Let’s face it. When it comes to an epic outdoor adventure, us Pennsylvanians aren’t as blessed as folks in western states where the only thing keeping them from incredible parks like Yosemite, Mt Rainier, and Great Sand Dunes is a few hours on the road. For us here in the Keystone State, getting to those spots is a whole debacle. Our options are either a multi-day road trip excursion, or catching a flight out west and renting a car. No option is seemingly cheaper or less hassle than the other. So if we’re craving an unforgettable outdoor experience, and can’t justify a lengthy vacation, the planning, or the cost of cross country travel, what exactly are we supposed to do? It’s not like Pennsylvania has its own Grand Canyon.
Or does it?
With the Appalachian Mountains cutting right through the state, Pennsylvania’s dramatic landscape is an outdoor lovers’ playground. Premium hiking trails, dazzling waterfalls, and some of the oldest hardwood forests on the east coast make this state a standout for outdoor adventures. A weekend trip to one of these scenic Pennsylvania locations might just be the highlight of your summer.
Ohiopyle State Park
Located in the southeast corner of Pennsylvania, Ohiopyle’s rugged natural beauty makes this park a must for either a serene nature retreat or a high adventure weekend.
Let’s start with that “serene” part. The Park is host to several lodging options, everything from primitive tenting, quaint cottages, and yurts. Each is a rustic option to lay your head after a day of hiking past waterfalls, wildlife spotting, or horseback riding.
Looking for something with more thrill? Boots, oars, or headlamps? You might need all 3 in Ohiopyle.
Cutting right through the park is the famous Youghiogheny (yaw GUH gay nee) River. This river churns up numerous pockets of Class III and Class IV rapids making it the busiest section of whitewater east of the Mississippi River. Guided rafting trips are also an option. Speaking from personal experience rafting this river, this is one of the most exciting adventures you can have in all of Pennsylvania.
If getting blasted by angry whitewater isn’t your ideal way to cool off on a hot summer day, you can always submerge underground into the maze known as Laurel Caverns. While not technically part of Ohiopyle State Park, the largest cave in Pennsylvania is just a short drive away.
With 3 miles of caverns to explore, there’s plenty of ways to immerse in this otherworldly underground labyrinth, everything ranging from tame short guided tours, self guided tours, and for the more adventurous souls, caving and spelunking excursions which will have you crawling and climbing through narrow passages, and exploring the more remote parts of the cave.
This is just scratching the surface of what you can do in Ohiopyle State Park, for more information on how you can spend a weekend here, be sure to use these resources below
Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania
Yes, yes, we all know the Grand Canyon in Arizona, but right here in Pennsylvania is an incredible chasm in the Appalachian Mountains often dubbed “The Grand Canyon of the East”
The PA Grand Canyon has a central location in the state as part of Tioga State Forest. It's shared by both Colton Point State Park on the west rim and Leonard Harrison State Park on the east rim. Both parks have legendary hiking and backpacking opportunities with jaw dropping vistas and look-out points where you’re likely to spot bald eagles and other wildlife. Many hikes offer close up views of waterfalls as well.
Perhaps the highlight of the PA Grand Canyon is the Pine Creek Rail Trail. This trail is a converted railroad bed that travels along the Pine Creek Gorge at the floor of the canyon.
USA Today cites the Pine Creek Rail Trail as one of the 10 great places to take a bike tour in the world.
When it's time for some food and shopping, the gaslight-lined streets of Wellsboro with its quaint small-town Victorian charm makes it a great place to explore.
The Poconos have enough variety, you could spend a month here and still not get to experience this stunning mountain range in full. The Poconos are located in the eastern section of the state. Between Scranton and the Delaware Water Gap on the PA / NY border.
The area is home to several luxury resorts and lodges, but is also vast enough to camp in for a more rugged outdoor experience. In the winter, it’s a coveted skiing destination. Any other time of year, there are endless opportunities for hiking, biking, rafting, fishing, hunting, ATV riding, skydiving, and plenty more adventures!
We already know that Pennsylvania has its own grand canyon, but the Poconos is perhaps best known for its stunning waterfalls, with Bushkill Falls being impressive enough to earn it the nickname “Niagara of Pennsylvania”
The Poconos is home to dozens of waterfalls, with the tallest being 178 ft tall, and that’s only one of its tiers.
Kinzua Bridge State Park
One of the most obscure anomalies of a state park in Pennsylvania is Kinzua Bridge. The highlight of course being Kinzua Bridge itself which has a fascinating history.
In its Prime, the Kinzua Bridge was the longest and tallest railroad structure in the entire world. Not just Pennsylvania, or the United States - the entire world. It was an absolute feat of engineering.
That is … until 2003 when the bridge was partially destroyed by a tornado, leaving half the bridge in ruin, leaving a tangled mess of iron beams at the bottom of the Kinzua Gorge.
Today, the viaduct has been reinvented as a pedestrian skywalk. Visitors can walk 600 feet out on the remaining support towers, peer miles out into the Kinzua Gorge, and enjoy a dizzying look below through the glass platform at the end of the walkway.
In addition to the bridge, there’s a bike path, a trail leading down to the Gorge to explore the iron jungle gym of ruins.
Just a short drive away is the Allegheny reservoir, a prime spot for kayaking and boating with plenty of scenic hiking trails in nearby Allegheny National Forest.
Presque Isle State Park
Presque Isle lives up to its French meaning of “almost an island." Jutting out right into the waters of Lake Erie with 3,200-acre sandy peninsula, this is not a landscape one would typically think of when they imagine Pennsylvania. As the state’s only real seashore, it has become a sort of oasis for the residents of the City of Erie and the surrounding areas in Ohio, New York, and as far south at Pittsburgh.
The park creates Presque Isle Bay, a wide and deep harbor for the city of Erie, and a favorite destination for recreational boating. With the bay on one side, and the expanse of Lake Erie on the other, the beaches of Presque Isle come pretty close to feeling like you’re on a
world-class beach…by Pennsylvania standards that is. With 9 established beaches on the park, there’s plenty of shoreline to find your own private paradise, or swim in the calming surf with lifeguards present.
The unique geography of Presque Isle makes it a fisherman’s haven with access to both the bay, lagoons within the park, and Lake Erie itself. Popular catches include Perch, (everyone’s favorite) Bass, Muskellunge, Walleye, Northern pike, Crappies, Smelt, and Steelhead.
In addition to swimming and fishing, the park has several hiking trails which provide opportunity for some truly unique wildlife spotting. There’s also a 13.5 mile bike trail, and a maze of secluded lagoons and waterways which are ideal for kayaking. Kayaks and bikes can be rented within the park.
All of this makes Presque Isle truly one of Pennsylvania’s premiere destinations for a day trip or weekend getaway. No camping is allowed in the park itself, but lodging is available just outside of the park boundaries.
Presque Isle is such a special place in PA, it has its own poster design on the Natural States Collective store, be sure to head over to the gallery to see the full collection of artwork and park posters!