Explore the best state parks in Pennsylvania

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A couple years ago, I made my first visit to Ricketts Glen State Park in eastern Pennsylvania, near the Poconos. That park caught my attention like none before, and I still consider it one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited.

But I had no idea it is only one of the best state parks in Pennsylvania. Throughout Pennsylvania you’ll find lots of beautiful state parks to explore by bike, on kayaks or on foot.

Standing at Cucumber Falls at Ohiopyle State Park, one of the best state parks in PA

There are so many Pennsylvania state parks to explore, each unique to the region and offering amazing activities, views and activities. Here are some of the best state parks in Pennsylvania to consider on your next trip to the area.

Forbes State Forest

Not “technically” a state park, Forbes State Forest offers some unique experiences that can’t be found elsewhere in Pennsylvania. The 59,000 acres that make up the forest include Mt. Davis, the highest point in Pennsylvania.

Besides hiking trails, one of the highlights of Forbes State Forest is Beam Rocks, an amazing overlook and rock climbing area about a half mile from the parking lot. It offers some of the most incredible views of the Laurel Highlands.

Beam Rocks outcropping at Forbes State Forest in Pennsylvania, rocks and trees for rock climbing

Forbes State Forest is also home to the Spruce Flats Bog, a unique ecosystem in the Pennsylvania mountains. An easy, quarter mile walk along a crushed stone path, Spruce Flats Bog exists because of deforestation in the 1800s. While bogs are more common at low elevations, this one sits at 2720 feet above sea level. To protect the delicate ecosystem, stay on the boardwalk when visiting. Signs at the site explain how it formed and also identify the plants and trees of the bog.

Spruce Flats Bog in the Laurel Highlands at Forbes State Forest

Plan your visit with this Forbes State Forest hiking guide.

Linn Run State Park

Linn Run State Park is located in Westmoreland County in the Laurel Highlands of Pennsylvania. At 612 acres, the park offers great hiking along Linn Run and Adams Falls.

In the 1800s, the native hemlocks that grew here were clear cut — like most of the forests in that era. When the state purchased the land in 1909, efforts were made to reestablish the area, including protecting new tree growth and bringing in deer to repopulate the area.

Today, Linn Run State Park has several trails that run alongside the river that draw visitors year-round. The Adams Falls Trail is a mile long trail along a rocky trail ending at a hemlock forest. Rhododendron bring colorful flowers in June. Other trails include the Iscrupe Trail, Flat Rock Trail and the Grove Run Trail. The water slide is a big attraction in summer — wear sturdy water clothes and cool off on the stone water slide down the river.

While picnicking is a popular activity, the park also allows hunting (in season in designated areas), fishing and camping making it one of the best state parks in Pennyslvania for adventure seekers.

Fishing at Linn Run State Park, one of the best state parks in Pennsylvania for fishing, hunting and camping

The Linn Run State Park Family Cabin District is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and some cabins date back to 1933, built by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression.

Plan your visit at the Linn Run State Park website.

Ohiopyle State Park

Ohiopyle State Park in the Laurel Highlands, at more than 20,000 acres, is the largest of Pennsylvania’s state parks. It also offers some of the most diverse activities available at any of the parks. Top activities include whitewater rafting (with many companies offering guided trips on the rapids), kayaking, canoeing, biking, hiking, paddleboarding and rock climbing.

Ohiopyle Falls on the Youghiogheny River at one of the best state parks in Pennyslvania

Ohiopyle State Park has great viewing platforms of the river, as well as the Laurel Highland Falls Area Visitor Center with interactive exhibits to learn about the ecology and history of this park. Both the viewing platforms of Ohiopyle Falls on the Youghiogheny River and the visitor center are located in the charming town of Ohiopyle and have ample parking available.

Another popular attraction at Ohiopyle State Park is Cucumber Falls. The parking area is close to the top of the falls and offers incredible views. For the more adventurous, there is a rustic staircase down to the base of the falls. Climb across the rocks to play in the pools of water amid the rocks. This is also a great fishing spot.

Cucumber Falls at Ohiopyle State Park, one of the best state parks in Pennsylvania

Plan your visit at the Ohiopyle State Park website.

Pine Creek Gorge (Colton Point and Leonard Harrison State Parks)

Pennsylvania Grand Canyon photo of the gorge

Near the quaint town of Wellsboro, Pine Creek Gorge draws thousands of visitors every year. Known as the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon, Pine Creek Gorge contains two state parks.

On the west rim of the gorge, Colton Point State Park is a 368 acre state park with day hiking trails, picnic areas and amazing views of Pine Creek Gorge. Except for leaf peeping season (September and October), the park is generally uncrowded and quiet.

On the east rim of Pine Creek Gorge, Leonard Harrison State Park is a 585 acre park, with most facilities built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps.

Leonard Harrison State Park has modern facilities, a visitor center, and the most famous scenic views of the canyon — and is especially popular during leaf peeping season. Two rugged trails, the Turkey Path Trail and the Overlook Trail, offer spectacular views — but watch posted warnings and closures as they are quite rugged.

This day visit park has picnic areas and easy viewing areas as well to enjoy the wonder of Pennsylvania’s natural beauty.

Plan your visit to both parks at the Leonard Harrison State Park website.

Presque Isle State Park

Presque Isle, Lake Erie state park, a 3200 acre sandy peninsula, is the most visited state park in Pennsylvania. The Presque Isle peninusla creates Presque Isle Bay, a wide and deep harbor for the city of Erie that attracts pleasure boats, kayakers and wind surfers.

Picnic table and grill overlooking the water at Presque Isle State Park in Pennsylvania

Presque Isle is also a National Natural Landmark that provides a number of unique habitats protecting a number of endangered species — making this a great place for naturalists and birders to explore. Presque Isle State Park offers swimming (obey swimming safety signs), boating, fishing, hiking, bicycling and skating.

FREE: Presque Isle Travel Planner: Complete guide to the area!

My favorite activity might be watching the glorious sunsets on the beach near the Presque Isle Lighthouse! With beaches, history and abundant activities, it’s no wonder that Presque Isle is one of the best state parks in PA!

Sunset on Lake Erie at Presque Isle one of the best state parks in Pennsylvania

Plan your visit at the Presque Isle State Park website.

Ricketts Glen State Park

Ricketts Glen, with more than 13,000 acres, is known for its 22 waterfalls, all accessible on hiking trails, some more difficult than others. The park also offers swimming and water activities at Lake Jean, birding, fishing, hunting (as designated), picnicking and camping. Open year-round, there’s something new to discover on every visit.

Ricketts Glen State Park Waterfall

Ricketts Glen State Park offers guided ice hiking tours in the winter, which provide a completely different perspective of this beautiful region. Read about my ice hiking adventure at Ricketts Glen to learn more.

Plan your visit to the best state parks in Pennsylvania

Use these resources to plan your visit to the best state parks in Pennsylvania. As we explore more of this beautiful state, we will add to this list.

  • Visit Pennsylvania, tourism information for the whole state
  • Visit Erie, with information on Presque Isle and other great places to see on the shores of Lake Erie
  • Go Laurel Highlands, with information on Ohiopyle, Linn Run, Forbes State Forest and many other attractions in southern Pennsylvania
  • Endless Mountains Visitors Bureau, with information on Ricketts Glen and other parks and forests in the area

Year-round, there is lots to explore outdoors in beautiful Pennsylvania.