Pennsylvania Road Trip: Camping in Spectacular State Parks

With its soaring summits, roaring rivers, peaceful lakes and endless hiking trails, Pennsylvania is prime for outdoor adventures. Many of these beautiful places can be found in the Keystone State’s 121 state parks—all of which are free to enter. From stargazing to fishing, this three-day road trip itinerary will take you to seven state parks for a quick sampling of the many activities you can enjoy in the fresh air. So, hop in your car or RV and get driving with this easy-to-follow route.

Have even longer to vacation? Extend your visit at any of these state parks, all of which offer campgrounds for overnight stays.

Day 1

Starting in the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton area, drive less than one hour.

Ricketts Glen.
Ricketts Glen. Photo credit: Visit Luzerne County.

Ricketts Glen State Park

Spend the morning surrounded by awe-inspiring natural scenery at this state park in Luzerne, Sullivan and Columbia counties. While the views and activities are plentiful—boating and fishing at the 245-acre Lake Jean, horseback riding through cherry trees, and spotting bald eagles—the real draw is the Glens Natural Area, a National Natural Landmark comprised of a series of waterfalls cascading through rocky cliffs and shaded by deciduous forests. Get a glimpse of 21 of the waterfalls on the Falls Trail: a 7.2-mile loop if hiking both the upper and lower sections, or a 3.2-mile loop for a shorter route. The hike will reward you with dramatic views of waterfalls ranging from 11 feet to the 94-foot Ganoga Falls.

Drive: 23.5 miles // 30 minutes

Worlds End State Park

Nestled in the curved valley of Loyalsock Creek, this ruggedly beautiful 780-acre state park in the heart of the Endless Mountains is surrounded by Loyalsock State Forest. Feel invigorated when you dip your feet in the cool creek water at the swim beach and then walk to the nearby picnic tables for an al fresco lunch. Don’t miss panoramic views of the canyon from Loyalsock Canyon Vista, which can be reached by the 4-mile Canyon Vista Trail or the ADA-accessible overlook. The views are especially scenic during June’s mountain laurel bloom and September’s peak fall colors.

Drive: 84 miles // 2 hours, 15 minutes

Cherry Springs State Park

Arrive before dark so you can set up camp and enjoy a leisurely dinner by your campfire. As the sun goes down, you’ll quickly discover the real draw to this state park: its pitch-black skies that are free from light pollution and its unobstructed views of the heavens, earning it the designation of an International Dark Sky Park. Make your way to the astronomy field, perched atop a 2,300-foot mountain for 360-degree views of sky, including direct views into the nucleus of the Milky Way Galaxy.

Day 2

Drive: 53.5 miles // 1 hour, 15 minutes

Kinzua Skywalk.
Kinzua Skywalk. Photo credit: Allegheny National Forest Visitors Bureau.

Kinzua Bridge State Park

In McKean County, gaze miles out into the Kinzua Gorge when you walk across what was once the world’s longest, tallest railroad bridge when it was built in 1882. After a tornado partially destroyed the structure, this viaduct was transformed into the Kinzua Sky Walk, a pedestrian walkway with a partial glass-bottomed platform for peering into the gorge below. After taking in the views, stop by the visitor center to explore exhibits on engineering, energy and the environment.

Drive: 91 miles // 2 hours

Black Moshannon State Park

With hardwood forests, wetlands, grassy meadows and blueberry fields—and more than 20 miles of trails that wind through the various habitats—you’re bound to spot some wildlife at this 3,394-acre state park surrounded by Moshannon State Forest. See the dark waters of Black Moshannon Lake—tinted by sphagnum moss and other plant life—and walk along the Lake Loop Trail to explore the lake’s lower shoreline. Go for a swim from the sandy beach, rent a boat to paddle on the lake, or drop in a fishing line for warmwater fish. For anglers seeking trout, try your luck on the Black Moshannon Creek or nearby Six Mile Run. Then, spend the night in one of the campsites, or book one of the cabins or cottages for a relaxing stay. 

Day 3

Drive: 120 miles // 2 hours, 15 minutes

Gifford Pinchot State Park.
Gifford Pinchot State Park. Photo credit: Explore York.

Gifford Pinchot State Park

Spend the morning in York County to enjoy this state park’s gem: the 340-acre Pinchot Lake, surrounded by scenic wooded hillsides. Rent a kayak, canoe or rowboat to paddle across the calm, flat waters. Designated a Big Bass Lake, this is the spot to reel in largemouth bass, hybrid striped bass, catfish, walleye and crappie. Spread out a blanket at the sandy swim beach and enjoy a dip in the water. Go birdwatching at the lake’s shoreline wetlands to spot snow geese, mallards, loons and other waterfowl. Or hike along parts of the 8.5-mile Lakeside Trail to take in serene waterfront views.

Drive: 122 miles // 2 hours

Hickory Run State Park

End your journey at this sprawling state park tucked into the foothills of the Pocono Mountains in Carbon County, where you can take your pick of unexpected adventures for the afternoon. Walk across the massive Boulder Field, a National Natural Landmark. Go for a swim at Sand Spring Lake, and then stop at the snack bar for sandwiches and ice cream. Play a game of disc golf on the 19-hole course in the Spring Day Use Area. Trek along the short yet challenging Hawk Falls Trail, a 0.6-mile trail that begins in rhododendron thickets and ends with breathtaking views of the 25-foot Hawk Falls waterfall. Pull in trout from Mud Run or Hickory Run, or check out the fishing pier on the CCC Pond. After some fun in the great outdoors, spend the night at one of the campsites or cozy cottages. The campgrounds offer plenty of comfort amenities, such as flush toilets, warm showers and some sites with electric and full hook-ups.

The next morning, make your way back to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton area, less than an hour’s drive away.

Know Before You Go

There are no entrance fees or day-use fees for any state park in Pennsylvania. However, swimming, boating and camping fees apply. Before fishing, be sure to get a fishing license, which are available online, over the phone or in person at approximately 700 locations throughout the state.