I’ve been to a lot of state parks in Pennsylvania, and one of my favorite to visit is Oil Creek State Park in Venango County. While Oil Creek might not be the most beautiful of Pennsylvania’s State Parks, it is quite lovely, and the region’s amazing history propels this park to must-visit status. In fact, it’s easily among the most historic state parks in PA.
Still don’t believe me? Here are a few of my favorite things to do in Oil Creek State Park.
Truthfully, I often give self-guided walking trails a pass. However, the three in Oil Creek State Park are really quite interesting and provide a glimpse into the boom and bust towns that sprung up on the land that is now the park.
The easiest of these self-guided trails to visit is the Petroleum Centre Trail next to the park office.
The dozen interpretive signs take you through the heart of Petroleum Centre, a boomtown that lasted just seven years (1866-1873), but saw the creation of many millionaires (and even more bankruptcies), a visit from President Ulysses S. Grant, and was said to be the “Sodom and Gomorrah” of the Oil Region.
During the life of the town, there were few permanent structures, and buildings were torn down as oil was found. In fact, the only evidence of this former town that can still be seen is the front steps of the bank.
Oil Creek State Park is home to at least four waterfalls, and the easiest to visit is Miller Falls.
Located just a few hundred yards off Miller Farm Road along a short spur of the Gerard Trail, Miller Falls drops around 15 feet along a scenic stream. This is easily one of the most beautiful spots in the park.
There is rusting old oil equipment near the waterfall, which makes it even more interesting.
Drake Well Museum
Technically, the Drake Well Museum sits just outside the boundaries of Oil Creek State Park. However, since it is contiguous with the park, and the driving point of the park’s history, I felt it was worth including.
The Drake Well Museum tells the story of Edwin Drake and the world’s first commercially-dug oil well, which occurred on the museum’s property. This well set off a string of events that first shaped the Oil Creek Valley, and, over the last century and a half, has shaped the entire world.
Today, a replica of the well can be found, along with old oil drilling equipment. The site also has a fantastic museum that tells about the discovery, the oil industry, and how oil has shaped our world.
The Gerard Trail
There are 52 miles of hiking trails in Oil Creek State Park, but one of the most popular trails is the 36-mile Gerard Trail.
The trail meanders through the park along both sides of Oil Creek. Those looking to hike the whole trail can take advantage of two overnight shelters, the only places where you can camp in the park.
Along the trail, you’ll happen upon rusty equipment from the region’s oil boom. This equipment testifies to a time when people came by the thousands to try and secure their fortunes in the oil industry.
The Gerard Trail can also be hiked in shorter portions, as many parts of it pass near the park’s roads.
Pioneer Falls is one of my favorite spots in the park. This waterfall is very seasonal and doesn’t flow well unless water levels are quite high. However, when it is flowing, it’s a great spot to check out.
Pioneer Falls is located along the Gerard Trail and requires a minimum of a 1.2-mile roundtrip hike to reach, though longer options are also available.
The waterfall itself is 15-20 feet tall and can be viewed from above or enjoyed from a nearby bench.
Oil Creek and Titusville Railroad
For those looking for a more leisurely trip through Oil Creek State Park, take a ride on the Oil Creek and Titusville Railroad.
The railroad leaves seasonally from its station in Titusville and makes the 13.5-mile trip south to its station on the southern end of the park. The option to ride the train one-way exists for those wanting to walk or bike through parts of the park.
Along the trip, riders not only get to enjoy some of the most beautiful parts of the park, but there is also a wealth of information about the history of the area that is offered by in-car narrators.
Coal Oil Johnny House
The Coal Oil Johnny House is located on the southern end of Oil Creek State Park adjacent to the Rynd Farm Train Station.
This home was built in 1850 by the McClintock family. In 1864, their son John inherited the farm, as well as a significant amount of oil royalties.
Eventually, however, John, who would garner the nickname “Coal Oil Johnny,” would go bankrupt and lose the home and farm.
Today, the home is open several times a year for open houses as part of the Oil Heritage Region, but you can see the outside of the home and peer in the windows any time of the year.
Wildcat Hollow Trails
Wildcat Hollow is one of the most historic, beautiful, and untouched parts of Oil Creek State Park.
Located south of Petroleum Centre, this area, which was once known as the “wickedest hollow east of the Mississippi,” is now home to approximately three miles of hiking trails.
These trails are easy enough for almost anyone to enjoy and feature many incredible relics of the area’s oil history, including a rare and very well preserved wolf rig.
Oil Creek Bike Trail
While there are great hiking opportunities in Oil Creek State Park, there is also a great trail for bikers.
The Oil Creek Bike Trail is a 10-mile trail that runs along Oil Creek from the Drake Well Museum in the north to near the park office at Petroleum Centre.
This trail passes several historic sites and comes close to some of the park’s waterfalls, for those looking for short diversions along the trail. Combining it with hiking or a ride on the Oil Creek and Titusville Railroad can make for a great day in the park.
Plum Dungeon Falls
Plum Dungeon Falls is another waterfall located along the Gerard Trail.
The waterfall is only about 10-12 feet tall, flows irregularly, and can only be seen from a distance of about 100 yards. However, while difficult in spots, this roughly two-mile hike offers the chance to see some of the least visited parts of Oil Creek State Park.
If you are looking for a beautiful and peaceful hike in the woods, this is a great choice.
Blood Farm Day Use Area
The Blood Farm Day Use Area features another interpretive trail in Oil Creek State Park. This area offers the chance to really experience the history of the “Valley that Changed the World”.
Along the 0.5-mile hiking trail that’s found here, there are signs that tell about this land (which was the most productive oil-producing area in the valley).
Visitors can also see many pieces of old equipment, some of which still work and offer a great chance to really experience the area’s history.