Susquehanna River Valley
The longest waterway on the east coast delights visitors with stellar scenery and attractions on each bank
The Susquehanna River–designated one of the American Heritage Rivers in 1997—has been an integral part of everyday life in Pennsylvania for hundreds of years. At 464 miles, the Susquehanna River is the longest river on the East Coast that drains into the Atlantic Ocean and the longest river in the United States that doesn't have commercial boat traffic.
The lower portion of the Susquehanna River has delighted countless generations of visitors and local residents with its dramatic physical features. Craggy rock formations share the landscape with mysterious sinkholes. The narrow gorge at Turkey Hill Point gives way to a broader, shallower waterway dotted with islands large and small. Human activity has brought more recent, radical change to the river's appearance and behavior with the construction of six power plants—two nuclear and four hydro-electric—from Middletown, south of Harrisburg, to the Conowingo Dam in Maryland, about four miles below the Pennsylvania border. Below Conowingo, the river flows 10 more miles, finally pouring into the northern end of the Chesapeake Bay.
History is treasured throughout the Susquehanna River Valley. After the two branches merge, you'll come to Harrisburg, the state capital, where the Susquehanna is a mile wide and a dozen bridges cross its waters. Harrisburg played a notable role in American history during the westward migration, the Industrial Revolution and the Civil War. Today, Harrisburg is the city of shows, with the nation's largest free indoor agricultural exposition, the Pennsylvania Farm Show, every January. The city also hosts the nation's largest outdoor sports show and a large auto show. In 2010, Forbes magazine rated Harrisburg the second best place to raise a family.
Among Harrisburg's points of interest is the National Civil War Museum. This two-story building contains 17 separate galleries displaying a large collection of original artifacts, including weapons, uniforms, camp and personal effects and similar items. A video, "We the People," focuses on 10 characters from all walks of life and their fates before, during and after the war.
Every spring and fall, hundreds of men, women and children gather for a Rendezvous at Muddy Run Park in Lancaster County. For a week they live as closely as possible to the historical truth of the Susquehanna River's earliest European and Native arrivals.
There are 17 covered bridges in Northumberland, Snyder, and Union counties. A covered bridge map is available by contacting the Susquehanna Valley Visitors Bureau toll-free or by downloading it from the website.
Many remnants of the Canal Era in Pennsylvania can be seen along U.S. 15.
Points of Interest-North Branch
Just south of where the North Branch enters Pennsylvania, RVers will find the community of Wysox and just a little further south near the Susquehanna you will find what is left of the French Azilum or "asylum," established in America exclusively for the French aristocracy fleeing the French Revolution. Established in 1793, the community once encompassed 1,600 acres and some 30 rough log houses. The fantasy of a quasi-aristocratic French court transplanted to a rustic sylvan environment, however, was to be of very short duration, and today there is little evidence of this experiment in living. The LaPorte House, built in 1836 by a son of one of the founding settlers of the colony, is a focal point of the property.
Major cities along the Susquehanna include the industrial giants of Scranton, Wilkes-Barre and Lewisburg.
Many of Scranton's attractions celebrate its heritage as an industrial center in iron and coal production and its ethnic diversity. The Scranton Iron Furnaces are remnants of the city's founding industry and of the Scranton family's Lackawanna Steel Company. The Steamtown National Historic Site seeks to preserve the history of steam locomotives. The Electric City Trolley Museum preserves and operates pieces of Pennsylvania streetcar history. The Lackawanna Coal Mine tour at McDade Park is conducted inside a former mine and describes the history of mining and railroads in the Scranton area.
South of Wilkes-Barre you will find Beach Haven and the Susquehanna Energy Information Center.
Here are some less celebrated points of interest as you travel downstream along the West Branch of the Susquehanna River.
At the William T. Piper Memorial Airport in Lock Haven, visit the Piper Aviation Museum and learn the story of the Piper Cubs, "the planes that taught America how to fly." The museum is dedicated to the dream and vision of William T. Piper. He is known as the "Henry Ford of Aviation" of small aircraft, because Piper manufactured more planes than anyone in the world at that time.
Also in Lock Haven, visit the Heisey Museum, a stunning Victorian mansion that was built as a farmhouse and later became a tavern and inn. The museum's collection includes a functioning Edison Victrola phonograph, signed documents by historical figures, weapons from the Civil War and a nightstand that used to be John Quincy Adams.
Near Lewisburg, visit the Slifer House, a grand Victorian mansion built in 1860. Near Northumberland, where the West and North branches merge, visit the Joseph Priestley House, the American home of 18th-century British theologian, natural philosopher and discover of oxygen. Priestley lived here from 1798 until his death in 1804.
In Sunbury, visit the Hunter House Museum, built on the site of Fort Augusta, which protected the region during the French and Indian War and the American Revolution.
In Fisherville, the Lake Tobias Wildlife Park has been fascinating patrons with its wild, exotic animals and adventure-seeking safari tours since 1965. Animals, reptiles and birds from around the world can be found here.
Near Mt. Joy, don't miss the Donegal Mills Plantation. The complex consists of a three-story mill built in 1775, a mansion whose original section dates before 1790, the miller's house and bake house.
Near Columbia, visit the Watch and Clock Museum, which has more than 12,000 clocks, watches, tools, and other time-related items in its collection.
As the river nears the Maryland border, several points of interest await RVers. The Robert Fulton birthplace is located 8 miles south of Quarryville on U.S. 22. The Southern Lancaster Historical Society gives weekend tours of the house from Memorial Day through Labor Day.
Remnants of the area's early residents may be found in the Indian Steps Museum near Arville. The area gets its name from the "steps" carved in the nearby Susquehanna River's rocks by early people of the region who used the footholds while gathering food along the river. The Indian Steps Museum has operated as a public museum since the 1940s and is possibly the first Native American museum in the United States.
When the river empties into the northern end of Chesapeake Bay, it provides half of the bay's freshwater inflow.
For More Information:
Susquehanna River Valley Visitors Bureau