Boyd Big Tree Preserve in Pennsylvania

Tom and I checked out the Boyd Big Tree Preserve on our last day in Harrisburg.  We stayed in the Harrisburg area an extra day to explore some of the parks.  After four days sitting at the loom, I needed a good hike.

The Boyd Big Tree Preserve is a 1,000 acre conservation area on Blue Mountain west of Harrisburg.  There are 12 miles of trails through a variety of large trees.  Wildflowers and birds are easy to see during hikes along ridges, following power lines, and around ponds and springs.

Tom and I chose a figure 8 around most of the Boyd Big Tree Preserve.  We ended up hiking about five miles.  We would have done more, but I had an allergy attack that began halfway through the walk.  By the time we called it quits, my eyes were swollen and I had sneezed dozens of times.  I’ve been around ragweed, goldenrod, and butterfly weed plenty this summer, so I’m not sure what set off my allergies so severely.

Nevertheless, we enjoyed our quiet walk in the woods and meadows.  The trails were well marked and the trail map was easy to follow.  Each intersection gave our choices clearly.  We hiked some of the Pond Loop, East Loop, Lower Spring, and the Upper Spring Trail.  It was a beautiful day with plenty of sunshine and moderate temperatures.

The reason we wanted to go to Boyd Big Tree Preserve was to see the American Chestnut trees.  The American Chestnut was an important tree in the United States until 1904 when a chestnut blight infected trees at a rate of 50 miles per year.  By 1950, millions of chestnut trees were dead.  Only a small grove of trees in a remote area of Wisconsin survived.  Chestnuts are familiar to us today because of song (“Chestnuts roasting on an open fire”) and poem (“Under the spreading chestnut tree, the village smithy stands.”).  Tom and I had never seen a live chestnut tree.


The Boyd Big Tree Preserve is involved in conservation work to develop a blight-resistant American Chestnut.  They have a grove of chestnuts that are thriving in this native environment and they are now exporting the trees to various preserves in the east.  At the end of our hike, we were disappointed because we had not found the grove of chestnuts.

Turns out, we had walked right by them when we got out of the car in the parking lot.  A classic example of not seeing the forest for the trees.  The American Chestnuts stood out by themselves in a grove on one side of the parking lot, while the Big Tree Preserve stretched out on the other side.

Once we found the chestnut grove, we admired the beautiful trees for a while.  The chestnuts were on showy display, looking a lot like a buckeye.  Tom wanted his picture taken beside the grove so that he could say, “Under the spreading chestnut tree, Fort Frederica’s smithy stands.”

Visiting Boyd Big Tree Preserve was worth it just for the chance to see an American Chestnut tree growing and thriving.  Getting a nice hike in was a bonus.