121 state parks. 12,000 miles of trails. 86,000 miles of rivers and streams. If it's the outdoors you're looking for, you've found the right place.
After around two years of being indoors more than outdoors, the world is getting out and about again. People are reconnecting to what’s important to them inside, and part of the way to do that is by getting outside.
There are ample opportunities for enjoyable and therapeutic outdoor recreation in Pennsylvania. The state is filled with an abundance of natural beauty, stretching from the Delaware River to Lake Erie, with a wide array of mountains, forests, trails and waterways in between.
“It’s become clear during the pandemic that one of the things we need for our well-being is access to the outdoors and nature,” says Christina Novak, director of communications with the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. “We have a seen a gigantic jump in the number of visitors to our parks, forests and trails. People have really recognized the importance of being able to get outside, while still staying close to home.”
A Park Near You
Pennsylvania’s longstanding objective is to have a state park within 25 miles of every resident.
There are now a total of 121 state parks in Pennsylvania, along with approximately 6,200 local parks, more than 12,000 miles of trails, 86,000 miles of rivers and streams, and a total of nearly 3 million acres of parkland and forests.
“Pennsylvania definitely is an outdoor recreation state,” Novak says. “We have large expanses of state and local parks and state forests available for public use. People want a trail nearby where they can take a walk or ride a bike, or a park where the kids can play. Having the opportunity to be in a natural setting is definitely an option available in Pennsylvania. It’s something that adds a great deal of livability to all our communities.”
The highlight of the 339-acre Kinzua Bridge State Park is the bridge itself, a former railroad structure that extends 300 feet above the Kinzua Gorge. After the bridge was damaged by a tornado in 2003, a 600-foot section was restructured as a pedestrian walkway, with a glass-bottom observation platform at the end.
Four Corners of Fun
Picturesque outdoor recreation can be found throughout the state. On the eastern border with New Jersey, the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area has 40 miles of river and more than 100 miles of hiking trails. To the north, the legendary Pocono Mountains offer breathtaking beauty and 150 lakes spread out over 2,400 square miles.
The central part of the state is dominated by the Pennsylvania Wilds, more than 2 million acres of public land that includes the Allegheny National Forest. To the south, the 21-mile Heritage Rail Trail Park winds through scenic areas of York County. And tucked into the northwestern corner of Pennsylvania are 77 miles of Lake Erie shoreline, highlighted by Presque Isle State Park, a 3,200-acre sandy peninsula.
All these natural attractions can be enjoyed throughout Pennsylvania’s four distinct seasons. The warmer months bring out the swimmers, golfers and kayakers, while winter enthusiasts are able to go skiing, snowboarding and ice skating. And there are few things quite as relaxing as a hike or bike ride when the flowers are blooming during the spring or the leaves are changing color in the fall.
“If there is an outdoor recreation activity you want to do in any season, it’s pretty much available in Pennsylvania,” Novak says.
While visitors flock to Pennsylvania to enjoy this wide variety of outdoor recreation, these spaces also provide valuable benefits to locals.
For example, Valley Forge National Park is a 3,500-acre, history-filled oasis that attracted more than 2 million visitors in 2021. But recently, park officials began a “mindfulness walking series” directed more toward the local populace, in which a certified therapist strolls the grounds with a small group of people and discusses any issues or concerns they might have.
“What we’ve come to understand is that, now more than ever, people need open space. They need outdoors, they need recreation, they need greenspace and air. They need nature.”
Amy Johnson, Valley Forge Park Alliance
“During the pandemic, we noticed a lot more people walking the park alone, and some of them were crying,” says Amy Johnson, chair of the board for the Valley Forge Park Alliance. “Who knows what their story was, but it obviously was a story of sadness.
“We wanted to reach out to our community. So through a grant from (retailer) REI, we started this program. It’s sort of like small-group therapy. People go out and they’re in nature with a therapist, and they’re walking and talking and engaging. Just working through whatever it is they’re facing.”
And Pennsylvania provides plenty of nature for people to find their inner peace again.
3 More Parks to Explore
Ohiopyle (20,500 acres) is one of the largest parks in the state. Its roaring whitewater makes it popular with rafters and kayakers.
Big Pocono is both rugged and accessible. The hiking trails within the park can be steep, but the scenic payoff makes it all worthwhile.
Presque Isle is a peninsula along Lake Erie that offers prime boating and swimming. Hikers and cyclists love the gorgeous scenery as well.