12 Top-Rated National and State Parks in Pennsylvania
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 121 state parks, 19 national parks, and seven National Heritage Areas. You can wander to any quadrant of the state and find a concentration of national and state parks, each worth exploring for their own reasons. The Laurel Highlands alone has five national parks and eight state parks in its 3,000-mile region.
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.
1 Ohiopyle State Park
Ohiopyle State Park is one of Pennsylvania's largest state parks, located in the Laurel Highlands. The park is highly popular for white water rafting and kayaking on the Youghiogheny River. There are dozens of hiking trails through 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.
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 located 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.
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. The Appalachian Trail runs through this location, but 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, historic colonial villages, and abundant wildlife. The only feature more dramatic than the scenic outlooks is the "Water Gap," a 1000-foot-deep valley between the mountain ridges.
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.
Address: 301 Peninsula Drive, Erie, Pennsylvania
5 Cherry Springs State Park
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. The Pennsylvania Wilds area where the park is located is void of light pollution, making it possible to see planets that are not visible from other regions. The park does have hiking trails and an abundance of black cherry trees, which provide welcome shade during a picnic. The park's claim to fame is its panoramic view of the dark night sky.
Address: 4639 Cherry Springs Road, Coudersport, Pennsylvania
6 Flight 93 National Memorial Park
The 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.
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. The 301-foot-tall and more than 2,000-foot-long bridge is now a place for visitors to walk and stand on a platform overlooking the park. 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.
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.
Address: 1195 Baltimore, Pike, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania
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 for 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 touring the encampment, exploring the Muhlenberg Brigade Huts, and the Artillery Park. Other than the traditional sites and monuments at the park, there are nearly 20 miles of hiking trails segmented into smaller sections. There are 21 miles of biking trails, and bike rentals are also available.
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 amount of waterfalls in the park and 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.
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 for 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.
Address: Hyner View Road, Hyner, 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; and vibrant cities to explore, from the chocolate-themed attractions of Hershey to the capital of Harrisburg.