Table of Contents[Hide][Show]
- 1. Ohiopyle State Park
- 2. Ricketts Glen State Park
- 4. Leonard Harrison State Park on the East Rim of PA Grand Canyon
- 6. Bald Eagle State Park
- 7. Worlds End State Park
- 8. Hickory Run State Park
- 9. French Creek State Park
- 10. Kinzua Bridge State Park
- 11. Pymatuning State Park
- 12. Lackawanna State Park
- 13. Susquehannock State Park
- 14. Cook Forest State Park
- 15. Prince Gallitzin State Park
- 16. Cherry Springs State Park
- 17. Erie Bluffs State Park
- 18. Presque Isle State Park on Lake Erie
The US National Parks are stunning…and crowded. State parks offer many of the same wonders – waterfalls and hiking trails, wildflowers and wildlife – on a smaller scale with less hustle and bustle. The Pennsylvania state parks are particularly gorgeous. Here are the top ones to visit in the Keystone State.
The challenge with Pennsylvania state parks is narrowing down which ones to visit first. After 30 years of living in Pennsylvania, I am still far from seeing all 111 of them! Each one has something unique to offer, but what they have in common are the beautiful sights, smells and sounds of nature. Here are my top picks.
Read More: Best Poconos Resorts for Families
1. Ohiopyle State Park
Ohiopyle State Park, located just 90 minutes from Pittsburgh, attracts millions of visitors annually with its 20,500 acres of rugged natural beauty. The rushing water of the Youghiogheny River provides some of the best whitewater boating in the eastern United States, as well as spectacular scenery. Apart from rafting, the park provides two natural waterslides in Meadow Run. Parking is available adjacent to the SR 381 bridge crossing Meadow Run. Follow the signs to Meadow Run Trail or follow the path at the back of the parking lot.
If you prefer less risky activities, Baughman Rock Vista Overlook is a must-see, right off the road. The center of this enormous panorama is the river rounding the Flats, a large horseshoe-curved peninsula that creates a deep chasm surrounded by the steep-sided mountains of Laurel Ridge.
Hiking is very popular in the park. Hiking trails at Ohiopyle State Park showcase the spectacular scenery of the Laurel Highlands. You will find a wide variety of options from short day hikes to challenging backpacking trips.
TravelingMom Tip: If you’re looking for a different kind of fun, try one of these indoor waterparks in Pennsylvania.
2. Ricketts Glen State Park
One of the most scenic Northeast Pennsylvania parks, Ricketts Glen State Park is a hiker’s paradise. Make sure to explore its main attraction, the 7.2-mile Falls Trail which follows a series of waterfalls. The 94-foot Ganoga Falls is the highest of 22.
Bring good hiking shoes; the terrain is rocky and often slippery, but the scenery is well worth the effort. The park is very popular on weekends, so parking lots fill up quickly. Come early to secure a spot.
Other popular activities are boating, canoeing, fishing, hunting and swimming. If you plan to stay overnight, the campground offers hot showers, flush toilets, shaded sites, gravel parking spurs and a sanitary dump station. Five cottages are available for rent but they go fast! Make your reservation well in advance.
3. Promised Land State Park
Promised Land State Park is located on the Pocono Plateau, 1,800 feet above sea level. It’s surrounded by 12,464 acres of the Delaware State Forest. The forests consist primarily of beech, oak, maple and hemlock trees. Two lakes and several small streams add to the park’s outstanding beauty.
There are approximately 50 miles of trails throughout Promised Land State Park and the surrounding natural areas. A five-mile hike along the Bruce Lake Road Trail leads to a natural glacial lake. Hiking in Promised Land State Park is particularly scenic during May and June when the rhododendron and mountain laurel are in bloom.
The park offers campgrounds and cabins. I recommend Pickerel Point Campground located on a peninsula on the southern side of Promised Land Lake. It offers 75 campsites, most of them on the waterfront, and three camping cottages. Limited sites and the camping cottages are open year-round. An unguarded swimming area is available at the end of the peninsula.
Pennsylvania Grand Canyon Area (Pine Creek Gorge)
The Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania, a part of the Tioga State Forest, stretches for more than 45 miles through the Allegheny Plateau in north-central Pennsylvania and reaches a depth of nearly 1500 feet.
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The canyon begins in southwestern Tioga County, just south of the village of Ansonia. It continues south to near the village of Waterville in Lycoming County. You can find two outstanding Pennsylvania state parks in the area:
4. Leonard Harrison State Park on the East Rim of PA Grand Canyon
This 585-acre Pennsylvania state park in Tioga County is situated on the east side of Pine Creek Gorge. It delivers spectacular views, especially in the fall. Seasonal whitewater rafting excursions are offered in Pine Creek, which flows through the gorge.
Hiking, hunting and fishing are popular here, along with simply exploring natural beauty.
5. Colton Point State Park on the West Rim of PA Grand Canyon
Colton Point State Park is also known for its views of the Pine Creek Gorge and offers opportunities for picnicking, hiking, fishing and hunting, whitewater boating, and camping. The park serves as a trailhead to many hiking trails.
This is the place to see a bear, deer, and wild turkey as well as bald eagles and ravens.
Pine Creek Rail Trail – Top Attraction of the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania
The 62-mile Pine Creek Rail Trail can be used for hiking, bicycling, horseback riding, and cross-country skiing. Most of it is located along the bottom of the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon.
With its gentle grade, the path is great for biking. Of course, it also makes for good hiking and running.
6. Bald Eagle State Park
Bald Eagle State Park, in the heart of Pennsylvania, is a prime location for outdoor adventure. Expect stunning landscapes, excellent hunting and fishing and opportunities to view lots of wildlife. Many activities at the park surround the 1,730-acre Foster Joseph Sayers Reservoir, the focal point for year-round recreation in the park.
Along with lodging at the Nature Inn, the park also offers rustic and modern cabins, tent sites and yurts. Bald Eagle serves as the gateway to more than 1.5 million acres of natural public lands in the Pennsylvania Wilds.
7. Worlds End State Park
Worlds End State Park – the name describes it all! Located in the Endless Mountains Region of Pennsylvania, the park delivers on its promise of being away from it all. Far from cities and major tourism routes, it sits there quietly, seemingly unaware of its quiet beauty. It pulls you in with its endless forest, stunning vistas and the soothing sound of Loyalsock Creek.
In conjunction with Loyalsock State Forest, it creates a nature retreat for those seeking undisturbed peacefulness. Hiking, camping and fishing are the main activities in the area. Visit for a day trip or week-long camping adventure.
8. Hickory Run State Park
Spanning nearly 16,000 acres in the western foothills of the Pocono Mountains, Hickory Run offers countless ways to enjoy the outdoors.
The park features 44 miles of hiking trails. Hawk Falls Trail trail provides access to a 25-foot waterfall, the gateway to which is beset with rhododendrons. Also, make sure to check out Boulder Field, a national natural landmark measuring 400 x 1,800 feet. It was formed more than 20,000 years ago. Kids love this huge natural playground. Fishing and swimming are also popular in the park.
9. French Creek State Park
Once an industrial complex for the fledgling United States of America, today French Creek State Park is an oasis for people and wildlife. Straddling the Schuylkill Highlands, the 7,730-acre park is the largest block of contiguous forest between Washington D.C. and New York City.
The forests, lakes, wetlands and fields are ripe for hiking, fishing, camping and biking. The park offers more than 35 miles of hiking trails.
TravelingMom Tip: This is a great state park to pair with a city visit. Check out our top things to do in Philadelphia with kids.
10. Kinzua Bridge State Park
When it was built in 1882, the Kinzua Bridge was the highest and longest viaduct in the world. Today, the structure has been reinvented as the Kinzua Sky Walk — a spectacular walkway that allows the public to “Walk the Tracks Across the Sky.”
Look down through the glass-bottomed observation deck to see the remaining towers supporting the historic structure. The site, part of the original elevated railroad track, overlooks the surrounding land and provides stunning views all around.
11. Pymatuning State Park
Pymatuning State Park, one of the most visited parks in the state, is located about an hour south of Erie on the western edge of the state, near the border with Ohio. The 17,000-acre park is the gateway to Pymatuning Lake. At 17,088 acres, it is the largest lake in Pennsylvania. That means water activities are the main draw at this Pennsylvania state park.
Three public beaches — Linesville, Main Beach and Beach Two — as well as the beach in Jamestown Campground are open the weekend before Memorial Day through Labor Day. Motorboats up to 20 horsepower (15 kW) are permitted on Pymatuning Lake.
There are three marinas in the Pennsylvania-owned part of the lake. They offer mooring facilities and rent pontoon boats, rowboats, motorboats and canoes. There also are stores selling bait, tackle and snacks.
12. Lackawanna State Park
Only 20 minutes from my house, this park has been a part of my life for decades now. Lake Lackawanna, a 198-acre man-made lake, is the focus of recreation at the park. The park’s main picnic area overlooks the lake. Grills and modern restrooms are scattered throughout. For larger groups, three picnic pavilions are available.
Swimming is prohibited in the lake, but a pool serves summer visitors. The complex includes shower facilities, food concessions and a spray ground/splash zone.
About 15 miles of multi-use trails wind through the park, traversing hills, lakeshore, forests and fields. Fishing is very popular in the park, including ice fishing. There is also a nice wooded campground (with a fee).
13. Susquehannock State Park
This 224-acre park in Lancaster County provides a variety of activities and an amazing view over the Lower Susquehanna River.
The park is home to 11 hiking trails varying in difficulty. Totaling over 5 miles, the trails showcase a variety of flowers and trees, as well as opportunities for birdwatching. You might see osprey, vultures, hawks and bald eagles. Wildlife such as deer or salamanders also wander through the park.
14. Cook Forest State Park
The Forest Cathedral old-growth area, a registered National Natural Landmark, is considered Pennsylvania’s finest and largest old-growth forest. Approximately 315 acres of the 448-acre cathedral area is old-growth.
The following tree species 150 years old or greater can be found here:
- eastern hemlock
- eastern white pine
- white oak
- American beech
- black cherry
- red maple
- northern red oak
- black birch
- yellow birch
- cucumber tree
- black gum
This forest has no close rival of tall, old and unique eastern white pine in the entire Northeastern United States.
This is a very popular area with meandering trails throughout. A scenic 13-mile stretch of the Clarion River flows through Cook Forest State Park and is popular for canoeing, kayaking and tubing.
15. Prince Gallitzin State Park
Prince Gallitzin State Park is the entryway to sprawling Glendale Lake. The 1,635-acre lake has 26 miles of shoreline and is a favorite of anglers and boaters.
Camping, hiking and bird watching are popular here. Visit in the spring or fall to see the migrating birds that stop here for a rest along their journey.
The park also offers 33 miles of hiking trails, an array of campsites and a boat launch area with rentable boats.
16. Cherry Springs State Park
This park boasts some of the best stargazing in the state. It has exceptionally dark skies and a wide variety of educational programs to explain astronomy, as well as accommodations for overnight stargazing. Check here for the best times to enjoy wonders of the sky.
The Susquehannock State Forest that surrounds this Pennsylvania State Park offers ample hiking trails and hunting areas.
17. Erie Bluffs State Park
Erie Bluffs consists of 587 acres of Lake Erie shoreline in western Erie County, 12 miles west of the city of Erie.
This Pennsylvania State Park showcases the largest undeveloped stretch of Lake Erie shoreline remaining in Pennsylvania. The park is home to many species of wildlife, including 80 species of birds, bats, deer, foxes and more. Since it is designated as a day-use park, there is no overnight camping allowed in the park.
18. Presque Isle State Park on Lake Erie
If you love beaches, you’ll love Presque Isle State Park. The park receives more than 4 million visitors a year, making it the most visited state park in Pennsylvania. Thirteen designated beaches deliver opportunities for swimming, boating, fishing…even surfing!
The lake waters are surprisingly warm. The small waves make it very different from swimming in the many other lakes in Pennsylvania. The park also has many trails, most under a mile.
BirdWatching Magazine rated Presque Isle one of the top birding spots in America, with waterfowl, shorebird and warbler migration.
General Information about Pennsylvania State Parks
Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) Bureau of State Parks manages 300,000 acres of the state’s land. There are no entrance fees or day-use fees for any state park in the state. Picnic tables, grills, playgrounds and swimming areas are available to visitors. (Here you can look them up by region and alphabetical order.)
You can find camping spots in the majority of the parks. Make your online campsite reservation here. You can also call toll-free 888-PA-PARKS (888-727-2757) for state park information and reservations, 7 am-5 pm, Monday to Saturday, except on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day holidays. All campsite includes fire rings and picnic tables.
Deluxe Cottages and Yurts
Apart from tent camping, Pennsylvania state parks offer deluxe cottages and yurts. For all cabin, yurt and cottage rentals, visitors need to bring bed linens, dishes and pots and pans. During the summer season, (second Friday in June – third Friday in August), deluxe cottages and yurts must be reserved for a minimum stay of one week. The minimum stay for the rest of the year is two nights. For more information check here.
Golfing in Pennsylvania State Parks
There are two public golf courses in Pennsylvania state parks, one in Caledonia State Park and another one in Evansburg State Park.
Contact the Bureau of State Parks
Bureau of State Parks
P.O. Box 8551
Harrisburg, PA 17105-8551