Hiking to the Governor Dick Observation Tower near Mount Gretna
I’m always on the lookout for great new hikes, especially ones that have a unique feature along the trail. So, when I recently visited Cornwall Iron Furnace, I was excited to discover in my favorite Harrisburg-area hiking book that there was a great hiking area nearby. And, even better, it had a historical connection that made it the perfect adventure after visiting the furnace.
The Park at Governor Dick is an isolated area of land near both Cornwall and Mount Gretna in Lebanon County, Pennsylvania. Comprised of more than 1,100 acres, the park offers 14 miles of hiking trails, many of which also allow hiking and mountain biking.
While the park is heavily forested today, two hundred years ago, it would have looked very different. In fact, during the height of Cornwall Iron Furnace’s production, this area and the surrounding countryside would have been stripped bare of trees for the charcoal furnace necessary for iron production.
One of the colliers that worked to make charcoal for the furnace was a slave named Dick. Dick became so well known and so good at producing charcoal, that he became known around the area as ‘Guv’nor’ Dick. After his death, the hill that he worked took on his nickname in his honor.
Today, the Park at Governor Dick is a popular place for hikers, mountain bikers, and rock climbers. For hikers, the most popular destination is the observation tower at the hill’s summit.
The hike to the Governor Dick Observation Tower is roughly 1.5 miles one way. The hike offers a wide variety of terrain, from wide and flat to narrow and steep. While a nice walk through the woods, the trails aren’t especially interesting, though it’s always nice to be out in nature.
The Governor Dick Observation Tower was built in 1954 and sits in an open field at the top of the hill. Truthfully, it’s a pretty ugly concrete structure. White on the bottom and grey at the top with a metal cage encasing the observation deck, they really couldn’t have created an uglier structure if they had tried. However, had the tower been made of wood, it likely would have been burned by arsonists, as happened to many of the buildings that once stood on the hill.
No matter how ugly, though, what matters is the view from the top. And, in that regard, the observation tower at Governor Dick is awesome.
Despite only being 66 feet high, the tower is just tall enough to see over most of the surrounding trees. Combined with its location on one of the highest hills in the area, the view from the top is quite expansive. In fact, it’s said that on a clear day, you can see five counties: Lebanon, Lancaster, Dauphin, Berks, and York.
If you thought getting to the Governor Dick Observation Tower was an adventure, just wait until you’re ready to climb to the top! At only 15 feet in circumference, a regular stairwell won’t work inside the narrow tower. So instead, two identical columns have been constructed, each with a series of ladders that are used for climbing to the top of the tower.
At roughly 8 feet tall, each ladder is just tall enough to accommodate tall visitors, but short enough that there is little danger from accidents. At the top of each ladder, you step off to a small platform, where the bottom of the next ladder will take you further up the tower.
All told, there are 8-9 ladders to the top of the tower. However, be warned that it can be a challenging climb, especially if you like ice cream as much as I do. The columns are quite narrow, which can create some very close quarters.
There are small windows at almost every landing, but those that are claustrophobic, overweight, or have mobility issues may have trouble reaching the top. However, if you can reach the top of the tower, it’s very well worth the effort.
The view from the top is very expansive with the 360-degree view only interrupted by treetops. The metal cage at the top is obviously effective, but doesn’t deter much from the view. There is some graffiti at the top of the tower, but not nearly as much as I thought there might be.
Unfortunately, there are no informational signs at the top of the tower to indicate what you are seeing. So, instead, I pulled out my phone and used the mapping application to see what was around me. While I might not have been able to see all five counties, I was able to pick out points of interest such as downtown Lebanon and the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire.
Overall, I would definitely recommend hiking Governor Dick and visiting the observation tower to anyone interested in a great hike and lookout. The tower is one of the most unique structures I’ve come across in Pennsylvania and makes for a grand adventure for anyone that can make it to the top.
How to Get to the Governor Dick Observation Tower
The Park at Governor Dick is located just outside of Mount Gretna in Lebanon County. Parking for the trailhead is along Pinch Road at the following coordinates: 40.244086, -76.463109. [Click here for information on how to use the coordinates in this article to find the trailhead.]
From this parking area, you’ll see a handful of trails branching off. Head up the trail furthest to your right, next to the stone monument. The trailhead is blocked by a yellow gate. There are two identical trails here that are within a few feet of each other and head to the same place. On the Park at Governor Dick map, they are labeled as trails 2 and 3.
After about half a mile of working along the fairly flat trail, you’ll come to an old roadbed (#1 on the park map). Here, head uphill for about a mile, following the trail. Towards the end of this trail, you’ll come to the top of the hill and a signpost that tells a bit about the history of the land. Keep walking straight and you’ll soon come to the Governor Dick Observation Tower.
If you visit on a crowded day, there may be a bit of a wait to get up the tower, as the ladders create limited capacity for those heading up and down. Note that while there is no sign saying which side of the tower is up and down, there is a small arrow on the backside entrance with an arrow pointing down.
Climb up the opposite side, leaving this side for those leaving the tower. Meeting someone going in the opposite direction would be quite challenging to deal with.
To head back down to your car, you can go back the way you came, but I enjoyed going a different way. The route that I took left the hilltop from the opposite side I entered, following trail 9 to trail 5, and then following that back to the parking area. This is a nice loop, and makes the total hike about three miles roundtrip.
If you are going to hike the trails at Governor Dick, it might be a good idea to save their map to your phone. I didn’t see any printed maps available at the parking area, and signage can be a bit spotty. (Note: The parking area listed above is the one on the map’s far left, just below “Mt. Gretna Heights.”)