Most every Sunday evening, especially in the warmer months, we take a “mini vacation.” We’ll load up the kids in our old VW van, drive to one of our favorite parks, eat a picnic dinner and play. We may choose a spot with a creek, especially on those blistering summer days. Or we might visit a playground where the kids can swing, slide and climb to their hearts’ content. Wherever we end up, there’s lots of greenery, (relative) quiet, and space. These “family dates” refresh our spirits.
Looking for a reset yourself? Check out one of the following options below. I’ve included six of our favorite outdoor locations, each with distinct features that highlight the variety of activities Lancaster County has to offer. This is only a starting place: our area is FULL of gorgeous settings in which to bike, hike, and climb (or…relax). So get going. There are plenty of activities to enjoy off the beaten path, even here in an area that boasts bustling tourist attractions.
For the Younger Set – Amos Herr Park
While this park features basketball, tennis and volleyball courts, baseball and soccer fields, and pavilions for picnicking, our favorite part is the play area for kids. Perfect for kids 12 and under, it boasts a zipline in addition to all of the typical playground accoutrements (like swings and slides). Our little ones love the play structures, which give a nod to Lancaster County farm life and include a barn, schoolhouse, silo and tractor. Trees surround the park, and if you happen to find that golden moment when your kids are playing contentedly, there are an array of benches where parents can sit, all within eyesight of the little ones.
Or Check Out: Daniel’s Den Playground in Lancaster; Jaycee Park or King Swings in Strasburg (just down the road if you’re staying at The Carriage House and need a spot to let the kids run off some steam)
Creek Stompin’ – Wolf’s Hollow County Park
This park is located in Chester County, but it’s not even 20 minutes from The Carriage House at Strasburg, so it’s a great option for our guests. The Octoraro Creek winds through the nearly 600 acres of wooded forest and open meadows. Enjoy 10 miles of hiking trails (from moderate to challenging) lined with Pennsylvania mountain laurel, or sit at one of the picnic tables and have a snack. The shallow creek is just the right size for small explorers (dogs or kids!) to get wet.
Or Check Out: Silver Mine Park in Conestoga; Paradise Community Park in Paradise
Take a Hike – Tucquan Glen Nature Preserve
The Tucquan Glen Loop Trail is a moderately challenging, 2.6 mile hike featuring forested terrain, creeks and even a waterfall. You’ll find an occasional clearing just right for a picnic and catch a glimpse of the Susquehanna River from parts of the trail. It offers a real taste of Pennsylvania beauty, from the native plants below to the hawks flying high above (punctuated by the sound of the creek flowing in the background). But take note, you won’t find a restroom here and parking is limited so your hike may include some extra mileage depending on where you leave your vehicle!
Or Check Out: Turkey Hill Overlook Trail in Conestoga; Mill Creek Falls in York
Ticket to Ride – Northwest Lancaster County River Trail
This 14-mile trail follows the route of the historic Pennsylvania Mainline Canal, connecting Columbia, Marietta, Bainbridge and Falmouth. Though the condition of the trail varies, we appreciate the easily traveled segment near the trailhead at Columbia River Park. The paved path is free from inclines, so the kids can ride easily (and my husband can haul a few little ones in our bike trailer with relative ease). Additionally, various historical remains dot the trail, from old canal locks to the quarry at Billmeyer. Many of these sites include educational plaques, so you can learn about the past while riding, jogging, or walking in the present. Additionally, Marietta is home to several riverside pubs and restaurants, easily accessible from the trail (we recommend the Railroad House Inn or McCleary’s Public House).
Or Check Out: Conewago Recreation Trail; Enola Low Grade Trail
Check out the View – Pinnacle Scenic Overlook
If you’re looking for a spectacular view of the Susquehanna River, this is the spot. Though captivating in any season, we think it’s the perfect place to visit in the fall when the brilliant autumn foliage is on display. The Pinnacle Overlook sits high above the western side of the river, and it’s just a short walk from the parking lot. Though you won’t get much exercise walking to the overlook, there are ample hiking opportunities nearby, including the Mason-Dixon Trail and Mill Creek Falls.
Or Check Out: Chickies Rock Overlook Trail
For the Wildlife Enthusiast – Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area
If you time it right, you can experience the amazing site of an estimated 100,000 snow geese on the lake at Middle Creek, along with tundra swans and other waterfowl. The birds typically migrate late February to early April in the spring and October to early November in the fall. However, it’s best to check the Pennsylvania Game Commission website for information on annual migrating trends (they post frequent updates with approximate numbers of various species during peak season). The walk to the lake isn’t strenuous, and the visitor’s center is top notch so it’s an enjoyable and informative venture for all ages. Make sure to hit up nearby Fox Meadows Creamery on your way home for some of the best homemade ice cream in the area.
Or Check Out: The Wolf Sanctuary of Pennsylvania in Lititz
Don’t forget your bug spray, sunscreen and drinking water! Beyond that, we’ve found the following to be helpful:
- Bring an extra bag for stashing muddy clothes or removing trash
- Pack Food, utensils and a picnic blanket (a necessity, if you have a bunch of kids like us)
- Throw in towels and/or a change of clothes (especially if you’re planning to get wet)
- Do a quick google search of the closest emergency center and keep your phone charged, just in case
- Always do a tick-check after spending time outdoors