Few wildlife experiences compare with watching a Golden Eagle cruising over a landscape painted in autumn’s brilliant colors - and there’s no better place to see this than the wind-swept rock outcrop at Waggoner’s Gap Hawk Watch.
Hawk watching first began at Waggoner’s Gap in the 1950’s, and regular counts began in the 1980’s. Today, the site is manned daily by experienced counters from August 1 through December 31, documenting more than 1,000 hours of raptor migration each season. Learn more on the history of hawk watching in Pennsylvania.
Waggoner’s Gap Hawk Watch has been owned and operated by Audubon Pennsylvania since 2001. Its acquisition was made possible by the Erdman Trust and Natural Lands, ensuring that hawk watching, education and scientific monitoring will continue in perpetuity.
Visiting Waggoner’s Gap
Waggoner’s Gap is located 10 miles north of downtown Carlisle on Route 74 on the Cumberland/Perry County line. A marked parking lot is on the east side of Route 74, 0.1 miles north of the mountain crest in Perry County. For map and directions, click here.
Weather conditions at the exposed outcrop are often cooler and windier than in the valley. Be sure to wear sturdy shoes and use caution when walking on the rocks. If the rocks are damp, they can be slippery. Always carry water and snacks. Dress in layers and be prepared for sudden changes in weather. Birds will not migrate in a downpour, so be sure to check the forecast.
Trail to the Lookout
Upon arrival to the north parking lot, please note that there is a portable toilet – the only one onsite. The trailhead is near the kiosk sign. Follow the trail uphill. After approximately 100 yards, the trail splits, but both forks lead to the lookout. The trail to the right is less steep, a bit longer, and traverses past a series of interpretive signs that introduce the 16 species of raptors that fly past the site. This trail may be better for small children. The other trail is more steep and shorter.
The Lookout is an angled rock outcrop. Bring a cushion to sit on and be sure to have warmer clothing than you think you might need. There is very limited space for chairs of any sort and that space is claimed very early in the day.
Please note that the parking lot is gated and opened each day. The gate may be locked overnight and during inclement weather when no watch is being conducted.
See our Frequently Asked Questions for additional information.
Waggoner's Gap Hawk Watch is situated atop the Kittatinny Ridge north of Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and offers a premier fall hawkwatching experience. The Kittatinny Ridge is a continentally important flyway and provides stopover habitat for more than 150 species of songbirds and 16 species of hawks, eagles, falcons and vultures. It has been designated by Audubon as one of the state’s largest and highest -priority Important Bird Areas and one of eight Conservation Landscapes designated by the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
Fall Raptor Migration
Each autumn, thousands of birds of prey are observed migrating southward along the ridge. Many of these diurnal raptors take advantage of the updrafts and thermals that develop along and adjacent to the Kittatinny thus minimizing the amount of energy they use while migrating to their wintering grounds. Some species journey as far as Central and South America. The ridge boasts several internationally famous hawk-watching sites, including Waggoner’s Gap and Hawk Mountain Sanctuary.
During the fall migration season (Aug. 1— Dec. 31), as many as 26,000 raptors have been counted in a single year at Waggoner’s Gap. Daily counts are posted by volunteers for the Hawk Migration Association of North America (HMANA).