HERITAGEPA TRAVEL FEATURE: Journey through the Susquehanna Heritage Area

By Jim Cheney, UncoveringPA

The Susquehanna River is one of the most beautiful waterways in Pennsylvania. At over 464 miles in length, it’s the longest river on the east coast and the longest river in the U.S. with no commercial boat traffic. However, it’s not just a beautiful river with great opportunities for recreation, it’s also incredibly historic and played a key role in the development of the United States. Because of this, the river’s scenic route through the Susquehanna Riverlands of Lancaster and York Counties is home to the Susquehanna Heritage Area and the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Heritage Trail.

No visit to the Susquehanna Riverlands is complete without a visit to the Susquehanna Heritage Area’s two visitor education centers. They both serve as gateways to the area, offering not only recommendations for things to do and places to visit, but exhibits and programs that will enhance any trip to the area.

The Zimmerman Center for Heritage is located a few miles south of Wrightsville, Pennsylvania, along the Susquehanna River. This mid-18th century home has been restored and features Native American exhibits, information about the river, and the Visions of the Susquehanna River Art Collection, along with a dock and paddlecraft landing. The center is also a trailhead for exploring the adjacent Native Lands County Park.

The Zimmerman Center also serves as Pennsylvania’s Official Visitor Contact and Passport Station for the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail. This 3000-mile-long water trail focuses on telling the story of the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries, as well as the Native Americans that once lived along their shores. Visitors can participate in scheduled programs or take a few minutes to talk to a heritage guide about the National Historic Trail’s history and learn about Captain Smith’s interactions with the Susquehannocks that once lived in the region.

A few miles upstream, in historic Columbia on the Lancaster County side of the river, is the Columbia Crossing River Trails Center. Just completed in the last few years, the center offers educational opportunities and rotating exhibits that focus on the river and its impact on the environment of the region. The center is also a trailhead for the Northwest River Trail and the site of a popular boat launch for those wanting to get out onto the water.

Ultimately, these two centers are a fantastic jumping off point for exploring the region. While many visitors are familiar with the river’s beauty and the activities along it, the area’s history and adventure opportunities are often overlooked.

All along the shores of York and Lancaster counties are great overlooks (Pinnacle, Chickies Rock, Highpoint Scenic Vista), beautiful waterfalls (Kelly’s Run, Mill Creek Falls), and fantastic hiking trails like the Mason-Dixon Trail. In addition to natural beauty, signage around the region points out the area’s great history. You can even see remnants of the Susquehanna and Tidewater Canal that used to run from Wrightsville to Harve de Grace, Maryland, at Lock 12 near Holtwood Dam and at the Wrightsville Riverfront Park.

The Susquehanna Heritage Area and the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail offer visitors a chance to explore one of the most beautiful regions of Pennsylvania and to learn about the region’s history and effect on the entire nation. Take some time to explore this beautiful and historic region of Pennsylvania on your next visit to the Susquehanna Riverlands.

For more information on the Susquehanna Heritage Area, visit their website at SusquehannaHeritage.org.

About the writer: Jim Cheney is the writer behind UncoveringPA, Pennsylvania’s most read travel blog. He has traveled to every county in Pennsylvania and to many countries in North America, Europe, and Asia. He lives in Harrisburg, PA.