As the temperatures dip this month, you might feel inclined to head indoors. Not so fast! Autumn is a perfect time to visit the Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area. While it’s certainly a unique place to explore any time of year, the changing foliage only intensifies the area’s natural beauty.
Located on the northeastern edge of Lancaster County, with a portion of the area crossing into Lebanon County, the 6,254-acre area, which is controlled by the Pennsylvania Game Commission, offers a variety of activities for outdoor enthusiasts including hiking, fishing, hunting and birdwatching. During the warmer months, you can kayak or canoe the 360-acre lake. There’s plenty of room to cast your line or take in a gorgeous sunset.
Your first stop should be to the Visitors Center, where game commission staff is on hand to introduce you to the area, provide maps, and answer any questions you may have. The Visitors Center, which is closed from Thanksgiving through January, is also home to nature exhibits, a video room and an auditorium, where guest lectures and educational activities related to wildlife and conservation are held. Middle Creek is a real treasure for anyone looking to learn more about nature, especially kids.
Next, head for the Willow Point Trail. A 10-minute walk will deliver you to an observation point that takes in a large portion of the lake. Trails of varying lengths crisscross the area. For example, the Conservation Trail, which is 1.4 miles long, loops through woodland, fields and wetlands, arriving back at the Visitors Center. The 45-minute walk is doable for all ages. Another destination I’d recommend is the 1.25-mile Middle Creek Trail. Thicker boots would be recommended for this trail as it follows an abandoned trolley line. You’ll notice the remnants as you pass under the tall oaks with the sounds of the Middle Creek nearby. Completed in 1914, the trolley line carried travelers between Lebanon and Ephrata.
Winter brings a different kind of beauty to Middle Creek, as the lake freezes and the valley glistens with occasional snowfalls. If you happen to be driving through the area, brightly colored ice fishing shelters will no doubt catch your eye. A word of warning: The winds really whip across that ice, so you may want to wait until late February or early March to visit. That timeframe coincides with the arrival of 100,000 or more snow geese that is a sight to behold.
100 Museum Rd., Stevens. Visitors Center hours through Thanksgiving (reopening January 31) are Tuesday-Saturday, 8 a.m-4 p.m., and Sunday, 12-5 p.m. Call 733-1512.