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15 Best State Parks in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania is home to some of the most beautiful state parks in America. They are perfect for outdoor enthusiasts who enjoy hiking, biking, swimming, and boating. If you’re looking for a great place to spend your summer vacation or a weekend getaway check out the best state parks in Pennsylvania.

With over 121 parks to choose from many of them offer spectacular scenery with waterfalls galore and abundant wildlife including black bears, wild turkeys, red foxes, white-tailed deer, and coyotes.

Here is our list of the best state parks in Pennsylvania.

1. Ricketts Glen State Park

Ricketts Glen State Park is known for being the best state park in Pennsylvania but also ranks as one of the top parks in the United States.

If you are a person who loves to chase waterfalls, this park won’t disappoint. With over 13,000 acres in the park, the main attraction is the waterfall hike. This 7-mile strenuous waterfall trail has 22 named waterfalls as well as several smaller ones that aren’t named. The largest of these falls is the 94′ Ganoga Falls.

Lake Jean is the center point of the park with a beautiful sandy beach and swimming area. Along with picnic tables and a snack bar, it’s a great place to spend a summer afternoon.

Boats can be rented during the summer season, or you can bring your own (electric motor or non-motorized only.

Non-motorized boating is allowed on the lake. You can either bring your own or during peak summer times, boats can be rented near the snack bar.

The Park is part of the Audubon Susquehanna River Birding and Wildlife Trail. There are 23 varieties of warblers to Bald Eagles.

During the winter there is ice fishing, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, ice climbing, and winter camping.

Ricketts Glen has a 120-site campground for RVs and tent camping. They also have 10 modern cabins with kitchens and baths as well as 5 camping cottages.

In addition to the famous waterfall trail, the park has 28 miles of hiking (13 trails) ranging from .8 miles to 5 miles, rated from easy to more difficult.

Location: 695 State Route 487, Benton, PA

2. Presque Isle State Park

If you’re looking for a Pennsylvania park with a sandy beach, Presque Isle State Park is where you want to go. Located on 3,200 acres on Lake Erie, this park is one of Pennsylvania’s gems and is the only shoreline in the state.

The Park features 13 different beaches all on Lake Erie. Although they all offer sandy beaches and swimming, they are unique, some popular with families as others offer sports, food and changing areas. Swimming is only available when the lifeguards are on duty.

Make sure to visit the Presque Isle Lighthouse (a small fee charged). You can climb to the top for stunning views of the park and Lake Erie.

Also offered in the park are boat tours. These 90-minute tours give you a chance to see the park from another view of Lake Erie. If you prefer kayaking, you can either bring your own or rent one from the boat rental near Graveport Pond. You can take a pontoon boat tour run by the park from Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day.

If you prefer staying on land birdwatching and hiking are popular pastimes at Presque Isle State Park. The park of considered one of the best places for birdwatching in Pennsylvania with more than 300 species on record. The Park also has 11 miles of hiking trails which anyone can do as it is mostly flat terrain within the park.

Fishing is also a very popular activity. The North Pier is a narrow channel offering good fishing as well as other places along Lake Erie.

This Park also has over 13 miles of bicycling trails we well as a 75’ observation tower.

As you can see from the above there is so much to do at Presque Isle State Park that it is worth putting on your bucket list.

Location:  301 Peninsula Drive, Erie, PA

3. Cook Forest State Park

Known for its old-growth forest, Cook Forest State Park covers 8,500 acres and has 13 miles stretch of the Clarion River flowing through the park. It’s a National Natural Landmark because of its towering White Pines and hemlocks.

There are many recreational opportunities in Cooks Forest including hiking, biking, boating, horseback riding, picnicking, fishing, and camping. In winter you can enjoy ice skating, snow showing, cross-country skiing, and sledding. There are also several historic places you can see when visiting the park.

Location: 113 River Road, Cooksburg, PA

4. Clear Creek State Park

Clear Creek State Park spreads 1,900 acres with the Clarion River traveling through it. The Park is known for its hiking and is a paddling paradise for outdoor enthusiasts.

Once used as a transportation route, the Clarion River is now known for canoeing, kayaking, and fishing. There are 2 paddling trips that you can take in the park, one is 4 miles, and one is 10 miles. The river is considered a class 1 and is best during the spring and the fall.

The Clear Creek is stocked with trout making for great fishing. The park also offers swimming with 180 feet of sandy beachfront.

Hiking is a favorite pastime in the park with 20 hiking trails totaling 25 miles from easy to more difficult hiking. A lot of the hikes begin near Clear Creek, which flows into the Clarion River.

The Park also has a 53-site campground, 2 canoe/kayak camping sites, 22 rustic cabins on the Clarion River as well as 2 yurts.

Winter brings snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and sledding to the park.

Location: 38 Clear Creek Park Rd, Sigel, PA

5. Kinzua Bridge State Park

Kinzua Bridge State Park is a small park at only 339 acres but offers a lot of Pennsylvania history. Featuring the viaduct that was once the tallest (301’ high) and the longest (205’ long). The railroad structure was destroyed by a tornado in 2003.

Today it has been rebuilt into the Kinzua Bridge Skywalk. You can walk the 600’ path to the end where there is a glass platform. The view of the Kinzua Creek Valley awaits you.

Even if you are afraid of heights this park is still worth a visit. The Visitor’s Center has 2 floors full of exhibits showing the environment, nature, energy, engineering, and history of the area and the viaduct. A lot of these exhibits are interactive, hands-on, and fun for all ages. In one of the rooms, they even have a miniature train traveling around the walls.

There are a few hiking trails in the park including the General Kane Trail (1.6 miles) an easy walk that goes through a hardwood forest. The other hiking trail (.8 mile) is the Kinzua Creek Trail which goes to the bottom of the valley giving you an up-close view of the fallen towers. You will need sturdy footwear for this trail, and it is prohibited to enter the debris field.

The Knox & Kane Rail Trail begins (ends) in Kinzua Bridge State Park near the skywalk. This trail is 7.5 miles (each way) and goes to Route 219 at Lantz Corners. The park also has a day picnic area as well as a pavilion you can rent.

Location: 296 Viaduct Road, Mount Jewet, PA

6. & 7. Leonard Harrison State Park and Colton Point State Park

Pennsylvania's Grand Canyon, The Pine Creek Gorge
Pine Creek Gorge

The one thing these two parks have in common is they sit in the Pine Creek Gorge, known as Pennsylvania’s Grand Canyon. The parks are 16 miles apart (driving distance) and offer different viewpoints of the gorge. If you have the time in the area, I recommend visiting each park.

The Pine Creek Gorge is in the area called the PA Wilds in the Tioga National Forest. The gorge covers 165,000 acres and it’s an outdoor lover’s dream.

The Pine Creek Rail Trail goes through the gorge and is one of the nicest bike trails in the state. Other activities include hiking and paddling Pine Creek as well as horseback riding.

Leonard Harrison State Park (East Rim of the Canyon)

This park is the best place to take in views of Pennsylvania’s Grand Canyon. On its 585-acre property, there is a visitor’s center as well as a platform overlooking the gorge.

Turkey Path is a 2-mile roundtrip difficult hike where you will pass several waterfalls. The trail has a lot of steps that go to the bottom of the gorge ending on the Pine Creek Rail Trail. There you will be at Pine Creek where fishing is available.

The park has a 28-site campground for smaller RVs and tents. There is only 1 site that accommodates a 30-foot RV and 12 sites from 20 to 30 feet. The campground is open from late April to mid-October. The park also offers a large picnic area with grills for your convenience.

Location: 4797 Route 660, Wellsboro, PA

Colton Point State Park (West Rim of the Canyon)

Directly across from Leonard Harrison State Park, Colton Point offers views of the canyon from the west side.  This 368-acre park is more rugged and has about 100 picnic tables and 5 pavilions that you can rent around the park. This area only has vault toilets. Hiking trails here are more difficult as they pass near many steep cliffs, so stay on the trails.

The Turkey Path from this park is a 3-mile round trip trail and is very steep with a 70’ waterfall about ½ mile down. It goes to the bottom of the gorge to Pine Creek but doesn’t have access over the creek to the Pine Creek Rail Trail. The Rim Rail is mostly flat hiking and links the overlook view areas together; the trail is about 1 mile.

Location: Shippen, PA

For more information visit our post on the Ultimate Guide to the Pine Creek Gorge

8. Sinnemahoning State Park

This park is chosen as one of the best Pennsylvania state parks because it has something that you don’t get to see on the east coast: Elk!

Surrounded by the Elk State Forest, this 1,910-acre PA state park represents the tranquility of what most people are looking for on a vacation. The park offers a good mix of opportunities to find yourself as well as educational and interesting programs offered by the staff.

The park’s wildlife ranges from common birds to bald eagles and of course the Pennsylvania elk. The park offers a wildlife viewing area at the north end of the park.

The close by Elk Visitors Center offers elk education in the area as well as viewing platforms where elf grass at dawn and dusk.

Th Sinnemohoning State Park has 5 miles of hiking trails with views of the mountains. Hiking trails are available through hardwood forest as well as the easy Low Lands Trail is part of the original Philadephia/Erie railroad.

The park also is the home to the George B. Stevenson Reservoir which offers boating, both non-motorized and electric-only motors.

Pontoon boat rides are offered from Memorial Day to Labor Day. as per of the park’s education services. Check with the park office for schedules. Wildlife viewing and elk programs are also offered by rangers during peak park season.

During the winter months, the park has over 4 miles of snowmobile trails. In addition, there are trails that connect to the Elk State Forest for fun days of riding.

Location: 4843 Park Dr, Austin, PA

9. The Laurel Highlands State Park

The Laurel Highlands State Park is over 4,000 acres with the 63-acre Laurel Hill Lake attracting visitors for outdoor recreation with the following:

  • 15 miles of hiking trails from easy to difficult as you can choose what’s best for you
  • 2 boat launches on Laurel Hill Lake, non-motorized and motor boats
  • boat rentals are available from Memorial Day to Labor Day at the beach
  • 1200′ of sandy beach for swimming with a max water level of 5′ which is great for families
  • The snack bar is located at the beach from Memorial Day to Labor Day
  • Cold and warm water fishing in the lake including bass, trout, and catfish
  • a 262-site campground opened from mid-April to mid-October. The park also has camping cottages as well as several lodges that can accommodate up to 14 guests

Location: 1454 Laurel Hill Park Road, Somerset, PA

10. Ohiopyle State Park

Located in the Laurel Highlands section of Pennsylvania, the Ohiopyle State Park is known for several things as follows:

  • Over 20,000 acres with 79 miles of hiking trails
  • The Youghiogheny River Gorge runs through the park
  • The park is known for whitewater rafting of Class III and IV rapids. Guided adventures are available. You can also kayak in this area.
  • The Youghiogheny River Trail is a 27 miles bike trail. It is part of the Great Allegheny Passage, a flat rail bed trail that connects Pittsburgh PA to Cumberland MY.
  • The Youghiogheny River is known for trout fishing as the river is stocked within the park.
  • The park is known for its birding, especially water birds such as osprey, kingfishers, mergansers, and bald eagles. Other wildlife in Ohiopyle is black bears, deer, bobcats, fishers, and river otters.
  • Ohiopyle Falls (20′) can be viewed from the observation deck in the fall’s day-use area. Other falls in the park are Cascades (near the park office), Cucumber Falls (30′) you can see from the Meadow Run Trail, and Jonathan Run Falls (a series of small waterfalls) with views from the Jonathan Run Trail.
  • If you desire to stay overnight in the park there is a 200-site campground as well as camping cabins and yurts.

Location: Dinner Bell Road, Ohiopyle, PA

11. Lehigh Gorge State Park

Lehigh Gorge State Park with over 6,100 acres located in the Poconos Mountains is a beautiful place to visit and offers many activities for the whole family.

You can enjoy hiking, biking, fishing, boating, camping and so much more! There are also several historical sites in the park that you can explore.

The park has 33 miles of trails for all levels of hikers from beginner to advanced.

Within the park is 26 miles of the Lehigh Gorge Rail Trail, on the railbed of the Delaware and Lehigh railroad. There is a 2% uphill grade heading north.

The park has 3 beautiful waterfalls along the Lehigh Gorge, Cascades, Buttermilk Falls, and Luke’s Falls.

Class II and III rapids on the Lehigh River attract whitewater boating (kayaks) to the park. Trips are anywhere from 8.7 to 20.9 miles.

The Lehigh River offers fly-fishing. The northern section of the river is stocked with trout.

Birding is a popular activity at the park. Bald eagles, osprey, warblers, and kingfish to name a few.

There is also snowmobiling during winter with 15 miles of trails within the park.

Location: S. Lehigh Gorge Drive, Weatherly, PA

12. Hickory Run State Park

Hickory Run State Park is a hidden gem in the Pocono Mountains.

This 16,000 acres park features the National Natural Landmark, Boulder Field, flat solid rock structures that are 400′ by 1800′.You can hike to this structure or take the 5-mile dirt loop road however the road is not accessible during winter.

No visit here is complete without a stop at Hawk Falls. There are other smaller falls to hike to, Saylorsville Falls and smaller cascades along the Shades of Death trail. There is a total of 40 miles of hiking trails within the park.

Stop at the visitor’s center for the history of the park with interactive exhibits on areas of the park such as Boulder Field. You can also learn about the flood of 1849 and how logging led to the flood. There is also park information on hiking trails and trout fishing.

Hickey Run has a large 392-site campground and camping and deluxe cottages if you want to stay in the park, If you like fly-fishing the park offers miles of streams for trout.

The two lakes in Hickory Run State Park are a great place to go for some relaxation. The larger Sand Spring Lake also provides swim opportunities, and the smaller Hickey Run Lake is by Boulder Field.

Location:  3613 State Route 534, White Haven, PA

13. Pymatuning State Park

The Pymatuning State Park is a gorgeous Pennsylvania attraction that offers visitors an opportunity for outdoor adventures and relaxation. Located right on the Pennsylvania/Ohio border, this 17,088-acre park has the biggest lake (reservoir) in the commonwealth with boating, fishing, and hiking.

A must-see when in the park is the “spillway”, it’s where fish are so plentiful that they “float” on top of the water. It is said that “ducks walk on the fishes”. The park also has a fish hatchery that is worth visiting.

There are two campgrounds and cabins if you want to stay in the park. There are several swimming beaches, multiple playgrounds for kids, and docks for fishing and boat docking. And a fish cleaning station. There are several marinas a short distance away where pontoon boats, fishing boats and kayaks can be rented. Many campers bring bikes for riding in the campground.

Pymatuning has always been a refuge for bald eagles as they always nested there even when their population was low. You have a great chance of spotting eagles in this park.

Location: 2660 Williamsfield Road, Jamestown, PA

14. Cherry Springs State Park

Known as one of the best places on earth for stargazing and astronomy, Cherry Springs State Park lies among the Susquehannock State Forest. This small 82-acre park is in an ideal location sheltering it from towns leaving the night skies dark. There is a 360-degree view of the sky.

The park offers three areas where you can bring your equipment to see up to 30,000 stars on a clear night. Maybe get a glimpse of planets and asteroids in addition to the Milky Way and if you are fortunate you may even get a chance to see the Northern Lights:

  • Night Sky Public Viewing Area–no overnight stays but where you can come for a few hours each night to stargaze.
  • Overnight Astronomy Observation Field–the user must be registered to use this area which is open all night
  • Cherry Springs Rustic Campground–opened from the middle of April to the end of October

The park offers educational programs throughout the year including public stargazing viewings in the Night Sky area. Also guided walks and hands-on activities.

The park is open for stargazing all year long except for the first week in August when they have the Woodmen’s Show (lumberjack contest).

Location: 4639 Cherry Springs Road, Coudersport, PA

15. Chapman State Park

Although Chapman State Park is small with only 862 acres, it is surrounded by State Game Land and the Alleghany National Forest.

It’s a camper’s paradise with a nice 82-site campground and camping cottages as well as yurts. The campground is open from mid-April to mid-December.

The part has a 68-acre lake with boating and fishing. You can bring your own equipment or rent boats during the summer season. There is also a sandy beach with swimming and a snack bar. They have five picnic pavilions along with a picnic area. They offer ranger programs throughout the year.

There are 12 miles of hiking trails in the park and bicycling although not allowed on the hiking trails can be done on park roads. At the end of the campground, there is also a trail that is railroad grade that you can also bike.

There is a lot happening in the park during winter time which includes the following: (of course snow and ice conditions need to be met for these happenings

  • Snowmobiling–The park gives you access to over 300 miles of trails
  • Cross-Country Skiing–The part has 4.4 miles of groomed trails and there is access to many more trails in the Alleghany Forest and on State Game Land.
  • Ice-Fishing–On Champman Lake for trout and perch
  • Ice Skating–Across from the office there is an ice skating pond
  • Sledding & Tobogganing–on the western side of the park, there is a 7-acre slope great for sledding. They even have lights there for evening sledding
  • Warming Hut–By the sledding slope, this hut has a wood-burning stove and branches so you can warm up. They even have heated restrooms during winter

Location: 4790 Chapman Dam Road, Clarendon, PA

Conclusion

With so many beautiful state parks in the PA, you’re sure to find one that suits all your outdoor needs. Pennsylvania is a great place for people who love nature because of its abundance of natural beauty and wildlife.

So whether it’s hiking, biking, boating, or swimming there’s something for everyone! Let us know which park has been your favorite and why? We hope this blog post helped you get inspired to visit some new places in Pennsylvania soon!

For more information on other parks not listed here see the Pennsylvania State Parks website.

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