Hike to towering waterfalls, climb an ancient boulder field, and marvel at an old Wonder of the World in Poconos’ state parks. Their convenient location between Philadelphia and New York City make them a welcome respite for city dwellers, and recreation options on the water and trails offer near endless ways to explore. These eight Pennsylvania parks offer something for anyone who loves the outdoors.
1. Big Pocono State Park
Located on the summit of Camelback Mountain, Big Pocono State Park is known for its views. A scenic paved road encircles the mountain with sweeping vistas of Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey—it’s the perfect place for a summer picnic. Or stop for a bite at Camelback Mountain’s Kartrite's Summit House restaurant. The park opens once the snow melts and the season runs through the end of deer hunting season in December; wandering the hiking trails is a neat way to see the mountain when it’s not bustling with skiers. Encompassing 1,306 acres, you have from sunrise to sunset to explore.
2. Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area
In the Victorian era, Delaware Water Gap became a booming resort town as city dwellers looked to escape the urban heat. They canoed, fished, and hiked—much like today’s vacationers—who still venture to the Gap as a breather from city life. The 70,000-acre park’s showpiece is the Water Gap itself, a distinct notch cut into Kittatinny Ridge by the Delaware River along the Pennsylvania-New Jersey state line. Once called a Wonder of the World, the Water Gap can best be seen from atop Mount Tammany in New Jersey. Hike the 1.2-mile Red Dot Trail to its terminus and take in the views like tourists of yesteryear. For vistas of the Gap from Mount Minsi, follow the white-blazed Appalachian Trail, where you’ll also see thru hikers making their trek from Georgia to Maine. Visitors to the Delaware Water Gap won’t want to miss the impressive waterfalls in the park. The three-tied Raymondskill Falls is the tallest in the state, you can see it from two viewing platforms—one near the head of the falls and one at a large step that divides the upper two drops from the lower. Note: Due to a severe winter storm in 2018, many of the trails in the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area were closed due to the number of downed trees and other trail damage. Check the park’s website for an updated listing of when the trails will open.
3. Beltzville State Park
Who says you need to drive to the shore to visit the beach? Beltzville State Park boasts a popular 525-foot sand beach along its reservoir for summer swimming and lounging. Tucked in the southern foothills of the Poconos near Lehighton, swimming is open from late-May to mid-September, and the beach boasts a bathhouse, showers, and concession stand. Bring the dog, too, as this park is pet-friendly. If you’re more of the angling sort, cast a line in Pohopoco Creek, which feeds Beltzville Lake, and reel in a trout. You can also go lake fishing, either from designated areas on shore or by boat. Back at the beach, see the relocated 1841 covered bridge that once spanned the creek for traveling horse and buggies. Saved by the urging of local residents, it’s now open only to pedestrians.
4. Hickory Run State Park
Geologists come from all over the world to the Poconos’ western foothills to study Hickory Run’s most famous site, Boulder Field, a flat, 18-acre bed of rocks that’s a National Natural Landmark. Likely formed by glacial movement and unchanged for nearly 20,000 years, this boulder field wows due to its absence of vegetation and sheer size. While visiting Hickory Run, don’t stop exploring at the Boulder Field. Follow a mostly downhill, 0.7-mile trail to Hawk Falls, a 25-foot cascading waterfall that’s easy enough for beginners and kids to walk. Stand atop the rocky outcropping to look down at the falls, or follow an unmarked path through the woods to see them from below.
5. Lehigh Gorge State Park
Following the Lehigh River’s path from the Francis E. Walter Dam to the town of Jim Thorpe, this 6,107-acre park features a stunning steep-walled gorge and some of Pennsylvania’s most beautiful waterfalls. The tough, waterfall-studded Glen Onoko Trail abuts the state park land and showcases some of Pennsylvania’s best falls. An easier walk leads to Buttermilk Falls, a 50-footer that cascades down a rocky ledge near the Lehigh Gorge Trail. This 20-plus mile riverside trail is built on an abandoned railroad grade and is popular with hikers and cyclists alike. While at the Gorge, don’t miss walking through Turn Hole Tunnel, an abandoned 1860s railroad tunnel that still has old railroad ties inside.
6. Upper Delaware Recreational River
The last major undammed river in the East, the Upper Delaware’s clean waters are a delightful tubing, canoeing, rafting, and fishing destination. Categorized as Class I, the waters are playfully splashy but not too dicey. For anglers, the Upper Delaware is one of America’s best fishing rivers and is an excellent place to reel in brown and rainbow trout, small-mouth bass, and walleye. As the river winds down valley, see the remnants of historic villages and the nation’s oldest wire cable suspension bridge, Roebling Bridge. Walk or drive across and visit the Zane Grey Museum, or for an extra dose of the past, follow the old D & H Canal path. You’ll see how workers and mules once teamed up to transport goods to riverside towns.
7. Promised Land State Park
Pennsylvania’s Pocono Plateau is home to the Promised Land, which opened as the state’s fourth state park in 1905. The forests here were clear-cut throughout the 1800s, but when the lands were returned to Pennsylvania the state let the forest regrow and the wildlife returned. The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) built much of the park’s facilities and roads in the 1930s, and you can learn about the work done at the Masker Museum—one of the state’s largest CCC museums. Two sand beaches and lakes keep water lovers entertained on summer days, and aspiring anglers can learn to cast and catch with the family fishing program that includes loaner poles, bait, and tackle.
8. Tobyhanna State Park
Derived from an American Indian term meaning "a stream whose banks are fringed with alder," this picturesque park features a 170-acre lake that’s a summer hot spot for boating, fishing, and swimming. Rent a boat on site every day from Memorial Day to Labor Day; choose from row boats, paddle boats, kayaks, canoes, and electric motor boats. When you tire of cruising and paddling, lay out a towel on the sandy beach or pitch a tent for overnight camping. Prefer to keep your feet on dry land? Follow the partially paved 5.1-mile Lakeside Trail on foot or bike to circle the whole lake.
Written by Jenny Willden for RootsRated Media