Although they don’t get as much attention as state parks or national parks, local parks and nature preserves can serve as excellent opportunities, especially when you aren’t able to travel very far. Sometimes these local parks and preserves are extremely beautiful, even if they are often overlooked. Recently I visited the Tucquan Glen Nature Preserve in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. It’s within an hour from my home, but it was actually my first visit there. What I found was a great location that has plenty to offer.
The Tucquan Creek flows beautifully through the 300+ acre preserve and into the Susquehanna River. Along the way there are picturesque cascades and a thick forest. It’s now one of my favorite locations in south central Pennsylvania. It’s only about an hour outside of Baltimore and about an hour and a half outside of Philadelphia, making it convenient many photographers and travelers.
→ See More of The Best Places to Photograph in Pennsylvania
The Tucquan Nature Preserve is managed by the Lancaster County Conservancy. The conservancy manages more than 20 preserves throughout Lancaster County. These preserves don’t get a ton of publicity, but they are popular (locally) for hiking and among nature enthusiasts. Of all the preserves in Lancaster County, Tucquan Glen is the most popular. It’s popular enough that the conservancy actually offers a list of alternatives, encouraging people to visit the other preserves and trails in the area.
Although it is popular, it is certainly possible to avoid crowds. If you want to avoid people you can go at off-peak times. I was there for about 3 hours on a weekday morning and there were no other cars in the parking lot, except one family arriving just as I was leaving.
Getting to the Tuquan Glen Nature Preserve
Although Tucquan Glen is within driving distance of cities like Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Harrisburg (and smaller cities like Lancaster and York), the location feels very far from urban life. The preserve is in Martic Township and lies between River Road and the Susquehanna River. There are a few small parking lots on River Road, including one at the trailhead. There is only room for a few cars at that spot. If that lot is full there is another lot just a few hundred feet south on River Road. The approximate GPS coordinates of that parking lot are: 39.864254, -76.339678.
It’s pretty easy to find your way around Tuquan Glen. You can get an official map here from the conservancy website (shown below).
There are trails on both sides of the creek and you can use them together to form a loop trail. The total distance of the loop is about 2.5 miles. If you park at the coordinates listed above you will be right at the trailhead of the yellow trail. If you head down the yellow trail towards the Susquehanna River, the creek will be on your left. I recommend that instead of doing that, you cross the creek right at that parking lot, which is where you can pick up the blue trail. There are some rocks that make it possible to cross the creek without getting wet, although you will need to be careful. I was there in the spring shortly after a good rain, so the water level was a little high. Still, I made it across the rocks without getting wet. Fortunately my tripod helped for balance.
All photos in this post were processed with the Landscape Legend Lightroom Presets. Learn more about how Landscape Legend can help you to save time and process your photos more effectively.
Once you cross the creek you will be on the blue trail. The blue trail leads down towards the river, and the creek will be on your right. At the end of the blue trail you will reach railroad tracks just at the edge of the river. Here you can walk down a short distance and pick up the yellow trail and take it all the way back to the parking lot. The trails are well marked with plenty of blazes along the way.
I recommend taking the blue trail on the way out to the river because it gives you the best views of the creek, cascades, and small waterfalls. I’m sure you will find yourself stopping quite often to photograph (every photograph on this page was taken on the side of the blue trail).
The blue trail is more challenging than the yellow trail. It’s not a difficult hike, but there are a lot of rocks and uneven footing. You’ll need to walk slowly and carefully at some places. And if the rocks are wet they can be pretty slippery. The yellow trail runs along the creek for about half the distance, but the views aren’t as good. Also, the footing is much better along the yellow trail and it can be hiked much faster. I preferred the blue trail for the way out since I wanted to go slow and take a lot of photos, and then on the yellow trail I was able to make the return trip pretty quickly.
Another thing to note, most of the cascades and small falls are down closer to the river. The first half of the trek on the blue trail there are a few cascades, but the creek is pretty calm. It picks up a bit later on as you get closer to the river.
What You Will Find at Tucquan Glen
The creek and its surroundings are very picturesque. In the spring the forest is green and lush. I’ve never been there in the fall, but I’ve seen photos that show it is also an excellent autumn location. It’s definitely on my list of places to visit in the fall.
The creek runs for about a mile from River Road before it gets to the Susquehanna River. It doesn’t drop a huge amount in elevation, but it does tumble nicely over plenty of rocks and even a few small waterfalls (a few feet high). While it lacks the big waterfalls of some other parks throughout Pennsylvania, the cascades are perfect for being photographed.
And although the water, rocks, and cascades are picturesque, the surrounding forest and trail presents plenty of photographic opportunities as well. I found myself stopping to photograph rocks, trees, and plants along the trail more than I expected. In many places the trail is narrow with trees and plants on both sides.
All in all, this is an excellent hike and a great place for photographers. In my opinion it is a hidden gem (more photos below) that gets overshadowed by many other parks and waterfalls throughout Pennsylvania. And when you factor in some of the other locations nearby, there is reason to visit the area even if you are not local. Pinnacle Overlook is only a few miles away, and probably my favorite vista and sunset location in the area. Just across the Susquehanna River, Mill Creek Falls is another hidden gem. Kilgore Falls in northern Maryland is only about 30 minutes away. And Gettysburg is about an hour and a half to the west. We already have guides to those other locations published on Loaded Landscapes, so if you are interested please take a look:
- Photographing Pinnacle Overlook
- Photographing Mill Creek Falls
- Photographer’s Guide to the Gettysburg Battlefield
- Photographing Kilgore Falls
If you’re visiting Tucquan Glen Nature Preserve I recommend taking the following items:
Wide Angle Lens – I used my Canon 16-35mm f/4 lens for about half of the photos I took at Tuquan Glen. For photos of the forest and trail, as well as for photographing the cascades, the wide angle lens was helpful. See our Reviews of the Best Wide Angle Lenses for Canon DSLRs and Reviews of the Best Wide Angle Lenses for Nikon DSLRs.
Standard Zoom or Telephoto Zoom Lens – The other half of the photos were taken with my Canon 24-105mm f/4 lens. For some of the cascades it can be helpful to have a little bit more reach with your lens. I would recommend having a zoom lens that allows you to reach somewhere between 75mm and 200mm. See our Reviews of the Best Standard Zoom Lenses for Canon DSLRs and Reviews of the Best Standard Zoom Lenses for Nikon DSLRs. Or Reviews of the Best Telephoto Lenses for Canon DSLRs and Reviews of the Best Standard Zoom Lenses for Nikon DSLRs
Tripod – A tripod will come in handy for photographing the cascades and small waterfalls. Even when photographing the forest on a overcast day I needed the tripod. The darkness of the forest required a slower shutter speed than I could effectively do just by hand holding the camera.
Polarizer – The polarizer will help to reduce glare on the water and wet rocks.