One problem with being a waterfall lover in the Harrisburg area is that there aren’t many waterfalls close to the area. Sure, I can get to a lot of great Pennsylvania waterfalls in a few hours, but if I want to stay closer to home, there really aren’t any options outside of Swatara Falls or Acriggs Falls.
Mill Creek Falls is located in a very rural section of York County, just off Route 372 near Holtwood Dam. Coming from downtown York, I turned off of the main road onto River Road immediately before crossing the Norman Wood Bridge over the Susquehanna River to Lancaster County, where there are also great hikes such as Tucquan Glen.
After driving for about a mile, I crossed a bridge and came to an unmarked, but quite obvious trailhead that headed off on my left at approximately these coordinates: 39.819163, -76.336048. This is the Mason-Dixon Trail, a nearly 200-mile trail that is popular with day hikers. However, very little hiking is required to reach Mill Creek Falls. In fact, the whole trip to the top of the falls takes less than five minutes from the trailhead.
When you get to Mill Creek Falls, you’ll have a wonderful look over them. Roughly 20 feet from top to bottom, the falls makes two turns in 3 different drops. From the top of the bank, you can get a great view of the falls, but wanting to see it more closely, I scrambled down the very steep and slippery slope to the bottom of the falls. If you opt to do this yourself, be very careful as it was quite difficult.
From the bottom of Mill Creek Falls, the angle and slope of the falls looks quite different than it does from the top. Because of the twists in the falls, it is actually a bit harder to see the entire falls from the bottom than it is from the top. However, being so close to the beauty of the falls is certainly worth the trip to the bottom in my opinion.
Back on the trail, I continued along for another 5-10 minutes of relatively easy walking. Along the stream, there were several sections of small cascades, that made the creek quite beautiful and added the wonderful sound of falling water to the soundtrack of the forest.
Eventually, I reached a fork in the creek. While the trail continues to follow the right fork of the creek, I wanted to head up the left side to see a smaller waterfall often called Upper Mill Creek Falls. Unfortunately, getting to this waterfall not only requires some tricky wading and rock balancing, but also requires navigating a small logjam in the creek.
The falls behind the logjam are quite scenic, though only about 6-8 feet tall.
Overall, Mill Creek Falls is surprisingly unknown given how impressive it is and how popular the Mason-Dixon Trail is. However, once you are done with the falls, there is still adventure to be had in the area.
At this point along the Susquehanna River once ran the Susquehanna and Tidewater Canal. Going the 45 miles from Wrightsville, Pennsylvania, to Havre De Grace, Maryland, the canal was open from 1840-1895 and carried lumber, coal, grain, and other supplies along the river.
While several areas of the canal can still be seen today, the best preserved is Lock 12, which is on the same road for Mill Creek Falls, just off of Route 372 (look for signs for the lock when driving back to the main road).
The walls of the lock are quite well preserved and still show signs of where the old doors would have been. View of the lock can be had from the top or from inside the lock, giving you a unique vantage point. In the vicinity are several signs that explain the history of the canal and how it worked. You’ll also likely notice the ruins of several buildings that would have been in use during the mid-1800s.
From the Lock 12 area, it’s also worthwhile to follow some of the trails behind the lock down to the Susquehanna River just a few minutes walk away. Being below Holtwood Dam, the river here is very shallow with many small pools full of minnows and crayfish. This scenic area is definitely worth checking out for its semi-natural beauty.
I would definitely recommend a visit to Mill Creek Falls and the Lock 12 Area. This quiet corner of York County provides a great mix of beautiful natural scenery and interesting history sure to give you a few hours of fun.
Check out the location of Mill Creek Falls on the map below.
[Click here for information on how to use the coordinates in this article to find your destination.]