Hiking Kelly’s Run Trail in PA

Kelly’s Run Trail is consistently mentioned in lists and conversations about the best hikes in Pennsylvania. It’s located near Holtwood in southern Lancaster County. The Kelly’s Run Trail is a four mile loop hike accessible from the Holtwood Picnic and Recreation Area. The path runs through a forest, follows Kelly’s Run as it descends towards the Susquehanna River, along the river, and then through woods and fields as it winds its way back to the park.

Blue blaze along Kelly's Run Trail

The Kelly’s Run Trail is open all year, but my favorite times to hike it are summer and fall. In the summer, the cool creek and the shade of the trees provide a nice break from the heat. In the fall the changing colors of the trees on the river hills make a nice backdrop for a hike.

Trail maps are sometimes available near the path entrance, but many times they’re not. The brochure says it takes about two and a half hours to complete the trail. That sounds pretty slow, but keep in mind the trail is rocky in some spots, there are a few creek crossings, and a few areas are pretty steep. I’ve completed the loop in an hour and fifteen minutes, but that included two wipe-outs.

Kelly’s Run Trail starts near Pavilion #1 at the Holtwood Recreation Area and ends near Pavilion #2 and the baseball field. There’s a sign at the trailhead and blue blazes, or patches of paint, on trees mark the trail. Two blazes indicates a turn in the trail. The path is pretty obvious most of the time, except for a few spots near the creek where you’ll have to keep your eyes open for blue markers.

I usually do the trail backwards and start near the baseball field. This way I can hike the steepest, unshaded portion of the trail while heading downhill then walk along Kelly’s Run in the shade on the way back up. The following trail notes were taken while hiking the trail in that direction.

Kelly’s Run Trail tips and notes from start to finish

Follow the trail starting at the yellow gate near the baseball field and Pavilion #2.

The start of Kelly's Run Trail near the baseball diamond

– The path is grassy and wide at first, but turns into dirt as it goes into the woods.

Wide dirt trail through the woods

– After a short walk in the woods, the trail goes through a large field. In the middle of the field is a blue trail marker to let you know you’re on track.

Blue trail marker in the middle of the field

– On the far side of the field, the trail turns to the left and goes down a hill through the forest. There are benches along this section of the path. They make for good rest stops when hiking the trail in the normal direction and going up this hill.

Kelly's Run Trail between the field and access road

– Turn right when you get to a yellow gate and a set of three benches. Go down the hill using the paved access road. At this point, the Susquehanna River should come into view.

Paved road that's part of Kelly's Run Trail

View of the Susquehanna River from the trail

– At the bottom of the hill is an old bridge. Cross the bridge or walk across the creek and head up the hill on the other side.

Old bridge along the Kelly's Run Trail

Picture of my feet while crossing the bridge over Kelly's Run

– If you continue straight up the hill or follow the orange blazes you’ll eventually come to the Pinnacle Overlook, but to stay on Kelly’s Run Trail take a right where you see two blue blazes on the ground.

Closed bridge over Kelly's Run Creek

– This section of the trail runs along Kelly’s Run and crosses it a few times. Keep your eyes open for blazes.

Cascade along Kelly's Run

A creek crossing along the Kelly's Run Trail

A spot where the trail crosses the creek

– At the point where another creek flows into Kelly’s Run, keep right to follow the Kelly’s Run Trail. A couple times I’ve continued along the other creek without noticing I had left the KRT. If you start climbing a long steep hill on the north side of a creek and notice private property signs, you may have done the same thing. Make sure you’re on a blazed trail.

– At this point the trail soon leaves Kelly’s Run and continues uphill through the woods. This section of trail is very rocky.A rocky section of Kelly's Run Trail

– After crossing through two clearings, one with power lines, the path eventually takes you back to the Holtwood recreation Area.

Sign marking the Kelly's Run Trail

Pool and cascade along Kelly's Run Creek

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