Running through the Midstate, the Susquehanna River has attracted people to its shores for fishing, scenic hikes, kayaking, picnics and a range of other activities.
The waters called to early settlers who used the river as a resource for food, transportation and recreation. Running from New York to the Chesapeake Bay, the Susquehanna River helped develop the region, bringing civilization, jobs, and early government to the area. Today, the river is a reminder of Pennsylvania’s rich past and exciting future.
With so many things to do on the Susquehanna River, visitors looking for a bit of adventure will find it here, on the mighty waters that flow through this beautiful countryside. One of the many outdoor features on the Hershey Harrisburg Adventure Trail, The Susquehanna offers activities, beautiful scenery, and history for all visitors.
Susquehanna River Facts
The Susquehanna River flows more than 444 miles from New York to Maryland, making it the largest tributary of the Chesapeake Bay. Flowing at an average of 20 miles per hour, the Susquehanna River becomes its widest in Harrisburg, where it stretches up to a mile. Now that you know the nitty-gritty, let’s explore all the fun things to do on the water, specifically in the Harrisburg area.
Fishing on the Susquehanna River
There are plenty of Susquehanna River fishing spots to tempt novice and experienced fishers. Home of the native Brook Trout fish, as well as smallmouth bass and flathead catfish, the Susquehanna River is a great fishing location in Harrisburg.
Some of the best fishing is found off of launches at Harrisburg’s City Island, Duncannon, York Haven and New Cumberland. Experienced fishing guides often keep track of where fish are biting. They can also recommend where visitors can find more private locations to sit back and enjoy the quiet spots of the Susquehanna River.
It’s best to head out around sunset or sunrise, although some smallmouth bass are active during the day. Thanks to its smooth waters, Susquehanna River fishing spots make it one of the best rivers for fishing.
Get a Cruise on the Susquehanna River
For river admirers of all ages, Harrisburg City Island is home to a variety of activities. While visitors might want to catch a Senator’s baseball game or take a swing in the nearby batting cages, the water surrounding this island is the biggest attraction.
The Harrisburg PA riverboat, the Pride of the Susquehanna, provides daily tours around the island and along the river banks as it takes visitors back in time. Enjoy live music, hand-crafted cocktails and even dinner cruises on the Pride’s various themed excursions. It’s also a great way to have your wedding on the water or celebrate a milestone by renting the riverboat for a private event. It also becomes a floating classroom for field trips and school groups that want to explore the vast eco-systems the river has to offer.
The stern-driven paddle wheel was constructed more than 25 years ago as part of a project by the Harrisburg Area Riverboat Society. Its interior is decorated in brass, mahogany wood features and stained glass, transporting visitors to a time of older refinement and class. With room for up to 120 passengers, depending on the style of the cruise, the Pride of the Susquehanna is a must-see Harrisburg attraction for those who want a different view of the river. But if you want to ride, you’ve got to plan ahead. The riverboat is taken off the water November through April to protect it from the river’s winter ice. Keep an eye out for regular events the rest of the year.
More on Harrisburg's City Island
If the water tempts you, but you want to still stay close to it, there are plenty of things to do on Harrisburg’s City Island that don’t involve getting wet. Admire all the scenery from the quaint City Island Railroad, a mini version of a Civil War-era steam engine is a great way to see the island without having to wear yourself out.
Water Golf has also become a popular attraction, but you don’t actually have to wear a bathing suit to participate. Instead, this City Island mini-golf course leads players right along the river for beautiful views as the sun lowers in the sky. If you want to get in the Susquehanna River and cool off, the Susquehanna River Beach is a unique way to enjoy the cool water. Go ahead, get your feet wet.
No matter how many activities you plan to conquer during your visit to City Island, be sure to take a few moments to just relax by the water. Watch the boats drift by and consider taking an afternoon nap along the banks. The comfortable, visitor-friendly atmosphere makes it a great place to escape from reality and enjoy the quiet power of the Susquehanna River.
A Smaller Boat Ride
Want to get even closer to the Susquehanna River? The calm, smooth waters are very inviting to kayaks, canoes and other water activities. It’s just one of the many Susquehanna River activities in Harrisburg.
If you’re already on Harrisburg City Island, check out the boat launches where visitors can push off into the water on their own adventure. The City Island Marinas, featuring three locations to dock your boat, also are available. Plus, there’s plenty to explore off the beaten path the river offers island visitors. Susquehanna River kayaking is a great way to check out the wildlife, both in and out of the water.
Raccoons, deer, foxes, beavers, porcupines and several species of birds are just some of the creatures visitors can discover while kayaking around the island.
If the river seems like an intimidating spot to start your kayak adventure, Cocoa Kayak Rentals of Hershey offers trips along the gentle Swatara Creek, which runs around small islands and takes visitors to unique locations to see wildlife, much like the Susquehanna River.
Another great island to stop and visit is McCormicks Island, owned by the City of Harrisburg. It’s the largest island on the river trail and is distinguished by white pines, which some believe are left from a farm that was once on the island. The southern tip offers spots to eat a picnic lunch you brought.
Fort Hunter Park, home to 37 acres of land and a 19th century home, is most famous for its involvement in the French and Indian War. Now a Susquehanna River park in Harrisburg, it makes for a great place to stretch your legs. Stop in for a visit during your tour and take in the historical countryside.
One of the top Susquehanna River spots in Harrisburg is the Dauphin Narrows. The most difficult part of the river, kayakers and those in canoes should stay to the left when headed downstream. If you’re in the area, look to the right to see a 25-foot version of the Statue of Liberty, created for the 100th anniversary of the installation of the full-size version in New York City.
If you’re new to kayaking on such a big river but still want to set out on an adventure, there are plenty of kayak rental locations that will offer guidance and beginner lessons before venturing onto the water. Blue Mountain Outfitters offers information for a successful kayaking adventure. Be sure to ask about life vests, how to pack snacks and bottled water, and wear plenty of sunscreen for your time on the water. It might also be a good idea to bring a hat and pack extra clothes in the car in case you get wet.
Biking Along the Susquehanna River
The river can inspire outside activities that range to fit anyone’s fitness or activity level. Biking along the Susquehanna River in Harrisburg, PA is a great way to take in the sights and breathe in a bit of nature’s fresh air.
When it comes to finding a place to ride, the beautiful bicycle-friendly trails are scattered throughout the region. But if you’re looking for a view of the water, we’ve got you covered.
The Capital Area Greenbelt is just one trail that offers a variety of activities along the water. With more than 20 miles of parks, the bike trails offer visitors a unique and breathtaking view of the water while keeping people on dry land. The Tour de Belt bike ride, held annually, helps provide funds to keep the greenbelt, connecting crosswalks and parks in top shape for bicyclist safety. The Five Senses Garden is a great place to stop along your bike ride. Since 1996, the garden has helped visitors discover a deep connection with nature and all that Harrisburg has to offer.
Hiking Along the Susquehanna River
If you’d rather grab your walking stick and walk along the miles or riverfront trails, there are plenty of hiking trail options:
- Riverfront Park Hike: This 2.5-mile loop is easy for most people to walk, and it shows off some beautiful views of the Susquehanna River. Start walking across the Walnut Street Bridge, a pedestrian-only walkway, and then follow the river walking trail to the level of the water. The trail follows the paved walkway the whole way to the Harvey Taylor Bridge. Hikers should follow the ramp, make a loop through the Sunken Gardens and take the path through Riverfront Park until they arrive back at the Walnut Street Bridge.
- The Mason-Dixon Trail: You have to travel a bit south for this one. The Mason-Dixon Trail starts in York County and takes you on a strenuous hike. While hikers can catch the trail at the Appalachian Trail in Cumberland County, it will lead them through Pinchot State Park and along very scenic routes. The Holtwood Dam hike is just a little more than 2 miles long and is known for its beautiful views. Despite being a tough hike in spots, outdoor enthusiasts return to conquer new sections and take in the sights.
- Hawk Rock: Plan a hike to Hawk Rock, located ~15 miles away from Harrisburg in Duncannon, PA. Just over a mile long and approximately 750 feet in elevation, Hawk Rock provides outdoor enthusiasts with multiple trails both on and off the beaten path. To take in one the most scenic vistas in Pennsylvania, take the gradual path along the Appalachian Trail up to Hawk Rock, then head northeast to a fairly obvious unmarked trail. Despite some rough spots, this trail leads to the Cove Mountain Duncannon Overlook, best known for its picturesque views of the Susquehanna River Valley.
Picnic Along the Susquehanna River
There’s nothing quite like enjoying a peaceful moment during a busy day than by having a picnic lunch along the beautiful river. Whether you grab takeout from a local restaurant, or you pack your own picnic basket, the scenic options will have you napping on the grass in no time:
- Fort Halifax Park: Fort Halifax Park, known for its historical significance and reenactment festivals, is also open to the public year-round. A great spot to go fishing, play with the kids or eat a picnic dinner, make sure you find a cozy spot along the river bank to lay out your meal. Also check out Sycamore Tree alley and consider stopping back to learn something about this historical landmark.
- Phoenix Park: Located along the Capital Area Greenbelt, Phoenix Park is nestled right along the Susquehanna River and gives visitors a great place to park the bike and take a break. Cool your toes off in the water or just take a few moments to reenergize while you enjoy the shaded atmosphere.
- Harrisburg City Island: Even if you can’t stick around to take part in all of the fun activities City Island has to offer, try to make it back for a picnic. Tables situated throughout the island give visitors a chance to relax by the water, watch people have a good time and see the bright sun disappear over the water.
Make Your Visit to Hershey Harrisburg Unforgettable
With so many activities waiting for you, why not get a little help planning the perfect visit? Whether you love the great outdoors or want to be exposed to new and upcoming cultural events, there are plenty of activities to entertain, rejuvenate and inspire you.
Beyond the Susquehanna River, there are parks, nature preserves, mountain trails and smaller creeks waiting to tempt the explorer inside you. With so many things to do in the Hershey Harrisburg Region, you might find yourself dreaming about how soon you can return.
Explore all of the outdoor options the region has to offer and be sure to request our traveler's guide to help you plan your stay.