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Only 20 miles south of Harrisburg, in Pennsylvania Dutch Country, 340-acre Pinchot Lake forms a recreational oasis. The reservoir was built in 1959 to provide a recreational lake for area residents to enjoy. The reservoir was constructed by damming Beaver Creek, and the water soon formed a long, narrow lake with many coves, inlets and bays. Fish habitat structures were added to encourage fish reproduction, and it was not long before Pinchot Lake was noted for its excellent bass fishing. However, the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources had bigger plans for the new lake, and soon surrounded it with 2,338-acre Gifford Pinchot State Park. Aptly named for the former Pennsylvania Governor noted for his conservation efforts, the park provides all sorts of recreational access to over 600,000 visitors every year.
Two day-use parks, one on each side of the reservoir, offer a variety of recreational opportunities. Conewago Day Use Area on the east side of the lake and Quaker Race Area on the west bank provide swimming beaches, picnic tables, charcoal grills, parking lots, drinking water, modern restrooms and horseshoe pits. Four picnic pavilions, two of which are ADA-accessible, may be reserved up to eleven months in advance for group outings. The Conewago Day Use Area has a softball field, while the Quaker Race Area has a volleyball court. Disk golf is also available. Eighteen miles of trails are located around the lake and throughout the park. Some are strictly for hiking, while others are available for mountain biking. Another area north of the lake is set aside for horseback riding with wide mowed grassy trails set among a variety of landscapes. Bird watching is popular here, and the natural setting attracts a variety of native animals. In winter, the trails are open to cross-country skiing,
Boating is ever-popular at Pinchot Lake. No gasoline motors are allowed, but plenty of electric trolling motors are seen on fishing boats plying the waters. Boat mooring and canoe rack spaces may be rented from April 1st to November 1st and accommodate regular visitors to the park. Sailboats and catamarans utilize the larger spaces, while the smaller spaces are suitable for canoes, kayaks and small sailboats. Boats, trolling motors, canoes and kayaks may be rented at the park during the summer months. The non-profit Susquehanna Rowing Association has its headquarters at Pinchot Lake, and rowing teams are often seen practicing and competing on the lake. The Atlantic Sprints League Regatta has become an annual event on the four-mile-long lake. Nine colleges bring crews to race in the Mid-Atlantic Division III Rowing Championships, a women's NCAA event held in late April. All boats on the lake must be properly registered.
Pinchot Lake is an excellent warm-water fishery and is designated a Big Bass lake with some real whoppers being caught. Largemouth bass, hybrid striped bass, muskellunge, catfish, carp, walleye, crappie and sunfish are all hooked in the lake, and tournaments are held here regularly. Three boat ramps around the lake can accommodate everything up to large bass boat size. With an average depth of less than eight feet, anglers can choose the best area for the type of fish they are targeting. Some areas of the reservoir are rocky, while others support an underwater carpet of grass. The fishing forums are full of advice on how to fish Pinchot Lake, depending on the angler's favorite fish and the season of the year. In winter, the lake often ices over, allowing for ice fishing. A solid ice cover also allows for ice skating and ice boating. All Pennsylvania fishing regulations are in effect, and fishermen must be properly licensed.
Campground areas are located at the south end of the lake. This park provides one of the largest state park campgrounds in the Commonwealth. The campground can accommodate nearly every type of camping set-up and provides electricity, showers, rest rooms and most amenities. Rustic camping cottages, yurts and modern cabins can all be rented. The park is an excellent choice for a camping vacation. Park staff provide pontoon boat tours of the lake spring through fall, and an interpretive center in the Conewago Day Use Area is open weekends during the summer. About 1,780 acres are open to hunting, trapping and the training of dogs from fall archery season through the end of the winter season.
If campers should actually feel the need for more activities during their stay, tons of historical and entertainment venues can be found within 30 miles. The Pennsylvania capital city of Harrisburg is only 20 miles away. The Harrisburg Capitol Building area has tours available, and several of the oldest mansions of the city's founders are preserved for tours. The Historical Society of Dauphin County arranges tours of several properties, including the John Harris-Simon Cameron Mansion Museum. Other museums in Harrisburg include the Doll House Museum, Fire Museum of Greater Harrisburg, and the National Civil War Museum. Visitors can even take a riverboat cruise on the Susquehanna River.
The city of Hershey is only 30 miles from Pinchot Lake. The famous 'chocolate city' has a number of candy-themed attractions that will please the young and the young-at-heart. The Hershey Museum tells the story of the famous candy bars with themed exhibits, and Hershey Gardens greet children at the Childrens Garden with 'Kisses'-shaped spray fountains. The Butterfly House is especially popular. Adults will come to Hershey to attend Hershey Theater, the performing arts center presenting touring Broadway shows, classical music and dance attractions, and world-famous entertainers.
Pinchot Lake is sometimes called Conewago Lake as it is near the small town of Conewago. It should not be confused with Conewago Lake in Lebanon County, a separate lake. As the park is all Commonwealth land, there are no private homes or lodgings on Pinchot Lake. Plenty of lodgings can be found in the surrounding area, including quaint bed-and-breakfasts and a few guest cottage resorts. Large hotel chains have facilities at nearly every exit along nearby Interstate 83, and a number of small motel-restaurant combinations provide weekly lodgings to area visitors. Real estate can be found nearby but not on the lake itself. So, bring the kids and the fishing tackle. Pinchot Lake and Gifford Pinchot State Park await your visit.
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