By Keith Williams, Vice President of Engagement & Education
Protected forested lands provide a number of benefits: biodiversity conservation, clean air, clean water, and cool places to go to find some relief from summertime heat! A few of the 50 nature preserves protected by the Lancaster Conservancy are especially cool places to visit on hot summer days.
Trails with Cool Waterways
Fishing Creek Nature Preserve
Fishing Creek Nature Preserve is a linear preserve along, you guessed it, Fishing Creek. Fishing Creek Road also follows the creek and provides access to it in several spots. Fishing Creek is great for dipping your feet into the water on hot days and is a classic riverlands stream: cool water that cuts through schist bedrock. Gravel bars and rocky spots support a great diversity and abundance of fish.
How to get to the water: Access Fishing Creek Road from Furnace Road in Drumore Township and follow the gravel road through Fishing Creek Nature Preserve. Parking can be found at single-car pull offs along the stream.
Kellys Run Nature Preserve
Kellys Run Nature Preserve is a 458-acre preserve that has the Kellys Run stream flowing through the middle of it. While Fishing Creek provides easy access, Kellys Run takes a bit more work.
How to get to the water: The blue blazed Kellys Run Trail is a 3.8-mile loop that takes travelers through restored native grassland meadows and shaded rhododendron glens that line the Kellys Run gorge. The gorge is usually a few degrees cooler than the forests and meadows above, and pools in Kellys Run provide an opportunity to dip your feet in and cool off. However, the Kellys Run Loop is a challenging trail, and while the gorge is cool, the hike in and out is not. There is plenty of parking at the main parking area for Kellys Run Nature Preserve on Street Road.
Climbers Run Nature Center
The Climbers Run stream flows through the middle of the Climbers Run Nature Center located in Pequea. The cool, clear waters of Climbers Run provide high quality habitat for a variety of native fish, mostly because the Lancaster Conservancy also owns and protects many of the headwater streams that feed into Climbers. The stream also affords opportunities to get into a deeply shaded ravine which creates a microclimate that is typically 10 degrees cooler than surrounding temperatures. There are opportunities to dip your feet in the cold water, as well.
How to get to the water: To access the stream from the preserve kiosk, follow the white blazed trail down the hill through the meadow, across the pond berm, and into the ravine. There is ample parking at Climbers Run.
Cool Trails with Shade
Welsh Mountain Nature Preserve
Welsh Mountain Nature Preserve, located in East Earl Township, is one of the highest points in Lancaster County at 1,100 feet. The headwaters of the Conestoga and Brandywine rivers originate on this mountain as tiny first order streams, so there isn’t any water to dip your feet in. But Welsh Mountain does have mature oak forests that provide shade to help keep you cool as you hike the trails here. The blue trail is a relatively flat 2-mile loop, and the purple trail is a half-mile-long universally accessible trail. Both keep you in the cooler shade provided by the mature oaks and maples.
McCalls Ferry Nature Preserve
McCalls Ferry Nature Preserve is a 173-acre preserve located on River Road in Holtwood, York County. The Mason-Dixon Trail leads out of the small parking pull off by the Susquehanna then heads uphill along Oakland Run. The trail transports you to another world as you hike under a mature rhododendron canopy, and while the stream doesn’t offer many opportunities to dip your toes in, the stream combined with the deep shade of the rhodendron glen creates a cool microclimate. Parking is limited to a few cars on River Road. Follow the blue blazed Mason-Dixon Trail upriver (north) from the parking area.
Hiking Smartly and Safely This Summer
To be a really cool hiker this summer, make sure to practice Leave No Trace principles and prepare to stay safe while hiking in the heat. Here are some tips for safe and smart hiking this season:
- Know before you go – make sure you study the trail maps before your hike to avoid getting turned around.
- Prepare for the weather and have a plan in case of rain, lightning, etc.
- Drink plenty of water! And don’t forget to pack some salty snacks, too, to help replenish your electrolytes.
- Wear sun protection and loose, breathable clothing.
- Don’t forget to check for ticks. Use repellents or wear light long sleeves and pants to protect yourself from diseases like Lyme.
- Don’t disturb the wildlife – stay on the trail, and don’t pick any plants.
- Remember, the streams you are using to cool off are someone else’s home, like aquatic insects, salamanders, frogs, and fish. Please don’t flip, throw, or rearrange rocks on the bottom of the waterway. While it may be fun to build rock dams, they completely alter stream flows and destroy habitat and can even kill aquatic bugs that may be living on the rocks.