Side Quest: How to Access the Safe Harbor Bridge Trestle

Overview

The newly opened (June 2022) Safe Harbor Trestle Bridge is worth every penny of the $9 million offering stunning views of the Susquehanna, Safe Harbor dam, Columbia and Port Deposit Railroad, York County, and the petroglyph covered rocks of Big Indian Rock and Little Indian Rock. Click here if you are interested in a guided tour of the petroglyphs.

It was built in 1905 for the Atglen and Susquehanna Branch (also known as the “Low Grade Branch”‘) of the Pennsylvania Railroad and constructed to hold two fully loaded trains, including an upper and lower deck. For almost a century, the bridge served as a critical component for economic development in the region. It was abandoned in 1988. The last train to cross it was December 19, 1989. The upper tracks were removed in 1990. Manor Township acquired the bridge in 2012.

Here are some fun facts about the bridge and project:

  • Third highest trestle bridge in the U.S.
  • Second longest trestle bridge in Pennsylvania.
  • 150 feet high and 1,560 feet long.
  • Total project cost: $9 million.
  • Required 2,170 tons of concrete
  • Restoration began in February 2015.
  • Restoration completed in June 2022.

Access the Trestle

I have received many questions asking how to access the Safe Harbor Bridge Trestle. As I see it, you have four options. I have listed them below from shortest to longest. Happy adventuring!

Safe Harbor
Approximately .25 miles one way to the trestle

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There is limited parking almost directly below the trestle. Here are the GPS coordinates: 39.926091, -76.383980. There is plenty of additional parking at the Safe Harbor park that you drove through as you approached the trestle. The address is 101 Safe Harbor Rd, Conestoga, PA 17516.

As you approach the bridge that crosses the Conestoga River and enters the Safe Harbor dam parking area, you will see a guard house on your left. There is a trail that goes up the side of the hill. There is a “No Trespassing” sign, but that is referring to the nearby train tracks and not the trail. While this is the shortest hike, it is also the steepest. You are traveling the full height of the trestle to access the trail on the Conestoga Township side of the bridge.

Shenks Ferry Wildflower Preserve
Approximately 1.2 miles one way to the trestle

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Google lists the address for Shenks Ferry as 857 Green Hill Rd S, Conestoga, PA 17516, but that stops short of the preserve, with most people stopping at a residential home. The Shenks Ferry Wildflower Preserve parking lot is located at the bottom of Green Hill Road off Shenks Ferry Road off River Road. As you approach, you will drive through a large tunnel on your way to the bottom of the hill near the Susquehanna River. Here are the GPS coordinates: 39.905861, -76.368222.

From the Shenks Ferry parking lot, walk up Greenhill Road to the Shenks Ferry tunnel you drove through earlier. There is some parking near the tunnel, but it is minimal. On the northern end of the tunnel, find the walking trail.

Safe Harbor South Wall Trailhead entrance.
Safe Harbor South Wall Trailhead entrance.

This short, steep path will take you up the hill to the Enola Low Grade rail trail. Once you reach the trail, turn right towards Safe Harbor. The trestle is 1.2 miles away once your reach the rail trail. While your initial hike to the Enola Low Grade is steep, once you reach the main trail, the remainder of your trip is virtually level. Accessing the path with strollers or bikes from this location will be cumbersome.

Colemanville Church Road Parking Lot for Access to Enola Low Grade Trail
Approximately 3.2 miles one way to the trestle

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From the Colemanville Church Road parking lot, you can easily access the Enola Low Grade. Here are the GPS coordinates: 39.908037, -76.337108. It can be a little challenging to find it as there are two Colemanville Church Roads. You want to access it from River Road. From the Colemanville Church Road parking lot, head West. The trestle is 3.2 miles away. Your will trip is virtually level.

Turkey Hill Overlook Trail
Approximately 5 miles one way to the trestle

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From the Turkey Hill Overlook Trailhead, you can again easily access the Enola Low Grade from its northernmost point at 2501 River Rd, Conestoga, PA 17516. From the parking lot, you will travel downstream with the Susquehanna River on your right. It is approximately five miles one way to the trestle. Your entire will trip is flat.

Learn More

Brief History of the Atglen & Susquehanna Branch of the Pennsylvania Railroad

Lancaster County in 1729 is shaded in red.

Cutting through the southern end like a demarcation line is one of the most remarkable feats of engineering marvels in Lancaster County—the Atglen & Susquehanna (A&S) Branch of the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) commonly referred to today as the Enola Low Grade. The goal of this ambitious project? Create a low grade railroad line with no slope steeper than one percent and no curve sharper than two degrees. Easy on paper. Difficult in reality. Click here for a brief history of the Enola Low Grade.


The Lower Susquehanna before the dams

Image 560: View from Filter Plant. August 22, 1930

My friend and contributing writer here at Uncharted Lancaster, Ben Webber, has been interested in accessing the Safe Harbor Water Power Corp archives. One of his passions is the Conestoga River history, and he’s been searching for an ancient map of the winding river that is rumored to exist in their archives.

As it turned out, I have a contact there, and after a few months of discussions, we were granted access. In addition to helping Ben look for these old river maps, I had the goal of scanning as many of their images, maps, and blueprints that might be of interest and eventually make them available to the public. We spent four hours going through several boxes containing hundreds of photos during our initial visit. Here are two that caught my attention. Click the link to read more.


Armchair Explorer: Inside the Bowels of Safe Harbor Dam

The view from inside Safe Harbor Dam.

Christmas came early for Benton Webber and me when a friend gave us what felt like a VIP behind-the-scenes tour of Safe Harbor Dam on December 23. I’ve been there many times before, but it’s been more than a decade since I was last inside.

A couple of things stand out. First, it’s a HUGE cavernous space. According to Wikipedia, the dam is 4,869 feet long. So big it nearly gives you a sense of vertigo. For this reason, you can find bicycles strewn around the facility to decrease travel time. Click the link to read more about the Safe Harbor dam.


Guided Petroglyphs Kayak Tour

Carving of a turtle swallowing a snake.

I’ve teamed up with kayakLanCo for a fantastic adventure on one of the oldest rivers in the world in order to visit the enigmatic petroglyphs of the Susquehanna. This aquatic 3-mile expedition takes you from Safe Harbor to Pequea with time spent on Little Indian Rock and Big Indian Rock to view and photograph the millennium-old rock art. Do not wait to register! Each excursion is limited to only six tour members to ensure a personal experience in these magical locations. Click here to learn more.

Adventure Awaits!

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7 thoughts on “Side Quest: How to Access the Safe Harbor Bridge Trestle

  1. We just got back from this hike this very minute! For those that are wondering…we parked at Shanks Ferry Wildflower Preserve. We did the wildflower hike (easy walk but watch out for Witch Hazel) and then we jumped up on the Enola Low Grade and walked to the Safe Harbor Trestle and back to the car. This was approximately 14,000 steps. Cool bridge with a nice breeze!

  2. Thank you for your wonderful photo and article on, “How to Access the Safe Harbor Bridge Trestle”. We have been eagerly awaiting the opening of this bridge for many years. Unfortunately, I don’t think that any of the six options would work for us. We are both senior citizens with physical challenges. We would not be able to walk up multiple steps, a steep incline or hike several miles. Do you know if any consideration is being given to providing a day of shuttle service to the surface of the bridge for those of us who have similar challenges but would love to see the bridge from the top?

    1. Unfortunately, I have not heard any talk of a shuttle service at this time, but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen. If I hear of something I’ll be sure to post the information.

  3. What is the surface of the ELGT from Colemanville Church Road down to the trestle like? It’s been a while but if I recall it was some pretty rough gravel last time we tried it.

    1. It’s a very nice trail. Finely crushed stone that’s very tightly packed. Reminds me of a pothole-free dirt road.

  4. FYI…Really shouldn’t be accessing at the Safe harbor location. Was told that at the access there the “No Trespassing” sign is referring to Norfolk Southern in that entire area.

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