I had not hiked for 2 weeks, homebound due to a severe allergic reaction. My body, weak from being ill and from the many medications, yearned to get out onto a trail, but was not ready for anything too strenuous. I was desperate for fresh air and a view of the changing fall leaves in Pennsylvania, thus, I chose a 9ish mile trek that had little elevation change and several overlook opportunities. The out and back hike from Kimmel View to the William Penn Shelter, near Bethel, PA, was the perfect solution to my quest for colorful leaves and easy walking.
We parked on Route 501, in a road side parking lot that has ample spaces for a dozen vehicles. The lot is only a tenth of a mile from Kimmel View, so walkers see into the Swatara Creek Valley quickly after entering the woods.
There are 3 overlooks within the first mile of the southbound hike, making this a perfect walk for young kids, novice hikers and those seeking a gentle trek with high rewards.
At .8 mile just past the Fisher Overlook, there is a small stretch of rocks on the trail. Beyond the 1.2 mile mark, the trail is gentle and flat and easy on the feet, with small inclines and declines.
About 4.6 miles from Route 501, the William Penn Shelter sits at the end of a blue-blazed trail, a great location for a rest and privy break. The shelter has a sleeping loft accessible by ladder and additional sleeping space on the first floor. A picnic table, fire ring and shelter steps create a peaceful location for a hike break or an overnight sleep.
Why hike this stretch? Easy parking access, overlooks, a shelter for rest, clear trail markings and a nearby Sheetz for pre and post-hike potty use for those who do not like doing it in the woods. The close proximity of the overlooks to the parking area increases the number of people on the trail, making the first part of the hike an opportunity for socializing.
Hike difficulty classification (link) Difficulty Moderate Geographic location Bethel, PA Trailhead parking options Parking lot for 12 cars Trail amenities Privy located at the William Penn Shelter Elevation - trailhead 1,446' Elevation - highest peak 1,446' Elevation gain 1,033' Total mileage 9.6 miles Water sources Piped spring near the William Penn Shelter Highlights Views of the Swatara Creek Valley