On Thursday I headed up to Swatara Falls for the first time…it’s about 2 and a half hours from where I live in north central Maryland. In my desire to eventually photograph all of the significant waterfalls in the mid-atlantic area, I figured now’s the time to check this one off the list. On the map all it says is “waterfall”…no mention of a state park or anything. Great advertising.
It’s interesting that, for whatever reason, I-83 and I-81 in Pennsylvania are
almost always under construction, yet neither road has changed whatsoever since I used both of them constantly to get to and from college in upstate New York back in the early 90’s. One funny note about I-83…it’s very nicely paved in northern Maryland…and as soon as you hit the PA border, the condition of the road becomes noticeably aged and mildly decrepit. I mean literally, right next to the “Welcome to Pennsylvania” sign, the highway turns sour. Score one for higher personal income taxes.
Anyway, the parking area and trailhead for Swatara falls are just off of state route 25, about 1.7 miles east of exit 112 off interstate I-81. The parking area is on the south side of SR-25, the trailhead across the street on the north side. There’s no way to know you’re at the correct parking area, except to know that you’re 1.7 miles east of the interstate. No signs for the path or anything. It’s almost a little eery. I would not be open to traversing this path at night without a flood light and a grenade launcher.
The trail is very easy to navigate. You walk 500 feet, turn left, walk another 500 feet, turn right…go down a hill, walk another quarter mile on a flat, wide path (pictured below), and you reach the falls.
Once at the falls, you are treated to a surprisingly attractive waterscape. The path ends about halfway up the 25 foot waterfall, but it’s quite easy to climb down to the bottom, or up to the top if you so choose. There are no shortage of vantage points to photograph the waterfall, but all of which basically depict the same general picture: a nice waterfall with a muddy-brown sheen. Thanks so much to those who left the graffiti on the lower portion of the waterfall. Adds a beautiful touch.
Rainfall has been very light of late, which was clearly noticeable as the volume of water flowing over the falls was low. Other photographs I’ve seen of the falls showed a higher level of water flowing over the rocks, leaving me with the impression that, typically, the water flow is more than what I witnessed. There were some small wading areas at the bottom of the falls, but due to the lack of flow, the mostly standing water had a rather unpleasant look to it. I’m sure when water flow picks up and cleans out the stream bed a little, wading in the stream would be enjoyable.
If you’re ever in the neighborhood of exit 112 on interstate I-81, take a minor detour and check out Swatara Falls. It’s easy to hike to, and would be a nice spot for a bagged lunch or (early) dinner. If you are brave enough to try the hike at night…bring a powerful flashlight. And a banjo.