Best National and State Parks Near Philadelphia

Pennsylvania State Park Guide

I’ve been doing a lot more local adventuring in Pennsylvania due to COVID-19. Throughout the summer, I cancelled pretty much all of my travel plans that required air travel and focused on drivable destinations (like Acadia National Park). We’ve spent some time exploring some of the local state and national parks in and around Philly.

It’s important to note that it’s best to avoid these areas on busy days, such as the weekends. Depending on the popularity of the park, I try to get up as early as possible to beat the crowds. We bring masks out of respect to other hikers and for our own protection, but the earlier we get there, the less people we see so the less we have to use them.

Here are some of my favorite spots in northeastern Pennsylvania. All of these spots are accessible from Philly – either for a day trip or overnight/weekend trip. Make sure to check the park’s website before going for current conditions and COVID closures.

Valley Forge National Historic Park

Valley Forge National Historic Park is located about 30 minutes outside of Philadelphia ( but probably closer to 45 with traffic). In addition to their historical exhibits (which are currently closed due to COVID), they have a TON of trails that you can explore, including a paved loop trail that’s great for bike riding.

For more on Valley Forge trails and current conditions, closures and available services, visit the National Park Service website.

Field at Valley Forge National Historic Park

Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area

This beautiful spot is on the border of Pennsylvania and New Jersey. You can catch some beautiful views of the mountains and Delaware River. The only downside to this beautiful spot is it gets a bit crowded, so plan ahead and get there early!

For more, see the Delaware Water Gap website.

Delaware Water Gap View
Acorn close up in fall

John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge

I’ve written about John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge in detail on past posts about hiking in and around Philadelphia. This is our go-to during our usual summer, however, if you’re traveling during COVID, make sure you go early and on the week day. It tends to get pretty crowded during the weekends, making it hard to social distance. The main trail at John Heinz takes you across a boardwalk – which is AMAZING – but a little tricky if you’re social distancing with kids.

Check the John Heinz website for current closures and services available. At this writing, the visitor center and parking lots are closed, but the trails are open.

marsh at john heinz national wildlife refuge

Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge (Delaware)

Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge is located about an hour outside of Philadelphia in Delaware. It’s a bit of a drive, but worth it. The refuge has a number of trails along the marsh and is very spread out. You can drive through the roads of the park to various different trailheads to hike. The Refuge has a map that you can access here.

Currently, the visitor center is closed due to COVID. Before you go, check the Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge website to see exactly what services are available when you visit.

Marsh at Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge

Ridley Creek State Park

This park is about 20 minutes outside of Philadelphia, but it feels like you’re in a whole other world. During the week, the crowds aren’t too crowded. We’ve checked out the Hocking Hill trail loop as well as the Orange Trail and the White Trail. There are lots of trails to try. We usually go with a plan, but if for some reason the lot is full or it looks crowded, we switch it up and try something new.

For more on Ridley Creek State Park, visit the State Park website.

Trails at Ridley Creek State Park
Creek at Ridley Creek State Park

Hickory Run State Park

We did our first camping trip at Hickory Run State Park in the fall. There are lots of great trails, but the coolest part about the park is Boulder Field. It is literally a MASSIVE field of Boulders. I had seen pictures, but it was definitely MUCH cooler to see in person.

There’s a full trail you can do to access Boulder Field. You can also access it from very easily from the parking lot and do some exploring from there (which is what we did).

For more trails and information on the park, see Hickory Run State Park’s website.

Boulder Field Hickory Run State Park
Fall Foliage Red Leaves
Tree Growing in Boulder Field

Other Pennsylvania State Parks to check out:

These two cool spots are on my travel wish list:

  • Rickett’s Glen State Park: This spot is known for it’s beautiful waterfalls! See more here.
  • Cherry Springs State Park: This is Pennsylvania’s very own DARK PARK. It’s the only one on the east coast as well. From here, you can get an amazing view of the stars. This trip requires some planning, as the weather conditions have to be right and ideally you go around the new moon. It’s about four hours away from Philadelphia, so it’s probably ideal to stay there overnight. See more here.

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Vegan Food in Bar Harbor Maine

Finding vegan fare in Bar Harbor was a little trickier to find than in some bigger cities I’ve visited. However, we did manage to find some good eats in Bar Harbor during our trip to Acadia.  

Vegan Food in Bar Harbor :: Thrive Juice Bar and Kitchen

This was by far my favorite spot of the trip. They have great smoothie bowls, smoothies and fresh juice. The only downside was this spot closes at 2pm and they’re closed Mondays and Tuesdays. This was our go-to spot for lunch after doing some morning hiking in Acadia. 

For more, see Thrive’s website.

Favorite Vegan Latte :: Choco-Latte Cafe

We stopped here for an oat milk latte every morning before hiking. They have matcha as well as regular coffee. The coffee is roasted in Bar Harbor, so it’s super local!  They have food as well, with some menu items that can likely be modified to be vegan. 

For the menu, see Choco-Latte’s website.

Best Vegan Ice Cream in Bar Harbor :: CJ’s Big Dipper 

I was pleasantly surprised to find a vegan soft serve in Bar Harbor. This is the FIRST vegan soft serve that I’ve had and it was delicious (I had the vanilla).

There’s no website, but you can see the details of the restaurant via CJ’s Google page.

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Kid-friendly Hikes in Acadia National Park

Acadia National Park Jordan Pond

We made our first visit to Acadia in August and completely fell in love. I’d planned so much travel for 2020, and like everyone else in the world this year, I had to cancel all but our Acadia trip. 

I’ve been to Maine before, but never as far north as Bar Harbor. I loved the scenery of Maine – the cliffs reminded me of Hawaii a little bit, albeit with different foliage and FREEZING cold water. 

Here are our favorite spots for hiking and swimming in Acadia National Park. For current conditions at the park, check the Acadia website before you go!

Swimming in Acadia: Sand Beach

Sand Beach is the main beach access within the park. It’s also the trailhead for Ocean Path and Great Head Trail (more on that below). The beach is BEAUTIFUL, but the water is freezing. This did not bother my seven-year-old, who dove straight in. This was his favorite part of the trip by far!

Just FYI, the parking lot here fills up fast, so plan to get here early. They are also rolling out a reservation system. Get updates on that here.

Sand Beach Cliffs and Shore line
Sand Beach in the Early Morning

Swimming in Acadia: Echo Lake Maine

You’re not able to swim in all of the lakes/ponds in Acadia. Many are part of the drinking supply, so swimming is prohibited. But Echo Lake is one of the areas where you are allowed to swim. The water was slightly warmer, if that makes swimming in Maine any more appealing! 

You can also access the Beech Cliff Ladder and Canada Cliff Trailheads from the Echo Lake parking lot, making the lake a fun spot to cool off after a hike. 

Kid-Friendly Hikes in Acadia: Ocean Path to Thunder Hole 

This is one of the more popular hikes in Acadia. You can access this from Sand Beach or you can park at Thunder Hole and walk back toward the beach. There are some spots where you can step off the trail and onto the rocks and do some exploring. This was my sons favorite part – it was definitely more exciting for him than walking the path.

Ocean Path continues along toward Otter Cliffs, but depending on your kid’s endurance, you might want to just do a portion of the trail. The trail itself is super easy, but there’s minimal cover from the sun, so by 10am, this trail was HOT. 

Cliffs and Evergreen Trees in Acadia
Cliffs and Ocean in Acadia
Cliffs and Rocks in Acadia National Park
Yellow Wildflowers in Acadia
Birch Tree Bark in Acadia

Acadia with Kids: Great Head Trail

We did this trail on a cloudier day, so the views weren’t as clear, but it was still amazing. There was a range terrain – including some fun spots to scramble over rocks. You get some beautiful views of the cliffs across the water! The full hike is 1.8 miles. 

Great Head Trail is also accessed from the Sand Beach parking lot.

Trees and Rocks along Great Head Trail
Trees along Great Head Trail Acadia
Tree Stump and rocks along Greart Head Trail
Rocks on Great Head Trail
Pine Cone and Needles Close e up
Foggy Landscape in Maine
Foggy Cliffs along Great Head Trail
Foggy field with mountain in the background at great head trailhead
Ferns and Trees in the Forest Acadia
Algae Close Up in Acadia
Birch Tree on Great Head Trail

Acadia National Park with Kids: Jordan Pond Loop

This was one of my favorite hikes of the trip! Jordan Pond is absolutely beautiful. You can’t swim or go in the water, as it’s part of the drinking supply. But the views are amazing. We did the full loop, which is 3.4 miles. There’s a variety of terrain – parts of it include walking over rocks, which was a lot of fun. 

Jordan Pond Landscape
Jordan Pond Acadia
Jordan Pond View
Jordan Pond Acadia National Park

Acadia National Park Hikes: Beech Cliff Ladder and Canada Cliff Trail 

This was a great trail that was on the quiet side compared to some of the other more popular trails in Acadia. Parts of the trail had steel ladders that you had to climb. We made the mistake of going clockwise around the loop instead of counter clockwise, so we had to climb DOWN the ladders. If you’re hiking with kids, it’s probably easier to climb up. 

There are some great views of Echo Lake and the ocean from the top. This trail is accessed from the same parking lot as Echo Lake, so you can cool off after your hike with a trip to the lake!

Trees along Canada Cliffs Trail
Steel Ladder on Beech Cliffs Trail
Rock Wall on Beech Cliffs Trail
Granite Rock on Beech Cliff Trail
Granite Rock in Maine
Echo Lake in Acadia National Park
Echo Lake View from Beech Cliff

Kid-Friendly Hikes Acadia National Park: Day Mountain Trail 

Day Mountain Trail was another quiet trail in Acadia. It’s 2.6 miles out and back up and over Day Mountain. The elevation gain is only 564 feet, so it’s a fairly mellow trail, with some uneven terrain. We did this on our last day and paired it with a short trip to Hunters Beach.

View from Day Mountain Hike in Acadia
Day Mountain Peak in Acadia
Boardwalk on Day Mountain Hike

Acadia with Kids: Hunters Beach Trail 

This is a short path to a beautiful beach. We did this after doing Day Mountain Trail. The walk down is only .3 miles, and the beach itself is gorgeous. We did some walking on the rocks. The wet rocks are super slippery, so be very careful! 

Rocks at Hunter Beach Acadia
Rocks on Hunter Beach Acadia
Hunter Beach Acadia National Park

Traveling to Acadia National Park?

For more Acadia, stay tuned for my post Vegan Acadia (coming soon!). 

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