Hellam Hills Nature Preserve is part of the Hellam Hills Conservation Area, which in 2021-2022 underwent a master planning process (learn more). The resulting plan for the area offers ecological restoration and recreation recommendations which are being developed and implemented over time. Your support of the Conservancy as a donor or a volunteer will allow us to bring this plan to life for the benefit of the community and nature.
Planning Your Hike
Difficult. There is only limited shoulder parking on the preserve at this time to access the Mason-Dixon Trail, which runs through the preserve. Trail rerouting and development is underway following the recommendations of the Hellam Hills Conservation Area Master Plan.
Hellam Hills Nature Preserve is part of the Upland Section of the Pennsylvania Piedmont and overlooks the Piedmont Lowlands located in Lancaster County across the river. Along this boundary the river runs from west to east with dramatic bluffs along the Hellam Hills Ridge Line. The underlaying base geology specific to Hellam Hills Nature Preserve is the Chickies Formation, which was developed during the Cambrian Period (541-485 million years ago), and is predominantly quartzite bedrock. Buzzard Roost in Hellman Hills Nature Preserves sits at 840 ft (for comparison, Chickies Rock Summit sits at 587 ft across the river in Lancaster County).
148 plant species have been observed in the various ecological areas of Hellam Hills Nature Preserve that range from wetlands and floodplains to steep slopes and hardwood forests. In wetter sections of the forest you might find sugar maple (Acer saccharum), red maple (Acer rubrum), green ash (Fraxinus americanus), tulip poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera), black cherry (Prunus serotina), red elm (Ulmus rubra), various hickories (Carya spp.), oaks (Quercus spp.), and hop hornbeam (Ostrya virginica). Drier forests follow the grassy ridgeline and bluff above the river and on both slopes where you can find species such as Chestnut oak (Quercus montana), which dominates the canopy, alongside red maple (Acer rubrum), red oak (Quercus rubra). Plantings of non-native species, such as Norwegian Spruce and invasive species such as Japanese stiltgrass (Microstegium vimineum) and Tree of Heaven (Ailanthus altissima) can also be found throughout Hellam Hills Nature Preserve.
A total of 144 bird species have been observed at Hellam Hills Nature Preserve including red-eyed vireo, ovenbird, eastern towhee, scarlet tanager, and wood thrush. Hellam Hills supports a relatively robust interior forest breeding bird community. Worm eating warblers can be found along the ridge lines and steep slopes. Kentucky warblers and hooded warblers occupy bottomlands and lower elevation shrub thickets in impressive densities for the region. Acadian flycatchers are breeding in the forested sections of Dugan Run. Edge habitat along the right of ways and roads on site provide critical nesting habitat for indigo buntings, great-crested flycatchers, brown thrashers, common yellowthroats, and bluewinged warblers (in addition to hooded and Kentucky warblers).
Hellam Hills Nature Preserve’s wetlands and rocky outcrop are critical habitats for regional herpetofauna, such as salamanders, spring peepers, pickerel frogs, eastern ratsnake, and nothern five-lined skinks.
Hellam Hills Nature Preserve is home to a variety of mammals such as eastern chipmunks, groundhogs, red fox, opossum, eastern coyote, black bear, and an overpopulation of white-tailed deer.
Two streams exist in Hellam Hills Nature Preserve. Wildcat Run is located in the western portion of Hellam Hills and Dugan Run is located in the eastern portion of Hellam Hills. Both streams run southeast to northeast prior to turning north as they converge into the Susquehanna River. The headwaters of both reaches have wetland habitat. As the streams turn north towards the Susquehanna River they form a series of cascades or waterfalls. The Wildcat Falls are located on private property adjacent to the Hellam Hills and the Dugan Run Falls are located along the preserves property line. During the time of the Marietta Gravity Water Company (Est. 1892), both streams had served as water sources with dammed reservoirs. The dams were removed by then owner, Columbia Water Company, prior to the Conservancy acquisition. The remnants of the Wildcat Run dam and reservoir can still be seen on site. The Dugan Run reservoir and dam existed on the parcel maintained by Columbia Water Company
Hellam Hills is open to Mixed-Use Hunting. Respect property boundaries and safety zones. All Pennsylvania Game Commission Rules and Regulations apply. See ‘Where to Hunt’ for more details.
Report Hunting Violations: PA Game Commission at 1-888-742-8001 or 610-926-3136
After over five years of discussions with the then owner of the largest tract, Marrietta Gravity Water Company, in 2017 the Conservancy started building out this Preserve. In the next 4 years the Conservancy acquired over 7 additional parcels with the help of DCNR, The Conservation Fund, Clark Foundation, Powder Mill Foundation, Ann Hoehn, J. William Warehime Foundation, the Kinsley, Striebig, and Stambaugh families, Hanover Foundation, Ann Barshinger, Brookfield Renewable, County of York, Gladfelter Foundation, Pine Tree Conservation Society, S. Dale High Family Foundation, and many more private donors.
Limited shoulder parking is available at the intersection of Furnace Road and Chimney Rock Road and the Mason-Dixon Trail can be accessed by parking along the shoulder at the intersection of Furnace Road and River Drive. Please do not block the road and respect our neighbors when visiting Hellam Hills Nature Preserve.