This year, in an effort to stay local, we ventured to western Pennsylvania for spring break to do some socially distanced hiking. The main draw for us was Cherry Springs State Park, which is an internationally rated dark sky park. On a clear night, you can get amazing views of the Milky Way. There are a lot of other state parks in Potter and Tioga counties, so we took the time to do some hiking and explore these underrated state parks.
Cherry Springs State Park: Stargazing
This park is one of the east coast’s only dark parks. The real highlight is at night – there’s a public star gazing area, which – on a clear night – gives you an amazing view of the stars. Dark parks are in remote areas with minimal lights pollution.
If you go, make sure to wrap any light you have in red cellophane. Flashlights – including cell phone flashlights are super disruptive and even one can make it harder to see the stars.
There are only 60-85 clear nights per year, so make sure you check the forecast before you go. We lucked out and got two clear nights during the shoulder season in very early April.
The park itself is small, but it does have one small loop trail that you can do that’s a fairly easy/flat trail with some nice views.
Things to Do Near Lyman Run State Park
This park is close to Cherry Springs State Park. There’s a lake, where you can fish during trout season (April) or swim from late May to early September. There’s also some hiking trails and a great tire swing – that was the highlight for my 8-year-old son.
We checked out the Beehive Trail – it was a steep uphill climb in the beginning, followed by a more mellow walk through the woods.
Things to do Near Potter County PA: Ole Bull State Park
This park was one of the highlights of our trip. We did the Beaver Dam Nature Trail – which takes you along a stream and around a marsh. We saw salamanders, heron, crayfish and frogs. We didn’t see any beavers, but we did see what looked like a beaver dam.
As a bonus, there was a great playground that we stopped at when we arrived and before we left, which made the experience a lot more fun for my 8-year-old.
Pennsylvania’s Grand Canyon Hiking: Colton Point State Park
We came to Colton Point State Park to get a view of PA’s Grand Canyon – although you can also stop at Leonard Harrison State Park on the other side of the canyon for an alternate view. Since we were traveling with a wide age range, we opted for the Rim Trail. We got some great views of the canyon, although if you do the full loop version, there are some parts of the trail that are a little narrow with some steep drops.
Best Place to See Elk in PA: Sinnemahoning State Park
This was the last stop on our trip, and we actually ended up coming here twice. The first time, we came and walked a portion of the Lowlands Trail from the Wildlife Viewing Area on the north end to the Wildlife Center. This was a great little gem with an interactive exhibit. When we went, it was empty except for us, so we were able to explore it and it was COVID safe.
We came back the next morning at dawn to try to see some elk – which you’re most likely to see in the first hour after sunrise. On the recommendation of the rangers, we went to the overlook at the George B. Stevenson Dam area – which is south of the Wildlife Center. We were able to see some elk on the way down, just before we arrived at the park – and we saw some deer in the distance at the dam. If you go, check with the rangers for where the elk herds have been sighted recently – there’s never any guarantee that you’ll see wildlife, but dusk and dawn are generally the best times.
Want to know more about hiking in and around Pennsylvania?
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