There are many reasons “Pennsylvania’s Capital City” is an intriguing place reside in or to visit. The downtown Riverfront Park attracts runners, bikers, and kayakers and hosts many events and annual festivals.
The stunning State Capital is the centerpiece of Harrisburg and is an excellent place to tour and explore for its history and architecture. Diverse historic buildings and neighborhoods add to the ambiance of this riverside city.
The great outdoors is never far away in Harrisburg. The Appalachian Trail cuts through the southwestern part of the state. The PA Grand Canyon is situated in the north, and nearby are many outdoor spaces, state parks, and national forests to explore and take in the region’s beauty.
Getting out and about in nature is an excellent activity no matter where you are, and the state parks near Harrisburg are wonderful for this—Pennsylvania State Parks are free—there’s no reason not to visit. We’re taking a tour of state parks nearby and invite you to join us as we explore what makes each one unique.
Map of State Parks Near Harrisburg PA
Here is a map of the Pennsylvania state parks covered in this post:
List of State Parks Near Harrisburg
Here are each of those state parks with distance from Harrisburg and what is special about each.
Location: 5700 Fowler Hollow Road, Blain, PA 17006
Fowlers Hollow State Park is located in a small valley near Tuscarora State Forest and is a favorite spot for hiking, fishing, and hunting and a trailhead for the forest. The park is just over an hour west of our featured city of Harrisburg.
The Fowlers Hollow campground makes an excellent basecamp for adventures into the surrounding state forest. Towering trees amid rocky terrain provide shaded areas for trekking and mountain biking. Fowlers Hollow Run (creek) runs through the area and is a fishery for brown trout, and the park is open year-round for winter enjoyment.
Interesting fact: Fowlers Hollow was clear-cut in the late 1800s using portable sawmills. Pennsylvania bought the land in 1907, and the woodlands that you see today are a second growth forest.
Location: 1450 Suedberg Rd, Pine Grove, PA 17963
Half an hour east of Harrisburg, Swatara State Park is situated in a narrow valley between two mountains. Woodlands and rocky terrain are a predominant feature of the landscape here as is the Swatara Creek that winds through the park.
The Appalachian Trail cuts through the southern end of the park and crosses the creek over the Waterville Bridge which was built in 1890. The bridge is an excellent example of a lenticular truss bridge and when it was deemed too narrow for modern use the parabola bridge was moved to be used as part of the A.T.
The park is popular for hiking, biking, wildlife observation and the creek is a big draw for fishing and paddling. Swatara State Park is a day-use only park, there are camping options nearby.
Interesting fact: There is a fossil digging site listed on the state park map—a wonderful opportunity to look for clues about the region’s ancient history.
Location: 927 Colton Rd, Wellsboro, PA 16901
It’s hard to pass up the vistas at Colton Point State Park located about two and a half hours north of Harrisburg.
The park, also known as the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania has spectacular views of Pine Creek Gorge, a long stretch of canyon carved over eons by Pine Creek. The depth of the massive gorge is 800 feet and its width is 4000 feet. Colton Point overlooks the western edge and Leonard Harrison State Park is on the eastern rim.
Most of Pennsylvania was stripped bare of trees by the lumbering industry and devoid of wildlife through hunting by the early 1900s. The state bought up the land after it was abandoned by the lumber companies and it became the Tioga State Forest, eventually to become the twin parks that showcase the renewed nature and beauty of the gorge. Most of the trees visible today are second growth forests.
Colton Point State Park is highly popular for the panoramic views, as well as camping, picnicking, fishing, snowmobiling and some amazing hiking.
Interesting facts: The eastern white pine that originally grew in the gorge were up to 150 feet tall and 3 to 6 feet in diameter and were considered the “best timber in the world for making fine ship masts.” The eastern hemlock trees were 9 feet in diameter, and hemlock bark was removed and used in the process to tan hides.
Location: 16362 Little Valley Rd, James Creek, PA 16657
Trough Creek State Park is a rugged, compact tract of land on the southwestern edge of Raystown Lake about two hours west of Harrisburg.
There are three phenomenal reasons to visit here—one is manmade, Suspension Bridge, and other two are natural, Rainbow Falls and Balanced Rock. The bridge is fun and daring, the falls are delightful to watch as water trickles down over 15 to 20 feet of stacked rock, and the delicately placed massive stone that seemingly balances by a thread on the edge of a cliff, pretty impressive.
The park also has camping, hiking, fishing, biking and picnicking and is open year-round.
Helpful tip: Trough Creek is also home to many other features well-worth seeing; among them is the overlook on Ledges Trail, the Ice Mine, and Copperas Rock.
Location: 695 PA-487, Benton, PA 17814
Often referred to as one of the most picturesque state parks in Pennsylvania, Ricketts Glen is two hours north of Harrisburg and home to Glens Natural Area.
There are 21 named falls along Falls Trail within the natural area that cascade down, over, and through the rocky terrain under the cover of lush flora. The highest waterfall is the 94-foot Ganoga Falls. Another waterfall, named Adams, is located near the parking lot bringing the total number of falls up to 22.
There are cabins available to rent, a campground, and swimming, fishing, and boating opportunities at Lake Jean. The park is open in the winter; snowmobiling, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing are popular during the colder weather.
Interesting facts: Glens Natural Area is known for the falls and harboring old-growth trees, many of which are over 300 years old. Pines, hemlocks, and oak thrive here; it’s not unusual to see trees with a four-foot diameter 100 feet tall.