How to Spend a Day in Southern Lancaster County, PA

Scenic Countryside Drive

Outside of the city of Lancaster, the county of Lancaster is very rural. It is quite scenic, with rolling hills of farmland all around, and many picturesque covered bridges. You’re likely to see Amish buggies clip clopping along the roads, or horse-pulled plows out on the fields, with straw hats and bonnets on the people in the yards. 

Octoraro Lake

If you’re familiar with the Lancaster area, you have likely driven over Octoraro Lake on Route 472. After spotting bald eagles flying above and great blue heron sheltering along the banks, we finally stopped one day, parking at Jim Neary’s Bait & Tackle and took a walk along the shore. There are benches and a boat launch. Someday we hope to return and rent a paddle boat to explore this reservoir.

Pinnacle Overlook

There are some very lovely nature preserves and overlooks at the southern end of the county, along the Susquehanna River. Here you can find Susquehannock State Park and Pinnacle Overlook. The park has several other overlooks, but we chose to visit Pinnacle. The view is right at the edge of the parking lot, and it’s beautiful. There are trails at either end you can take, as well as a few picnic tables and a clean portable restroom. If you take the trail on the right facing the overlook, there is no barrier and a deadly steep drop off to the river gorge, so keep a close eye on kids and dogs. 

“It looks like Bob Ross paint that” -5 y/o Grace 🙂

Venture just across the river into York County to see Holtwood Dam and Mill Creek Falls. There are numerous trails to access near Lock 12, as well as picnic tables, portable restrooms and a small playground, but you can also continue down the narrow gravel road closer to the dam. Before you reach the lot near the dam, you’ll see an unmarked but clear trailhead opposite the river that leads to Mill Creek Falls. 

Mill Creek Falls

The falls can be seen almost immediately upon starting on the trail, and go on in fits and starts for perhaps a quarter mile or so. There is no barrier but the trail is well maintained and can be enjoyed by the whole family. You can climb down to rocks next to the falls in several places, but take care as it is damp, mossy and a bit slick. 

The hike is a beautiful one, even in winter, when the brilliant green of the moss contrasts with the glossy dark rocks and bare trees, all bedecked with the lacey ribbon of water tumbling downhill. The area is covered with what looks like rhododendron, so we will be returning in spring to see if we can catch them in bloom. At the top of the falls you can continue up what looks like an enchanted staircase of rocks and wood to really get your heart pumping and your steps in.

Holtwood Dam

Also of interest is the dam itself. Continue down the gravel road to the lot closest to the dam, and walk down to the river if it’s a clear day. (There are signs everywhere saying the river can rise with dangerous speed, thus you don’t want to explore the area near the dam when there’s potential for rain.) It is a good way for kids to learn about hydroelectric power, as you can hear, see and feel the power of the river rolling over the dam and it’s easy to imagine it being converted into electricity. 

Amish Country

The city of Lancaster is about a half hour from this area, and there are restaurants closer than that. We like to stop at Dutch Way on route 41, but there are a variety of places to get Amish made food, which is delicious, or buy homemade Amish goods. You’ll share the road with buggies, especially on Sundays or around sunset, so be careful and enjoy the glimpse into this unusual way of life. 

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