12 Top-Rated National and State Parks in Pennsylvania

Written by Anietra Hamper
Mar 10, 2020

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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.

Plan your outdoor adventures with our list of the top national and state parks in Pennsylvania.

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1. Ohiopyle State Park

Ohiopyle State Park
Ohiopyle State Park | Photo Copyright: Anietra Hamper

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.

Where to Stay: There is not much lodging within the Ohiopyle State park, other than a few independent properties. 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

Official site: http://www.dcnr.state.pa.us/stateparks/findapark/ohiopyle/

2. Independence National Historical Park

Independence National Historical Park
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 tourist 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.

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 Pod Philly Hotel, a chic micro hotel located close to Rittenhouse Square; 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

Official site: https://www.nps.gov/inde/index.htm

3. Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area

Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area
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

Official site: https://www.nps.gov/dewa/index.htm

4. Presque Isle State Park

Presque Isle State Park
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 attraction 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

Official site: https://www.dcnr.pa.gov/StateParks/FindAPark/PresqueIsleStatePark/Pages/default.aspx

5. Cherry Springs State Park

Cherry Springs State Park
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.

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

Official site: http://www.dcnr.state.pa.us/stateparks/findapark/cherrysprings/index.htm

6. Flight 93 National Memorial Park

Flight 93 National Memorial Park
Flight 93 National Memorial Park | Photo Copyright: Anietra Hamper

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.

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 SureStay Plus Hotel by Best Western and Days Inn 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

Official site: https://www.nps.gov/flni/index.htm

7. Kinzua Bridge State Park

Kinzua Bridge State Park
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.

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 to 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

Official site: http://www.dcnr.state.pa.us/stateparks/findapark/kinzuabridge/index.htm

8. Gettysburg National Military Park

Gettysburg National Military Park
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

Official site: https://www.nps.gov/gett/index.htm

9. Lower Delaware National Wild and Scenic River

Lower Delaware National Wild and Scenic River
Lower Delaware National Wild and Scenic River | Nicholas A. Tonelli / photo modified

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.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Philadelphia: Best Areas & Hotels

Address: 200 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Official site: https://www.nps.gov/lode/index.htm

10. Valley Forge National Historical Park

Valley Forge National Historical Park
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. 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. 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

Official site: https://www.nps.gov/vafo/index.htm

11. Ricketts Glen State Park

Ricketts Glen State Park
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.

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

Official site: http://www.dcnr.state.pa.us/stateparks/findapark/rickettsglen/index.htm

12. Hyner View State Park

Hyner View State Park
Hyner View State Park | Nicholas A. Tonelli / photo modified

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. 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

Official site: http://www.dcnr.state.pa.us/stateparks/findapark/hynerview/index.htm

More Ways to Explore Pennsylvania's Outdoors

imageExploring 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 sounds 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.

Discover destinations, find outdoor adventures, follow the journeys of our travel writers around the world, and be inspired.

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