A pennsylvania Recreational Guide for Gifford Pinchot State Park

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A Pennsylvania Recreational Guide for

Gifford Pinchot State Park

Gifford Pinchot State Park, a 2,338-acre full service park, is in northern York County along PA 177 between the towns of Rossville and Lewisberry. The park consists of reverting farm fields and wooded hillsides with the 340-acre Pinchot Lake serving as a prime attraction.


The park is near the metropolitan areas of York and Harrisburg. It is reached from Harrisburg via the Lewisberry Exit (35) of I-83 south, then PA 177 south; or by US 15 south to Dillsburg, then to PA 74 south. From York, take PA 74 north or I-83 north. From I-83, take the Newberrytown Exit (32), PA 382 west to PA 177 south.


Make online reservations at: www.visitPAparks.com or call toll-free 888-PA-PARKS (888-727-2757), 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday to Saturday, for state park information and reservations.

Top 10 Things to do at Gifford Pinchot

1. Discover the challenge of hiking the Mason-Dixon Trail.

2. Join us on an interpretive, pontoon boat tour of Pinchot Lake.

3. Experience the fun of flat-water kayaking at one of our hands-on programs.

4. Enjoy a round of disc golf with friends or family at one of our two 18-hole courses.

5. No tent, no trailer, no problem! Enjoy a stay in one of our yurts or camping cottages with a gorgeous view of the lake.

6. Hike one of our trails throughout the summer to discover the giant swallowtail butterfly, the largest butterfly found in the United States or Canada.

7. In May, the eastern red bud trees can turn the park a lovely pink hue with their abundant blooms. A great time to discover the beauty of our spring woodlands!

8. Check out the diabase boulders and rock outcrops throughout the park that make for picturesque lake scenes or spots for quiet solitude.

9. Pinchot Lake offers 340 acres of “Big Bass” waters to challenge even the most experienced angler, or plentiful bluegills to delight even the youngest angler with a fishing pole.

10. Enjoy a night under the stars in the Pinchot family campground.

Recreational Opportunities

Boating: electric motors only

The 340-acre Pinchot Lake has three launch areas available 24 hours a day. There are 286 shoreline mooring and canoe rack spaces that may be rented from April 1st to November 1st. Mooring areas include a number of larger spaces designed to accommodate the increasingly popular day sailors and catamarans, while rack spaces accommodate canoes, kayaks and small sailboats. There are several types of boats and electric trolling motors for rent at the boat rental from late spring through early autumn each year.

Motorboats must display a boat registration from any state. Non-powered boats must display one of the following: boat registration from any state; launching permit or mooring permit from Pennsylvania State Parks that are available at most state park offices; launch use permit from the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission.

éHunting and Firearms: About 1,780 acres are open to hunting, trapping and the training of dogs from fall archery season through the end of the traditional winter seasons. Common game species are deer, rabbit, squirrel and waterfowl.

Because of the adjacent residential development and the many non-hunting visitors, special regulations apply to all hunting in the park. Hunting weapons are restricted to bows and arrows until November 1, when shotgun and muzzleloader use are also permitted. Center fire rifles and handguns for hunting in the park is prohibited. Detailed information about hunting in the park is available at the park office. Hunting is prohibited during spring and summer and dog training is only permitted from the day following Labor Day to March 31 in designated hunting areas.

To help protect the safety of hunters, non-hunting visitors and nearby residents, signs designating hunting areas, no hunting areas and safety zones are posted throughout the park. Hunters should be especially alert for other park visitors who may not be familiar with hunting and for safety zones near park buildings and private residences in and around the park.

The Bureau of State Parks reserves the right to participate in or conduct special hunts at other times if necessary to adequately control specific wildlife populations or to conserve park resources. Please contact the park office if you have any questions or need more specific information.

Hunting woodchucks, also known as groundhogs, is prohibited. Dog training is only permitted from the day following Labor Day through March 31 in designated hunting areas. The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and the Pennsylvania Game Commission rules and regulations apply. Contact the park office for ADA accessible hunting information.

Use extreme caution with firearms at all times. Other visitors use the park during hunting seasons. Firearms and archery equipment used for hunting may be uncased and ready for use only in authorized hunting areas during hunting seasons. In areas not open to hunting or during non-hunting seasons, firearms and archery equipment shall be kept in the owner’s car, trailer or leased campsite. The only exception is that law enforcement officers and individuals with a valid Pennsylvania License to Carry Firearms may carry said firearm concealed on their person while they are in the park.

éFishing: The 340-acre Pinchot Lake has largemouth bass, hybrid striped bass, muskellunge, catfish, carp, walleye, crappie and sunfish. Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission laws apply. Pinchot Lake is designated a big bass lake. Special regulations cover the minimum size and creel limits for all species of bass. ADA accessible fishing pads are near Boat Launch 2 and a pier is in the Quaker Race Day Use Area.

éSwimming: A large, ADA accessible beach in the Quaker Race Day Use Area is open from late-May to mid-September, 8 a.m. to sunset. Swim at your own risk. Please read and follow posted rules. Boat rental, picnic facilities, snack bar and children’s play area are near the swimming beach.

éPicnicking: The ADA accessible Quaker Race Day Use Area is on the west side of the lake and the Conewago Day Use Area is on the east side of the lake. Picnic tables, charcoal grills, convenient parking lots, drinking water, modern restrooms and horseshoe pits are throughout the areas. The Quaker Race area has a volleyball court. The Conewago area has a softball field. Four picnic pavilions, two that are ADA accessible, may be reserved up to 11 months in advance for a fee. Unreserved picnic pavilions are free on a first-come, first-served basis.

Horseback Riding: In the northeast section of the park is an area set aside for horseback riding. This area includes several miles of wide, mowed, interconnecting trails that wind through reverting farm fields, pine plantations and deciduous woodlands. There is a large, gravel parking area off of Alpine Road, a short distance south of the intersection with PA 177. There are no horse rentals.

Disc Golfing: There is an 18-hole disc golf course on the east and west sides of the park. In the Conewago Day Use Area, Boulder Woods is a fairly level course that is great for families. In the Quaker Race Day Use Area, Quaker’s Challenge Course has recreation and pro tees in a challenging, hilly course.

Bicycling: The trails between the campground and the Conewago Day Use Area are for joint-use by hikers, cross-country skiers and bicycles. The Multipurpose Trail network consists of a 3.5-mile outer loop with a number of internal connectors. The trail surface is packed gravel and the terrain is mostly flat with a few gentle hills. The trail is suitable for family use and most bicycles. Please be considerate of other trail users; ride to the right and signal when passing. The trail winds through woodlands and along the lakeshore and is designed for a slow, leisurely ride. Fast and reckless riding is prohibited. Trail access for the general public is from the Conewago Day Use Area. Campers can access the trails directly from the campground. A seasonal bike rental is in the Conewago Day Use Area.

Hiking: 18 miles of trails

There are more than 18 miles of marked and maintained trails at Gifford Pinchot State Park. Hiking only trails are marked with yellow blazes. A red blaze marks hiking trails that are shared-use trails with mountain bike riding or horseback riding. Mason Dixon Trail is marked with a blue blaze. Most trails interconnect to allow hikers to tailor their outing to meet their individual desires.

Alpine Trail: 0.5 mile, easiest hiking

This wide, flat trail has a gravel surface. Alpine Trail has an outstanding crop of wildflowers in April and May, with bluebells and marsh marigolds. The trail begins on the east side of Conewago Day Use Area.

Beaver Creek Trail: 1.5 miles, most difficult hiking

This trail runs between a small parking area off Squire Gratz Road and Mooring Area # 1 in the northwestern corner of the park. The trail meanders through low lying wooded terrain and can be muddy in wet weather. Sections of the trail can also be rocky. Many habitats, including wetlands, can be seen in this undeveloped section of the park.

Gravel Trail: 1.2 miles, easiest hiking

This trail runs through second growth forest from the campground to the area of the boat rental at the eastern end of the Conewago Day Use Area. This wide trail follows an old woods road and has a gravel surface. A loop can be made by using part of Lakeside Trail making a nice trail for hiking, jogging, cross-country skiing and bicycling. Concrete supports from an old toboggan run can be seen along this trail.

Lakeside Trail: 8.5 miles, most difficult hiking

This is the longest and most scenic trail in the park. It may be accessed from all major use areas of the park. Walking time is five to six hours. Many parts of the trail are easy walking with gravel surfaces, but some of the remote sections are narrow with uneven footing and wet in other places. Many hikers combine portions of this trail with other trails like Alpine, Gravel, Oak and Quaker Race to make shorter loops.

Midland and Fern Trails: 0.5 mile, more difficult hiking

These small side trails off Lakeside Trail can be reached from near Boat Mooring Area #3. Both trails have dirt and rock surfaces and steeper slopes, but wind through the most mature forests in the park. There are many wildflowers under the large oak, hickory and tulip popular trees.

Oak Trail: 0.4 mile, easiest hiking

This short trail connects the campground to the interpretive center at the western end of the Conewago Day Use Area. The trail is gently rolling and wide with a gravel surface. The trail passes through a maturing oak and hickory forest and past a large diabase rock outcropping near the interpretive center. This trail connects with Gravel and Lakeside trails.

Old Farm Trail: 1 mile, easiest hiking

This trail runs along the northeastern border of the campground and is a connector between Lakeside, Oak and Ridge trails. Old Farm Trail follows an old farm road to the top of Straight Hill.

Pinchot Trail: 1.4 miles, most difficult hiking

Wear good shoes on this trail because the surface can be rocky in some places and wet in other places. The trail begins at the interpretive center and climbs past a large diabase rock outcropping that once formed the beginning of the long abandoned toboggan run. The trail then crosses Gravel Trail and eventually splits into two branches that connect along the top of Straight Hill to form a loop. The habitat is mostly maturing oak and hickory forest. A number of old stone walls provide reminders of long abandoned efforts at farming.

Quaker Race Trail: 1.7 miles, more difficult hiking

This trail is best accessed from the Quaker Race Day Use Area or from the Cabin Colony for cabin occupants. This trail has a dirt or rocky surface, uneven terrain and one steep but short hill. This trail connects to Lakeside Trail at its end to form a 3-mile loop that passes through diverse habitats.

Ridge Trail: 1.2 miles, more difficult hiking

This trail begins near the campground entrance where it intersects Lakeside Trail, then meanders through old overgrown pasture, then climbs into a maturing oak and hickory forest along the top of Straight Hill. The trail surface is dirt and can be rocky and there are some wet areas near the campground entrance. Stay on the trail to avoid prickly ash. Butterflies may be abundant near openings in the forest.

Mason-Dixon Trail: 200 miles, most difficult hiking

This trail runs through Delaware, Maryland and Pennsylvania. The trail has blue blazes and follows portions of Lakeside, Alpine, Pinchot, Ridge and Beaver Creek trails as it traverses the length of Gifford Pinchot State Park. The trail enters the park along Conley Road in the east and Squire Gratz and Thundergust Mill roads in the Northwest. Through-hikers may only camp at the park campground.

Tell us about your hike at: explorePAtrails.com

Stay the Night

éCamping: modern sites, some with electricity

With 339 campsites at the southern end of the lake, this park provides one of the largest state park campgrounds in the Commonwealth. The campground opens the second Friday in April and closes by the end of October. All of the sites have macadam pads and can accommodate virtually any piece of camping equipment from a large motor home to the smallest tent. The campground has an ADA accessible swimming beach, outdoor amphitheater, some ADA accessible campsites, hiking trails, boat launching and mooring area, sanitary dumping stations, staffed campground office, and modern bathhouses with flush toilets and showers. Pets are permitted on designated campsites.

éCabins: Ten modern cabins can be rented year-round. Cabins are furnished and have a living area, kitchen/dining area, toilet/shower room and two or three bedrooms. Renters provide their own bed linens, bathroom articles, kitchenware and eating utensils. Cabins also have boat mooring areas on the lakeshore. One cabin is ADA accessible.

éCamping Cottages: Three cottages sleep five people in bunk beds. Cottages have wooden floors, windows, electric heat, lights and outlets, porch, picnic table, fire ring and are adjacent to potable water and restrooms with showers.

éYurts: These round, canvas and wood walled tents have a wooden deck and sleep five people in bunk beds. Yurts have a cooking stove, refrigerator, countertop, table, chairs, electric heat and outlets, fire ring, picnic table and are adjacent to potable water and restrooms with showers.

Organized Group Tenting: The 50 sites, which can hold up to 250 people, are in the campground. This modern area is for scout, church or other organized groups that wish to camp together. Advance reservations are required.

Winter Activities

Ice thickness is not monitored. For your safety be sure there is solid ice as least four inches thick and carry safety equipment.

Ice Fishing: When conditions permit, ice fishing is a popular attraction on the 340-acre Pinchot Lake. Ice fishermen most often catch largemouth bass. Walleye, muskellunge, crappies and sunfish may be caught through the ice.

Cross-country Skiing: When adequate snow cover is available many of the hiking trails provide an excellent opportunity for cross-country skiing. The best trails are accessed from the Conewago Day Use Area or the special parking area at the campground entrance. These trails are marked for bicycling and include portions of Lakeside, Alpine, Oak and Gravel trails. Other good trails are the network of spur roads and trails in the interior of the park campground, which are closed to camping and vehicle use during the winter season.

Ice Skating and Iceboating:

When lake ice conditions permit, ice skating and iceboating are enjoyed by many visitors. Iceboats must display a current state park launch permit.

Ice conditions should be carefully assessed before participating in all ice-related activities.

Environmental Education and Interpretation

The park offers a wide variety of environmental education and interpretive programs year-round. Through hands-on activities, guided walks and evening programs, participants gain appreciation, understanding and develop a sense of stewardship toward natural and cultural resources. Pontoon boat tours of the lake are offered spring through fall. For more detailed information contact the park office.

A park-operated interpretive center in the Conewago Day Use Area is open weekends during the summer. Wayside exhibits and informative brochures help visitors learn more about the park’s natural environment.

Curriculum-based environmental education programs are available to schools and youth groups. Teacher workshops are available. Group programs must be arranged in advance by calling the park office.

Gifford Pinchot

Gifford Pinchot was born in 1865 to a wealthy family. A childhood interest in nature led to a career protecting forests and Gifford Pinchot became one of the founders of the conservation movement. After graduating from Yale University, Pinchot went to France and became the first American trained in forestry. A good friend of President Theodore Roosevelt, Pinchot was named Chief Forester of the U.S. Division of Forestry and served from 1898 to 1910. With the guidance of Roosevelt and Pinchot, over 200 million acres of national forest came under scientific land management. Policies developed by Pinchot still help guide most national and state forests.

“Among the many, many public officials who under my administration rendered literally invaluable service to the people of the United States, Gifford Pinchot on the whole, stood first.” - President Theodore Roosevelt

Gifford Pinchot became governor of Pennsylvania in 1922. A tireless worker, he often worked 16 hours a day. Pinchot created the first Pennsylvania state budget, erased the state’s debt and gave himself a pay cut. Pinchot was not afraid of a fight. Often at odds with political parties, Pinchot fought hard for the people. Several times a week Pinchot held office hours and anyone could walk in and talk to him. “A public official is there to serve the public and not run them.” Gifford Pinchot

In 1930, Pinchot was elected to a second term as governor and labored for employment improvements during the Great Depression. Pinchot set up work camps throughout the state that became the models for the Civilian Conservation Corps of President Franklin Roosevelt. Pinchot’s work camps built 20,000 miles of paved roads for “taking the farmer out of the mud.” These paved country roads made it easier for farmers to get from the farm to the market. The first “Pinchot Road” crosses the park, now PA 177. Always progressive, Pinchot was the first governor to have two women on his cabinet.

Throughout his life Gifford Pinchot spoke and campaigned for political reform and improved forest management. During World War II, Pinchot developed a water-gathering device and fishing kits for use in navy life rafts. After writing his autobiography, Gifford Pinchot died of leukemia in 1946.

In 1961, Gifford Pinchot State Park was dedicated by Governor David L. Lawrence.

Natural History

The diverse habitats of Gifford Pinchot State Park support a variety of wildlife through all seasons. The basis for the many habitats is diabase rock that underlies most of the park and was created when molten rock intruded the sandstone and melted it into a new kind of rock. Many of the diabase rocks have unique cracks that formed as the rocks slowly cooled. Winter is the best time to see the plentiful boulders and rock outcroppings because the trees have no leaves and the undergrowth is gone.

Winter is also a good time to see woodpeckers and evidence of their presence. Gifford Pinchot has at least seven species of woodpeckers.

Spring and fall is the time of bird migrations. Gifford Pinchot State Park is an area of forest surrounded by many farm fields and is a rest stop for many migrating forest birds. Warblers, vireos and thrushes stop to rest and eat before flying on to their breeding or winter homes. Pinchot Lake and its shoreline wetlands are a beacon that lures waterfowl by the thousands. Mergansers, geese, mallards, loons, teal and many other ducks can be seen swimming, diving and dabbling for vegetation and small fish.

Spring is the time for wildflowers. Fields and forests get a carpet of bluebells and marsh marigolds and many other flowers. Before it grows leaves, the redbud tree bursts into pink to lavender flowers. In Pinchot Lake, male largemouth bass make nests and aggressively defend their territory and fry (baby fish).

Summer is the time of lush green vegetation and growing young animals. In fields, watch for spotted fawns and for frantic bluebirds searching for food to feed their hungry chicks. Butterflies reach their peak numbers and can be seen floating from flower to flower in the fields and wetlands. In the fall, the deciduous trees lose their chlorophyll and their leaves reveal beautiful reds, oranges and yellows. While the other rees lose their leaves, the eastern red cedar keeps its green needles throughout the year. Look for this oval-shaped tree growing in old fields. Many of the old farm fields are “reverting” to forest and red cedar is usually the first tree to grow in the fields and will improve the soil for other trees.

Straight Hill Area: East of the campground, the Straight Hill Area is aninteresting place to study nature. All stages of forest succession are present. Abandoned farm fields are being replaced by eastern red cedar, and the cedar stands are being replaced by deciduous forests dominated by red and white oaks. The area also features some mature oak stands along the hillsides.

A special brochure on the geology of the park describes the large diabase boulders found in the area. This brochure is available at the park and campground offices, and the nature center.

Access for People with Disabilities

The park office is a completely ADA accessible building.

éThis symbol indicates facilities and activities that are accessible. This publication text is available in alternative formats.

If you need an accommodation to participate in park activities due to a disability, please contact the park you plan to visit.

Nearby Attractions

Information on nearby attractions is available from the York County Convention and Visitors Bureau. www.yorkpa.org

The State Capitol, Hershey, Gettysburg National Historical Park and Lancaster County’s Amish Country are nearby.

Protect and Preserve Our Parks

Please make your visit safe and enjoyable. Obey all posted rules and regulations and respect fellow visitors and the resources of the park.

• Be prepared and bring the proper equipment. Natural areas may possess hazards. Your personal safety and that of your family are your responsibility.

• Alcoholic beverages are prohibited.

• Please camp only in designated areas and try to minimize your impact on the campsite.

• Firewood Advisory: Firewood may contain non-native insects and plant diseases. Bringing firewood into the park from other areas may accidentally spread pest insects and diseases that threaten park resources and the health of our forests. Campers should use local firewood. Do not take wood home and do not leave firewood - Burn It!

• Prevent forest fires by having a fire in proper facilities and properly disposing of hot coals. Do not leave a fire unattended.

• Because uncontrolled pets may chase wildlife or frighten visitors, pets must be controlled and attended at all times and on a leash, caged or crated. Pets are prohibited in swimming areas.

In an Emergency

Contact a park employee or dial 911. For directions to the nearest hospital, look on bulletin boards or at the park office.

Nearest Hospital

Harrisburg Hospital

111 South Front Street

Harrisburg, PA 17101


For More Information Contact:

Gifford Pinchot State Park

2200 Rosstown Road

Lewisberry, PA 17339

Campground Office: 717-292-4112

Park Headquarters: 717-432-5011

e-mail: giffordpinchotsp@state.pa.us

An Equal Opportunity Employer


Information and Reservations

Make online reservations at:

www.visitPAparks.com or call toll-free 888-PA-PARKS (888-727-2757), 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday to Saturday, for state park information and reservations.

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