Hiking Through the Beautifully Unique Nottingham Serpentine Barrens of Nottingham County Park
Located in southeastern Pennsylvania, about a mile north of the border with Maryland, sits one of the state’s most unique landscapes: the Nottingham Serpentine Barrens.
Declared a National Natural Landmark in 2008, the Nottingham Serpentine Barrens represent a unique, desert-like environment, where rare plants grow and animals thrive. The barrens are protected inside Nottingham County Park, a 650-acre park which offers all the usual community park amenities, in addition to some fantastic trails through the barrens.
A hike through the Nottingham Serpentine Barrens offers a great way to see this unique landscape and is one of the most enjoyable hikes that I’ve done in the Philadelphia suburbs. The barrens are crisscrossed by over 10 miles of hiking trails that allow outdoor loves to get a closer look at this landscape.
I recently had the chance to visit Nottingham County Park and hike to the Nottingham Serpentine Barrens after I toured the nearby Herr’s Snack Foods Factory. I started by parking my car on the eastern edge of the main parking area near the restrooms and a picnic pavilion.
I started my hike along the yellow-blazed Chrome Trail. While the trails are fairly well marked and there are signs indicating major trail changes, there are no maps that I could find. Make sure to take your phone with you and have the park’s digital map open. This will make sure that you don’t get lost while hiking at the park.
The Chrome Trail follows through a fairly normal woodland area before quickly changing into the barrens. After hiking for a few minutes, there is a marker denoting the site as a National Natural Landmark. Shortly after this marker, the Chrome Trail dead ends into the Doe Trail. The Doe Trail runs in both directions, enabling a loop no matter which way you head. I opted to head uphill to the left and straight into the heart of the Nottingham Serpentine Barrens.
To be honest, I didn’t really know what to expect during my hike. I couldn’t find much information about the difficulty of the trails here or even exactly what type of plants I’d see.
The trails that I took through the park were fairly easy, though very rocky in places. There were also a few hills, with one hill in particular along the Buck Trail that was particularly steep, though fairly short lived.
As for the type of plants, it’s honestly a bit hard to describe, as the landscape seems completely out of place. To be honest, it struck me as the type of landscape you’d expect to see on an African safari or in some parts of Texas. While there is a lot of green to be seen and many places have thick undergrowth, the plants look like they belong in a more barren landscape.
The Doe Trail takes you along the eastern edge of the Nottingham Serpentine Barrens. While the entire area is of a similar makeup, a large field in the middle of the park contains the most unique portion of the landscape.
At the top of a small hill, the Doe Trail meets the red-blazed Buck Trail. This is the longest trail in the park, running 2.73 miles along the park’s southern edge. Turn right on this trail to head west along the southern edges of the barrens. This trail features some of the park’s most rugged terrain and seems a world away from the parking area.
Following this trail is fairly straightforward, but not all of the turnoffs from this trail are well marked. Case in point, despite my desire to continue along the Buck Trail until it reached Firebreak #10, I accidentally turned onto the orange-blazed Lonesome Pine Trail (Note to trail designers: Don’t intersect orange and red-blazed trails. The colors look too similar when painted on a tree).
The Lonesome Pine Trail travels along the western edges of the barrens, eventually entering into a forested area that seems like a mix of barrens and more typical Pennsylvania forest. I hiked along this trail for several minutes, and didn’t realize my mistake until I reached the white-blazed Doe Trail again. Confusions like this are why having access to a map is important, even if it’s just on your phone, as it makes figuring out where you are and how to get to where you want to be a much simpler process.
My original plan had me hiking the Buck Trail to Firebreak #10 so that I could see the Mystery Hole, a former quarry that’s marked on the western side of the park map. Not to be deterred from my goal, I opted to turn left on the Doe Trail and head towards the Mystery Hole. Should you want to do a shorter loop of the Pine Barrens, heading right on the Doe Trail will bring you to the Chrome Trail and back to your car in just a few minutes.
Heading west again on the Doe Trail, I hiked along the trail until it ended at the Feldspar Trail. Along the way, I crossed a bridge and passed a veterans’ memorial in the middle of this beautiful forest. At the Feldspar Trail, I turned left to head north. After crossing another bridge and walking up another short hill, I reached the Mystery Hole.
I couldn’t find any information online about the hole, but it was obviously an old quarry that has now filled with water. A chain link fence keeps you from getting to close of a look at the Mystery Hole, but it’s close enough that you can still see in without too much trouble.
After a few minutes at the Mystery Hole, I retraced my steps back down the Feldspar Trail. Turned right onto the Doe Trail, and, when I reached the Chrome Trail, turned left to return to my car.
Had I done the hike as I had originally intended, I would have stayed on the red-blazed Buck Trail until I reached Firebreak #10 and taken that to the Feldspar Trail. These firebreaks are common in the park and noted on the maps. However, they are narrow and very overgrown, though from what I can tell, not difficult to follow. Bear this in mind if you are adding a firebreak to your hike.
If I visit again in the future, I’d likely stay on the Buck Trail until it intersects with the Feldspar Trail. The hike would be a bit longer, but it would stay on the well-maintained trails of Nottingham County Park.
Figuring out the exact mileage hiked is a bit of a challenge as the trails continue on beyond the routes taken. However, I’d guess that the shortest loop of the Nottingham Serpentine Barrens would be about two miles, while the longest loop would be about three and a half miles. Since the trails don’t have a significant amount of elevation gain, each loops offers a great way to spend a few hours in this park.
Having come into my visit to the Nottingham Serpentine Barrens at Nottingham County Park without much knowledge of what was there, I was blown away by the uniqueness and beauty of the park. If you’re looking for a great hike through one of Pennsylvania’s most unique landscapes, take the time to visit Nottingham County Park in southern Chester County, PA.
How to Get to the Nottingham Serpentine Barrens
The Nottingham Serpentine Barrens are located in Chester County’s Nottingham County Park. The park is located just off of Route 1, a very short distance north of the Maryland border. The address for the park is 150 Park Road, Nottingham, Pennsylvania 19362.
To get to the main parking area, turn into the park’s main entrance and take the first left. Drive to the back of the main parking lot, near a bathroom area, and park here. The best place to park is located at the following coordinates: 39.739873, -76.037153.
Looking to enjoy more of the natural beauty in southeastern Pennsylvania? Stop at Longwood Gardens or the Chester County covered bridges on the way. Getting a little hungry? Stop at the Herr’s Factory for a tour.
[Click here for information on how to use the coordinates in this article to find your destination.]