Hiking Hidden Gem in Central Pennsylvania

When everything feels like an uphill struggle, just think of the view from the top.


Tucked away 30 minutes south of Lancaster, PA is one of the best hiking trails I’ve ever had the pleasure to explore on the east coast of the USA. Hikes along the east coast are known for their lush, green trails, massive trees, waterfalls, and streams to just name a few.

Moving to Lancaster, PA three years ago seemed like I was just moving to a small city surrounded by Amish farmland, and that’s definitely true. What I didn’t realize was that there were an astonishing number of hiking trails close to the city. I don’t mean just a handful either. There are dozens. We’re still working our way through them, but none of them have come close to the amazingness that is Kelly’s Run.

Where the Heck Is It?

Make your way to Lancaster, PA. Plug in Kelly’s Run Nature Preserve into your GPS. You should end up at T397 Holtwood, PA. Upon arrival, park in any of the spots in the gravel lot.

To start your hiking journey, you can set out on either entrance. Both are entrances to the same trail you’ll just see it from one direction instead of the other. One takes you to the left (if you’re facing the woods in the parking lot) through a field and the other entrance is to the right. Personally, I prefer to start my hike through the field, especially as the day gets hotter. You’ll walk through the field before it gets too hot which is even more advantageous if you bring pets.

What Do I Need to Bring?

Not too much! We always head out with a fanny pack for keys and snacks and sometimes a small backpack for extra water for the dogs. Below are a few of my suggestions.

  • Fanny pack or backpack
  • Water bottle with extra water
  • Waterproof or resistant shoes
  • Sunscreen
  • Bug spray
  • Snacks
  • Dog poo bags if you’re bringing your fur babes

How Difficult Is the Trail?

Don’t bring your grandma unless she’s a badass. This isn’t a technical trail by any means, but there is a smidge of climbing over rocks and walking up steep and sometimes narrow pathways. You’ll also cross over a shallow stream, but there are loose rocks to watch out for as with any water crossing.

The trail is just over 4 miles long. You’ll start at one end of the parking lot and end up walking straight through to end up at the other end of the parking lot. Some areas of the trails are not marked super well, but the path is very clear, so if you’re questioning it, you might want to reassess.

Is It Worth It?

Umm… YES. For many reasons.

Let’s talk about the views. First, you get fantastic views of the Susquehanna River at the very beginning of your hike (if you start at the field). You’ll be fully immersed in nature the entire time. You won’t hear a single car, bike, or whatever else that’s modern unless it’s a plane.

The scenery is gorgeous. You get lots of large and small plants, shrubs, and wild flowers throughout the hike. Then you’ll see bits of history as you pass closer to the water with ruins of bridges and other structures. Are they ugly though? Nope. They add a certain atmosphere that you’re in the middle of nowhere and nature is reclaiming everything. It’s neat!

Your dogs will be SO INSANELY HAPPY. Or your cat, pig, ostrich…idk what pets you guys have, but they are all welcome! There are fields for them to romp in, trails to run and sniff on, cool streams to run across and release the heat, and pools of water where they can safely swim. The second my dog, Atlas, realizes we’re getting anywhere near Kelly’s Run he goes nuts. It’s the most excited I’ve ever seen him on any hiking adventure he’s been on and believe me we’ve been on many.

“Emma, if this is so amazing it has to be packed, right?” Wrong. I’m not sure how more people don’t realize this exists. Every time we’ve been there have been several cars, but we’ve only passed a handful of people. The trail is so long and, in many places, wide that it’s easy to avoid people. Most people skip over Kelly’s Run to go to the more well-known and popular Tucquan Glen Nature Preserve. Those trails are MUCH more crowded, but fun as well.

What other bonuses are there you ask? There aren’t many bugs. Say it louder for the people in the back. THERE AREN’T MANY BUGS. No idea why, but it’s great. It’s clean. Over the past few years, Kelly’s Run would shut down periodically to undergo a complete revamp. The trails were cut back to remove overgrown trees and shrubs, the trails were fixed to make them much more passable, and the area was declared a nature preserve with an emphasis on bringing pollinators back to the area. Oh, ENTRANCE IS FREE. It costs nothing to hike the best trail in Lancaster. All the more reason to get outside and venture over to Kelly’s Run.

Want More Pictures?

You’re in luck! I have more! Also, please don’t hesitate to reach out if you have any questions.


4 thoughts on “Hiking Hidden Gem in Central Pennsylvania

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