I first went to Snyder Middleswarth Natural Area about fifteen years ago. Massive, ancient hemlock trees rose over the forest with boughs of deep green in a valley carved by a stream, nestled deep in the mountains. The place was silent, other than the breeze and the tumbling creek. I looked up the mountain slopes to see the giants rising far above the other trees. It truly felt like a primeval place. I don’t know if I had ever seen such a beautiful hemlock forest. These giants were 150 feet tall and about 400 years old.
Even then, I’m sure, change was underway. The wooly adelgid had reached the forest and over the years this tiny insect would kill hundred of the ancient hemlocks, and leave many others fighting for life.
I recently returned, and the forest was not the same. Now, towering dead trunks dotted the forest and other hemlocks were barely alive. The forest floor become populated with saplings from the sun. Yet, the forest was still beautiful and will find a way to heal, generations from now. We hiked up the Swift Run Trail between large cut logs of fallen trees, as the creek gurgled below. The day was hot and humid, and a sultry breeze hinted at the possibility of thunderstorms. A few large pine trees offered a reminder of the scale of the ancient hemlocks. Moss draped the fallen trees as ferns carpeted the forest floor.
We reached an intersection with the Tower Trail, but we continued straight on the Swift Run Trail into the adjacent Tall Timbers Natural Area. I highly recommend this trail. The trail wasn’t as brushy, and the forests were healthier, with several green hemlocks and large pine. Rhododendron bushes surrounded the trail and spread over the creek, which had small falls and pools. While the trees weren’t as tall as those at Snyder Middleswarth, the forest was more scenic. The Swift Run Trail ended at the Krebs Gap Trail and we turned left, and crossed the creek, where we took a break. Rumbling skies soon arrived with the rush of air. The rain soon came as we huddled under a tree, trying to stay dry from the downpour. It was futile. The storm soon passed and we climbed the ridge to the top, where we turned left onto the red Thick Mountain Trail.
This level trail was a pleasure to hike through scenic forests of pine, laurel, hemlock, and oak. We reached the yellow Tower Trail at a four-way intersection near the site of the old fire tower, and a dry campsite. Here, the Thick Mountain Trail became yellow blazed (with some old blue blazes) and continued its level course on top of the ridge with more hemlocks. A rocky, twisting, and at times steep descent followed as we negotiated fallen trees. As we descended, the trail was steeper until we reached a small stream flowing underground, beneath moss covered rocks.
We turned left onto Swift Run Road and returned to the parking area. On both the ride in and out, we enjoyed the classic view of New Lancaster Valley, a sweeping, forested valley bordered by symmetrical mountain ridges.
A trip report from PA Hikes, which describes a shorter loop:
- All trails are blazed yellow, except for a section of the Thick Mtn. Trail, which is red. There are also some older blue blazes.
- I highly recommend you expand the loop by following the Swift Run Trail past the Tower Trail into the Tall Timber Natural Area, turn left on the Krebs Gap Trail, climb to the top of the ridge and turn left onto the Thick Mtn. Trail, which returns to Swift Run Rd.
- This loop is about 6-7 miles in length. It is a beautiful, isolated woodland hike with small streams.
- Parking area is located at 40.809997, -77.283001.
- Nearby highlights are the New Lancaster Valley Vista, and Rock Springs Picnic Area, which has a small falls.