Until recently, I’d never heard of Swatara State Park. Despite it being less than an hour from my home in Harrisburg and right off of Interstate 81, a highway I frequently travel, it hadn’t even crossed my radar. However, while doing some research for under-the-radar places to visit in Pennsylvania, I stumbled across this fascinating place and knew I had to check it out.
Swatara State Park was formed in 1987 with the idea of damming the Swatara Creek to create a lake at the park. However, for a variety of reasons, plans never materialized, and in 2012, the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (PA DCNR) started to create trails and other recreational areas in the park.
Fortunately, for those of us who like history, beautiful scenery, and waterfalls, the lack of a lake is a great thing.
Looking at the park map after my visit, I was surprised to find that the highlights of the park, Bordner Cabin and Aycrigg’s Waterfall, didn’t even make the official state park map.
Bordner Cabin was hand-built in 1939 by local high school teacher, Armar Bordner, and some of his students. Because the cabin was built out of materials that they found nearby, it helped it blend into the woods next to Aycrigg’s Falls.
Being next to the Swatara State Park waterfall, the cabin has drawn comparisons to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater. However, the comparison is a bit of a stretch given that we’re comparing a rustic cabin to a high-end home. Nevertheless, Bordner Cabin is quite exquisite in its location.
When the area around the creek was designated a park, the state of Pennsylvania tried to seize the home under eminent domain. However, Bordner resisted and was allowed to stay in his home until his death. After his passing in 1994, the cabin was leased to the Boy Scouts for a few years before plans were again drawn up to tear down the cabin.
However, the cabin was again saved, this time by a group of local residents who repaired the cabin, but removed the windows and utilities to avoid potentially costly repairs. This local piece of history had finally been saved.
The area surrounding the cabin is equally beautiful. Aycrigg’s Falls is 40+ feet high and runs directly outside the cabin’s giant picture window. This waterfall comes down the hill in a series of 4-5 drops, with the top of the waterfall being a drainage pipe directly under Interstate 81.
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Aycrigg’s Falls flows in all seasons, but is reduced to a trickle for most of the year, as it was when I visited in mid-September. However, when I visited during a late winter thaw, the waterfall was flowing very well, and the multiple drops made for a very nice waterfall that was well worth the long hike.
This park is known for a lot of things, from Swatara State Park fishing to hiking and mountain biking. However, it’s the place that’s not on the map that contains the most interest for me. If you get a chance, I would highly recommend a visit to Bordner Cabin and Aycrigg’s Falls in Swatara State Park.
How to get to Bordner Cabin and Aycrigg’s Falls in Swatara State Park
Swatara State Park is located in northwestern Lebanon County and runs several miles along Interstate 81. However, despite being so close to the interstate, it takes a few minutes to reach the parking area from the nearest exit.
When I visited the park, I parked at a small parking area adjacent to Waterville Bridge, a historic structure that carries the Appalachian Trail over Swatara Creek.
From the parking area, hike along Bear Hole Trail for about 2.5 miles to reach the cabin. Bear Hole Trail was formerly known as Old State Road, but, despite what Apple Maps might say, the road has been closed for over 20 years.
Unfortunately, as you hike, there is the nearly constant sound of traffic from the interstate on the ridgeline above, but the walk is scenic nonetheless, including passing some ruins from the Union Canal. The cabin is located about 100 yards off the trail to your right.
Coming back, you can go back the way you came, or cross over Swatara Creek using the Sand Siding Trail, which you passed about half a mile before reaching the cabin.
When you reach the end of Sand Siding Trail, turn left for the roughly 3-mile hike back to the parking area. It’s worth noting that the trail is half a peaceful walk through the woods and half along the pothole-ridden remains of an old road.
For those looking for the shortest route to the cabin and falls, there is another parking area at the end of Sand Siding Road, which should cut your hike down to approximately 1.5 miles each way.
For more information, check out the park map for Swatara State Park. However, be aware that Bordner Cabin and Aycrigg’s Falls are not on the map. Because of that, it might be best to refer to the map below, which shows the location of the cabin and waterfall (red pin), along with the primary parking area (blue pin) and secondary parking area (yellow pin).
Looking for other places to visit in the area? Check out Sweet Arrow Lake Park and Memorial Lake State Park. You can also kayak through the area with Cocoa Kayaks.
See map below for other area attractions.
22 thoughts on “Visiting the Hidden Gems of Swatara State Park”
I love your website,Uncovering Pa. We visited this lovely spot on Sunday via bikes.I have a question,I think it’s Bear Hole Trail not Bear Run Trail?It’s worth the hike or biking expedition to see this lovely waterfall.We hit a good time since we just had a rainy Saturday.Lots of water coming over the falls!
I’m glad you enjoyed your visit, Elaine. I actually thought about visiting the waterfall on Sunday, but decided to visit a couple further north. I’d love to see it with good water flow at some point there. Thanks for the note on the trail name. I have it correct in the article, but the photo caption did list it incorrectly. Sorry about that, it’s been fixed.
read some of your posts, all good. thanks.
Actually, bear hole road has not been closed for 20 years. It was permanently blocked off much more recent than that to prevent traffic from going down there. In 2005 you could still drive down it (I did to be married in front of Acriggs Falls). Also along that road, if you know where to look, there are the remains of an old canal that ran through there. Check it out but be careful! Nature is rapidly retaking these ruins and one of them is very tall. It is possible to walk off the edge of it if you are not paying attention. They can all be found on the riverside of the road.
All in all this was an awesome post and glad you found the falls. I grew up in this area and always loved them.
Traffic is still allowed from time to time for various reasons, including one day a year that is open to the public. However, it has been closed as a public road for several decades.
Thank you for this wonderful description of Swatara Park. I’d like to stop there on my way from CT to Rockhill PA.
Can you tell me where to park?
I have not yet decided whether i’ll be traveling on I-78 or I-81.
I thank you in advance for any help you may be able to offer. I’ve checked your map as well as this map https://www.dcnr.state.pa.us/cs/groups/public/documents/document/dcnr_003057.pdf
But I can find no place to park.
The closest parking spot to the cabin and the falls is at the end of Sand Siding Road. The section that I parked when I wrote this is next to the Waterville Bridge on Old State Road. Hope that helps. Enjoy your visit.
I parked off of Swopes Valley Road, about a 1/4 mile south of State Route 443 (large parking area); hiked on Bear Hole Trail to the cabin. It was scenic hike. The roar of the traffic was not quite as loud, because the trail lies below I-81.
Thanks for doing the article on Swatara State Park. Just an FYI for any future articles, the proper spelling of the name of the falls is “Aycrigg’s Falls”, named after the chief engineer for the Union Canal Company’s Branch Canal to Pinegrove. At the time of the canal, the falls were almost on the banks of the Big Dam Reservoir formed by a 430′ long dam in the Swatara Gap. The dam was 50 feet high on the Bear Hole Trail side and dropped down on the western 200 feet spillway to 40 feet high. When water was flowing over the dam, the Big Reservoir backed water up to the old Swatara Valley Airport.
Dave, Thanks for the heads up. I based the name of the waterfall off of the writing on the rock next to it, since I couldn’t find any official sources on it. I changed it in the article.
I grew up driving the old state Road on several weekends every month. Most people didn’t know about it then…thankfully. ..is was my get away from people and cars. Now you have to walk it “if you can” It’s 12 miles from beginning at the bridge (drive over bridge ) to seudberg a ghost town now,with beautiful drive on trails. I miss driving it in the worst way and knowing sp many more people know about it ?
On behalf of the Swatara Watershed Association, leaseholder to the Bordner Cabin, thank you for helping to promote the Bordner Cabin. As volunteers, restoring and maintaining this incredible and historic site is a labor of love. We started by replacing the roof, then set out to bring the building into compliance with PA Labor and Industry standards by shoring up the floor as well as the cantilever porch (similar to Falling Water), placed guards in upper windows, repaired the rock wall along Rattling Run…. Some time back, I discovered audio tapes of Armar Bordner, who built the Cabin, at the Lebanon County Historical Society, and broke them down into two tapes to which I put historical pictures. One is on the Bordner Cabin, and the other is about Armar’s life growing up in the Deborah Norris Coleman Brock mansion in what is now Coleman Park. Also, I had the privilege of interviewing Linda, Armar’s daughter. In fact, there is an Armar Bordner channel on our website. Ground Pilot Videos also created a first-class drone video of the Bordner Cabin and Aycrigg’s Falls. We are so blessed to have the support of the community and people like you, Jim. We have two formal history walks coming up this summer, and welcome your readers to join us.
• July 22, 2017 Hike to Bordner Cabin with WellSpan president Tom Harlow. Walking together for better Health. Meet at Sand Siding Road @ 9AM.
• September 24, 2017 Hike and History Tour to the Bordner Cabin, 1-3PM
For more information: https://users.mbcomp.com/swatara/State%20Park/bordner_cabin.htm
For the record, Swatara Watershed Association has requested that the Bordner Cabin be included on DCNR Park maps and brochures to show that we are partners in this endeavor. The Bordner Cabin is a point of interest, and our favorite lunch stop on the Swatara Water Trail.
PS: Drive through Swatara State Park 9AM-3PM the 2nd Fri & Sat monthly & 4th Fri & Sat Mar, Apr, Sep & Oct. Rangers do not allow you to stop or park. So to see the Cabin from the road, you’ll have to wait until the leaves are down.
For hikers, bikers, and horseback riders, Swatara Watershed Association pays for a portable toilet at the Bordner Cabin from May 1 – October 31. With the help of Mike Willeman, we fashioned an “outhouse” looking surround.
I was introduced to Armar Bordner by a mutual friend about 3 or 4 years before his passing. We only met once. At the time I was informed about his home and how it had been built. Mr. Bordner was interesting to talk to and seemed to be of sound mind and body when we met. I visited the home site and falls a couple of times while the Boy Scouts had it. I can see why he built there, it is beautiful. I would have been very happy living there. So glad the home has been saved.
Thank you for helping my husband and I find this gem during our visit to the park! The map that you have included in this post with the pins was incredibly helpful.
That’s great to hear! Glad you had a nice visit.
I forgot to mention this in my earlier comment. I used to own a horse farm near Fredericksburg, Pa and often trailered horses to trail ride all over east-central PA. One day on a ride about 1990, riding out of the wash-out area by the Swatara Creek, an animal jumped out of the brush onto the wide trail. Our experienced trail horses remained calm and just stopped. I had about 3 seconds to take a good look and was totally surprised to identify this animal as a mountain lion (cougar). I double checked my mental image in our encyclopedia when I got home. Many people I told about this incident “poo-pood” me. However, several “old timers” I knew and talked with confirmed there had been a good population of the animals during their life-time and suspected a few have bred and survived over the years. It is a sighting I will never forget.
Definitely interesting. It’s worth noting that, according to the Pennsylvania Game Commission, there are no mountain lions in Pennsylvania. However, you aren’t the first person I’ve heard with stories of seeing them.
My sighting was about 28 years ago. One of the older outdoors men did relate to me he had some information about the PA Game Commission trapping a number of our wild turkeys years before and trading them to a western state for a couple of cougars to be released in PA. He assumed this was for deer population control. I have never been able to verify this.
Thanks to your waterfalls book that I recently purchased, I made a visit after a recent rain. Didn’t think much of the hike to the cabin (kinda boring) but at least it was short. But the cabin and falls were terrific! A lovely destination!
Definitely not the most exciting hike, but you’re right, it’s a beautiful spot, especially when the waterfall is flowing well.
Nice site and information about Swatara State Park.