried us pretty closely along the lake shore on the eastern side of the park. One evening after a full day of rain, we ventured out to hike the Beaver Creek Trail. This 3-mile out-and-back hike brings you through low wooded forests and wetlands in the northwest corner of the park.

Gifford Pinchot State Park’s Lakeside Trail

Although we didn’t do the whole 8-mile trail, we hiked from Boat Mooring 3 Entrance, off of Alpine Road, to the dam. Out and back, that’s about a 2.5 mile hike through the woods along the 340-acre lake.

I was struck by big boulders deposited in various spots along the trail. Diabase rock underlies most of the park. Normally I don’t talk about the rocks, but the neat cracks and fractures made these stand out. These rocks were created when molten rock intruded the sandstone and melted it into a new kind of rock. The unique cracks formed as the rocks slowly cooled all those millions of years ago.

I heard a lot of birds along my walk. In fact, it seemed as if a wood pecker followed me as I walked along the well-marked path — I heard it for most of the hike. As I walked I noticed quite a few stone walls, a reminder that this was once farmland, before it was converted into a state park. At the beginning of my hike, the retaining wall and steps up into nothing reminded me a bit of our Doodletown hike.

But the highlight of this little hike was walking through the trees along the shore of the lake. The path is rocky and after 3 days of rain, quite muddy in places.

Gifford Pinchot State Park’s Beaver Creek Trail

This 3-mile out-and-back trail carries hikers through a low forested area that can be quite muddy. Despite the pretty woodlands, you’re not likely to encounter any other hikers on this lightly travelled trail. You will encounter lots and lots of blood-sucking bugs, so bug spray is highly recommended.

Planks, smooth rocks on the path, and periodic views of the water as you cross streams make it a sweet little walk. Board walks and stepping stones help keep you out of the mud. We accessed the trail from Boat Mooring 1 Entrance, off of Rossville Road, but you can pick up the other trailhead off Squire Gratz Road.

Know Before You Go

The park is open to hunting. Information on hunting seasons is available at the park office. For your safety, wear orange. If you’re bringing your dog, then ensure your pooch is also wearing orange or yellow.

Bug spray is recommended, especially because of ticks, but also because of other blood-sucking insects that can be quite persistent. Wear good hiking boots or sneakers as the trails can be quite rocky and there are some ankle-turning spots. There’s ample parking at most of the trailheads.

Getting there: 2200 Rosstown Rd, Lewisberry, PA
Hours: daylight
Website: Pinchot State Park

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