Free Places in the Cumberland Valley to Make a SPLASH this Summer

Check out these West Shore and Capital Area hotspots where your kids can cool off on a budget

By Rachael Benion May 22, 2024

There’s an age old secret to taming your threenager, settling your fournado and even de-angsting your tween.  And it’s one you already know because you used it with your fussy baby.  Remember the adage to take ‘em outside or put ‘em in the water? It still works, even on the bigs.  Heck, Let’s be honest, it still works for me and I’m 41.  It’s why I drag my wrinkly tired butt out of bed at 5am to paddle-board before the chaos of the day starts. 

Here are some of the best places in and around Harrisburg and the West Shore where your family can cool off without breaking the bank. Don't see your family's favorite Cumberland Valley cool-off spot here? Drop me a note at and I'll add it to our list!

Have fun making a splash! 

Make sure you're not missing out on any of the fun this summer.  Most of the pools in the area offer at least one free community swim night, so subscribe to the Harrisburg and Westshore Macaroni KID newsletter and keep your eye on the calendar for these events. Also, although I hit a couple of my favorite creek spots, stay tuned later in the summer for a more comprehensive list of The Best Creek-Stomping Secrets in South Central PA!   

1.  Laurel Lake Beach at Pine Grover Furnace State Park, Gardners PA

*Publisher Pick* Our family's favorite local spot to swim, this beach at 1100 Pine Grove Road in Gardners boasts it all.  During the summer there’s a snack-bar and lifeguards on duty and importantly, clean-enough bathrooms all year long.  It’s usually pretty mellow, but if you hit it at a crowded peak time, you can always head over to its sister beach at Fuller Lake, just a hop, skip, and a jump down the street.  Pro-tips: save your empty milk gallons and fill them with tap water.  Stick them in your trunk before you leave and you’ll have an easy way to rinse off the kids and the gear when you get back in the car. Prepare to be totally without cell service.  

2.  Ridley Park on the Conodoguinet, East Pennsboro 

*Publisher Pick* A fantastic spot that’s a bit of a hidden gem.  This park in East Pennsboro at 701 Erford Rd, Camp Hill, has excellent access to a slow spot on the Conodoguinet.  There's lots of space to picnic and a playground to enjoy.  The water is slow enough to bring your tubes, but deep enough that non-swimmers should wear PFDs if you're not in arms reach. 

3. Middlesex Splash Pad, Carlisle  

Middlesex Splash Pad at at 50 Beagle Club Road is a 30’x40’, fenced area (!!) with ten underground sprinklers.  The pad opens June 4th and runs through Labor Day from noon to 7:00PM.  Pro-tips:  Bring a bucket and a few plastic cheapo cups and watch your kids have the time of their lives.  The coating on the concrete can get a bit slick, and soled water shoes really help with this. 

4. Ned Smith Center Playground Water Feature, Millersburg 

Located at 176 Water Company Road in Millersburg, PA, this one is bit further of a trek for most of our readers, but this man-made water feature nestled the stunning nature inspired playground is well worth the trip.  While you are there, check out the trails and the Nature Center and Gallery.   

5. The BRAND SPANKIN NEW Splash pad at Fisher Park, Mechanicsburg 

This splashpad at 2000 Fisher Road in Mechanicsburg is definitely on my family's summer bucket list!  Readers report that much like the Middlesex splash pad, the ground can be quite slippery, and families should consider wearing water shoes.  

6. Letort Park Spray Pool and Memorial Park Spray Pool, Carlisle  

Letort Spray Pool is at 260 East Pomfret Street, Carlisle   The park offers many other highlights - a large playground, trails, and more.  Memorial Park is located at 149 West Penn Street Carlisle. Both are open Memorial Day to Labor Day,  11:30-7:30.

7. Doubling Gap Lake, Colonial Denning State Park, Newville  

This lakeside beach at 1599 Doubling Gap Road in Newville is surrounded by forest and mountains.  It is open from Memorial Day to mid-September, 8 a.m. to sunset. Come back in the winter for ice skating! 

8. Quaker Race Day Use Area at Gifford Pinchot State Park, Lewisberry  

The swimming area at the Quaker Race Day Use Area is open from 8 AM to dusk, and although there is ongoing construction expected to last much of this summer, it should not effect swimmers enjoying a dip.  The swimming beach is ADA accessible and in close proximity to a playground, snack bar, boat rental, and picnic facilities.   

9. Misters at Friendship Park and Winding Hills Park, Mechanicsburg

So the real draw at both of these parks isn't so much the water features as the awesome playgrounds, which is why I love both.  You know how it goes, the kids need to climb and run and scream so you take them to the playground, but according to your tween it's about a thousand degrees out and OH THE DRAMA.  We love these playgrounds because the misters keep the heat drama down to a minimum and the whining limited to sibling disputes.  I don't think you are intended to get soaked at these things, but somehow my kids end up drenched.  They're talented like that.  We especially enjoy the accessibility of Winding Hill and that the designers considered children with extra sensory needs.   

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