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Kelly’s Run Pinnacle Trail System

posted on March 30, 2015

Ramble through raspberry patches and shaded glens. Ford streams and circle natural pools in scenic Southwestern Lancaster County

A Massive Preservation Effort

The Pennsylvania Power and Light Company (or PPL) manages some 5,000 acres in Lancaster and York Counties – a massive preservation effort touching Lake Aldred and the lower Susquehanna River. As part of the Holtwood hydroelectric project, PPL maintains a large network of national recreation and trail systems – 7.5 miles of which are devoted to the exploration of the Kelly’s Run Natural Area along the lower Susquehanna’s southeastern shore.

The “Kelly’s Run Pinnacle Preserve” now combines the Kelly’s Run trails, the former PPL Pinnacle preserve and the former PPL Holtwood Nature Preserve.

A Secluded Pennsylvania Treasure

Listed consistently as one of the top hikes in all of Pennsylvania, the Kelly’s Run trail is predominately a four mile loop. It’s accessible through the Holtwood Picnic and Recreation Area, and boasts a well-blazed path that winds through a forest, turns along Kelly’s Run itself, and then culminates in layered woods and sloping fields as it circles back around to the park.

While You Walk

The preserve is comprised mostly of steep hills and sharp inclines – climbing to about 400 to 700 feet in elevation. There’s a thoroughly-beaten equestrian path and plenty of off-shooting deer trails. The stream route is fairly level – where the remnants of an old stone road blink through flattened rocks beside the rushing water.

Kelly’s Run, which flows throughout one corner of the whole preserve, is itself a direct tributary of the Susquehanna River

Still Life and Flora

Some small, mature timber stands sentry throughout the area – whereas the larger part of the preserve contains burly oaks and maples. Spring wildflowers and flowering trees – including blue violets and marsh blue, dog and yellow wood, as well as two species of white violets – litter the almost mystical landscape. Wild geraniums, May apples, Solomon’s seal, Dwarf Ginseng, Harbinger of Spring, Cucumber Root, Blue Cohosh, Rue Anemone, and many others are speckled throughout the whole of the Kelly’s Run Area.

When in season, the flowers of Red Bud (Cercis Canadensis), Dogwood flowers (Cornus Florida), and subtle flowering Sassafras peek out from quiet corners. Plumes of Wild Azalea and Rhododendron – as well as the Laurel (Pennsylvania’s state flower) also grow nearby. Both common and uncommon ferns are found along the cliffs, caves and waterfalls that mark the natural walls above Kelly’s Run.

Fauna in the Conservancy

Various amphibians can be found among hillside seeps and water-growing vegetation. You’ll see everything from salamanders and opossums to deer and turkeys as you explore the preserve. The Kelly’s Run Area is a major attraction for birdwatchers – local and otherwise – as (depending on the time of year) you’ll find Finches, Sparrows, Vireos, Warblers, Woodpeckers, Buntings, Nuthatches, Vultures and Hawks.


To access the Kelly’s Run preserve, you’ll hike PPL’s “blue-blazed Kelly’s Run Recreation Trail”.

Alternately, if you’d rather end the trip in its cooler, finer points – you can cross Kelly’s Run and round-off your hike among the sterling pools and tumbling waterfalls of the conservancy. To take a walk on the wilder side – follow the Blue-Blazed Recreation Trail until you come to the second power line. Then cut in to the right, tread carefully to the bottom of the hill, turn left at Kelly’s Run and follow it to the sign for the Conservancy at the far side of the stream. This is the southeastern corner of the preserve – and it’s the choice adventure for hiking in high summer.

Bring Friends

If you’re not much of a solitary, meditative hiker (and if your hiking buddies aren’t up for the steeper, more daunting jolts of Kelly’s Run) – you can bring your dog along! The Kelly’s Run Pinnacle Trail System is a top spot for hikers who want to bring their canine companions (and they’ll appreciate the rocky pools and shaded clearings all along the trail).

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June 2024
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