Side Quest: Kayaking the Conestoga from Rock Hill to Safe Harbor

If you are a novice kayaker in search of an easy float, look no further than Rock Hill outside of Millersville. It’s a short 2.5 to 3.5-mile excursion depending on where you get out at Safe Harbor. Not to mention, the trip takes you past several interesting and historic locations. Best of all, this water-themed side quest can be more steering than paddling.

 

Rock Hill Dam & Lock

Before shipping out, be sure to explore the ruins of the dam that once occupied the site. In January of 2015, the remaining section that crossed the river was removed.

Also, one of the Conestoga Navigation Company’s locks were here. More about that later.

Rock Hill Bridge

Almost immediately after putting in, you will pass beneath the Rock Hill Bridge. It was built in 1923. The 2-span, 256-foot-long, rivet-connected bridge has struts (sway bracing) of an unusual lattice design. The bridge also has large lattice railings. V-lacing is present on other truss members. The plentiful v-lacing and lattice on this bridge make it look quite visually complex. Most unique about the bridge is its open steel grid deck, which allows you to see through it.

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The Confluence of the Conestogas

Less than a mile downstream from Rock Hill is the confluence of the Conestoga River and the Little Conestoga Creek.

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The confluence of the Conestogas and birthplace of the Conestoga Wagon.

Some sources indicate that the Conestoga Wagon was born in this immediate area as Pennsylvania German and Swiss wagon builders created the massive wagons to ship farm products the sixty-four-mile journey to market in Philadelphia.

Learn more about the Conestoga Wagon here.

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Conestoga Wagon on display on the Conestoga Area Historical Society

Pickle Run

The second is a short distance away at Pickle Run. A narrow bridge carrying Conestoga Boulevard passes over Pickle Run. In addition to having some interesting architectural features, you can catch the Conestoga Trail there and hike all the way to Main Street in Conestoga.

Learn more about the tunnel at Pickle Run here.

1700s Trading Post

The third is this abandoned home. This 19th-century Conestoga Township house is suspected of being built on the foundations of an old trading post on the property that was part of the early landholdings of James Logan, who came to Pennsylvania in 1699 with William Penn.

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The building is situated just off Conestoga Boulevard about a half-mile northeast of River Road. Some believe the property could have been an early 1700s trading post that preceded permanent settlements. Depending on the season, the building can be challenging to see from the river through the vegetation.

 

However, it is visible from the road. The property is marked as no trespassing, so please limit your sightseeing from the water or road.

Read more about the possible trading post here.

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Lock 6 of the Conestoga Navigation Company

Towards the end of your journey, you will pass by Lock 6 of the Conestoga Navigation Company. In the early 1800s, the Conestoga once had a slackwater canal that ran a winding 18-mile course through a series of nine locks and dams from Lancaster to Safe Harbor. Click here for it’s GPS location. The lock is situated in the Conestoga River Park.

Of the nine original Conestoga Navigation locks between Lancaster and the Susquehanna River, Lock 6 is the only survivor.
Of the nine original Conestoga Navigation locks between Lancaster and the Susquehanna River, Lock 6 is the only survivor.

Port of Lancaster

Further downstream is a sign that commemorates the canal and the bold venture of turning Lancaster into a port city. Its ambitious goal was to give Lancaster direct access to Philadelphia, Baltimore, and other ports.

Port of Lancaster sign at Safe Harbor.
Port of Lancaster sign at Safe Harbor.

But this wasn’t the first time Safe Harbor nearly became a major port. In the late 1600s, William Penn devised a plan to create a new city to rival Philadelphia on a 3,000-acre site in Manor Township just north of Turkey Hill.

A city of this magnitude would need a harbor to supply it. Part of Penn’s plan was to widen the Conestoga River to create a “safe harbor” for ships coming up the Susquehanna from the Chesapeake Bay.

Had his plan come to fruition, you might be kayaking beside cargo ships today. Read more about Port of Lancaster and the curious history of Safe Harbor’s name here.

Before you go

If you decide to kayak down the Conestoga, you will need two vehicles (one parked at Rock Hill and the other at Safe Harbor).

Here’s the address for Rock Hill: 1287 Conestoga Blvd, Conestoga, PA 17516.

There are several places you can get out at Safe Harbor’s Conestoga River Park. There’s a small boat launch closer to the Susquehanna that works well.

As with all things water-related, use your best judgment and be sure to wear a lifejacket.

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