Guide to State and National Parks in South Central PA


There are not many better stops for families than to their local parks! And while our local parks are, of course, fantastic, state and national parks can be even more exciting with tons of fun to offer. Whether you want to go hiking, enjoy some fun in a local lake, try a new adventurous sport, and soak up some historical knowledge, there is bound to be something for you. Best of all? They’re usually free!

The only problem is, there are so many state and national parks, and which ones are even closest to us, anyway? And what is there to do once you’re there?

That’s where we come in. Our guide to state and national parks in the South Central PA area has got you covered, so the next time you’re looking for a low-cost family adventure, or a way to get your kids away from the electronics and out into the sunshine, check back here for a new park to visit. Whatever your kids are into, you’re bound to find something they’ll love.


READ: 2023 Guide to You-Pick Farms in South Central PA

State and National Parks in Cumberland County

  • Colonel Denning State Park, Newville: Surrounded by mountains, there is tons to do here, no matter what time of year. In summer, you can go hiking, biking, swimming, fishing, and birding; in winter, you can go ice skating and ice fishing.
  • Pine Grove Furnace State Park, Gardners: This park is the halfway point for the famous Appalachian Trail! But there’s lots more to do. Go swimming or hang out on the beach at one of their two lakes, see historic iron furnace buildings, tour the Ironmaster’s Mansion, and visit the first hiking museum in the entire country. In the fall, they hold an incredible festival where hundreds of jack-o-lanterns float on Fuller Lake for some spooky fun!
  • Kings Gap Environmental Education Center, Carlisle: Hiking and orienteering are popular here. Stop by the Cameron-Masland Mansion to see the gardens or a breathtaking view of Cumberland Valley. This park is also a great place to spot birds and butterflies, especially in the mansion’s native plant butterfly garden.

    State and National Parks in Dauphin County

    • Boyd Big Tree Preserve, Grantville: Go hiking along the Blue Mountain, and take in the beautiful views. This park is especially great in summertime, when the field blooms with wildflowers, and the kids can see TONS of birds and butterflies.

    State and National Parks in Lancaster County

    • Susquehannock State Park, Drumore: Lots of hiking trails take you to numerous overlooks, giving you gorgeous views of the Lower Susquehanna River. The Conowingo Reservoir offers boating and fishing as well.

    State and National Parks in Lebanon County

    • Swatara State Park, Pine Grove: Straddling both Lebanon and Schuylkill Counties, Swatara State Park has lots of hiking trails through gorgeous scenery in the Swatara Valley. One of the most popular stops is Bordner’s Cabin, a historic hand-built cabin next to Aycrigg Falls. You can walk, bike, or even ride a horse on the trail to see these incredible sites. There are picnic tables inside the cabin to stop, rest, and have a snack, or you can sit on one of the many rocks scattered around the waterfalls in the shade.
    • Memorial Lake State Park, East Hanover Township: This small park was formed in honor of Pennsylvania National Guard soldiers who served in World War I and World War II. It has an 85-acre lake great for fishing and boating (though gas-powered boats are not allowed), with boat rental available right at the park. There are also two miles of easy hiking.

    State and National Parks in York County

    • Susquehanna Riverlands State Park, York: There are tons of good hiking trails here, with multiple rocky overlooks that reward you with panoramic views of the Susquehanna River. This is a new state park, so more amenities and activities could be added in the future!
    • Gifford Pinchot State Park, Warrington Township: Water lovers, make sure to come here, because the massive 340-acre lake will steal your heart! In addition to hiking and mountain biking, you can go swimming in the lake — bring rafts for the kids to play with. There are plenty of picnic tables, too, and you can bring your own food, or buy food from the snack bar. They also have pontoon boat tours, kayaking, canoeing, and paddle boarding. On dry land, you can have fun on one of their two disc golf courses. You can go fishing, try to spot the giant swallowtail butterfly in the summer, or explore one of the many boulders or rocky outcrops throughout the park.
    • Samuel S. Lewis State Park, Windsor Township: This park, with incredible views of Mt. Pisgah, is a favorite for kite-flying. There are also hiking trails, with panoramic views and beautiful nighttime views for those who love star-gazing.
    • Codorus State Park, Hanover: There are tons of water activities here on Lake Marburg, including fishing, canoeing, sailing, and boating. You can also go scuba diving in Sinsheim Cove! They also have a swimming pool and a disc golf course, hiking trails, campsites, and more. They also have lots of winter fun, with sledding, ice skating, ice fishing, and ice sailing available.

    State and National Parks Nearby

    • Mont Alto State Park, Fayetteville: Pennsylvania’s oldest state park, this small gem offers fishing, hiking in the Michaux State Forest, and picnicking. One of the pavilions is the old carousel from 100 years ago!
    • Trough Creek State Park, James Creek: North towards Hollidaysburg, this park offers hiking trails, complete with a suspension bridge kids will be sure to love. From there, stop and see Rainbow Falls — especially after a recent rainfall. Your kids will also go crazy over Balanced Rock, which also offers some great photo spots, and from there, keep going down to the ice mine to cool off — even in the warm summer months, it stays cool and icy! Other fun stops to make are Paradise Furnace and Copperas Rock.
    • Cowans Gap State Park, Fort Loudon: There are lots of hiking trails here with varying levels of difficulty and different kinds of scenery. You can also go fishing, boating, and swimming at Cowans Gap Lake, and in the summer, get refreshments from the snack bar. They’re most well-known for two gorgeous overlooks — Cowans Gap Overlook and the Knobsville Vista — which give you incredible views.
    • Hickory Run State Park, White Haven: Take a trip to the foothills of the Poconos and visit this park where there is TONS to do. Stroll across Boulder Field, or go swimming in the giant lake, where there’s also a snack bar if you need some food. There are a whopping 40 miles of hiking trails, and three separate waterfalls; one of them, Hawk Falls, is perfect for kiddos as the trail to get there is less than one mile to hike. There’s also a historic chapel near some of the waterfalls, and the visitors center has a lot of great hands-on displays for kids to explore and play with. You can also rent one of their rustic cottages and camp for the weekend, go trout fishing, and play disc golf.
    • Big Spring State Park, Blain: Hike alongside the Conococheague Mountain and explore the great outdoors. There are tons of picnic tables for when you need a break to give the kids a snack. The highlight of this park is, without question, an abandoned railroad tunnel your kids will LOVE to explore.
    • Blue Knob State Park, Imler: Located on Pennsylvania’s second-highest mountain, there is tons to do here. Winter activities include skiing, snowboarding, and tubing; in warmer months, you can go hiking, fishing, hunting, camping, and fishing.
    • Canoe Creek State Park, Hollidaysburg: Kiddos who love bats will love this park, which features the Frank Felbaum Bat Sanctuary. You can also go fishing and swimming at Canoe Lake, explore eight miles of trails, and check out the 100-year-old remains of a kiln which used to be operated by the Blair Limestone Company.
    • Valley Forge National Historic Park, Valley Forge: Tour the site where thousands of Revolutionary War soldiers camped out during the winter of 1777-1778. In addition to seeing the historic buildings, statues, and monuments, you can go hiking and birding.
    • Buchanan’s Birthplace State Park, Mercersburg: Hike Tuscarora Trail and take in the mountain views, or fish for trout in Buck Run. The highlight of this park is the 31-foot high pyramid, built of native stone, serving as a monument to President Buchanan and built on the site of his childhood home.
    • Greenwood Furnace State Park, Huntingdon: Walk through the historic Greenwood Furnace and take a trip back to the 1800s. There are also lots of hiking trails, as well as hunting and camping. Stop by Greenwood Lake to see the historic dam, and go fishing and swimming — or, in the winter, ice fishing.
    • Norristown Farm Park, Norristown: Visit a working farm that’s been in continuous operation for hundreds of years! There’s also biking, birding, hiking, and fishing available. You can also play volleyball and horseshoes near the picnic pavilion areas.
    • Caledonia State Park, Fayetteville: Check out hiking trails, a swimming pool, golf course, hunting and fishing for outdoor fun. But another fun feature of this park is the Totem Pole Playhouse, which has offered summer performances for decades.
    • Independence National Historic Park, Philadelphia: See American history from its founding up close and personal, with stops at Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell Center, and the Benjamin Franklin Museum.
    • Little Buffalo State Park, Newport: Walk across a covered bridge, check out a restored grist mill, and go fishing and boating on Holman Lake. There’s also a swimming pool with a splash pad and slides!
    • Lehigh Gorge State Park, White Haven: Embrace adventure or go hunting for waterfalls here! You can take your big kids white-water rafting, or go hiking, hunting, and fishing. Popular waterfalls to see are Buttermilk Falls and Luke’s Falls.
    • Ralph Stover State Park, Pipersville: Adventure abounds here, as you can go white-water rafting and rock climbing on Tohickon Creek. There are also hiking trails, with the High Rocks area offering a great overlook of the water.
    • Beltzville State Park, Beltzville: For kiddos who love fishing, this is the place to go. At Beltzville Lake, you can catch striped bass, largemouth and smallmouth bass, trout, walleye, perch, and muskellunge, while trout is stocked regularly at Pohopoco Creek. There’s also a covered bridge — almost 200 years old! — that connects you to one of the beaches, where you can go swimming, boating, and water skiing. In winter, you can go ice boating or ice fishing.
    • Fort Washington State Park, Fort Washington: History-loving kids will love this park, which features the historic Fort Washington on the Potomac River. You can also see the Fort Washington Light, fly kites on one of their green lawns, hike the River Trail, or go fishing in the Potomac River.
    • Ridley Creek State Park, Media: Go fly-fishing, take a nature trail on horseback, or visit the Colonial Pennsylvania Plantation, a 300-year-old farm which was restored using 18th-century tools. Historical interpreters give you a glimpse into life in the 1700s, while kids can play on playgrounds and find plenty of rocks to climb.
    • Neshaminy State Park, Bensalem: Home to Pennsylvania’s only estuary, you can go hiking here and take in the Philadelphia skyline. While it is on the Delaware River, you can’t go swimming in it… but you can go swimming in their pool, which includes a splash pad.
    • Gettysburg National Military Park, Gettysburg: Relive Civil War history at Gettysburg, which includes Abraham Lincoln’s famous Gettysburg Address. In addition to visiting battlefields and learning about history, there are hiking trails to explore, and you can pay homage to Civil War soldiers at the Gettysburg National Cemetery.
    • Washington Crossing Historic Park, Washington Crossing: Know the famous painting of George Washington crossing the Delaware River? Well, visit this park and see what it was like in person! There is a reenactment of the crossing each December, and all year round, you can explore the Historic Village, climb Bowman’s Hill Tower, visit the graves of Continental soldiers who died during the Revolutionary War, and much more.
    • Flight 93 National Memorial, Shanksville: This infamous flight filled with heroic passengers crashed into a field in Shanksville on September 11, 2001, thwarting a planned attack on the United States Capitol. Today, you can visit the solemn memorial, which includes the Tower of Voices, information on Flight 93, and an annual observance on September 11.

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