Visiting the White Cliffs of Conoy: Lancaster County’s Strangest Outdoor Adventure
I’m always on the lookout for exciting things to see and do, especially when they are close to my home in Harrisburg. So, when I heard about a fun outdoor destination along the Susquehanna River in Conoy Township, I knew I had to check it out.
The White Cliffs of Conoy, as they are a called, is a nod to the White Cliffs of Dover in England. And, while not nearly as impressive as those across the pond, visiting the White Cliffs of Conoy is great for anyone looking for a unique outdoor activity in the Harrisburg/Lancaster area.
The cliffs are the result of a limestone quarry that once existed up the hill from the cliffs. Once pulled from the ground, the limestone and dolomite were crushed and burned creating a variety of products for local farms and businesses. Over the years, the excess limestone and dolomite was piled up near the river, creating large white mountains up to 30 feet tall. It’s entirely possible that the White Cliffs of Conoy are the first great industrial waste tourist attraction in the world.Up until mid-Summer 2014, the cliffs were on private land. However, the cliffs are now under the control of Conoy Township and open to the public.
While the cliffs might not be the most amazing sight along the Susquehanna River, they are certainly a unique attraction for anyone looking to see something completely different from anything else in the region. They also provide a great overlook point for the river below.
The cliffs themselves are comprised of two sections with a narrow gorge running in between. It is possible to reach the bottom of the cliffs by sliding about 20 feet down the walls of the first section you come to when hiking. In my opinion, the most impressive view of the cliffs is from the bottom, along the Susquehanna River. However, while no signage has existed during my visits to discourage this, make sure you obey any signage that might be put up in the future.It’s also worth noting that, since the White Cliffs of Conoy have only been opened to the public for a few years, there remains a lot of debris that could pose a danger to those not paying attention. Shards of rusty metal and old rope lie in the middle of the cliffs, so make sure to use caution when visiting, especially with children and pets.
At the time of publication, there is a plastic safety fence in place to keep visitors away from the tallest edges of the cliff. Hopefully, a more permanent fence will be erected soon because the orange one in place is a serious eyesore in photographs and is quite far back from the actual edge, obstructing some of the views (Update: The orange fencing is still in place as of April 2016).
Getting to the White Cliffs of Conoy
Visiting the White Cliffs of Conoy is quite simple, thanks to a paved path that takes visitors right to the cliffs.
Parking is in Koser Park, a small park owned by the American Legion that’s already a popular boat launch. The parking lot is located at the following coordinates: 40.089838, -76.670566.
From there, follow the paved trail located just to the right of the train tracks. The trail to the White Cliffs of Conoy is about 1.5 miles long and is fairly level and smooth, making it a great path for bike riders or strollers.The area around the trail was once home to the company town of Billmyer. Once home to roughly 1,000 residents, the town is now nothing more than a pile of ruins in the woods. The most noticeable ruins are the old limestone factory on your left just before the cliffs and the foundations of several small buildings about five minutes down the trail from the cliffs. If you are looking to extend the hike, the trail to the cliffs continues all the way to Marietta, with plans to extend it to Columbia and beyond. This makes for a great walking or biking trail that has great views of the Susquehanna River for most of its route. Along the way, don’t miss the bald eagles nest and the impressive Shocks Mill Bridge, which carries trains over the river.
There are even more options for exploration further south on the Susquehanna River, including Tucquan Glen Nature Preserve in Lancaster County and Mill Creek Falls and Duncan Run Falls in York County.
[Click here for information on how to use coordinates to find your destination.]