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Goat Hill Serpentine Barrens

Part of the largest occurrence of serpentine barrens in the eastern United States


Even the most casual visitor can see the dramatic difference between the life that thrives atop the barren rock and the lush green growth of the surrounding deciduous forest in this particular section of the Appalachian Highlands.

Vast acres of wildflower meadows, cliff outcroppings and pitch pine forests are prime habitat for the many rare species of moths, butterflies and birds in this 600-acre preserve. And you might want to pack your lunch, because the steep bluffs overlooking Octoraro Creek are perfect for a picnic.

Goat Hill is located along the eastern edge of the Piedmont physiographic province, a section of the Appalachian Highlands which run from Alabama to the Saint Lawrence River of eastern Canada. The chain of serpentine barrens found along the Pennsylvania-Maryland border is one of only three such occurrences in the eastern United States. Rocks here naturally contain high levels of toxic metals and a deficiency in nutrients causing desert-like conditions.

Goat Hill is home to a variety of serpentine chickweed that is found nowhere else in the world. Goat Hill was once mined for its magnetite and chromium. In 1979, neighbors of the barrens learned that an excavating company was interested in quarrying the serpentine rock. They organized to form the “Concerned Citizens of West Nottingham Township” and opposed not only the quarry, but also any further damage to the barrens wilderness surrounding it.

Come Prepared

There is parking but no bathroom facilities. The Serpentine Barrens are only a short walk from the parking area, but wear sturdy shoes for a more strenuous hike that is required to get to the bluffs that overlook the creek. Be prepared for ticks and other biting and stinging insects during warmer months. Bring drinking water, as temperatures in the barrens can be as much as 10-15 degrees hotter than the surrounding forests.

Outsider’s Tip

Hiking and bird watching are encouraged, but mountain biking and horseback riding are not permitted. Whip-poor-wills, a nocturnal bird, can be heard around and after dusk during the spring.

Support Goat Hill

The Nature Conservancy helps to protect places that contain rare species. Membership and volunteer opportunities can be found on TNC’s website at

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