I always love exploring Pennsylvania State Parks that I’ve never visited before, so on a recent trip along I-81 in Schuylkill County, I decided to take a quick detour to visit Locust Lake State Park.
Locust Lake State Park is a 1,000-acre park that is best known for its two large campgrounds and its 52-acre lake. There are also nearly seven miles of hiking trails in the park, including a 1.3-mile trail that encircles the beautiful lake.
Known as the Bike Trail, this trail is, as the name implies, paved the entire way around the lake. This trail may also be wheelchair accessible, but since it’s not specifically listed as that on the park’s website, I hesitate to specifically recommend it as being so.
That being said, this is a very flat trail, and while it’s paved the entire way, it’s a great walk and also provides access to most of the park’s dirt hiking trails.
Parking at Locust Lake State Park.
Unless you are staying at the park’s campground or have a handicap sticker, there is actually only one parking area for the public to use within Locust Lake State Park. Whether you are hiking, biking, fishing, or swimming at the beach, you’ll need to park your vehicle here.
This large gravel parking lot is actually located just before the ranger station and the park sign. To reach it, you’ll want to turn off the road just before the sign and follow up that uphill to the parking area.
This parking lot and the turn-off can be found at the following coordinates at the end of Locust Lake Road: 40.785043, -76.118508.
This entrance to Locust Lake State Park is located only five miles (8-minute drive) off of Exit 131 on Interstate 81, making this a quick spot to check out if you want to stretch your legs while traveling.
[Click here for information on how to use coordinates to find your destination.]
Hiking at Locust Lake State Park
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From the parking area, head down the gravel trail at the far end of the parking lot. This will take you near the lake and the start of the trail.
Regardless of which direction you decide to hike, the first portion of the trail is along the road. I opted to hike in a counterclockwise direction (lake to my left), which is the fastest route to the dirt hiking trails, beach, and fishing pier, but there is no reason you couldn’t hike this trail in the opposite direction.
In fact, people hiking with young children may want to hike in a clockwise direction because that puts the playground that’s along the trail near the end of the hike instead of near the beginning.
All that being said, since I hiked the trail in a counterclockwise direction, I’m going to describe it in that way.
For the first part of this hike, you’ll be heading away from the long road over the dam, but I like to start by walking along the lake. There is no real trail at this point, so just make your way along the paths that you find there, past the camp store, and follow the lake.
There is a nice handicap-accessible fishing pier at this point of the lake, which makes for a nice spot to walk out onto the water a bit and get a great view of the entire lake and the hillsides that surround this area.
From here, there is no real path up to the trail (without retracing your steps back a few hundred feet), so just make your way up to the road in the way that seems best to you as the road also serves as the trail at this point.
This road leads only to the campground, so cars should be driving slowly, but obviously use caution when walking along any road. Fortunately, this portion of walking along the road is quite short and, as you enter the campground, take the paved trail that veers to the left off of the road and is protected from cars by several pillars.
This paved trail follows along the shore of the lake, going past a nice little playground, before briefly returning to the road within the campground. Again, watch out for vehicles and make sure to respect any occupied campsites by staying on the road/trail.
This campground is one of two in the park, and the park features a total of 282 spots, many with electrical hookups and all with access to modern bathroom facilities. Even better, the campgrounds are well shaded, so sun shouldn’t be an issue in the warmer months of the year.
If you are looking for a place to camp in this part of the state, this is definitely a nice campground to visit.
On the far end of the campground, you’ll find the beach at Locust Lake State Park. This beach is open during the warmer months of the year, and it’s surely a refreshing spot to take a dip on a hot day. Unfortunately, as it was an unseasonably cold day when I visited, I didn’t stop long to enjoy this spot.
In my opinion, once you get beyond the beach is when you really get to experience the beauty of the park. At this point, you are through the first campground, away from the road, and walking through a pristine woodland.
Half a mile from the start of the trail, you’ll see a large sign that denotes the start of several miles of more natural trails. There are a variety of loops you can do here ranging from a bit under a mile to over four miles in length.
While I didn’t have a chance to do a ton of hiking on these trails, I did walk up the Oak Trail for several hundred yards and found this to be an incredibly scenic area.
Locust Creek, which feeds the lake, is a beautiful stream, and there was even a small natural dam waterfall that I found here.
If you have a chance, I definitely recommend doing a loop along these trails in addition to hiking the Bike Trail or, at the very least, walking them a short distance so that you can really experience the woodland beauty of Locust Lake State Park.
Once you’ve had your fill of these natural trails, continue following the Bike Trail with Locust Lake to your left.
Soon, the trail reaches the edge of the second campground on the southern end of the lake (which is reserved for only RVs, trailers, and the like). Here, you’ll also find several benches if you need to sit for a spell.
Soon, the trail reaches the boat launch on the southern end of the lake and once again returns to the road.
To complete the loop, you’ll need to walk the road across the dam. While a sidewalk would be really nice here (and the berms are a touch steep on both sides), the road is very straight, so sight lines shouldn’t be an issue for vehicles and pedestrians.
Along the way, you’ll have striking views of the lake to your left. On the right, you can see a small pond at the base of the dam and the continuation of Locust Creek as it flows towards Tuscarora Lake in Tuscarora State Park a few miles downstream.
While there are no trails that follow this part of the stream, there is a wooden staircase that provides access to the pond at the bottom of the dam.
Once across the dam, you’ll be back at the start of your hike and near your vehicle, which will complete your 1.3-mile hike (or more if you hiked the other trails mentioned above).
Overall, the Bike Trail at Locust Lake State Park is a beautiful and easy walk through an often overlooked spot in Schuylkill County. That being said, while the trail provides access to a beach and some nice trails, this also isn’t the type of park that is worth traveling far out of your way to see.
However, if you find yourself in the area already, want to stretch your legs while traveling on I-81, or are looking for a beautiful spot to camp in the region, this is definitely a neat spot to check out.
Looking for even more places to visit nearby? Check out the Number 9 Coal Mine and Museum, Jerry’s Classic Cars and Collectables, and Centralia.