Pennsylvania is one of the most frequently visited states in America. It’s known for its history, great cities, and friendly people. But what many people don’t realize are the amazing national and state parks located right here in Pennsylvania!
The state of Pennsylvania has many beautiful, diverse and unique national and state parks that allow visitors to experience nature at its finest. Whether you’re looking for a relaxing getaway from city life, an adventure destination, or somewhere to unwind with nature, there’s a park that will fit your needs perfectly.
In this post, I’ve put together a list of 12 Top-Rated National and State Parks in Pennsylvania, which includes some of my favorites based on ratings from travelers like you. I hope it helps with your next trip.
Best National and State Parks in Pennsylvania
1. Ohiopyle State Park
Ohiopyle State Park is one of the most popular states parks in Pennsylvania due to its location and number of activities. The national park is located at the confluence of the Youghiogheny River and Laurel Hill Creek, which creates a whitewater rafting destination.
The national park support recreational activities such as kayaking, canoeing, and tubing. My favorite part was probably kayaking down the river. It was an experience I’ll never forget and one that I’m very glad I did with a guide. This is because there were rapids that would have been dangerous or impossible to navigate without help from someone who knew the area.
Ohiopyle state national park also features trails that wind through the park, taking you over fallen trees and Rocky River beds, along open fields of wildflowers, up mountainsides to overlooks with views of the Youghiogheny River below.
The Great Allegheny Passage trail is an easy hike (perfect for families) that parallels the river on flat terrain until it leaves the park heading east. This trail passes through an old tunnel (drive your bike or take your rollerblades).
The Youghiogheny River Trail is much more demanding. You’ll have to climb up steep mountainsides along the trail to access the river at high points where it’s possible to see lookout spots to take in views of the river below.
Many hikers opt for a combination of these two trails to hike together, passing through the tunnel on one side and looping back along with the other. The result is about 30 miles of hiking over great terrain, with every step giving you a new perspective on this beautiful state park.
I suggest that you stop by the Ohiopyle State Park visitor center to learn about programs, get maps of trails and see displays before venturing out to explore.
Read More: 14 Top-Rated Lakes in Pennsylvania
2. Flight 93 National Memorial Park
My next suggestion is the Flight 93 National Memorial Park. It is the only national park located in a small town and one of the top-rated national parks in Pennsylvania.
The national park pays tribute to those heroes who lost their lives aboard United Airlines Flight 93 on September 11, 2001. This national memorial is part of a larger entity, which includes a Visitor’s Center, Wall of Names, Field of Honor, Sacred Ground, and more.
On September 11 at 8:46 am, forty passengers aboard United Airlines Flight 93 gave up their seats so that future generations could live safely. They are national heroes who represent all Americans. Learning about what they did was an unforgettable experience for me.
In addition, there are several trails available to visitors depending on the level of activity and fitness. A visit to this national park should include a walk across the Memorial Bridge, where you can see the crash site.
The national memorial is open year-round and has scheduled tours throughout the day. There are several activities that take place on and off throughout the year to remember those who lost their lives. Visitors can pay their respects at special ceremonies held at different times during the year, including September 11 and holidays such as Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day.
I suggest stopping by for a few hours or spending most of your day here because there are many things to learn about Flight 93, in addition to visiting all attractions within this national park.
3. Cherry Springs State Park
If you want to enjoy the night sky, Cherry Springs State Park is located in Potter County, Pennsylvania. At an elevation of 2,300 ft., Cherry Springs offers a 360-degree view of stars at night that makes for a unique viewing experience.
With no artificial light sources within 28 miles, this state park attracts astronomers from all over the world. While most state parks are most popular during daylight hours, this state park provides unique nighttime activities for visitors who come to stargaze or stay in their woodland cabins.
The most popular star party is held at the Astronomy Observation Field, where visitors can use their own telescopes or take advantage of the park’s high-powered telescopes. Visitors can also learn about constellations and different celestial objects through free stargazing programs offered by the park rangers every Saturday night.
If you like hiking, there are several trails that provide scenic views of the state park. The trails include camping areas with fire rings along their path for your convenience.
Mountain bike enthusiasts will enjoy this national and state park because it offers 10 miles of off-road biking trails with opportunities for riders to ride on cross-country terrain. There are switches, bridges, mud holes, rocky, rooty sections, and stream crossings which makes it exciting for riders.
One of many things I liked about this park was that it had an amphitheater specifically built for nighttime star viewing.
What makes Cherry Springs such a good site for stargazing? According to NASA, it is due to its “remoteness from artificial lighting and almost no cloud cover.” And for this reason, I recommend including it in your list of top National and State Parks in Pennsylvania.
Read More: 15 Top-Rated Small Towns in Pennsylvania
4. Independence National Historical Park
Independence National Historical Park, located in Philadelphia, is the birthplace of America and one of the most important national parks in Pennsylvania.
Within the park’s boundaries are many national historic landmarks; Independence Hall, Liberty Bell Center, Betsy Ross House, Congress Hall, and Independent square. Other national historic landmarks are found in nearby communities or with easy access to the national park via public transportation.
My favorite attraction in this historical park was Independence square, where the Declaration of Independence was signed, and the U.S. Constitution was debated and adopted. It houses an exhibition of rare documents, including Thomas Jefferson’s rough draft of the Declaration of Independence.
The wealth of activities for visitors is equally impressive at this national landmark site. You can take a two-hour guided tour through Independence square, where you will understand the struggle for American independence through tours that convey the events that occurred in each room during the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
There are special events and activities throughout the year, including historical reenactments, speaker series, and holiday celebrations. Patriotic programs honor national holidays such as July 4, Veteran’s Day, and Memorial Day. There is an Adventurers’ Club for history-loving kids that includes activity pages, contests, and membership certificates.
I suggest stopping by the visitor center before entering the park, so you know what attractions to see and which areas are closed.
5. Kinzua Bridge State Park
The Kinzua Bridge State Park is one of the most popular state parks in Pennsylvania for its steel-arch bridge that spans a gorge on the Kinzua Creek. The largest, and last remaining, of the Allegheny Portage Railroad bridges has been transformed into a scenic trail.
This national historic landmark was used to transport coal from Pennsylvania’s deep mines to Lake Erie during World War I and up until 1958, when it became obsolete.
The visitor center provides exhibits about the construction of this man-made national historical site that stretches 2000 feet across the valley. And walking across this bright red span, which was first used as a railroad crossing in 1901, gave me a sense of unease due to its rusting and weakened condition following the hurricanes that have hit the park since then.
I would recommend bringing appropriate shoes to walk on metal grates or stairs if you plan to go up on the arch of the bridge. It’s not very safe to climb without some sort of traction…no matter what your age!
This park is always busy with hikers, and hiking trails are accessible year-round for hiking enthusiasts. There are two scenic overlooks that offer a breathtaking view of this national historic landmark. It is important to remember it takes about 10 minutes to walk from one end to the other, so plan accordingly.
Winter activities include snowmobiles and cross-country skiing, as well as sledding and ice skating in the winter months when there is enough snowfall.
The national park also includes The Kinzua Sky Walk, an outdoor observation deck at the top of the viaduct’s arch where you can see miles into Pennsylvania and far out across Lake Erie on a clear day. The Sky is only accessible by stairs. So if you have access issues, this national park’s attraction may not be best suited to your needs.
6. Gettysburg National Military Park
Gettysburg National Military Park is a national military park in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. This national park preserves the site of the Battle of Gettysburg and contains the Gettysburg National Cemetery.
The national park was established on February 11, 1895, as a national military reservation ‘for the purpose of preserving as a national monument any structures, or other memorabilia within said limits where traces of the recent battle may be found.’
In 1933, its official name was enlarged to “Gettysburg National Military Park.” It was administratively listed on the National Register of Historic Places on October 15, 1966. The battlefield is under federal protection, and some of the lands have been returned to private ownership.
I visited this national landmark around early March 2019 with my friend. We had to pay $15 per adult and $7.50 for children between the ages of 6-16. We were given audio guides so we could spend as much time as we wanted at each location. But there is a guided tour that you can take if you prefer one.
The national military park contains over 1,300 monuments, with some on the Gettysburg National Cemetery, where approximately 3,500 Union soldiers are buried along with about 900 Confederate soldiers. There are monuments dedicated to states from all over the country that had troops participating in this battle.
I suggest planning out your days at Gettysburg, so you can see all of the sites before they close for the day. I would start at the visitor center first to get an idea of what is most important for you to see. In addition, it has information about different activities throughout the year, such as trolley tours, special events, and ticket information for gatherers.
So, if you’re interested in American history, I highly suggest visiting this park. But be aware it takes quite a while to walk around because there are so many things to see!
7. Presque Isle State Park
Presque Isle State Park is one of the top state parks in Pennsylvania for a variety of outdoor activities. It has 3200 acres of land for fishing, swimming, boating, and picnicking, as well as bike trails and marinas to serve visitors.
Located on the northern shores of Lake Erie, it offers much to do all year round. In the winter months, ice fishing and cross-country skiing are popular. While summertime, vacationers stay in state park campgrounds or rent cottages.
The beach at Presque Isle State Park offers families a place to enjoy warm summer days by building sandcastles, having bonfires, or just simply relaxing with friends and family. The city skyline can be seen from this shoreline, offering an interesting view of the park. My favorite activity here was fishing because I loved catching fish!
There are dozens of trails for hikers, bikers, and horseback riding that stretch along miles of forested trails. There are many scenic rests stops to stop and enjoy the scenic beauty or take a geocaching adventure.
You can bike (by renting them) or hike/walk around Lake Erie through the national scenic trail. This national scenic trail takes you to secluded coves where you can fish or picnic on beaches. It’s also home to many birds, animals, reptiles, and insects that feed off the lake’s marshy vegetation.
8. Lower Delaware National Wild and Scenic River
My next national park to visit was the Lower Delaware national wild and scenic river. It is one of five national parks in Pennsylvania that’s entirely water-based.
Lower Delaware is also home to many national historical landmarks such as Fort Mifflin and Washington Crossing Historic Park. There are several boat launch sites scattered throughout the area, so you can take your pick based on where you want to be dropped off for a day on the water or overnight excursion.
There are campgrounds with access to the national park shuttle service and places to rent canoes or kayaks within walking distance.
In addition to national historical landmarks, the Lower Delaware National Scenic River offers many activities such as hiking, canoeing, and fishing for those interested in making a weekend of it.
There are also opportunities for birdwatching and wildlife viewing areas throughout this national landmark site. It also helps protect several threatened species, including bald eagles, ospreys, peregrine falcons, and river otters.
9. Ricketts Glen State Park
Ricketts Glen State Park, located in Pennsylvania’s picturesque “Valley of Waterfalls,” is one of the most popular states parks in all of Pennsylvania.
The park features 22 named waterfalls along two glens (valleys) on 23 miles of trails. The trails vary in difficulty and allow hikers to choose where they want to go and how long they want the hike to be. In total, there are over 13,100 acres and 19 distinct vegetation zones, containing more than 450 native plant species, including 35 rare plants.
I spent most of my time exploring Lake Jean at the bottom of Glens Trail. The lake is surrounded by lush greenery and colorful flowers, which make it look like a place out of your fantasy. You can rent boats or stand-up paddleboards to enjoy the serenity of the park on the water.
The national park has been designated as a Wilderness area under the 1964 national Wilderness Act, which means no motorized equipment or mechanical transport is allowed in the park. The only way to access the trails through Ricketts Glen is by foot or horseback. This adds a sense of adventure for visitors who seek out these beautiful places in the national park.
10. Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area
Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, located along the Pennsylvania-New Jersey border, is one of the most visited national parks in Pennsylvania.
This national park has an abundance of outdoor activities for visitors to enjoy, including hiking trails, picnicking spots, fishing access areas, camping facilities, boat launches, and scenic vistas. The national recreation area also offers 6-miles of multi-use trails that are shared by hikers and mountain bikers.
I enjoyed spending hours swimming at the park “Sunfish Pond.” On busy weekends, it’s common to see dozens of people in the water enjoying their time in nature by swimming or canoeing around this large pond surrounded by mountains formed thousands of years ago.
The park has excellent camping sites, including ones designed specifically for adventurers who want to go mountain biking or hiking. There are also picnic areas within walking distance of each campsite, but I recommend packing food before you venture into the woods because it’s difficult to bring supplies in with you.
11. Ridley Creek State Park
Located in the state park system of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Ridley Creek State Park is an oasis that offers visitors an escape from their busy day-to-day life to enjoy the serenity of nature.
This state park is packed with activities such as camping, hiking, biking, fishing, and boating. Visitors can hike along trails ranging in length from 1 mile to 8 miles or canoe down Ridley Creek. You can go fishing at one of 7 different ponds stocked with trout, bass, catfish, and panfish; no license required!
In the state park, you can find several historical structures, including a living museum and a restored farmhouse that serves as a visitor center.
There are plenty of picnic areas scattered throughout the state park that will allow you a tranquil environment for lunch or dinner. Some picnic areas have barbeque grills available, while others have shelter houses that can be reserved for family gatherings and large group events.
12. Valley Forge National Historical Park
Valley forge national historical park, located slightly northwest of Philadelphia, is a national park sited at the site of the 1777-78 winter encampment of the Continental Army. This national historical park preserves and protects more than 3,500 acres (14 km2) of original structures such as huts that were used by the army, Christ Church, and Parsonage, where General George Washington worshiped.
Valley Forge National Historical Park memorializes those who lived there during those cold, harsh winter months with special tours and exhibits about their lives and daily chores. You can also visit the recreation of soldiers’ huts on display here, keeping alive many memories from more than two centuries ago. These reconstructed huts contain original artifacts and period furnishings.
There are special events throughout the year, including national reenactments, living history programs, national historical presentations, activities for children, and patriotic holiday celebrations. You can participate in guided tours at this site conducted by rangers.
Special events include an annual Army celebration to commemorate Washington’s Birthday along with other national holidays such as Thanksgiving Day and Memorial Day.
These Top National and State Parks in Pennsylvania are great places to spend time with family, friends, or even solo. Whether you’re looking for an adventure on the Appalachian Trail or want to go fishing at one of the state’s many lakes, this list is sure to provide something that interests you!