This Feels Like One of the Most Remote State Parks

Ryerson Station State Park is in Greene County in the southwestern corner of Pennsylvania, near the West Virginia border. It seems to sit off by itself down in that corner. It is near Moundsville, WV, a place I have been to, but that is a story for another day. The 1,164-acre park features the fanciest state park swimming pool I have ever seen, campground, hiking, fishing, picnicking, and winter activities.

A lovely nearby home.
And an interesting old barn.
Here’s that swimming pool.

Next we have an interesting feature – the remains of an old reservoir. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one quite like this. You can see where the hole was created in the dam to allow the stream to run again. The lake appears to have been fairly shallow.

The hole in the dam.

On the Raccoon Creek and a Screw Up

Near the Pittsburgh metro area, Raccoon Creek State Park is one of Pennsylvania’s largest and most visited state parks. It began as a Recreational Demonstration Area operated by the National Park Service in the 1930s during the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) era. The park encompasses 7,572 acres and features the beautiful 101-acre Raccoon Lake. Facilities are a mix of modern and rustic with group camps from the CCC era.

I wonder if this guy will have better luck fishing.
Some of the park cabins …

The nearby Hillman State Park is managed for hunting by the Pennsylvania Game Commission. Hiking trails are open to the public. Horseback riding, cycling and other activities are also available. The park also has a model airplane field, an unusual feature. I actually screwed up when visiting here. It looks like one of the main features of the park is a covered bridge, and I managed to miss it.

An Eagle Scout Projects for the cyclists.

Another Pretty Big Lake and a Unique Habitat

Moraine State Park in Butler County, which features the 3,225-acre Lake Arthur with 42 miles of shoreline, is a landscape that has endured the effects of continental glaciers and massive mineral extraction. This popular park hosts more than one million boaters, picnickers, hikers, bikers, horseback riders, cabin renters, and swimmers each year. The 16,725-acre park was restored from prior coal mining and oil and gas drilling practices. Unfortunately, it was not a very nice day when I visited in early May.

Jennings Environmental Education Center is one of several state parks specifically dedicated to providing environmental education and recreational programs to the community. This site provides a unique combination of prairie and forest environs, which offer a wide array of resource and educational opportunities. One of the park’s main features, the 20-acre prairie ecosystem, is home to distinctive prairie plants and the endangered massasauga rattlesnake. The most noteworthy and spectacular prairie flower is the blazing star. Jennings was the first reserve established in Pennsylvania to protect an individual plant species and remains the only public and protected prairie in the commonwealth.

The prairie wildflowers are best enjoyed in late July and early August. I did not get very good shots at this site, due to the weather and the time of year.

The Old Forest

The Clarion River area is one of the most scenic in Pennsylvania. One of its jewels is a 13-mile stretch of the the river that flows through Cook Forest State Park and is popular for canoeing, kayaking, and tubing.

The 8,500-acre Cook Forest State Park and 3,136-acre Clarion River Lands lie in Clarion, Forest and Jefferson Counties. The Cook Forest Association was formed in the 1920s to save the few areas of surviving old growth timber. Endorsed by national natural resource groups and Governor Gifford Pinchot, the association raised $200,000, which helped the commonwealth purchase 6,055 acres from A. Cook Sons Company in 1927 for $640,000. Cook Forest became the first Pennsylvania state park acquired to preserve a natural area. It was later designated a National Natural Landmark.

This area is known for some of the tallest trees in the state and old growth forest.
Some camping cottages.
The surrounding area was surprisingly touristy.

I also visited Clear Creek State Park which is 11 miles from Cook Forest. The park encompasses 1,901 acres in Jefferson County and occupies a scenic portion of the Clear Creek Valley from PA 949 to the Clarion River. It has camping, rustic cabins, and Clarion River access for fishing and boating.

Finally Heading North

After an overnight stay in the Dubois area, I headed north to Bendigo and Elk State Park. The small Bendigo has a swimming pool and fishing and kayaking in the east branch of the Clarion River. Here are a couple of looks at the pool.

A bit further north is Elk State Park which boasts a large reservoir and a campground. The lake is large enough for unlimited horsepower boating. I have included a few shots of the lake, dam and a cabin the camping area.

Two Great Places for Overnight Stays

Simon B. Elliott State Park and Parker Dam State Park are two parks that offer great access to the area of the “Pennsylvania Wilds” and the Elk Visitor Center. I wanted to check them out to for potential future trips to the area. The first stop was S.B. Elliott. It was gray and raining when I arrived. This park features a lot of interesting CCC built structures surrounded by the Moshannon State Forest, including rustic cabins.

Parker Dam is not far away from S.B. Elliott. As the DCNR website says “a scenic lake, rustic cabins, quaint campground, and unbounded forest make Parker Dam an ideal spot for a relaxing vacation.” This park is great for access to hiking and mountain biking, including a walk through tornado ravaged woods. The lake offers swimming, boating and fishing. Stay overnight in a cabin or in the campgrounds. You may even see some elk.

The beach.
The Parker Dam dam.
The unique octagonal Tyler Log Cabin is available for rent.

Say Hay to Hills Creek

The 407-acre Hills Creek State Park, located in scenic Tioga County, contains abundant wildlife such as osprey, loon, and waterfowl which visit the lake that contains a variety of warmwater fish species. Camping, cabins, swimming, and picnicking make this an ideal spot for a day trip or family vacation. Hiking, fishing and hunting are also available.

It was a hazy day at the lake.
I love the yurts in Pennsylvania state parks.
People were camping in everything from large RVs to tents.
Because you know I can’t resist hay bales.
There was quite an impressive group in this field near the park.
The view from above.
They’re still there. Can you see them?

A Drive Up Route 44, Part I

My trip on this Juneteenth weekend began in earnest when I turned left from Route 15 onto Route 44 in Lycoming County. I was soon at my first stop of the day.

Upper Pine Bottom State Park is one of the smallest parks in the state park system, measuring in at 5 acres. It provides picnic tables next to a stream and access to hunting and fishing. It also acts as an entry point for hiking and cross country skiing in the nearby Tiadaghton State Forest.

Yes, we are here.
A nice place for a picnic, with a stream beyond.

My next stop was Ole Bull State Park which lies off Route 44 and a short distance down Route 144. Ole Bull State Park consists of 132 acres along the Kettle Creek Valley in Potter County in an area called the Black Forest because of its dense tree cover, mountainous terrain, and wilderness habitat. The park has a fascinating history. It is named for Ole Bornemann Bull, the famous Norwegian violinist who toured the United States in the 1850s. In 1852, Ole Bull purchased a large tract of land in Potter County and attempted to develop a series of Norwegian settlements. He began construction of a home, at what now is called Ole Bull Vista, which has never finished. After a year of severe hardships, the majority of the colony disbanded and moved west into Michigan and Wisconsin.

The park has swimming in Kettle Creek, a campground, and the usual array of state park activities.

The swimming area in Kettle Creek. I bet this was cold.
A monument to Ole Bull, provided by the citizens of Norway, in 2002.
A bridge over Kettle Creek to the campground.
Further up Route 44 is Water Tank Vista.

Lyman Run State Park was next on the list. One of several parks in this area with a dam, it has a 45 acre lake, swimming, camping, boating and other activities.

Another “refreshing” dip.
A view of the dam.
Nice bridge to picnic area.

A daytime visit to Cherry Springs State Park followed. This park is well known for being one of the best spots on the east coast for dark nighttime skies and astronomical viewing. The park has a public astronomy field for short term viewing and an overnight field. There is also a campground and opportunities for hiking.

A stargazing dome at the park.
A picnic area.
A sunset view at Cherry Springs State Park.

This park is beloved, but I have to admit I was a bit disappointed when I returned the following night. The weather was fairly clear with low humidity, and the moon was below the horizon. However, I didn’t feel that the number of visible stars was significantly better than what I could see an hour from home in southeastern Pennsylvania. I didn’t attempt to photograph any. I have seen much better displays of stars during my adulthood in the Florida Keys and on the eastern shore of Maryland.

Near the park is Cherry Springs Vista, which sits directly on Route 44.

Cherry Springs Vista – this is one of my favorite types of views, all trees as far as the eye can see.

A Two-fer in South Central Pennsylvania

If you head west on Route 30 past Gettysburg, you will come across two state parks. The larger of the two is Caledonia State Park. The 1,125-acre park is in Adams and Franklin counties, between Chambersburg and Gettysburg along the Lincoln Highway (US 30). It is situated within South Mountain, the northern terminus of the well-known Blue Ridge Mountain of Maryland and Virginia. The soils on either side of South Mountain are ideal for fruit production, proven by the abundance of orchards in the surrounding area.

Some unique features at Caledonia are a golf course and the Totem Pole Playhouse. It also provides hiking, camping, and hunting and hosts the Pennsylvania Forest Heritage and Discovery Center.

Forest Heritage and Discovery Center
A spartan camp setup,
Let’s enjoy some fall color …
… in the nearby Michaux State Forest as well.

Nearby Mont Alto State Park is a quiet, 24-acre park which features a pavilion, picnicking, and trout fishing. Mont Alto is the oldest park still in the Pennsylvania state park system.

Return to the Promised Land

I made my third trip to Promised Land State Park this past Memorial Day weekend. I love the Bear Wallow Cabin area, a cluster of former CCC cabins that still are largely original construction with hand made wood furniture. I also like the proximity of the Wildlife Observation Station to these cabins. The weather was unseasonably cold and raining so most of time was spent travelling around to other nearby sights to get a feel for those places. In this post, I will focus on some of the logistics of the park.

Promised Land contains two lakes with multiple boat launches, a beach with concession, boat rental, hiking and horseback riding. There are opportunities for hunting and fishing in season. The park is mostly surrounded by the Delaware State Forest. It is unusual in that most of the town of Promised Land is within the boundaries of the park and privately owned cabins are tucked away around the lakes.

Cabin number 2, named Buchanan. The cabins come in varying sizes, This is a smaller one.
The bathrooms for Cabin 1 and 2. Each cabin has its own bathroom which is unusual in a state park.

The cabins have an oven, fridge, microwave, coffee maker and electrical outlets. Heat is by wood stove and there is no running water. The bathrooms are modern with toilet, shower, and sink and are heated. The park has multiple campgrounds and a variety of different camping options as well.

The interior looking toward the bedroom.
An old drop down desk.
A bench near the Bear Wallow boat launch on the Lower Lake.
The statue in front of the Masker Museum, which focuses on the CCC.