The days may be getting shorter and the air cooler as summer gives way to autumn, but there are still plenty of great reasons to get outside to explore and adventure. Colorful leaves, crisp air, picturesque sunsets and serenity of the season are just several of the best parts of fall in Pennsylvania. With more than 100 state parks and natural areas, the Keystone State has no shortage of spots to experience all autumn has to offer.
Bald Eagle State Park
Located in Centre, Bald Eagle has just about everything one can imagine including bald eagles. The 5,900-acre park is named after the Lenape Chief Woapalanne, which in English means “bald eagle.” Chief Woapalanne lived in the area briefly during the mid-18th century.
History aside, Bald Eagle offers guests plenty, with boating one of the more popular attractions. Horsepower motorboats are permitted on Foster Joseph Sayers Reservoir, a 1,730-acre reservoir built in 1971 by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Fishing is another “must do” at Bald Eagle State Park with bass, crappie, yellow perch and channel catfish the most common game fish. Hunters following the rules and regulations of the Pennsylvania Game Commission are permitted to hunt for several game species like squirrels, turkey, rabbits and white-tailed deer. Those looking to get out and stretch their legs will find more than 11 miles of trails that are open for hiking. The longest trail is the 5.4-mile Lakeside Trail that runs along the base of Bald Eagle Mountain. This moderate trail will take visitors past a plethora of oak, maple and hickory trees. Keep the eyes peeled for a number of migrating birds including mergansers, cormorants and buffleheads. Bald Eagle State Park is open every day from sunrise to sunset. For more information, call (814) 625-2775.
Archbald Pothole State Park
Located in Lackawanna County, Archbald Pothole is one of Pennsylvania’s smallest state parks at just under 150 acres. However, it is home to the Archbald Pothole, one of the most unique attractions not only in Pennsylvania but the entire United States. The pothole is a remnant of the Wisconsin Glacial Period and is 38 feet deep, and 42 feet by 24 feet wide. Discovered in 1884, the pothole cuts through layers of sandstone, shale and coal and could hold about 140,000 gallons of water. While the pothole has been attracting tourists since it was discovered, the state park also offers guests plenty of recreational opportunities. A small trail loop that follows an old coal mine tram road and through a forest offers a spot for hikers. Hunting is allowed on more than 100 acres of the park with squirrels, turkeys and white-tailed deer the most common game species. For more information on the park, call (570) 945-3239.
Bucktail State Park Natural Area
One of the Keystone State’s larger state parks at 16,433-acres, Bucktail is a favorite spot for wildlife watching. Notable inhabitants that can often be seen in Bucktail include the osprey, bald eagle, kingfisher, otter, white-tailed deer and mink. Elk watching is also popular at Bucktail and an elk viewing platform is available at Winslow Hill near the town of Benezette. Elk are commonly seen along the northern portion of the state park with dawn and dusk the best time to view these large terrestrial mammals. Fishing opportunities are bountiful at Bucktail with many anglers finding success fishing for trout at the park.
Sinnemahoning Creek and the West Branch Susquehanna River are shallow waterways and are popular for canoeing and kayaking. While out on the water enjoy a hardwood forest of oak, cherry and maple trees as well as the remnants of the great white pine and hemlock forests of early settlers’ times. Visitors can bring their own non-powered boats if they have been registered or have a launch permit from the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission. The park, which was named for the Civil War Pennsylvania Bucktails Regiment, was established in 1933. For further information, call (814) 486-3365.
Mont Alto State Park
Established in 1902, Mount Alto is the oldest state park in Pennsylvania. Relatively small at 24 acres, the park offers plenty to its visitors. With the West Branch Antietam Creek flowing through the park, fishing is a favorite pastime and it’s not uncommon to see anglers reel in a trout or two. Mont Alto is a great spot for picnicking and features a large, covered pavilion with multiple tables. Longtime guests to Mont Alto may remember the picnic pavilion was previously the home to a carousel that was removed years ago.
With more than a dozen species of trees at the park, Mont Alto is especially scenic during the fall as the oak, maple, hickory and other trees change colors. The park also features a number of short hiking trails for guests to stretch their legs and enjoy the diverse wildlife that reside at the park.
History buffs may find it interesting that the site of Mont Alto State Park was once the center of iron production from the early 1800s to 1893. The site was previously home to the Mont Alto Iron Furnace, a blast furnace built in 1807 that was more than 30 feet high and eight feet wide. The park is open every day of the year from sunrise to sunset. For more information, call (717) 352-2161.
Canoe Creek State Park
Canoe Creek was selected by the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources as one of the “20 Must-See Pennsylvania State Parks” and it is unlikely any of the park’s thousands of annual visitors would disagree. The park, which is located 12 miles east of Altoona, is more than 910 acres and provides guests with plenty of recreational and wildlife activities. Canoe Lake in Canoe Creek State Park is stocked with a number of game fish including bass, trout, walleye, muskie, pickerel and catfish. Electrically powered boats as well as rowboats, canoes and kayaks are permitted on the water.
The park also features eight miles of trails that are used by hikers, walkers, runners and bikers. The trails follow Canoe Lake and take guests through woodlands, wetlands and meadows.
The Frank Felbaum Bat Sanctuary, which is the home to the largest nursey colony of little brown bats in Pennsylvania, is also located in the park. In fact, there are more than 30,000 bats of six species residing at the park. Bird-watchers will relish in the opportunity to spot migratory birds including the bald eagle and osprey at the park. The wetlands at Canoe Creek serve as the habitat for many bluebirds, orioles and red-winged blackbirds. Hunting is also permitted during certain dates.
A nine-hole disc golf course and large picnic area is also available for guests to enjoy. Canoe Creek is open sunrise to sunset. Call (814) 889-2011 for more information.
Cook Forest State Park
A National Natural Landmark and rated one of America’s Top 50 state parks by National Geographic Traveler Magazine, Cook Forest is approximately 8,500 acres and sees more than a half million visitors each year. The park is known for its trails with more than two dozen on site totaling nearly 30 miles.
Cook Forest is heavily forested with old growth white pine and hemlock, some of which are more than 180 feet tall. Horseback riding is permitted on a pair of bridle trails and there are more than 5,000 acres open to hunting and trapping. Common game species found in the park include deer, wild turkey and squirrel. Anglers will find the Clarion River to their liking with the ability to fish for trout and panfish. Many guests also canoe or kayak down the river.
Several animals call Cook Forest home and guests can often spot a bald eagle, deer, blue heron, muskrat and wild turkey during their visit. Guests who would like to explore Cook Forest for more than one day can stay overnight in rustic cabins. Camping sites are also available to rent from April through the third Sunday in October. Learn more about the park by calling (814) 744-8407.
Hickory Run State Park
Nearly 16,000 acres spread across the Pocono Mountains, Hickory Run offers numerous recreational opportunities and unique attractions. The park is perhaps best known for its huge boulder field, which is the largest of its kind in the Appalachian region. The field consists of boulders ranging from less than three feet to more than 30 feet in length. The boulder field has remained mostly unchanged for more than 20,000 years. A coniferous forest with stony loam soils surrounds the field. Hickory Run also features a pair of lakes. The smaller Hickory Run Lake is located along the boulder field while the larger Sand Spring Lake is within the Sand Spring Day Use Area. Both lakes include natural and man-made waterfalls which are a favorite of both professional and amateur photographers. The park has more than 40 miles of trails ranging from “easy” to “difficult” in grade. The mile-long Blue Trail winds through a forest dominated by chestnut oak, mountain laurel and rhododendron while the 2.4-mile Fireline Trail is extremely challenging because sections are open, steep and rocky.
Wildlife watchers will have a field day at Hickory Run as the park is home to more than 50 species of mammals and 150 species of birds. An observant visitor may spot deer, black bears, wild turkeys, mink and garter snakes. Anglers often find luck in the many streams and lakes within the park. Some streams are even stocked with brook and brown trout. The park also has a 19-hole disc golf course that is moderately wooded and approximately one mile in distance.
Kettle Creek State Park
This nearly 1,800-acre state park is located in a valley and provides breathtaking views of mountains and wilderness. Many of those views can be obtained through the park’s vast trail system, which includes a 22-mile trail earmarked for horseback riding. There are several short trails for hikers, bikers, walkers and runners.
The 167-acre Kettle Creek Reservoir is popular for trout and bass fishing, but anglers may also be able to reel in a brown bullhead, sucker or panfish. Kettle Creek has a large picnic area with charcoal grills available for visitors to use. The park also has multiple playgrounds, softball diamonds and open fields for guests to enjoy. Boating is permitted at Kettle Creek with a boat launch accessible at the northern end of the Kettle Creek Reservoir.
The remote location of Kettle Creek makes it an ideal place to spot wildlife. Black bear, deer, turkey and elk are among the animals guests may spot during their visit. The park also has two campgrounds, with one being mostly primitive. For more information on the park, call (570) 923-6004.