HARRISBURG – Pennsylvania’s forest and park system offers a wide range of ways for visitors to enjoy spending time outdoors during the summer, according to the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.
“Summer memories of times in the outdoors are truly priceless, and the good news is we have plenty of affordable opportunities to create those memories in our state parks and forests,” said DCNR Secretary Richard Allan. “With 2.2-million acres of state forests, and 120 state parks covering 300,000 acres, there is a state park within 25 miles of nearly every Pennsylvanian.
“If we have good weather this weekend, we anticipate it will be a very busy holiday in our state parks and forests,” Allan said. “A look at our overnight reservations indicates many of our campgrounds at parks will be at or near capacity for the Memorial Day weekend.”
Allan highlighted some unique recreational opportunities for the summer season:
Stay the Night: Sixty-seven Pennsylvania state parks have overnight accommodations, ranging from tent sites to the modern Nature Inn at Bald Eagle. For a reservation, visit here. Primitive camping also is available throughout the state forest system. A brochure can be found here.
A new overnight option this year is the Inn at Cook Forest in the Cook Forest State Park. Built around 1870, the inn was the home of the Cook family, whose long-term vision preserved the natural areas of Cook Forest State Park for future generations. The inn is now owned by DCNR and is being operated as a public-private partnership. The nine-room inn features furniture from the Cook family collection. A full breakfast is provided. For more information or a reservation, call the inn at 814-744-8590.
Dogs in cabins: For the first time this year, dogs are allowed to stay with their owners at select state park cabins and camping cottages. The pilot program applies only to dogs and involves select cabins and camping cottages at seven state parks: Chapman, Warren County; Cowans Gap, Fulton County; Kooser, Somerset County; Poe Valley, Centre County; Prince Gallitzin, Cambria County; Promised Land, Pike County; and Pymatuning, Crawford County. Pets also are allowed to spend the night at designated sites in 47 state park campgrounds. For more information go online.
First-time camper program: In a partnership with Gander Mountain, DCNR provides first-time campers with needed gear and a reservation for two nights at a participating state park for just $20. A list of parks and information about reservations can be found here.
Natural events: May and June are the time to hear the whip-poor-will singing, and see the mountain laurel blooming and the waterfalls running. In July and August, there are blueberries, birding and summer wildflowers. For more information, go to here.
Programs and recreational activities: DCNR works to connect people to the outside world through guided recreation outings, educational programs, workshops, volunteer opportunities and more. The DCNR Calendar of Events provides quick and easy access to the latest events and activities offered in state parks, forests and communities.
Geocaching: This activity is a high-tech treasure hunt conducted with GPS units. Some locations have loaner units, but bringing your own device is recommended. There are many caches in state parks and forests, and many programs and activities focused on geocaching that can be found here. Ryerson Station, Sinnemahoning, Nockamixon and Prince Gallitzin state parks participate in a Ranger Rick geocaching partnership with the National Wildlife Federation especially for kids. For more information go to here.
Disc golf: A game played with Frisbees on an established course; there are a dozen state parks where you can play. Find them here.
Fishing: Some of the best fishing anywhere in the state can be found on state forest lands. For more information visit here. Many state parks also have lakes and streams to challenge anglers. To find a location go to here.
Allan said the DCNR web site now features an interactive map here where people can discover a wide variety of information about state parks, all in one convenient location. State forest information will eventually be included.
Allan also reminded visitors that state parks and forests have a mobile app for smartphones.
“This mobile app allows our visitors, while they are on-the-go, to search for park and forest locations; activities and events; get directions; share photos and even make a reservation,” Allan said.
There previously was a charge for some features of the app, but all versions are now offered free of charge.
For complete information about Pennsylvania state parks and forests, visit DCNR online at www.dcnr.state.pa.us.