With more than two million acres of state forests, 4,000 lakes and reservoirs, and 86,000 miles of rivers and streams to explore, the sky is the limit for those seeking outdoor pursuits in Pennsylvania.
To celebrate the arrival of spring, we’ve gathered just a few ideas, organized by region.
Natural beauty, fresh water, and fun in the sun attract boaters and anglers to Raystown Lake, while bikers and hikers crave the challenge of the Allegrippis Trails – more than 30 miles of stacked-loop multi-use trails at the lake. Altoona’s biker-friendly roads offer challenging stretches combined with scenic beauty; hook up with Alleghenies Bike Tours for the ultimate two-wheel adventure. The fish in central Pennsylvania put up a good fight, but the wild and stocked populations of rainbow, brown, and brook trout satisfy anglers from near and far. Favorite fishing holes include Penns, Spring, and Bald Eagle creeks. Rev up with seven motorcycle tours, 800 miles of peaks and valleys, and one of the largest bike rallies in the country: Thunder in the Valley.
Pittsburgh & Its Countryside
Indiana County’s Ghost Town and Hoodlebug rail trails offer access to open fields, wooded sections, historical sites, and stone arch bridges. Hike, bike, or geocache along the Butler-Freeport Community Trail, a converted rail route that stretches for 21 miles from Laneville to Butler, offering sights of forested valleys, tumbling mountain brooks, and swaths of farmland. Launch a canoe, kayak, or boat on Mahoning Creek Lake in New Bethlehem to experience the serenity of the waters amid the forested hillsides and valleys of Armstrong County. Rocky Mountain and Conococheague creeks in Caledonia State Park in Fayetteville are beloved spots to hook brown, rainbow, and brook trout. Walk, run, or bike the 24-mile Three Rivers Heritage Trail System alongside the Allegheny, Monongahela, and Ohio rivers through Pittsburgh and pass stop-worthy attractions like the Heinz Field, Phipps Conservatory, and Carnegie Science Center.
Pennsylvania’s Great Lakes
Sharon industrialist Frank H. Buhl and his wife Julia gave much of their fortune to the community, including land for a nine-hole golf course. Buhl Farm Park is the only free golf course in the U.S. See a turtle pond, honeybee hive, and other live animal habitats at the Asbury Woods Nature Center in Erie, with 205 acres of unspoiled wetlands, forests, streams, fields, and historic properties to explore. Coastal Living ranked the 13.5-mile trail around Presque Isle State Park as one of the best coastal bike trails in the U.S. Other outdoor activities include seven miles of sandy beaches, kayaking, and birding (more than 320 avian species have been identified in the area). Approximately 52 miles of hiking and interpretive trails wind through Oil Creek State Park, where you can immerse yourself in the history of the early petroleum industry. Picnicking, boating, hiking, and hunting are just a few of the recreational opportunities at Shenango River Lake in Hermitage. Spend an evening camping, or cast a line in the lake to attract bass or walleye.
In the heart of the Allegheny National Forest, you can “walk the tracks across the sky” at Kinzua Bridge State Park in Mt. Jewett. A walkway extends 624 feet into the Kinzua Gorge, once the site of the world’s longest and highest railroad bridge. Gorge yourself on nature at the 1,000-foot-deep Pine Creek Gorge– known as “Pennsylvania’s Grand Canyon” – on Wellsboro’s Ole Covered Wagon Tour, a tour of the canyon’s floor via the Pine Creek Rail Trail. Take flight 1,300 feet above the Susquehanna River at Hyner View State Park, one of Pennsylvania’s most popular spots for hang gliding. Climb over and crawl through 20 acres of massive sandstone boulders at Bilger’s Rocks in Clearfield County. Check for educational workshops on the area’s geology, flora and fauna. At Parker Dam State Park in Penfield, hike the Trail of New Giants and Souder Trail to compare a young forest to older, established woodlands.
Dutch Country Roads
Interpretive signs on the 11-mile Cumberland Valley Rail Trail from Shippensburg to Newville offer insight about southern Pennsylvania’s agricultural and Civil War heritage. More than 220 miles of the 2,160-mile Appalachian Trail – a hiking route that stretches from Georgia to Maine – runs through southern Pennsylvania. Spend time at Appalachian Trail Museum in Pine Grove Furnace State Park, the trail’s halfway point. Make your way to the top of 2,500-acre Hawk Mountain Sanctuary in Kempton to delight in breathtaking views of the Appalachian Mountains and investigate the world’s first refuge for birds of prey. Pair the splendor of Pennsylvania’s great outdoors with all the fun of the “Sweetest Place on Earth®” at Hersheypark Camping Resort®, where cabins and RV and tents sites are available year-round.The Susquehanna River Water Trail, which highlights the waterway’s biological diversity and historical significance, has more than 30 access points in Lancaster and York counties for fishing, paddling, hiking, and birding. Recently voted “Best Urban Trail in America” by USA Today, the Greater Reading Trails System (GRTS) offers more than 125 miles of trails ranging in difficulty, from beginner-friendly to technical, rock-strewn trails. Access them via the Schuylkill River Greenway Rail Trail.
Philadelphia & the Countryside
Get a taste of Montgomery County’s most beautiful landscapes on the 20-mile Perkiomen Trail, which travels along portions of Reading Railroad’s Perkiomen rail bed and passes several historic train stops. One of the best ways to explore Evansburg State Park’s expansive meadows, mature forests, and historic cropland is on horseback. Nestled between Norristown and Collegeville, the park has 15 miles of trails for riding. With more than 9,200 acres of rivers and creeks and 57 miles of trails, Fairmount Park in Philadelphia connects 63 neighborhood parks and is one of the largest urban wilderness spaces in the U.S. More than 175 species of birds and 400 types of plants inhabit John James Audubon Center at Mill Grove. Choose from nine miles of hiking routes around the picturesque property, including a primo birding route along Perkiomen Creek. Boaters, including catamarans and windsurfers, treasure Nockamixon State Park in Bucks County for its 1,450-acre lake, also a classified trophy bass-fishing lake.
Explore the Delaware & Lehigh National Heritage Corridor by car, bike, or foot to admire the pastoral landscape dotted with covered bridges and trace the integral pathway that carried coal and iron from Wilkes-Barre to Philadelphia. Launch a kayak or canoe on the southern section of 72-mile Lehigh River Water Trail from White Haven to Easton for amazing sights of Lehigh Valley’s rolling hills, forested riparian habitats, and cities like Allentown and Bethlehem. On the guided walking tour at Lost River Caverns in Hellertown, investigate the natural limestone cave’s stunning stalactites and stalagmites, a rock and mineral museum, and the Lost River, a mysterious stream flowing through the cavern that originates from an unknown source and disappears under the Earth’s surface. View elk and bison grazing in the fields on the Elk Watching Trail at Trexler Nature Preserve in Schnecksville, a 1,108-acre sanctuary founded to protect endangered bison and elk at the turn of the 20th century. Lehigh Valley’s verdant landscape and gently rolling hills facilitate an ideal environment for golf courses – and the region has 25 to choose from, including favorites like Allentown Municipal Golf Course and Bethlehem Golf Club.
Hop on the 150-mile Great Allegheny Passage, a rail trail from Pittsburgh to Washington, D.C. that takes hikers and bikers along wild rivers and through shaded forests and welcoming towns like West Newton and Rockwood. Peppered with dense hardwood canopies, wildflower-lined creeks, and rugged stretches of the wilderness, the landscapes of the 70-mile Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail impress both casual ramblers and seasoned backpackers. A nationally renowned whitewater-rafting destination, the southern portion of the Youghiogheny River Water Trail flows through Ohiopyle State Park and offers an excellent variety of rapids and a scenic paddling experience. The lake at Laurel Hill State Park is a haven for swimming, kayaking, canoeing, and sailing, while the park’s favorite Hemlock Trail leads to beautiful old-growth hemlock stands and glimpses of Laurel Hill Creek. Spot deer, turkeys, and varieties of waterfowl from the wildlife observation deck at Keystone State Park, or claim a spot on the swimming beach to soak up some sun on a summer’s day.
More than 300-year-old hemlocks, breathtaking waterfalls, and more than 800 wooded acres in the beauty of northeastern PA’s Endless Mountains make Salt Springs State Park an outdoor paradise. Chase waterfalls framed by majestic old-growth timber at Ricketts Glen State Park, where you can feel the cooling spray from 22 named waterfalls, ranging from 11-feet to a whopping 94-feet high. On a warmer day, take in one of nature’s wonders: Wilkes-Barre’s Seven Tubs Natural Area, where a stream pours over small potholes or “tubs” carved into rock by flowing water over thousands of years. Peer over the Loyalsock Canyon Vista at Worlds End State Park in June when the mountain laurels bloom for incredible panoramas of the Endless Mountains, or take a refreshing swim in the cool waters of Loyalsock Creek. Adored by local walkers, joggers, and bicyclists, the 70-mile Lackawanna River Heritage Trail connects more than 30 communities in Luzerne, Lackawanna, Susquehanna, and Wayne counties.
With 52 miles of uninterrupted shoreline, Lake Wallenpaupack is the perfect place to spend the day kayaking, water skiing, parasailing, wakeboarding, jet skiing, or bass fishing. Lehigh Gorge State Park provides a picturesque setting for a bike challenge: pedal through an abandoned railroad bed, past fantastic rock formations, and tumbling waterfalls. Whether you’re a trout-seeking angler, avid hiker, or first-time kayaker, the 70,000-acre Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area offers more than 100 miles of hiking trails and some of the best paddling in the northeastern U.S. Perched on Camelback Mountain at 2,100 feet above sea level, Big Pocono State Park affords views of three states, mountaintop picnic areas, and steep hiking for seasoned ramblers. Glide through the trees at up to 60 mph on a zipline in the Pocono Mountains, where you challenge your friends or family members to races on aerial obstacle courses with suspension bridges, nets, and swinging logs.
Valleys of the Susquehanna
More than 48 miles of trails that link to nearly 100 miles of connecting roads padded with lush forests await mountain bikers at R.B. Winter State Park. Pick up a trail map at the mountain-biking trailhead in the park’s main lot. Whether your ride of choice is an ATV, Jeep, UTV, or dirt bike, Anthracite Outdoor Adventure Area offers 6,500 acres of off-road fun for motorized and non-motorized vehicles, including rock crawling, mud bogging, and technical single track. Drop a line in the west branch of the Susquehanna River to hook smallmouth bass and catfish in Milton State Park, a 82-acre island on the river known for its fishing and birding opportunities. When the Adam T. Bower Dam in Shikellamy State Park is fully inflated, the water levels of Lake Augusta rise, supplying four miles of waters for boating, kayaking, waterskiing, and jet skiing. Observe and photograph migrating waterfowl, shorebirds, warblers and more than 200 other bird species at Montour Preserve in Danville, where fishing for largemouth bass, channel catfish, and yellow perch at Lake Chillisquaque is also popular.
Find more outdoor recreation and trip ideas in PA.
Read Biking the Laurel Highlands & Other PA Biking Trails, Water Trails in PA, and Top Places to Fish in Pennsylvania.