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8 Best Cities in Pennsylvania for Outdoor Lovers

Whether you love the mountains, the forest, lakes and streams or even the beach, Pennsylvania has natural beauty to please everyone.

By Emily Handy on September 13, 2022

Bridge and mountains in Lehigh Gorge State Park, Pennsylvania.
Lehigh Gorge State Park, PA / iStock.com

Pennsylvania may be well-known for the food, fun and history of its big cities, but did you know that this state is full of natural beauty? From lush forests to roaring rivers and awe-inspiring rock formations, Pennsylvania is a gorgeous state for outdoor lovers to call home. In fact, the state prides itself on its many initiatives to preserve and protect its wilderness and natural resources, including the 121 free state parks making nature accessible for current and future generations alike. So, whether you’re looking to bike to work, do some stargazing in one of the darkest places on the East Coast, or hit the trail on the weekends, there’s a place here you’ll definitely want to call home.

iStock/Darla Graff

Erie

Located on the shore of the great Lake Erie in northwestern Pennsylvania, Erie is considered one of the most beautiful cities in the country. Erie is home to the picturesque Presque Isle State Park, which offers visitors 3,200 acres of pristine beaches, trails and marinas. The water is so gorgeous here when the sun hits it that the city is nicknamed the “Gem City.” This state park is also a favorite for bird watchers, as many types of birds migrate through the area. For those who like to imbibe in the outdoors, Erie also features about two dozen wineries with beautiful vistas of grape vines spanning as far as the eye can see.

Coudersport

For those who enjoy stargazing, Coudersport is the place to be. Named for the large black cherry trees originally in the park and surrounded by the vast Susquehannock State Forest, Cherry Springs State Park is a beautiful park in the daytime. But when the sun goes down, stargazers congregate. The park is recognized as a Gold Level International Dark Sky Park, the only one in the eastern U.S. Here, dark sky enthusiasts can catch a glimpse of the Milky Way, view meteor showers and identify constellations in one of the darkest places on Earth.

Hiking the Allegheny National Forest in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania Tourism Office

Warren

Home to the beautiful Allegheny National Forest, Warren is an outdoor lover’s paradise. Park goers enjoy primitive camping, hikes to waterfalls, off-roading adventures, and canoeing and kayaking. Warren boasts some of the most stunning overlooks in the country, as well. For those of you who prefer to get around sans car, Warren was named the Best Bicycling City in Pennsylvania last year thanks to the city’s emphasis on bike safety. Not to mention the Allegheny National Forest features incredible mountain biking trails, including the new Jakes Rocks Extreme Mountain Bike Trail System.

Jim Thorpe

Bordered by the southern end of the majestic Lehigh Gorge State Park and tucked away in the Pocono Mountains, the town of Jim Thorpe is the perfect home base for those who can’t get enough of the great outdoors. Lehigh Gorge State Park is known for its thrilling white-water rafting on the Lehigh River as well as two popular waterfalls and trails galore. Like Warren, bicycling is also big here. Once a historic transportation route, Pennsylvania’s 165-mile D&L Trail runs right through the town of Jim Thorpe and attracts cyclists and hikers alike. The nearby Mauch Chunk Lake Park also features several popular biking trails.

Jeff Adkins

Harrisburg

The state capital of Pennsylvania, Harrisburg perches on the banks of the Susquehanna River. The city itself is home to the Capital Area Greenbelt, a 20-mile loop trail that runs along the riverfront, through wooded areas, urban and residential neighborhoods, and connecting to multiple parks — creating access to beautiful green spaces for all residents. The city’s prime location along the river and just south of the Appalachian Trail make it a hub for outdoor enthusiasts looking to get on the water or hike parts of the famed trail. Fishing is big in Harrisburg. Avid fly fishers have likely heard of the challenging LeTort Spring Run, and the Juniata River and Memorial Lake are two other nearby destinations for anglers.

Allentown

In the heart of Lehigh Valley in eastern Pennsylvania sits the city of Allentown. This city truly has access to all nature has to offer, from skiing in the winter to biking and kayaking in the summer and everything in between. The Lehigh Gorge Rail Trail, part of the D&L Trail, runs through Allentown for bikers and walkers to enjoy year-round. For those who enjoy more challenging hikes, access to the Appalachian Trail is just a short drive from Allentown. One of the more famous Appalachian Trail hikes in the state is the short but rocky hike to Blake Oven Knob for some seriously cool panoramic views. For even more nature, drive an hour north of Allentown and experience Hickory Run State Park. The park sits in the Pocono Mountains foothills and features a unique 16-acre boulder field.

Bucks County

North of Philadelphia and bordered by the great Delaware River on the east, Bucks County is an amazing place for outdoorsy folks to settle down in. And speaking of boulder fields, Bucks County is home to Pennsylvania’s oddest natural phenomenon: the mysterious ringing rocks at Ringing Rocks County Park. Visitors bring hammers and explore the vast 123-acre boulder field, hitting the rocks to make them ring. The stunning Ralph Stover State Park and Tohickon Valley Parks are connected via a meandering trail and feature the best views in the county. Rock climbers can try their hand at one of the nearly 100 routes at High Rocks in Ralph Stover State Park, a top rock-climbing destination in the state.

A creek runs through the bottom of the gorge
Pine Creek Gorge, PA / iStock.com
Pine Creek Gorge is known as the “Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania.”

Wellsboro

Did you know there’s another Grand Canyon? Well, there is, and it’s located in Wellsboro, PA. Dubbed the “Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania,” the 47-mile Pine Creek Gorge is an impressive feat of nature and the perfect destination for any nature lover. Panoramic views of lush forests and roaring waterfalls can be seen along trails ranging in difficulty. Cyclists can enjoy the 60 miles of the Pine Creek Rail Trail, and those who prefer to brave the rapids can do so on the Pine Creek Water Trail.

Pennsylvania’s outdoor recreation is one of the strongest quality-of-life advantages for all residents. If you love spending time outside, Pennsylvania is the place for you.

This article was sponsored by the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development.

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