As visitors depart the interstate for Kings Gap State Park, and the Environmental Education Center and the top of South Mountain, they gradually ascend to higher elevations, witnessing the transformation from a majestic hardwood forest, to pine and oak woodlands. The ascent culminates in a panoramic view of south-central Pennsylvania—including the broad Cumberland Valley and the Kittatiny Ridge. From atop the ridge, turkey vultures can be seen catching the air currents created by the mountainous terrain.
Purchased in 1973, and later transferred to the Pennsylvania Bureau of State Parks, the Kings Gap Environmental Education Center fulfills two functions. The education program teaches students, instructors and other visitors about the natural world and critical environmental issues facing society through workshops, natural history programs and discovery-based learning opportunities. The 38-room stone mansion—built in 1908 by James Cameron and later owned by the Masland family—serves as a meeting place for government agencies and other organizations. On the grounds, chestnut oak trees, pitch pine, blueberry bushes and a stone wall surround a garden once cultivated by the original owners.
Maintained by the Master Gardeners of Cumberland County, the site now boasts herb, shade and native plant gardens that inspire and educate guests.
Sixteen miles of hiking trails connect the mansion area with other parts of the property, including a pine plantation originally cultivated as an experimental tree farm during the 1950s. Today, this coniferous forest of white pine, Douglas fir and larch, bordered by seasonal vernal pools, harbors a wide variety of animals, including red squirrels, red-breasted nuthatches and amphibians such as spotted salamanders and thumbnail-sized frogs called northern spring peepers. Along the winding mountain road, a scenic pond and the Kings Gap Hollow Run support a wealth of aquatic animals and diverse wetlands of sphagnum moss, cinnamon fern, skunk cabbage and tulip trees.
Cumberland County, 45 miles southwest of the city of Harrisburg
What You’ll See
Hardwood and coniferous forest. Spring-fed mountain ponds and seasonal vernal pools. A variety of amphibians, including spotted salamanders, northern spring peepers, turtles, snakes and wood frogs. Birds such as the pileated woodpecker. Kings Gap is also suitable habitat for a variety of reptiles, including the box turtle, the five-lined skink (one of Pennsylvania’s few lizards), the northern copperhead and the timber rattlesnake.
While its pH has remained steady for more than two decades, acid rain or any other source of additional alkalinity could jeopardize the pool area’s fragile habitat.
Implementing numerous management strategies, including thinning out the pine plantation to ensure the forest’s continued health.
Acquisition of 1,443 acres by The Nature Conservancy in 1973, later transferred to the state of Pennsylvania for use as an environmental education center. Acquisition of 70 acres containing vernal pools located adjacent to Kings Gap State Park in 2007, known as the Forest Pools Preserve.
Pennsylvania Bureau of Parks and Recreation, Pennsylvania Game Commission, Pennsylvania Bureau of Land Recycling and Waste Management, Pennsylvania Bureau of Forestry
It's a good idea to get in touch with the Kings Gap management to plan your visit. Contact Scott Hackenburg, Center Manager.
Kings Gap Environmental Education Center
500 Kings Gap Road
Carlisle, PA 17013
Phone: (717) 486-5031
Visit Kings Gap during any time of the year, from sunrise to sunset, for hiking, cross-country skiing, bird watching, photography and other nature-based activities. Hunt during established seasons throughout several hundred acres. Bring a map and a compass to one of three orienteering courses that are offered throughout the year.
The 38-room stone mansion houses the office and training center, serves as an ideal location for productive workshops and meetings for up to 48 people during the day, and accommodates 30 overnight.