16 Top-Rated National and State Parks in Pennsylvania
Author Anietra Hamper embraces outdoor opportunities and has found some of the best experiences in Pennsylvania's national and state parks.
The mix of national and state parks in Pennsylvania ranges from the breathtakingly scenic Pine Creek Gorge to the monument-rich Valley Forge National Historical Park. Many of the national parks in Pennsylvania are designated historical sites that offer walking trails and other outdoor activities as a unique way to experience the natural beauty in the state.
Pennsylvania has 124 state parks and 19 designated national parks, so you will be able to find one no matter where you plan to visit in the state.
The challenge with Pennsylvania parks is narrowing down which ones to visit first and how many parks to pack into one trip. It helps to start with some of the most popular national and state parks in Pennsylvania and fill in your wish list from there based on your interests.
Plan your outdoor adventures with our list of the top national and state parks in Pennsylvania.
1. Ohiopyle State Park
Ohiopyle State Park is one of Pennsylvania's largest state parks, located in the Laurel Highlands. The park is popular for white water rafting and kayaking on the Youghiogheny River. There are dozens of hiking trails throughout the park. Two popular and memorable features are Cucumber Falls, a scenic waterfall, and the natural waterslides at Meadow Run.
You can actually sit between the boulders at the top of the rushing water and bump your way through natural rock formations that push you through narrow chutes. Ohiopyle has bike rentals available and riding trails, like the Youghiogheny River Trail and the Great Allegheny Passage Bike Trail. One of the gems in Ohiopyle is the Ferncliff Peninsula, with its unique habitat and flowers and plants found nowhere else in the region.
Where to Stay: There are not many lodgings within the Ohiopyle State Park, other than a few independent properties. You can easily make this a day trip from Pittsburgh if you do not want to stay in the region. Otherwise, Farmington is the next closest community with lodging, where you can book a stay at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort and have plenty to do on the property in case inclement weather prohibits day hiking.
The next best lodging is in nearby Uniontown, which is about 13 miles away, and from here you can drive into the park for day visits. Uniontown has a few more lodging options, from the Hampton Inn and Hilton Garden Inn to Comfort Suites.
Address: 124 Main Street, Ohiopyle, Pennsylvania
2. Independence National Historical Park
While the Liberty Bell might not be the first thing you think of when you consider national parks, Pennsylvania's National Historical Park is one of the most popular in the state. The park is one of the top attractions in Philadelphia and features more than a dozen buildings related to United States history.
To get a sense of the surroundings, stop by the visitor center before you venture out into Independence Square. Some of the best buildings to visit are the Liberty Bell Center and Independence Hall, where the Constitution of the United States and the Declaration of Independence were signed.
A 90-minute Guided Walking Tour of Philadelphia hits the highlights and provides and overview of the history of the sites.
To add a few more national park sites to your itinerary, you can plan some day trips from Philadelphia to see Gettysburg National Military Park and Valley Forge National Historical Park.
Where to Stay: Since Philadelphia is a major city, you will find a wide range of hotel options in all price points. A few downtown options include the Motto By Hilton Philadelphia Rittenhouse Square, a chic micro-hotel; the luxury hotel residence of AKA, close to the University of Pennsylvania; and The Windsor Suites.
You can find less expensive hotel options in Philadelphia if you stay outside downtown and close to the airport at the Courtyard by Marriott Philadelphia Airport or Hampton Inn Philadelphia-International Airport.
Address: 143 S. 3rd Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
3. Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area
One of the top parks to visit in the Pocono Mountains is the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area. About 28 miles of the Appalachian Trail runs through the Delaware Gap National Recreation Area, and there are more than 100 miles of hiking trails, so you can choose what suits your timeframe.
The area has plush hemlock forests; steep ridges; and historic colonial villages like Millbrook Village, which has a number of buildings from the early 1800s settlement in the area. There is also abundant wildlife throughout the 70,000-acre area, so you are likely to see rabbits, white-tailed deer, and possibly black bears in the forest. The only feature more dramatic than the scenic outlooks is the "Water Gap," a 1000-foot-deep valley between the mountain ridges.
Where to Stay: The Poconos region of Pennsylvania is famous for its wilderness, so you will find a number of private cabins available, but if you are looking for more mainstream lodging, you can find the best options in Stroudsburg. A few options are the Rodeway Inn & Suites, which is about a five-minute walk to the Delaware Water Gap area, or the Clarion Inn & Suites, which is also within walking distance.
Address: 1978 River Road, Bushkill, Pennsylvania
4. Presque Isle State Park
The peninsula of Presque Isle State Park in northwest Pennsylvania pushes into Lake Erie, making this a popular beach spot. There are several beaches within the park, and it is where you will find surf, with the waves coming off Lake Erie.
The sandy beach and outdoor recreation, like boating, fishing, and swimming, are the most popular attractions and things to do. There are also hiking and biking trails in the park. Presque Isle State Park is popular for birders and nature photographers, who visit during the bird migration periods to see rare species fly through the area.
Presque Isle State Park is unique because in addition to the recreation on land, it is not uncommon to see people surfing or scuba diving in the waters around the park.
Where to Stay: There are quite a few hotels in Erie located within a couple of miles of Presque Isle State Park. The Sheraton Erie Bayfront Hotel is located on the waterfront and centrally located to other attractions in Erie and the park. The Courtyard by Marriott is also located on the water, so it is a scenic and convenient location.
If you want a more unique lodging experience during your visit to Presque Isle State Park, you can book one of the 30 rooms in the Glass House Inn, a small motel that replicates old-style colonial architecture.
Address: 301 Peninsula Drive, Erie, Pennsylvania
5. Cherry Springs State Park
Attention, stargazers! If you are looking for dark nights and bright stars, Cherry Springs State Park in northern Pennsylvania is where astronomers congregate. It is known for having the darkest skies on the East Coast and is a great place to see the northern lights.
The Pennsylvania Wilds area where the park is located is devoid of light pollution, making it possible to see planets that are not visible from other regions. The park is surrounded by 262,000 acres of the Susquehannock State Forest, making it popular for stargazers even in the winter who want clear views of the Milky Way. If you plan to try winter stargazing, be sure to come prepared for the conditions.
The park does have 85 miles of hiking trails and an abundance of black cherry trees, which provide welcome shade during a picnic.
Where to Stay: The remote nature of Cherry Springs State Park is why it is so popular for stargazing, so you will not find many hotels in the area, but there are a few. Camping is more popular in this area but if you head into Coudersport, you can find lodging at the Hotel Crittenden and some small independently owned bed and breakfasts.
Address: 4639 Cherry Springs Road, Coudersport, Pennsylvania
6. Flight 93 National Memorial Park
Flight 93 National Memorial Park near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, is a worthwhile stop to learn about the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States. The national park has a large visitor center that chronicles the events of 9/11 and details the heroic actions of the flight crew and passengers of Flight 93 that crashed in the field outside.
The overlook area provides a broad perspective of the crash site. The park has several walking paths to the lower memorial plaza, or you can drive to it. You can easily spend a couple of hours at the park where there are many benches and areas for quiet contemplation.
Where to Stay: The location of the Flight 93 Memorial is in rural Pennsylvania, and the closest lodging options are in Somerset about 10 miles away. There are a few hotels, like the Wingate by Wyndham, that are close to restaurants and conveniences. Breakfast is included in many of the hotels in Somerset for travelers who are usually just passing through for a day or two.
Address: 6424 Lincoln Highway, Stoystown, Pennsylvania
7. Kinzua Bridge State Park
Adventurers who visit Kinzua Bridge State Park in the Pennsylvania Wilds region generally have one mission: to walk the Kinzua Bridge skywalk. The bridge was the world's highest and longest railroad bridge but it is no longer in use.
Walking on and admiring views of the park from a platform on the 301-foot-tall and more than 2,000-foot-long bridge is now one of the top things to do in Pennsylvania. Even if trekking the old bridge is not on your to-do list, there are miles of other hiking trails throughout the park that get you to scenic outlooks of the gorge. The perspective from the ground of the massive bridge is also impressive.
Where to Stay: If you plan to explore Kinzua State Park for several days, you will want to stay in a hotel in nearby Bradford about 15 miles away. Best Western Plus Bradford Inn is an option that is conveniently located near the park and restaurants and offers complimentary breakfast. The Holiday Inn Express & Suites is a great option for families, with larger suites and complimentary breakfast.
Address: 296 Viaduct Road, Kane, Pennsylvania
8. Gettysburg National Military Park
In the heart of Pennsylvania's Dutch Country is the Gettysburg National Military Park. This popular park spotlights one of the most vicious battles in the Civil War, the Battle of Gettysburg, and enables you to hike the battlefield.
There are many ranger-led hikes and activities running regularly at the park, providing insight into everything from how wounded soldiers received medical attention to the breakdown of General Robert E. Lee's decisions during battle. A two-hour Gettysburg Guided Bus Tour offers a complete overview of the battlefield. The Gettysburg National Military Park is an interactive experience that is ideal for families.
Where to Stay: Gettysburg is a popular tourist area, so there are many hotels available, but if you are looking for a unique lodging experience in this historic city there are some nice options. The James Gettys Hotel is a historic all-suite boutique property within walking distance of many of the Gettysburg attractions.
The Inn at Lincoln Square is a Civil War-era property known for its historic and decorative interior and complimentary breakfast. The inn is located on Lincoln Square, so you can walk to most of the local attractions, restaurants, and shops.
Address: 1195 Baltimore, Pike, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania
- Read More: Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Gettysburg
9. Lower Delaware National Wild and Scenic River
Visitors go to the Lower Delaware National Wild and Scenic River because of its historical significance and its impressive rushing water. The Lower Delaware River is known for famous crossings by George Washington, who led thousands of troops to the other side in 1776.
The largest free-flowing river in the Eastern U.S. is popular with kayakers and anglers. There are also hiking and biking trails along the scenic waterway. The trails connect historic towns, so you may want to plan your outings to stop at specific villages or plan to spend the night in one of them.
Address: 200 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
10. Valley Forge National Historical Park
The Valley Forge National Historical Park near Philadelphia has a balance of interactive living history experiences and sites that you can explore on your own. The most popular things to do at Valley Forge include taking the 10-mile encampment tour and exploring the Muhlenberg Brigade Huts and the Artillery Park.
Besides the history lessons, outdoor recreation is also a popular activity at the park. There are many types of hiking, biking, paddling, and running trails throughout the park. Bike rentals are also available. If you are up for a unique challenge you can keep track of your combined outdoor recreation miles, enter the 78-Mile Challenge through Valley Forge, and qualify for prizes.
Valley Forge is not just historic ground serving as the winter encampment for the Continental Army in the 1700s but it also has significant biodiversity. You can get brochures at the park to help you identify the plants and animals unique to this area.
Where to Stay: There are a few hotel options in nearby Phoenixville like the Hilton Garden Inn, which is only 2.5 miles from Valley Forge. Homewood Suites in Audubon is another option that is less than four miles from Valley Forge and close to restaurants and conveniences. It also offers free breakfast.
Address: 1400 North Outer Line Drive, King of Prussia, Pennsylvania
11. Ricketts Glen State Park
The old-growth forests in Ricketts Glen State Park are a special site to see. The park is famous for its massive waterfalls, including Ganoga Falls, which drops 94 feet. There are 22 named waterfalls in the park, making hikes exciting as you mark each one off your list, and the 26 miles of hiking trails range from one mile to 7.2 miles.
Due to the number of waterfalls in the park and the slippery conditions, sturdy shoes are recommended. Fishing on Lake Jean in the park and swimming at the beach are popular summer activities. You can rent kayaks and canoes on-site.
Where to Stay: Ricketts Glen State Park is one of the most scenic landscapes in Pennsylvania, so you might want to consider staying in one of the cabins or deluxe camping cottages, or setting up at the park campsite. If you prefer more modern accommodations, you can stay at The Old Tioga Inn Bed and Breakfast in Benton, which is surrounded by forest and close to the state park.
Address: 695 St. Rt. 487, Benton, Pennsylvania
12. Hyner View State Park
At Hyner View State Park in north-central Pennsylvania, you should be looking at the sky and the ground for cool sights. This park is popular for hang gliding from the viewpoint that overlooks the Susquehanna River. The launching point for the hang gliders is also one of the best scenic overlooks of the river and mountains.
There are many miles of hiking trails through the park and scenic roadways if you prefer a drive to a hike. The vista area at the state park has picnic areas with tables and charcoal grills.
Where to Stay: You can find some lodging options in the nearby town of Lock Haven. The Best Western in Lock Haven is 16 miles from Hyner View State Park and makes a convenient base. It also provides free breakfast. The Fairfield Inn & Suites is another option, with suite accommodations and complimentary breakfast.
Address: Hyner View Road, Hyner, Pennsylvania
13. Allegheny National Forest
The Allegheny National Forest in northwestern Pennsylvania has more than 500,000 acres of forestland to explore and is the only national forest in the state. From dramatic overlooks and abundant wildlife to rolling streams and pristine forests, it is one of the most treasured natural resources in the state.
There are many ways to enjoy the Allegheny National Forest. Hike a portion of the North Country National Scenic Trail, which spans 4,600 miles from New York to North Dakota. An 87-mile section of the trail winds through Allegheny National Forest. You can kayak along the Allegheny River or enjoy swimming, windsurfing, and even diving in the rivers, streams, creeks, and reservoirs within the forest boundaries.
The park has a number of other designated recreation trails for ATV riding and mountain biking. A relaxing way to enjoy the forest is by driving along the National Scenic Byway that goes through it. This is one way to see more of the park and stop when you want to.
Where to Stay: If you plan on spending a few days visiting Allegheny National Forest you can stay in nearby lodging like the Best Western Plus Bradford Inn or the Holiday Inn Express in Bradford, which both offer free breakfast. Another option is the Quality Inn & Suites in Bradford, which also has free breakfast.
Address: 4 Farm Colony Dr, Warren, Pennsylvania
14. Canoe Creek State Park
The geologic makeup of the Canoe Creek State Park in south-central Pennsylvania has limestone formations that make it a visually unique park in the state. The limestone from the area historically played an important part in Pennsylvania's iron and steel industries.
You can see the remnants of where limestone was mined and taken to kilns to be heated in the 1900s. Two kiln sites remain that you can visit in the park: The Hartman kilns and the Blair Limestone Company kilns.
Besides the historical remnants that are interesting to see and photograph Canoe Creek State Park has a nice mix of lakes, fields, forests, and wetlands, which provide habitats for a variety of wildlife and migrating birds that you are sure to see during your visit. This park is home to endangered bats, and the Frank Felbaum Bat Sanctuary in the park has a nursery colony of little brown bats.
You can hike on some of the 12 miles of trails through the park or take advantage of year-round fishing and boating on the 155-acre lake. There is a public swimming beach and plenty of picnic spots where you can enjoy the park's beautiful scenery.
Where to Stay: Canoe Creek State Park offers cabin rentals if you want to stay overnight in the park. Hotels in Altoona are your best option for off-site lodging. Comfort Suites Altoona, Quality Inn & Suites, and Days Inn & Suites are a few of the closest options.
Address: 205 Canoe Creek Road, Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania
15. Pine Grove Furnace State Park
Pine Grove Furnace State Park in central Pennsylvania has several unique features, including stunning views of the Blue Ridge Mountains since it sits at the northern tip of them. Surrounding the park is 85,500 acres of Michaux State Forest.
Hiking trails in Pine Grove Furnace State Park range from 0.25 miles to six miles, and a section of the Appalachian Trail runs through the center of the park and is marked with white blazes, so it is easy to find and follow. You can also visit the Appalachian Trail Museum in the park.
Bikers can use the rail trail in the park, and anglers have two lakes from which to fish for bass, perch, and trout. There are public beaches at both Fuller and Laurel Lakes that offer swimming. Wildlife watching is another activity at Pine Grove State Park due to its diverse habitats. The spring and fall bird migrations are great times to bring binoculars for birding.
Where to Stay: Camping is available at Pine Grove Furnace State Park, or you can reserve the historic two-story Paymaster's Cabin, which is the paymaster's office from when the iron furnace was in use, which has been converted into on-site lodging. Outside the park, you might want to consider the Hampton Inn Carlisle and the Comfort Inn in Carlisle, which is one of the closest cities.
Address: 1100 Pine Grove Road, Gardners, Pennsylvania
16. Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site
The Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site provides insight into Pennsylvania's place in industrial America in the 18th and 19th centuries. The site served as an Iron Plantation from 1771-1883 working as a charcoal furnace site.
The structures on the 848-acre site are preserved to give visitors an authentic view of industrial life at that time in Pennsylvania. The site showcases the culture, history, business, and technology of that time. Some of the places to see while visiting are the Anthracite furnace, which sought to modernize iron production with coal; the Ironmaster's mansion; the charcoal furnace; cast house; and the orchard.
You can explore the Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site on your own and enjoy some hiking, biking, and picnicking while you are there, or you can take part in a ranger-led program. One of the best times to visit is in the fall, when you can go apple-picking in the orchard on the property.
Where to Stay: The closest hotels are about 20 miles from the historic site, so you can look at options like Travelers Rest Motel in Intercourse or AmishView Inn & Suites in Bird in Hand, Pennsylvania.
Address: 2 Mark Bird Lane, Elverson, Pennsylvania
More Ways to Explore Pennsylvania's Outdoors
Exploring Pennsylvania's national and state parks is just one of the many ways you can enjoy the natural beauty and outdoor recreation in the state. Since Pennsylvania is so spread out, a weekend getaway can accommodate short excursions in a single region, while a week-long vacation can encompass multiple regions.
Pennsylvania has a number of popular white water rafting and kayaking destinations; thousands of miles of hiking trails; thousands of miles of designated trout streams; and vibrant cities to explore, from the chocolate-themed attractions of Hershey to the capital of Harrisburg.
If quiet drives to explore small towns sound nice then Pennsylvania has many quaint villages and river towns to see. From the Amish countryside in Lancaster to the nostalgic and scenic village of New Hope there are many quiet communities to visit resting between the big cities.