Get Outside: Free Family Fun
By Nicole Maurer, MPH
Written for the Table Magazine in Lebanon – [Link]
Summer is here. The kids are out of school, and you’ve got the whole summer ahead of you! Now what? Did you know that June is Great Outdoors Month? Well, Lebanon County has a host of great outdoor destinations and we’ve compiled a list of some of our favorites for every age group. All of these are free and local. Now, GET OUTSIDE!
If you have toddlers:
Many of our readers probably grew up going to dinosaur rock. But when was the last time you were there? It’s still so cool! It still looks like a dinosaur, and kids are sure to get excited every time they go. The best part? The hardest part of this hike is getting the whole family across the road from the parking lot, so it’s perfect for kids with a low tolerance for hiking and nature. In case you didn’t know, the rock itself is an erosional remnant of an igneous rock called diabase left over from the Jurassic period (199.6 to 145.5 million years ago!).
Side note: There is a LOT of graffiti. That’s why you should take your little kids – too young to read and too little to do any dangerous climbing!
How to get there: Dinosaur Rock is located in southern Lebanon County, along Mt Wilson Road, just north of where it crosses the Turnpike. Park at the State Gamelands 145 parking area, which is on the east side of Mt Wilson road and 0.7 miles south of Mt. Gretna Road in Colebrook. From the parking lot, cross Mt Wilson Road to the trail to Dinosaur Rock. Follow the trail about 500 feet to the rocks.
Cleona Community Park
Cleona Community Park may be the best kept secret in Lebanon County. It’s got everything… a place to picnic, ball fields, tennis, basketball and volleyball courts; a 9-hole miniature golf course, great access to the Quitty creek, and a variety of playground equipment for all ages. You may literally have to drag your kids out of there. Remember to take a sports ball, golf club and ball, snacks and a change of shoes (just in case they slip into the creek). You could easily spend the entire day there. The park sometimes shows movies, and they have a great Fall Festival.
How to get there: The park is right behind the Cleona Elementary School (at 50 East Walnut Street in Cleona).
If you have kids in Elementary School:
Here is another example of a destination most of us have visited, but probably not for a long time. Climbing the tower never seems to lose its allure, and for school aged kids it provides just the right difficulty level and sense of adventure they need. The hike up to the tower is about 1.5 miles. It’s mostly wide and relatively smooth but not very stroller friendly. All told, the park offers 14 miles of hiking trails, many of which also allow mountain biking. The tower is only 66 feet high but still provides an expansive view. On a clear day you can see five counties: Lebanon, Lancaster, Dauphin, Berks, and York.
How to get there: In the town of Mt Gretna turn South onto Pinch Rd. The Center is 1 mile up on the left. Park at the lovely Nature Center and follow the signs to the tower.
Memorial Lake is surrounded by Fort Indiantown Gap and like many of these spots, has a little something for everyone. It’s 230 acres of lake, jogging paths, playgrounds, picnic areas and a one-mile exercise course. Take your fishing gear, bikes and a packed lunch. You could also take your own paddle boat or rent canoes for a small fee.
How to get there: From I-81 take Exit 85. Turn north onto Fisher Avenue and follow signs to the park.
If you have teens:
The hike up to the Eagle Rock lookout utilizes the Horseshoe Trail (yellow blazes) and goes through the Camp Mack Scout Reservation. You can get to the Eagle Rock Lookout from 322 or from The Pretzel Hut on Route 501. It’s a moderate hike up to the lookout and quite rocky. This is a great for hike for teens who like a challenge and a clear end point. The 1000+ acre Camp Mack is open to the public for mountain biking, hiking, trail running and other non-scouting activities provided the Camp closure dates/map restrictions are observed and respected. Trail maps and closure dates can be found at http://padutchbsa.org/.
How to get there: From 322… Head East on 322 for 5.5 miles and park in the large parking lot on the left hand side at Pumping Station Road. You must follow 322 across the creek to access the trailhead. From The Pretzel Hut (at 2224 Furnace Hills Pike), located just north of the intersection of Routes 501 and 322… Park at the restaurant and locate the petting zoo just behind it. There you’ll find the yellow blazes that distinguish the Horseshoe trail and head up to the lookout.
If you like to be “off the beaten path” you’ll love this hike. Lloyd C. Showers of Bethel led the project of building a side trail leading up to the Appalachian Trail from 501 in Bethel. Under his guidance, and with labor he recruited, huge boulders were moved to form steps up a steep slope to the summit and to an outstanding view. This is an advanced hike, but not very long. It can be combined with some nice Appalachian Trail hiking at the top.
How to get there: Head North on Rt 501 from the Bethel exit on Rt 78. Proceed North for 2.5 miles. The trail is on the right and it’s blue blazes can be seen from the road. Parking is not great on 501, so you may need to find a pull out farther to the North and backtrack to the trail.