2021 Guide Western Pennsylvania State Parks

Night sky at Cherry Springs

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. 

star gazing at Cherry Springs
stars in the night sky at Cherry Springs State Park

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.

For more information on Cherry Springs State Park, click here.

Trees at Cherry Springs State Park
Fence on a field with a little house to the left
Bridge with snow in the forest
tiny plants in the forest a Cherry Springs State Park
Pine trees a Cherry Springs State Park

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. 

For more on hiking and other activities at Lyman Run State Park, click here.  

Lake at Lyman Run State Park
Stream with Mountains in the background at Lyman Run State Park
Dam at Lyman Run State Park
Lyman Run State Park Lake and  Dam
Tree on the ground next to dead leaves with holes in the bark
Forest along the Beehive Trail at Lyman Run State Park
Long moss growing on a tree stump
Forest along the Beehive Trail at Lyman Run State Park
Meadow with path leading to one tree without leaves
Brown Leaves on the Forest Floor

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. 

For more on Ole Bull State Park, click here. 

Beaver Marsh at Ole Bull State Park
Empty Meadow at Ole Bull State Park

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.  

For more on Colton Point State Park, click here. 

PA Grand Canyon from Colton Point State Park

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.

For more on Sinnemahoning State Park, click here. 

Field with evergreen trees at Sinnemahoning State Park
Marshland at Sinnemahoning State Park
Elk in a field in western PA
George B. Stevenson Dam Overlook at Sinnemahoning State Park

Want to know more about hiking in and around Pennsylvania?

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