Inspired by my travels to California last year and picking up the National Parks Passport, I knew I wanted to check out the many Pennsylvania State Parks in 2021. Pennsylvania went from 1 park in 1893 to 121 State Parks in 2015, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and National Resources.
PA State Parks have been voted “Best in the Nation” from 2009-2011 and awarded with the National Gold Medal Award for Excellence in Park and Recreation Management from the American Academy for Park and Recreation Administration in participation with the National Recreation and Parks Association, according to the DCNR.
I’ve been hiking at state and local parks in Pennsylvania for years but never considered collecting stamps to commemorate my visits, so this year I’m challenging myself to get 52 stamps in my new PA State Park Passport! Now it’s already April so I’ve got to catch up since I haven’t done much hiking in the first few months of the new year.
Last weekend I challenged myself to get 4 stamps, at parks that were all in the same area. This will allow me to work on catching up. The only rule I have for myself is that I can’t just go get a stamp, I must hike on one trail for this challenge.
So far I’ve been to 8 parks in the new year including Boyd Big Tree Preserve, Caledonia State Park, French Creek State Park, Joseph E Ibberson Conservation Area, Kings Gap State Park, Little Buffalo State Park, Mont Alto State Park, and Pine Grove Furnace State Park.
ONLY 44 more parks to go for the year! (An average of 6 parks per month from April – December)
I went to Little Buffalo State Park in March and I hiked the Buffalo Ridge Trail in a combination with a few of the shorter trails.
Buffalo Ridge Trail: 1.5 miles, most difficult hiking, white blazes (Info via DCNR website)
This trail runs from East Picnic Area to the Newport and Sherman’s Valley Railroad trace by Main Picnic Area. This difficult trail winds up Buffalo Ridge and offers glimpses of the industrial history of the area. A mixed hardwood forest with scattered hemlock giants covers the area today, but before it was timbered, the ridge was covered in giant oaks, hickories, and American chestnut. Colliers scoured the ridge to make charcoal for the Juniata Iron Works. Look for flat areas of dark ground where wood was stacked, covered with soil and leaves, and burned slowly to make charcoal.
The next park I went to was French Creek State Park in end of March with my friend Laura and her dog. We hiked around the lake on the main trails, and walked on some roads but I’ve hiked here before on a few trails. I highly recommend the Boone Trail.
Boone Trail – 6 miles, blue blazes, more difficult hiking (Info via DCNR website)
This loop trail connects all major attractions of French Creek, making it an excellent route to see the park. Start your trip at Hopewell Lake Boat Launch parking lot, Group Tenting Areas 13-18, campground contact station, or Hopewell Furnace Visitor Center (using connector trails). Several portions are steep and rocky, so wear sturdy shoes. It is closed to mountain bikes around Hopewell Lake.
I planned an afternoon of several parks in the same area starting with Caledonia State Park and working my way north. At this park I hiked the Ramble trail. It was a little tricky to find the entrance to this trail but going over the bridge from the parking lot, it’s marked from there.
Ramble Trail – 2.2 miles, more difficult hiking (Info via DCNR website)
This wide walking trail begins at the trailhead kiosk and passes through the scenic lowlands of the park then returns to the pool area.
In its circular route, the trail follows the millrace of an old rolling mill and passes the rolling mill falls. The trail also passes through one of the oldest white pine plantations in Pennsylvania.
Just down the road from Caledonia SP is Mont Alto State Park. I hiked about 15 minutes on this trail and then headed back to my car to hit up other state parks. There’s a nice pavilion for gatherings in the 24-acre park. Mont Alto is the oldest park still in the Pennsylvania state park system, it is the FIRST State Park!
Pine Rocks and Bricker’s Clearing Loop is a 1.5 mile loop trail located near Fayetteville, Pennsylvania that offers the chance to see wildlife and is rated as moderate.
The Pine Grove Furnace State Park was about 15 minutes from Mont Alto SP. The 696-acre Pine Grove Furnace State Park is at the northern tip of the Blue Ridge Mountains, in an area known as South Mountain. Visitors enjoy many recreational opportunities, including: (Info via DCNR website)
- Two mountain lakes (Laurel Lake and Fuller Lake)
- Hiking the Appalachian Trail
- Biking the rail trail
- Visiting the Appalachian Trail Museum
- Imagining when the park was a charcoal-fired iron furnace community
The park is surrounded by Michaux State Forest, which provides opportunities for exploring extensive public lands around South Mountain.
I arrived late in the afternoon at Kings Gap State Park, and it was the fourth park that day, so I did a short hike near the Environmental Center (where I was able to pick up my stamp) and headed home. There are a TON of trails here that I want to come back to check out for sure. A few years ago my friend Adrienne and I got a bit lost trying to hike a trail in this park!
Forrest Heritage Trail 1.8 miles, more difficult hiking (Info via DCNR website)
This loop trail passes several charcoal hearths, unused for over 100 years. Maple Hollow and Rock Scree trails provide access to Forest Heritage Trail.