Monday, January 14, 2013

Conestoga Trail: Waterfalls in the Fog

While looking for a new place to hike this past weekend, I came across the Conestoga Trail, a 60 mile trail maintained by the Lancaster (PA) Hiking Club in south-central Pennsylvania along the Susquehanna River.  The 8.8 mile section we hiked with WanderMindfully yesterday was absolutely beautiful. We started hiking from a trailhead just off of Pennsylvania Highway 324 in dense fog. We followed the trail south from the little parking area along Pequea Creek. The trail is flat and easy, following an old trolley rail bed that used to connect the little town of Pequea to Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Within a quarter mile, we came across a small side stream with pretty little waterfalls pouring into a pool among green moss-covered rocks. Further on, larger waterfalls on the main creek demanded our attention. It was going to be a slow hike.

After a little over a mile, we reached the covered bridge and entered a campground.  We took advantage of a picnic table and stopped for lunch before continuing along the old trolley bed.  Just after the campground and park, the trail turned into a dirt road and we entered the town of Pequea.  Houses were built into the hillside above the creek and perched almost directly above the road.  Steps led from the road almost straight up the bluff to the houses. Some of the older houses were abandoned, completely given over to vines.  Others were neat and clearly still in use.  As we approached the mouth of the creek and the Susquehanna River, the road became paved and the landscape flattened out.  We had a short walk up the bluff, through town, before returning to the woods.

The trail, at this point, basically followed the east bank of the Susquehanna, climbing up steeply to the top of the bluffs before descending just as steeply into side stream coves. The trail generally went straight up and down the hillsides with few switchbacks. The humid, foggy weather made the rocks and leaves slippery, so descending took us some time in a few places. We passed Wind Cave and looked around, but did not enter.   We also passed House Rock, which probably has a great view of the river below, but all we saw was fog, which had grown thicker as the afternoon progressed. I don't mean that as a bad thing. I love hiking in the fog. The landscape looks totally different and the woods take on an other-worldly feel. Fog makes all of the green plants such as mountain laurel and green moss stand out more. We described it as hiking in a Tolkien novel (without the orcs, fortunately).  

The trail puts on its best show when it descends into Tucquan Creek.  The descent didn't give us any hint of the amazing canyon below us.  When we got down to the creek, we had to hike downstream a little ways to find a place with enough stepping stones that we could cross without over-topping our boots.  What we found downstream was a canyon filled with green rhododendrons, bright green moss-covered rocks and beautiful waterfalls.  We probably spent an hour exploring it and taking pictures of the waterfalls.  We finally had to just say that we would be back because it was getting late.

We pushed through the last section of the hike, basically racing the remaining daylight. We got back to the car just as the last light faded.  We will definitely be back to explore this area again, perhaps when the rhododendrons are in bloom.

Pictures (click to enlarge):
 Pequea Creek at the beginning of the hike.
A side stream near Pequea Creek.
 Hiking on the old trolley rail bed.
The covered bridge near Pequea campground.
The interior of the bridge.
An old Schwinn bicycle in Pequea next to some steps leading to a house on the bluff.
The forest above the Susquehanna River in the fog.
The trail through the rocks above Wind Cave.
The trail (marked by orange blazes) climbing straight up to the top of the ridge into the fog.
A cedar tree (I think) growing on a rock.  There can't have been more than half an inch of soil under the tree.
A waterfall on Tucquan Creek among the rhododendrons.
Another waterfall on Tucquan Creek.

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