Hoping to avoid the crowds while still getting out and exploring the great outdoors? It may be easier than you think! Pennsylvania boasts 121 free state parks, that’s more than 300,000 acres calling your name. Hike, birdwatch, picnic, fish, camp, boat, or more at these lesser-known state parks that offer endless adventures.
Know before you go: We recommend contacting your destination before your visit for their latest rules and regulations. Find up-to-date COVID-19 traveler resources on visitPA.com
1. Trough Creek State Park
Enjoy challenging hikes and spectacular scenery at the 541-acre Trough Creek State Park. The park features 12 miles of adrenaline-pumping trails – many following steep and narrow rock ledges with vertical cliffs and passing through boulder fields and narrow ravines. Balanced Rock Trail is a visitor-favorite, passing over Great Trough Creek via a suspension bridge to the stunningly beautiful Rainbow Falls before ending at the geologic wonder, Balanced Rock.
2. Lehigh Gorge State Park
Characterized by its steep walls, thick vegetation, waterfalls, and rock outcroppings, the 6,100-acre Lehigh Gorge State Park is a great destination for an off-the-beaten-path adventure. Nature lovers can enjoy 33 miles of trail along the Lehigh River including several stunning waterfalls. With its class II to III whitewater rapids, the park’s whitewater boating offers thrills galore. Or for a blast from the past, stand inside the remains of Lock 22 of the old Lehigh Canal.
3. Salt Springs State Park
The 405-acre Salt Springs State Park is small but mighty with its stands of towering, 300-year-old hemlocks. The park features nearly 15 miles of hiking trails for all skill levels, with the 0.2-mile Overlook Trail specifically designed for accessibility. Visit the old Wheaton House with its displays of 19-century rural life and regional wildlife. Your park adventures aren’t complete without pounding a penny into Penny Rock for good luck!
4. Prompton State Park
Take in autumn’s many colors and angles hiking, biking, boating, and exploring the 2,000-acre Prompton State Park. Its 20+ miles of rocky trails are a favorite of mountain bikers, while the 290-acre Prompton Lake is perfect for those who prefer to hang out on the water or do some bass fishing. Hike the Sidewinder Trail for a view of the park’s waterfalls, then play a round of disc golf at the park’s 18-hole course for a day filled with outdoor fun and adventure.
5. Swatara State Park
With its forests, wetlands, rolling fields, and the scenic Swatara Creek meandering through, the 3,520-acre Swatara State Park offers outdoor adventures galore. Hike or bike its 18 miles of trails. Canoe or kayak the creek or fish in the stocked and aptly named Trout Run. You can even go fossil hunting for the small marine animals that once lived here 375 million years ago! Or simply relax along Aycrigg’s Waterfall that flows all year round.
6. Laurel Hill State Park
Laurel Hill State Park boasts 4,062 acres of mountainous terrain and the 63-acre Laurel Hill Lake. The park’s 15 miles of trails offer a range of levels – from super easy to definitely challenging. The Jones Mill Run Dam with its wide variety of plants, wildlife, and waterfalls is a definite must-see, as is the Hemlock Trail Natural Area. Reserve one of the park’s lodges, camping cottages, or campsites to spend a few days enjoying the park’s great outdoors.
7. Hills Creek State Park
The 407-acre Hills Creek State Park offers a wonderful destination for a family trip. The park is brimming with wildlife including an active beaver colony, as well as frequent sightings of bald eagles, osprey, waterfowl, bears, and deer. Its year-round environmental education and interpretation programs, 5.5 miles of hiking trails, several picnic areas, and the 137-acre Hills Creek Lake all make for a full day of outdoor learning and fun.
8. Caledonia State Park
Nestled within South Mountain, the 1,125-acre Caledonia State Park has activities for happy travelers young and old. Features include 10 miles of hiking trails, picnic facilities, and a variety of camping options ranging from tent sites to the modern Caledonia Lodge. The East Branch Conococheague Creek, Rocky Mountain Creek, and Carbaugh Run flow directly through the park and surrounding forests providing an abundance of wildlife watching adventures.
9. Raymond B. Winter State Park
Learn all about Pennsylvania’s greater-than-great outdoors with a trip to the 695-acre Raymond B. Winter State Park. The park’s Halfway Run Environmental Learning Center and Sheary-Linn Amphitheater offer a wide variety of environmental education programs with hands-on activities, guided walks, and programs featuring the natural wonders to see and experience. Or explore the 1-mile Rapid Run Nature Trail on your own with a copy of “The Shrouded Forest” discovery guide in hand.
10. Locust Lake State Park
Nestled along Locust Mountain, lakeside adventure and relaxation is a highlight of the 1,772-acre Locust Lake State Park. The 52-acre Locust Lake serves as the park’s centerpiece with fishing, kayaking, canoeing, paddle boarding, and motor boating all popular activities. The park also boasts nearly seven miles of hiking trails and a short bike trail. Enjoy watching our feathered friends? Be sure to bring some binoculars because over 100 species of birds have been spotted at the park, including 16 species of birds of prey.
To learn about additional state parks in Pennsylvania, check out the visitPA website. Be sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for more PA inspiration. Don’t forget to sign up for our monthly Happy Thoughts e-newsletter so you never miss an update.