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The 11 Best Pennsylvania State Parks (Based on My Decade Writing About the State)

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Over my 10+ years of traveling PA, I’ve visited many incredible Pennsylvania State Parks. And, while I have yet to visit all of them, my experience traveling the state has given me both a great appreciation for its natural beauty and a solid knowledge of the 124 state parks in PA.

Because of this, I feel like I can finally share with you my personal picks for the 11 best PA State Parks. Why 11? Mainly because I couldn’t figure out how to cut this list down to the top 10.

What to do when camping in Ohiopyle State Park
There’s a lot of beauty and history to explore in PA’s state parks.

It’s worth noting, however, that just because this list only features 11 parks, you should still take the time to visit some or all of the other 113 state parks in Pennsylvania as each offers something special to see.

I’ve never been to a state park that I regretted visiting.

All that said, here are my picks for the 11 best Pennsylvania State Parks, all listed in no particular order.

Ricketts Glen State Park

B Ricketts Falls in Ricketts Glen State Park
Ricketts Glen State Park’s Falls Trail might be the best hike in the region.

Ricketts Glen State Park is located primarily in Luzerne County, PA, with portions in Sullivan County and Columbia County. 

Ricketts Glen was actually slated to be a national park, but plans got derailed by World War 2, so PA stepped in and made this land a state park.

This Pennsylvania State Park is best known for the Falls Trail, which features 21 named waterfalls (as well as several other unnamed ones and seasonal drops) along its 7.2-mile length. This is very likely the best day hike in the northeastern United States.

In addition to the Falls Trail, the park also features a great campground, two lakes, an abandoned dam, and several other hidden waterfalls.

Ohiopyle State Park

Youghiogheny River from the Meadow Run Trail in Ohiopyle State Park
Ohiopyle State Park is one of the most beautiful places in all of Pennsylvania.

Ohiopyle State Park is located in Fayette County in the Laurel Highlands of southwestern PA. At nearly 20,000 square acres in size, there is a ton to explore here, though most visitors stick to the attractions in the Youghiogheny River Gorge.

There is so much to explore here that you could easily spend several days just visiting the park’s many beautiful spots including Ohiopyle Falls, Cucumber Falls, the Natural Waterslides, and much more.

Plus, Ohiopyle State Park is also an incredibly popular place to go white water rafting and is at the center point of the 150-mile Great Allegheny Passage rail trail.

Cherry Springs State Park

Seeing the Milky Way at Pennsylvania's Cherry Springs State Park
Cherry Springs State Park has the darkest skies in PA.

Cherry Springs State Park is unique amongst the PA State Parks on this list in that there really isn’t that much to do here during the day. In fact, there’s only one short trail in the park and most of the park is just an open field.

However, what makes this park so special is that it was made the world’s second International Dark Sky Park and is one of, if not the, darkest spots in the eastern United States.

The park is located on a mountaintop in Potter County, far from any large towns (though there are some great nearby attractions to fill your day).

At night, just lay under the stars and enjoy the incredible beauty here, including the ability to see the Milky Way with just your eyes. You can also take in one of the park’s many evening programs.

Presque Isle State Park

A lifeguard watching people sunbathing on the beach at Presque Isle State Park in Erie, PA
Have a fabulous beach day at Presque Isle State Park in Erie.

Presque Isle State Park in Erie is the most visited of all the Pennsylvania State Parks, and it’s not hard to see why. In fact, even though it’s so highly visited, I still feel that it’s still one of the state’s best-kept secrets.

All of that is thanks to the miles of pristine beaches you’ll find here along the shores of Lake Erie. The beaches are fresh water and quite warm in the summer, while still having nice waves to play in (plus no sharks or jellyfish to worry about).

The park itself is located on a peninsula with easy access from the city of Erie. Visitors can also ride bikes, take a scenic boat tour, go hiking, or visit lighthouses.

Hickory Run State Park

People exploring the Hickory Run boulder field near Albrightsville PA
Hickory Run State Park offers many great attractions to explore.

Hickory Run State Park is one of my favorite places to explore in the Poconos and offers a great variety of attractions to explore.

This popular park features some great hiking trails (notably the Shades of Death Trail), a beautiful waterfall, and several interesting dams. Plus, there’s an incredible boulder field that’s a ton of fun to explore.

In addition to all these great attractions, Hickory Run also features two lakes and a popular campground for those looking to stay the night.

Kinzua Bridge State Park

Sunset at Kinzua Bridge State Park
Kinzua Bridge State Park is centered around the ruins of this historic bridge.

Kinzua Bridge State Park in McKean County preserves the site of what was once the tallest railroad bridge in the world when it was completed in 1900.

The park was opened around the bridge in 1970 and train excursions ran across it until 2002. In 2003, while the bridge was undergoing repairs, 60% of the bridge was toppled by a tornado, leaving most of the bridge in ruins on the valley floor.

Today, visitors can visit to check out these impressive ruins and learn about both its history and the power of nature. I love walking out on the remains of the bridge and looking out on the ruins from 300 feet above the valley floor. There’s even a glass floor if you’re brave enough.

You can also take a steep hiking trail down to the base to get a close view of the ruins or hike one of the other trails in the park. There is also a fabulous museum about the bridge within the park.

McConnells Mill State Park

McConnells Mill Covered Bridge in PA
McConnells Mill State Park is one of the most fun places to explore in PA.

McConnells Mill State Park is located about an hour north of Pittsburgh and follows the Slippery Rock Creek Gorge.

This long and skinny park features some incredible natural beauty, including several great waterfalls like Hell’s Hollow Falls, Alpha Falls, and Breakneck Falls. There are also some interesting rocks and a small overlook.

For history lovers, don’t miss the area around McConnell’s Mill Covered Bridge and the historic McConnell’s Mill, which is open on select days.

Leonard Harrison State Park

Otter Overlook in Leonard Harrison State Park near Wellsboro, Pennsylvania
There are incredible views of the PA Grand Canyon in Leonard Harrison State Park.

Leonard Harrison State Park is located near Wellsboro, PA and sits high above the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon.

The main draw here is the phenomenal views of the canyon (known officially as the Pine Creek Gorge), with its base nearly 800 feet below. Several vantage points allow for a variety of views through the gorge.

It’s worth noting that the views on the opposite side of the canyon in Colton Point State Park are a bit better and less crowded, but I give Leonard Harrison State Park the advantage because the views here are easily accessible.

This park also features the incredible Turkey Path, which leads from the rim of the canyon to the bottom and the Pine Creek Rail Trail. Along the way, the trail passes several waterfalls.

Cook Forest State Park State Park

Child looking up at large tree in the Forest Cathedral in Cook Forest State Park in Pennsylvania
Cook Forest State Park is home to some of the most massive trees in the northeast.

Cook Forest State Park in western Pennsylvania is easily among my favorite state parks in Pennsylvania thanks to its incredible beauty.

The highlight of the park is the Forest Cathedral, which is home to one of the most pristine strands of virgin forest in the eastern United States. Here, you’ll see some of the tallest white pine and hemlock trees in the country and have a chance to hike trails through this majestic forest.

In addition to the Forest Cathedral, there are hikes to an overlook, the historic Henry Run Sawmill Dam, a fun swinging bridge, and the incredibly beautiful Clarion River.

Trough Creek State Park

There are many unique attractions in Trough Creek State Park including this giant balancing rock.
Balanced Rock hangs precariously off a ledge.

Trough Creek State Park can be found in Huntingdon County along the eastern shores of Raystown Lake, the largest lake entirely within Pennsylvania. While this park isn’t overly large, there are a lot of unique things to see within it.

The highlight is the shore Balanced Rock Trail which goes over a swinging bridge and passes the beautiful Rainbow Falls before ending at a huge rock that balances on the edge of a cliff.

In addition to the highlights of this trail, you can also see copper-colored cliffs, a natural ice mine, a historic cemetery, and much more within Trough Creek State Park.

There is also a popular campground in the park for those looking to stay the night and explore the park and nearby lake.

Oil Creek State Park

Wolf Rig in Oil Creek State Park
Rusting oil equipment can be found all over Oil Creek State Park.

Oil Creek State Park in northwestern PA is where the worldwide oil industry began when Edwin Drake dug an oil well just north of the current park in 1859. This led to an oil boom that took over the entire valley around Oil Creek.

Today, the land has recovered amazingly from its industrial past, though remnants remain including several ghost towns in the park and random oil equipment scattered throughout the woods and along the trails.

There are also several small waterfalls in the park including Miller Falls and Pioneer Falls, a backpacking trail that encircles the park, and Oil Creek itself.

Those wanting to see the park in a different way can climb aboard the Oil Creek and Titusville Railroad for a ride through Oil Creek State Park.

What are your favorite PA State Parks and why? Let us know in the comments below.

Looking for more great things to do? Check out the Best State Parks for Waterfall Lovers, the Best State Parks for History Lovers, and my Pennsylvania Bucket List.


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3 thoughts on “The 11 Best Pennsylvania State Parks (Based on My Decade Writing About the State)”

  1. I’m from Greensburg Pa in the laurel highlands and use to go to Lynn run in ligonier Pa and pa has the best parks! I I miss it! I

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