Sunday Adventuring: Shenk’s Ferry Wildflower Preserve
First of all: My body would like you to know that I’m about to tell you that this is an “easy” hike and it disagrees. It might be that the hike was combined with planting seeds the day before and way more bending and lifting and squatting that this old girl is used to. So, it might be “easy” but I was still sore all over, which feels really good. It’s a direct reflect of how out of shape I am, though, not a reflection of the terrain.
Once upon a time, I was in the Outdoors Club in high school and it’s almost comical to think about now. I hiked and camped. Spent two weeks canoeing in Canada and went white water rafting and jumped off of cliffs two summers in a row. I love this stuff and want it to be one of the major things my kids remember about childhood – dirty feet and wild freedom and exploration without constraints. But I’ve been so self-conscious the past few years that I’ve let it keep me from getting out and moving and as a result (surprise, surprise) I’ve gained more weight…and it’s all a vicious cycle. So, I decided that I’m getting outside and going on adventures more, especially with my family. I need the exercise and prefer it 100 to 1 over being in a gym and it just makes my soul feel good.
I decided to do some digging and find an easy hike for us to explore. Sunday mornings are going to be family adventure time. I remembered passing a trail head for the Appalachian Trail last year that I’ve wanted to check out ever since, but it was a bit farther than I wanted to go and there are so many amazing trails that are closer, so I googled a little bit more, thinking about Tucquan Glen and knowing that there are some incredible spots in southern Lancaster County, but knowing that Tucquan Glen would be a little too difficult for the kids right now, at least until we get a few easier trails under our belts. When a Wildflower Preserve listed as an easy hike popped up in my search, I was sold.
We headed out on Sunday morning for a hike at Shenk’s Ferry Wildflower Preserve. When I read online, it said that the blooms were most abundant from March-May, but I think it’s all a little bit slow this year. There were blooms, but much more there was a general sheen of spring green everywhere on the ground that meant that everything major was still on the way. There was less blooming than I had thought would be there by now, but TONS coming up everywhere so it will be perfect by May. We’re definitely heading back in a few weeks again to see more flowers, the kids had a ton of fun trying to find new colors and count how many different types we found. It was a little hard to get to because there’s a dirt road in, but worth it, especially since it was a really easy, short trail that was mostly flat with great views for the kids. I really want to hike a lot more now that they’re a bit bigger and it was a great place to start. I always forget how close so many beautiful places are around here, it was beautiful and felt so good to get outside!
Location: Shenk’s Ferry Wildflower Preserve in Holtwood, PA, listed as, “one of the most impressive wildflower areas in the eastern United States and certainly one of the most popular natural locations in Lancaster County.” A 50-acre glen with 73 identified species of flowers blooming in the spring alone – another 60 varieties bloom through the summer and fall.
Trail: The main trail is 1 mile and it’s an easy walking trail with mostly flat terrain.
Getting There: We followed the directions in this pdf brochure and made it fine. The last bit of getting there is along a dirt road for a bit, so make sure your car can handle some bumps and dirt. “From Lancaster: Take New Danville Pike to Conestoga, veer left onto River Corner Road at the post office. After 1.3 miles you will come to River Road. Go straight across River Road to Shenk’s Ferry Road. Turn left at Green Hill Road. Follow this road through the tunnel and bear left 200 feet past the tunnel. The trailhead is located next to Grubb Run.” I’d add to that a note that it’s still a few more minutes past the tunnel after you go through. I could see it on the map, so it wasn’t a huge deal, but it wasn’t right after the tunnel, you had to go through and veer to the left and follow the railroad tracks down the road a bit further to get to the entrance to the trail. There also wasn’t a ton of parking, so be aware of that if you’re going on a weekend or busy day. We got there around 9am and there were only 2 other cars, but by the time we left around 10:30/10:45 on a Sunday morning, lots more people were arriving.
What We Took:
- A backpack
- ch kid brought a friend that was small enough to put in the backpack. Normally I wouldn’t let them bring toys, but he’s been especially nervous about new stuff lately and I knew that he’d feel a little bit better if he had a friend to hold. And if he got to bring one, she need to bring one as well, that’s just how it goes. It worked out well and he held his bunny the whole time with no whining, so I’d suggest it if you have little ones who are nervous about new places.
- Water (duh.) But maybe this isn’t such a “duh?” When I started filling up a full water bottle for each of us, John asked me why. He didn’t think we needed it. “The trail is only a mile long, how much could we drink?” But 1 mile could be really far with kids, especially kids who could potentially be unhappy. Plus, you just never know. I’d rather have it and not worry.
- A tiny first aid kit
- Snacks. Enough for lunch since I wasn’t sure how long we’d be out, but it was easy stuff. Cut up oranges, cheese sticks, almonds, raisins, peanut butter crackers, fruit leather and I meant to throw in an apple for each of us but forgot.
- My camera
- Binoculars. These were used a ton – they loved having them!
A few other notes:
- It’s hard to tell because of how I had my camera settings and the lens I had on my camera, but the drop-offs here are steep, at least to parents with little kids. 90% of the trail was steep drops down the side that I’d be nervous to attempt by myself and in most spots I wouldn’t consider trying to get down to the water (though it would beckon like crazy on a hot day!) If I were a climber in great shape, they might be no big deal at all, but I’m not:) I was far less nervous than my husband with the kids, but 2 years ago I’m not sure that I would have wanted 2 year old Nick anywhere near this trail, I just wouldn’t have been able to enjoy it because I’d be trying to herd them away from the edge of the trail the whole time. So I just wanted to share that in case you have really little ones, especially dare-devils or those with no fear.
- There’s a port-a-potty at the start of the trail and it wasn’t awful at all. There are also a few benches along the trail if you want to stop to hang out or have lunch or something.
- The trail is just down the road from the Safe Harbor Dam, so it was an easy stop on the way home to check it out. I included our family photo since you guys never get to see me – I used the self-timer to get us all in and it’s a good example of a not-great photo that still means a lot to all of us:)
Fun Resources for hiking with kids:
National Geographic’s Top 10 Family-Friendly Hikes in U.S. Parks – are you near any of these??