Pennsylvania is home to two major cities, Philadelphia and Pittsburg along with having 19 National Parks in Pennsylvania. There is truly a little bit of everything to do in the Keystone State.
There is 1 National Forest, 20 State Forests, 116 State Parks and 294 sections of State Game Lands. We are only going to cover the Pennsylvania National Parks in this article.
Pennsylvania has a thriving population of black bears, white-tailed deer, and many other wildlife you may see in one of the parks. The Appalachian Trail runs for 229 miles across the state.
From Gettysburg to the Declaration of Independence and the Liberty Bell there is a treasure trove of sites to see for history buffs.
National Parks in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania National Parks include multiple National Historic Sites and Historical Parks. There are also National Memorials, battlefields and more to explore in Pennsylvania.
Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site
Allegheny Portage Railroad NHS is located in Western Pennsylvania approximately 80 miles east of Pittsburg. The site offers the opportunity to visit an engine house, tavern, historic railroad tunnel, and bridge.
During the 1820s the United States was moving Westward but transportation was definitely not what it is now. The Allegheny Mountains in Pennsylvania presented a major problem for railroads. The locomotives of the 1820s could not handle the steep grades of the mountains.
The Pennsylvania Main Line of Public Works attacked this problem by building the Allegheny Portage Railroad. This railroad was built with ten inclined planes equipped with rollers and a stationary engine to pull freight and passengers up and down the mountains.
From 1834 to 1854 this system was the best way to cross over the Allegheny Mountains until locomotives improved and were able to do it on their own. Visitors can still see the remains of this impressive system and learn about the impact of the railroad on westward expansion and the underground railroad.
You can also visit the Lemon House which was a tavern for travelers that has been restored to look like it is still the 1820s. You can also visit Staple Bend Tunnel which was the United State's first railroad tunnel.
Appalachian National Scenic Trail
229 miles of the Appalachian Trail passes through Pennsylvania. With an elevation from 280 feet up to 2,080 feet you can expect some flat areas but also some steep descents and ascends.
Portions of the trail in Pennsylvania are considered some of the easiest walking in the entire 2,180 miles of the Appalachian Trail.
If you plan on hiking in the fall make sure you are aware of which areas cross state game lands and hunting season. You may also want to pick up this topographic map of the trail through Pennsylvania.
Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area
The Delaware River flows along the border of Pennslyvania and New Jersey. The Delaware Water Gap NRA protects 40 miles of one of the last free-flowing rivers in the eastern United States.
The river is a great place to enjoy canoeing, kayaking, rafting, swimming, and fishing. You can rent equipment from authorized outfitters along the river and set up shuttles to pick you up. There are also over 100 miles of hiking trails including 27 miles of the Appalachian Trail that pass within the park.
Edgar Allen Poe National Historic Site
Edgar Allen Poe NHS is located in Philadelphia. The park offers the opportunity to tour Edgar Allen Poe's house and view a park film about his life.
Edgar Allen Poe is one of the greatest names in horror and macabre (disturbing or horrifying because of the description of death or injury) writing. Poe has been credited as being the inventor of detective stories.
He wrote some of his most famous works while living in Philadelphia. In early 1843 he lived in the house that is the site of the National Park. It is the only one of his residences that still survives. You are greeted with a symbolic raven statue as a reminder of the poem "The Raven".
Eisenhower National Historic Site
Eisenhower NHS is located in South-central Pennsylvania approximately 40 miles southwest of Harrisburg. The park offers the opportunity to tour Eisenhower's home and enjoy a walking tour of the grounds.
Dwight D Eisenhower and his wife Mamie bought a farm in Pennsylvania near the Gettysburg. The Eisenhowers retired to the farm in 1961 after his two-term presidency from 1953 to 1961. President Eisenhower passed away in 1969 at the age of 78. Mrs. Eisenhower continued to live on the farm until she passed away in 1979.
In 1980 the National Park Service opened the park as a National Historic Site allowing visitors to learn more about Eisenhower's farm and life. There is limited parking at the park so visitors need to purchase shuttle passes and schedule tours at the Gettysburg Visitor Center!
First State National Historical Park (DE, PA)
First State NHP is located in four different sites in Pennsylvania and Delaware. One of these units is located in southern Pennsylvania. Woodlawn Tract is more than 1,100 acre in Northern Delaware and Southern Pennsylvania.
The park site sits next to Brandywine State Park and has trails for hiking and horseback riding along with the opportunity to see historic Quaker houses.
Flight 93 National Memorial
The Flight 93 Memorial is located in Southwestern Pennsylvania approximately 90 miles southeast of Pittsburg. The site offers the opportunity to view the crash site of Flight 93 and the Memorial.
On September 11, 2001, hijackers took control of four commercial airlines and used them as weapons. United Flight 93 flying from Newark to San Francisco was hijacked when passengers learned about the other attacks and tried to overcome the hijackers.
During the struggle to regain control of the plane the airliner crashed in rural Somerset County killing everyone on the plane. The Flight 93 memorial was dedicated in 2011 and protects the 40-acre crash site of fields and woods.
The crash site is only open to family members of victims. The Memorial Plaza borders the northern edge of the site and can be accessed from the visitor center. There is a Wall of Names built of 40 white inscribed marble panels honoring the victims.
Visitors can look through a wooden gate to the point of impact that is marked by a large boulder near the treeline.
Fort Necessity National Battlefield
Fort Necessity National Battlefield is located in Southwestern Pennsylvania approximately 60 miles southeast of Pittsburg. The park offers the opportunity to view battle sites and a reconstructed fort.
Fort Necessity Battlefield protects the Great Meadows site and features a reconstruction of the fort built by George Washington in 1755. The park has a film that interprets the importance of the site.
George Washington was 22 when he was in the area in 1754. He was in charge of British Troops sent to the area to build a military road in response to the French trying to move into British territory.
He made camp in an area called Great Meadows and soon engaged in skirmishes with French troops. He returned to the area a year later and built Fort Necessity. The fort was attacked by French soldiers and their Indian allies causing George Washington to retreat from the area.
This was the beginning of the French and Indian War which lasted until 1763.
Friendship Hill National Historic Site
Friendship Hill NHS is located in Southwestern Pennsylvania approximately 55 miles southeast of Pittsburg. The park offers the opportunity to tour historic homes, a cell phone tour and more than 10 miles of hiking trails.
Albert Gallatin immigrated to America from Geneva, Switzerland in 1780 at the age of 19. He bought land and built a house that he called Friendship Hill in honor of his business partner friends. Mr. Gallatin entered into local politics to help with his businesses.
He served in the Pennsylvania State Legislature before being elected to the U.S. Senate. He was removed from his seat in the senate due to failure to meet citizenship requirements. He was then elected to the House of Representatives where he became a party leader. He helped elect Thomas Jefferson as President in 1800.
Mr. Gallatin was appointed as the Secretary of Treasury and served for 13 years which is the longest anyone has held this position. He helped finance the Louisiana purchase, the National Road and Lewis and Clark's expedition.
When he left the treasury he served as the U.S. Minister to both France and England then went on to help found New York University.
The park was created to preserve his home and tell the story of his accomplishments. You can still see parts of the house that date back to the 1780s along with the additions that were done in the early 20th century.
Gettysburg National Military Park
Gettysburg National Military Park is located in Southern Pennsylvania approximately 60 miles northwest of Baltimore. The park offers the opportunity to take an auto tour of the Gettysburg battlefield and cemetery.
The Battle of Gettysburg is considered the bloody turning point of the civil war. The Battle of Gettysburg occurred on July 1, 1863, when Confederate General Robert E. Lee led his forces into Pennslyvania and they met the Army of the Potomac lead by Major General George Gordon Meade.
The battle lasted for three intense days with more than 160,000 soldiers involved. At the end of the battle there were 51,000 casualties making it the bloodiest battle of the entire Civil War. General Lee was forced to retreat after a finale attempt on July 3rd now known as Pickett's Charge.
Gettysburg National Military Park was established in 1895. Today visitors can view more than 1,300 monuments, markers, and memorials along with visit the park's visitor center. There is a 24-mile auto tour that incorporates 16 stops at locations that include the Wheatfield, Site of Pickett's Charge, the Eternal Light Peace Memorial and the National Cemetery.
Gloria Dei Church National Historic Site (Affiliated Site)
Gloria Dei Church NHS is located in Philadelphia. The park offers tours of the historic church and cemetery.
Gloria De Church is also known as the Old Swedes' Church. It was built beginning in 1698 and even with additions and renovations, the church has changed little since 1846. The brick building shows multiple architectural styles including Gothic, Georgian and traditional Swedish.
The church is still a working church so you will want to check for their current schedule before visiting. Inside the church, you can see a model of the ships that brought the original colonists to America from Sweden, a 1731 baptismal font, a bronze bell cast in 1801 using metal from a 1643 bell, and a carving of the angel Gabriel similar to those found in churches in Sweden.
Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site
Hopewell Furnace NHS is located in Southeastern Pennsylvania approximately 15 miles southeast of Reading. The park offers the opportunity to see a restored "iron plantation", watching living history demonstrations and apple picking.
Mark Bird established an ironmaking operation called Hopewell Furnace in 1771. He took advantage of the local ore, having a water source and abundance of trees that provided charcoal fuel. Hopewell Furnace operated until 1883 when steel production made ironmaking obsolete.
The interesting thing about Hopewell Furnace is it wasn't just the ironmaking site it was an entirely self-contained community that included the worker's houses, a community store, church, apple orchard, and other facilities. The area was called an "iron plantation" because of the similarities to a plantation that grew crops.
Hopewell Furnace produced items like stoves and grates but during the Revolutionary War, they also produced cannons, shots, and shells for the Continental Army.
Today you can take a self-guided walking tour that leads you past the cold blast iron furnace, the ironmasters house, the community store, the blacksmith's shop, and the 1782 Bethesda Church.
Independence National Historical Park
Independence NHP is located in downtown Philadelphia in the Old City. The site offers the opportunity to view sites related to the historic events of the American Revolution.
More than two dozen locations that played a role in the Colonies quest for independence can be visited. In the late 18th century Philadelphia was the most populated city in Colonial America. It was the center for advocating independence from the British. The First and Second Continental Congress met, the Declaration of Independence was signed and read to the public for the first time, the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution of the United States of America were debated and signs here.
The U.S. Congress met in Philadelphia for a decade and the Liberty Bell rang here. Historic figures like John Adams, George Washington, Patrick Henry, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and John Hancock met and debated early American issues.
You will want to start your visit at the Independence Visitor Center which is a partnership between the National Park Service and local tourist sites. You can pick up information on the different sites, watch the park film, and sign up for guided tours. Tickets are available here for tours of Independence Hall. You will need a ticket in order to visit Independence Hall so make sure to stop in and get one.
Sign up for a Founding Fathers Historical Walking Tour and learn the history of landmarks like the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, Betsy Ross House and more
Johnstown Flood National Memorial
Johnston Flood National Memorial is located Southwestern Pennsylvania approximately 70 miles east of Pittsburg. The site offers the opportunity to view the park film, tour the old dam site and structure and view exhibits.
On May 31, 1889, the South Fork Dam gave way releasing 20 million tons of water downstream in a wall of water up to 40 feet high. The problems started on May 30th when heavy rains caused streams to overflow into streets.
The town of Johnstown was located at the confluence of the Little Conemaugh and Stonycreek Rivers. The South Fork Dam was located 14 miles upstream on the Little Conemaugh River. The dam formed a 450-acre reservoir called Lake Conemaugh. The dam and lake were owned by the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Clubs whose members included Andrew Carnegie, Andrew Mellon, and Henry Clay Frick.
The earthen dam was not able to hold the influx of water from the rain. On May 31st shortly after 3 pm the dam gave way. Several small towns were destroyed including Johnstown. Within minutes of the water reaching the town more than 4 square miles of the town was obliterated killing more than 2,200 people.
This disaster brought help from around the United States and other countries including the newly founded American Red Cross. Clara Barton had started the American Red Cross eight years earlier. She came to the area on June 5th to help supervise the recovery.
Today you can visit the site of the former South Fork Dam. The park has a film depicting the events from 1889. You can also walk to the remains of the dam and look out over the old lake bed.
Lower Delaware National Wild and Scenic River
The Delaware River is the largest free-flowing river in the Eastern United States. The park was established in 2000. You can enjoy boating, scenic drives and more!
Points of interest within the park include:
- National Canal Museum
- Delaware Canal
- Riegelsville Historic District & Benjamin Riegel House
- Tinicum Park
- Ralph Stover State Park
- Tohickon Valley Park
- Honey Hollow Watershed National Historic Landmark
- Phillips Mill
- Parry Mansion
- Washington Crossing Historic Park
Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail
The Potomac Heritage NST links the tidal Potomac and upper Youghiogheny river basins. The Potomac Heritage Trail is a network of locally-managed trails and routes in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and the District of Columbia. Currently, there is no visitor center for the trail.
The national scenic trail incorporates 710 miles of existing and planned trails managed by federal, state, local, and nonprofit entities. You can download a map of the PHT network to learn more about this trail system.
Steamtown National Historic Site
Steamtown NHS is located in Northeastern Pennsylvania near downtown Scranton. The park offers the opportunity to view historic locomotives and trail cars, guided train tours, and touring a working rail yard.
Steamtown NHS was created to preserve the history of the steam train and railroading in America. In 1918 there were more than 65,000 steam locomotives working in the United States on more than a quarter of a million miles of track.
The park focuses on 100 years from 1850 to 1950. Located within the Scranton Railroad Yard of the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad the park has an amazing collection of steam locomotives, passenger and freight cars.
You can view the 1941 Big Boy Union Pacific Locomotive and the 1903 Chicago Union Transfer Railway Company freight engine. Make sure and check the park's schedule for opportunities to ride on a steam-powered train.
Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial
Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial is located in downtown Philadelphia. The park offers the opportunity to learn more about Thaddeus Kosciuszko's life.
Mr. Kosciuszko was a close friend of Thomas Jefferson. He was motivated to come to America in 1776 inspired by the ideals of the Colonies struggle for independence from Britain.
He became a general in 1783 after putting his skills to use in engineering tasks fortifying locations within the Colonies. He was wounded in battle and imprisoned while trying to help Poland resist Russian domination.
He was exiled from Poland and returned to America in 1797. He lived in a boarding house in downtown Philadelphia that now houses the National Memorial. He stayed in the house for less than a year before returning to Europe.
You can view artifacts related to Kosciuszko and photographs of some of the monuments erected in his honor.
Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River
The Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River are located in southeastern New York and northeastern Pennsylvania. The park offers canoeing, rafting, and fishing.
The river forms the boundary between New York and Pennsylvania. Upper Delaware is the longest free-flowing stream in the Northeast. 73-miles of the river has been designated as the Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River but within this, the National Park Service only owns a small amount of land.
The Upper Delaware is managed through a partnership between federal, state and local agencies and private businesses. You can enjoy Class I and II rapids along with many flat areas perfect for spending a day on the water.
Valley Forge National Historical Park
Valley Forge NHP is located in Southeastern Pennsylvania approximately 20 miles from Philadelphia. The site gives you the opportunity to take a walking, trolly or auto tour of the winter resting area of George Washington's troops in the winter of 1777.
During December 1777 George Washington's Continental Army needed a place to camp and rest during the winter. The British army was occupying the patriot capital of Philadelphia.
George Washington decided to camp at a site called Valley Forge located 20 miles from Philadelphia. He chose the location because of the terrain which provided great defense along with it being far enough from British Troops to prevent a surprise attack.
Today you can visit and learn more about the significance of Valley Forge in the American Revolution. The park has a park movie, artifacts that have been recovered from the site, and historical exhibits.
You can take a self-guided 10-mile auto tour or a guided trolly tour that is offered seasonally for a fee.
List of National Parks in Pennsylvania
- Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site
- Appalachian National Scenic Trail
- Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area
- Edgar Allen Poe National Historic Site
- Eisenhower National Historic Site
- First State National Historical Park (DE, PA)
- Flight 93 National Memorial
- Fort Necessity National Battlefield
- Friendship Hill National Historic Site
- Gettysburg National Military Park
- Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site
- Independence National Historical Park
- Johnstown Flood National Memorial
- Lower Delaware National Wild and Scenic River
- Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail
- Steamtown National Historic Site
- Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial
- Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River
- Valley Forge National Historical Park
- Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail (VA, MD, DE, DC, PA, NY)
- Chesapeake Bay Watershed (DC, MD, NY, PA, VA, WV)
- Delaware & Lehigh National Heritage Corridor
- Gloria Dei Church National Historic Site
- North Country National Scenic Trail (New York to North Dakota MI, MN, ND, NY, OH, PA, WI)
- Oil Region National Heritage Area
- River of Steel National Heritage Area
- Schuylkill River Valley National Heritage Area
- Washington – Rochambeau National Historic Trail (MA, RI, CT, NY, NJ, PA, DE, MD, VA, DC)
There are 19 National Parks in Pennsylvania that receive over 10 million visitors a year. These visitors produce over $516 million in economic benefits from tourism.
Pennsylvania National Parks include 7 National Heritage Areas, 4 Wild and Scenic Rivers managed by the National Park Service, 5 National Trails, and 167 National Historic Landmarks.
There are over 3,400 National Register of Historic Places listings in Pennsylvania, along with 27 National Natural Landmarks, 1 World Heritage Site (See this list for all of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the United States), and 3,808 Places recorded by the heritage documentation program.
Pennsylvania National Parks also include over 13 million objects in the national park museum collection and over 1,200 archeological sites.
Check out this list of US National Parks in Alphabetical Order to see how many you have visited.
National Parks in neighboring states
National Parks in West Virginia