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6.28.2020

PA Camping Bucket List: Our 16 Favorite Campgrounds in Pennsylvania

Throughout my entire life, my family has always camped. Now that I am an adult, I still go out and camp.  My family always had a camper and Brit and I have taken to tent camping. In all of my years of camping, these places have stood out as our favorites within the state, or right across the border. There are several omissions on this list, either because we did not have a great experience at them, or simply because we have not camped at EVERY place within the entire state. We only write about places that we have personally visited and recommend to visit. Here is a rundown of our favorites for camping, whether it be tent camping, staying in cabins, and/or RVing. We have included a map with the locations of each place at the bottom of this article.

1) Ricketts Glen State Park: Endless Mountains Region - Tent Friendly, RV Hookups limited 
Ricketts Glen State Park: Tent and RV friendly, though most sites have no hookups, so this campground is more suited for tenters. The campsites are very large, and located in a beautifully wooded spot.

All of the campsites are either located on the lakes or within a short walk of them, which lends this spot to be perfect on clear nights for taking in the stars and for lazy days just tossing in a fishing line and watching the eagles and other raptors that frequent the lakes. Short trails lead to the park's swimming beach area and boat rentals, and awesome hikes on the Falls Trail. The campsites are perfectly shaded and the facilities are very nice.
For more information about visiting Ricketts Glen State Park and camping at it, check out this article, and visit their website at https://www.dcnr.pa.gov/StateParks/FindAPark/RickettsGlenStatePark/Pages/default.aspx

As a kid, my family took our pop up camper to the nearby Red Rock Mountain Campground which I remember absolutely loving. It is better suited for people with RVs in regards to hook ups. It is located at the bottom of the hill, near the country store and gas station.
For more information on this campground, check out their website at https://redrockmountaincampground.com

2) Hickory Run State Park: Pocono Mountains Region - Tent and RV Friendly
My family camped here with our little tent camper many times, and we have gone and camped here as adults as well with our tent. The RV sites are very nice, but the tent sites are absolutely spectacular. The tent loop is located within a more rugged section of the camping area, with nice and large trees, and within a short walk of the playground and one of the park's small lakes with a beautiful spillway. Autumn is especially breathtaking at the park, with incredible fall foliage color. The facilities are very nice as well. For more information, on visiting, check out this article.

3) Knoebels Amusement Park: Elysburg, PA
Knoebels Amusement Park: Tenters and RVs. As a roller coaster and amusement parks fan, few things get me more excited than hearing a the whoosh of wooden roller coaster train roaring down the track with screaming riders, and the smell of grease and wood from the coaster.
At Knoebels you can camp right next to the park's awesome Twister wooden roller coaster and one of the park's two train rides. With Knoebels being a free admission amusement park, you are free to walk into the park from the campground. The park has two campgrounds, one on property, and the Lake Glory Campground, just a short distance away

For more information, check out our article on visiting Knoebels Amusement Resort here, and check out their website https://www.knoebels.com

4) Lakeside Campground: Ripley, NY, right on the PA/NY state line along Lake Erie
Ripley, NY's Lakeside Campground is located exactly upon the Pennsylvania and New York Border on the shores of Lake Erie. This campground trends towards campers and trailers and seasonal trailer rentals, though they have always been very welcoming of us as tenters. On a fourth of July visit a few years ago, we saw one of the most stunning sunsets we have ever seen while sitting on the campground's Lake Erie beach. It is located within the heart of Lake Erie Wine Country and a short drive from Presque Isle State Park, Waldameer Amusement Park, and everything else the Erie area has to offer.

For more information, check out their website at https://campatlakeside.com

5) Seven Points Campground at Raystown Lake. 
Seven Points Campground at Raystown Lake. Both tent campers and RV campers are well accommodated at this campground. This campground is centrally located within the state and is a place where my family and I have met up in between to camp and explore. The campsites are all quite large and many are directly upon the shores of the largest lake that is fully located within the borders of the Commonwealth. Many people wade into the lake from their campsites, and they moor their kayaks, canoes, boats, and more right at their sites. The great debate for vacations usually comes down to "do we want to go to the beach, or the mountains?" The Raystown Lake Region offers both, and the Seven Points Campground is a fantastic place to go. The campground is located within the Seven Points Recreation Area, which offers walking and biking paths and trails, a mountain biking park (The Allegrippis Trail System), a swimming beach, and much more in addition to the beautiful views. The facilities are very nice. For more information visiting the region, check out this article, and to make reservations, go to their website at https://www.recreation.gov/camping/campgrounds/233626

6) Promised Land State Park in the Poconos.
Both tent and RV campers are well accommodated at this campground. This is a very relaxing state park to visit, with a great hiking trail system and two nice and medium sized lakes with fishing, boating, and swimming offered. There is a little falls trail that picks up on the entrance road to the campground, which is a really nice and short hike.

For info about reservations, check out their website https://www.dcnr.pa.gov/StateParks/FindAPark/PromisedLandStatePark/Pages/default.aspx

7) Old Mill Stream Campground at Dutch Wonderland Amusement Park in Lancaster
This place was always a favorite of my family when I was growing up, and my parents still camp there pretty frequently. This campground trends towards RVs and "glamping", but it also offers tent camping sites. The location is everything with this place, for one side of it has Dutch Wonderland and its beautiful Kingdom Coaster wooden roller coaster and the park's monorail, and the back part of the campground is along a creek that has a working dairy farm within view across the creek. It is located on the historic Lincoln Highway within an easy drive of everything that the Lancaster area has to offer.

For more information, check out their website at https://www.dutchwonderland.com/old-mill-stream-campground


8) Blue Rocks Campground near the Appalachian Trail and Hawk Mountain
Blue Rocks Campground near the Appalachian Trail and Hawk Mountain: RV and Tent Camping
I have not visited this campground as an adult, but my memories of camping here when I was young are really nice. It is located on a boulder field and has connector trails that go right to the Appalachian Trail. As far as hiking goes, this is an awesome place to camp. They also have a stocked little pond for fishing, and I recall casting and immediately catching fish. For fishing, this is a great place to go with little kids. The hiking opportunities at this campground are what really makes it stand out. I definitely want to get back to this campground.

For more information, check out their website at https://www.bluerockscampground.com

9) Cook Forest State Park: Clarion, Forest, and Jefferson Counties, PA
RV and Tent Camping: Camping amongst the old growth forests at Cook is incredible. The dark skies in this area are amazing to see as well. It is really amazing looking up into the sky on a clear night here and seeing all of the stars. The facilities are excellent as well.


10) Parker Dam State Park, Clearfield County: Tents, RVs, and Cabins
We have spent the night in the park's lovely CCC era cabins, which are open year round and have indoor fireplaces. The camping sites are superb as well. The state park has so many hiking opportunities, a small lake with a beach, boating, and fishing opportunities, and more. The state park serves as a gateway into seemingly endless public forest land that includes the habitat of the Elk herd. For more information visiting, check out this article

11) Linn Run State Park, Laurel Highlands Region: Just Cabins

The CCC era cabins at Linn Run State Park are awesome and include indoor fireplaces. This state park serves as a gateway into Forbes State Forest. This is one of our favorite go to spots. 

For more information visiting the state park, check out this article.

12) Chapman State Park: In the center of Allegheny National Forest: Tents, RVS, and Cabins
Chapman State Park is basically surrounded by the seemingly endless Allegheny National Forest and serves as a great launching point into the entire national forest and Allegheny Reservoir. We stayed in the park's cabins, which are spartan but very nice. This is a quiet place to get away to, and the campsites are very nice. 

For more information on visiting and exploring the area, check out this article. 

13) Youghiogheny River Lake Outflows Campground: RV and Tent Camping
Located in the southern portion of the Laurel Highlands, almost to the Maryland border, this campground is located near the Youghiogheny River Lake Dam and is operated by the Army Corps of Engineers. The campsites are huge and there is excellent access to the Great Allegheny Passage Bike Trail. Whether you are passing through and looking for a place to rest, or a place to spend the night while you are biking the 140 miles of the trail, or you are just looking for a place to camp that is in the Ohiopyle area, but away from the hustle and bustle, this is an awesome place to go. 

For more information on visiting, check out this article. 
14) Hemlock Campground in Tobyhanna, Pocono Mountains Region: RV and Tent Camping.
I have not been to this campground in more than twenty years, but we used to really enjoy it. It is located right in the Poconos and is a great place to take the family.

For more information on visiting, check out their website at http://hemlockcampground.com

15) Laurel Hill State Park in the Laurel Highlands: RV and Tent Camping, along with Cabins. Laurel Hill State Park is centrally situated in the Laurel Highlands and offers great access to the park's lake, which is complete with a beach and boat rental concessions. The hiking trail system is very nice as well. Laurel Hill Creek is large and an excellent trout fishery as well. The campsites are very spacious and the facilities are excellent.

For more information on visiting, check out their website at https://www.dcnr.pa.gov/StateParks/FindAPark/LaurelHillStatePark/Pages/default.aspx
16) Raccoon Creek State Park: RV and Tent Camping. If you are looking for a quick place to get away to for camping in the Pittsburgh area, Raccoon Creek State Park is a great place to go. Frankfort Mineral Springs is my favorite thing to check out at the state park, but this sprawling place also offers a great little lake, a nice hiking trail system, and a Wildflower Preserve.

For more information, check out their website at https://www.dcnr.pa.gov/StateParks/FindAPark/RaccoonCreekStatePark/Pages/default.aspx

Most state parks that we mention on our page have a campground within them and there are a bunch that we have visited, but would love to camp at, especially Worlds End State Park, and the PA Grand Canyon, but have not ended up camping at yet. The cabins and cottages at the PA State Park Campgrounds are also quite lovely and well worth checking out. Overall, when it comes to outdoor adventure, this state has so much to offer.

The following map has all of the locations of the campgrounds that we mentioned in this article.

6.21.2020

Hiking and Exploring the Quebec Run Wild Area, Forbes State Forest

Today we explore a pretty quiet and secluded place, the Quebec Run Wild Area. This spot in Fayette County is a lovely place to do some hiking along Quebec Run and multiple tributaries on the eastern slope of Chestnut Ridge. Quebec Run Wild Area is in Fayette County, just about due south of Laurel Caverns, the Route 40 Scenic Overlook, Jumonville Glen, and the enormous Jumonville Cross, and directly on the border with West Virginia. The area has a few old growth trees that remained after heavy logging in the area, and the third growth forest has some small and mature trees that have regenerated in place of those that were cut down. Quebec Run is Southwestern PA's largest natural area and it is pretty amazing to explore. Hiking, backpacking, wildlife watching, fishing, and taking a little dip and swim in the creek are popular activities to do at the natural area, but all of these activities require a decent hike to access. This makes this an especially beautiful place to go, for even on the busiest of days, the people are well spread out over the 7441 acre wild area. On a weekend day when the more developed and popular Ohiopyle State Park, half an hour northeast of the wild area, and West Virginia's beautiful Coopers Rock State Forest, 25 minutes south east of the wild area, are likely jammed with visitors, Quebec Run Wild Area sits as a relatively quiet place of respite. On a busier day, you could easily quickly take in the views at Ohiopyle State Park and Coopers Rock State Forest relatively quickly, and then come to the Quebec Run Wild Area for a quiet and secluded hike. While the wild area does not offer the extremely scenic views of those state parks, the serene setting in the woods and the varied levels of hiking are fantastic to check out. Personally, I find the hikes at the Quebec Run Wild Area to be my favorites in southwestern PA. 

Because this is a designated wild area, no campgrounds, facilities, gas wells, lines, utilities, or anything are permitted to be built in this spot. It is meant to be kept as a wild area, and the flora and fauna clearly reflect this. Aside from the creation of trail heads, the construction and maintenance of trails and some trailheads, this place is left untouched as it regenerates from heavy logging. The wild area was established in 1972, but not officially declared as such until 2004. It is part of a division of Forbes State Forest.
CeCe, our adventure dog, is ready to roll! We launched off from the Mill Run Parking Lot. 
Quebec Run Wild Area Trail and recreation map. 26 miles of hiking trails await visitors, with trails for hikers of all skill levels.  
We had a great time hiking. I would rate the Miller Run Trail as a mostly easy hike, with some moderate elevation change, and a few small rocks and stumps to keep an eye out for. The trail is varied enough to keep it interesting, and the walk through the woods along the creeks is just wonderful. 
This gnarly hemlock really caught my attention. This is definitely an old growth tree that somehow managed to escape getting cut down during the logging days. Partially up the tree, it grew a split trunk. 
There were some rains the evening before our hike, leading to some beautiful mushrooms that were randomly popped up. It is so nice to see the forests fully back to life now that it is the summer. 
Eastern Red Spotted Newt
 We saw a BUNCH of newts and salamanders. All of them managed to escape me and CeCe stepping over them, and Brit's keen eye caught them. All of them were right in the middle of the trail.
CeCe captivated by a newt
 Intersection of Miller Trail and Mill Run Trail
 I love seeing all of the green. 
Most of the small creek crossings are directly on stones through the water or across single wide logs, but there are several nicely constructed and maintained bridges as well. I always appreciate these and the effort that people have put into making them. 
 As with many of the state's gorge areas, there are huge thickets of Mountain Laurel and Rhododendron, which have burst in color 
 Mountain Laurel and Rhododendron are one of my absolute favorite things to see during summers in Pennsylvania.
 Another one of the bridges.
 Quebec Run Wild Area is such a bucolic place
 Brit and CeCe taking a dip in the creek. I soon followed. 

I especially love scenes like this, with green just dominating the scene, and ferns covering the forest floor.
Yet another Newt!
Quebec Run Wild Area is well worth checking out and just wandering around at. There is so much to see and the trails and area are so nice. It is centrally located, half way between Ohiopyle State Park and West Virginia's Coopers Rock State Forest, two other must see places. The hiking is absolutely fantastic. You are free to take your furry friends, as long as they are always leashed and that you clean up after them.

Coordinates to the Mill Run Trail Parking Area 
39.763539, -79.663701

Coordinates to the Hess Trail Parking Area
39.767685, -79.681115

6.14.2020

Exploring Spruce Flats Bog: A Rare High Elevation Bog in the Laurel Highlands

Spruce Flats Bog is such a unique place within the landscape of Pennsylvania. Bogs are rare within the state, and higher altitude bogs are a rare occurrence anywhere. Millions of years ago, an open water pond was located here in this depression on the mountain. 
Over time, the pond filled in and became a bog. It continued to fill up with sediment and grew into a full fledged forest. In the early 1900s, lumbermen cut down the old growth hemlocks and the land reverted back into a bog.
Over time, the bog will fill up again and become a meadow and set of woodlands, but in its current status as a bog, this is beautiful spot is home to some extremely rare species of flora that can tolerate the acidic nature of the bog.

This flora includes carnivorous plants.
A boardwalk reaches out a few hundred feet into the bog, giving you a view above this neat wetland. It is pretty easy to reach, with just a simple half mile walk down a level walking trail.
It launches from the same trailhead as the Wolf Rocks Trail at Laurel Summit State Park/Forbes State Forest. It is within a few minute ride, or a short hike, from Linn Run State Park. This is one of our absolute favorite places to see in the scenic Laurel Highlands and well worth going out of your way to check out.

This is a premier place to see wildflowers in Pennsylvania. For more places that made the cut, check out this article.

The coordinates to the parking area for both the Wolf Rocks Trail and Spruce Flats Bog are
40.118513, -79.176629

6.08.2020

Visiting Yoder Falls near Johnstown

Yoder Falls has a strange mix when it comes to waterfall locations. I am used to heading out deep into the woods to find a waterfall and expect to hear nothing but the sounds of woods and the flowing water. Yoder Falls is a little different.
The access point is a simple stone pull off from a road (Carpenters Park Road) that crosses Route 219. You head into the woods, but hear the constant sound of loud trucks and cars as they rush across the 190+ foot tall McNally Bridge on 219. If it were not for the heavy road noise, you would think you were deeper in the woods. The hike is very short at 0.3 miles each way, but with a quick elevation change of about 200 feet as it heads down the side of the Stonycreek River Gorge. The location has a nice grove of rhododendrons and hemlocks.
When you reach the bottom of the little trail, you immediately run into abandoned rail bridge piers, which served a trolley line that carried visitors to this spot as a picnic area and small amusement park/grove. You then see the boulder strewn Stonycreek River, with an orange hue from the mine discharge from the region's industrial days. The massive McNally Bridge is visible up ahead. If it were not for the loud highway, and the acid mine discharge in the creek, this area would be a stunning naturescape.
From this point you head up the creekbed of the small creek on your left. This leads up to Yoder Falls, a small and roughly 20-25 foot waterfall. To make it up this gorge, you will need to make your way over and under logs, step in the shallow creek bed, and use your best judgement to make your way up.
The elevation change feels much more gradual than the hike down the gorge, but making your way up requires a little bit of strategic judgement.
 Making it up the gorge is a little bit of a puzzle. Expect to step in water that is a few inches deep.
I will not go as far as to say that the hike up is challenging, but rather that it requires an eccentric approach, including stepping into water that is about 1-3 inches deep. In more challenging conditions that require walking through a creek bed, I am used to fully submerging my boots, but it was not the case here. I found that my mid ankle Keen hiking boots actually are waterproof.
When compared to other situations that I have needed to use strategic judgement to hike through an area, this was relatively easy, but I would not recommend taking children along on this hike, along with not going after heavy rains or within wintry conditions.
The drainage trough from the highway, through which the creek flows prior to the waterfall.

I feel like this spot has shown that nature has somehow managed to prevail in spite of all sorts of disruptive efforts by mankind. If there were a practical way, I would really like to get the garbage out. The embankment leading off of the Carpenters Park Road, and down the creek itself, is strewn with garbage. Full wheels with tires on them, large Playskool plastic toys, old tube TVs, beer cans, and even a pet kennel carrier can be found along the creekbed, something that was not present when I had visited this spot a few years prior. I took a bag with some of the smaller stuff out, but there is pretty much no way to take out the bigger and heavier stuff safely or as just one person. I do not know if people know this, but the boroughs, cities, and other municipalities of the state have something called trash pickup, garbage dumps, and electronic recyclers for your old TVs. If you are going to enjoy the waterfalls, carry your junk out and keep it in the car until you get to a place with trashcans. It seems like mankind has done everything it can to mess up this beautiful spot, but nature still finds ways to prevail. The geologic aspects of this spot, along with the thick hemlock and rhododendron forests are still quite beautiful. This is public land that is owned by the City of Johnstown, even though it is located across the border from Cambria County in Somerset County.
Overall, if you are in the area and like short hikes that give you a good little workout, check this place out. You have lots of good reasons to be in the area and make this a little side trip. Whether you are exploring Johnstown, doing the fantastic hiking and sightseeing offered on the Rager Mountain and Babcock Tracts of Gallitzin State Forest, checking out the world class birding scenic overlook at the Allegheny Front Hawk Watch, "defying gravity" at Gravity Hill, and more within a 45 minute radius of the location, it is worth dropping by and checking it out.

The GPS coordinates to the pull off area from Carpenters Park Road to park for the Yoder Falls Trail are:
40.247375, -78.892262
The pin shows the stone pull off area. You can't miss the well worn trail that goes down to the level of the river. Note the orange acid mine runoff in the river, that is even visible from satellite imagery, that we were talking about earlier in the article. 
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