What Is The Most Visited State Park In Pennsylvania?

White lighthouse and red lightkeepers house at Presque Isle, Erie Pennsylvania most visited park

One of the most popular things to do in Pennsylvania is to go to one of the state’s 124 State Parks. So what is the most visited state park in Pennsylvania?

The most visited state park in Pennsylvania is Presque Isle State Park, which gets more than 4.5 million visitors a year. Rounding out the top three are Pymatuning State Park, with about 3.7 million annual visitors, and Prince Gallitzin State Park, with approximately 2 million visitors a year. 

So what makes Presque Isle State Park so popular? What do people do at Presque Isle State Park? Do you have to pay to get in? Presque Isle State Park has a lot to offer; read on to learn more.

Things To Do At Presque Isle State Park

The most popular state park in Pennsylvania is Presque Isle State Park. Located on the shore of Lake Erie, Presque Isle State Park’s 3,200 acres include beautiful hiking trails, fishing holes, and swimming beaches. In addition, the park features a 13-mile-long scenic loop road on which guests can drive, bike, or even roller skate.

Why do boaters love visiting Presque Isle State Park?

  1. The park has excellent marina facilities, including fuel sales, sewage pumps, and an assortment of docks and slips.
  2. Presque Isle Bay is a great place to enjoy your boat without the hazards of open water: the body of Presque Isle State Park acts as a barrier against heavy weather.
  3. People love boating here because of the beautiful scenery!
Pleasure boat speeds across the calm lake water

Boaters, however, should be aware of the unique hazards posed by Lake Erie. The lake is notoriously fickle and has a tendency to develop severe weather systems unexpectedly. So monitor weather conditions and be judicious while you’re on the water.

In addition to boating, people love swimming at Presque Isle State Park. Lake Erie’s vast and seemingly endless expanse gives beachgoers the sublime feeling that is usually only captured at the seashore. Plus, the beaches at Presque Isle are sandy, inviting, and easily accessible, making it a hugely popular destination for the Keystone State’s beach lovers.

Another delightful waterfront activity at the park is fishing. There are dozens of species of fish in the waters around Presque Isle State Park, and the enormous size of the lake allows fish to become trophy-size. People love fishing for bass at the lake and often catch other species like crappies, smelt, and perch.

Of course, Pennsylvania (and especially the Lake Erie area) is known for long winters. Brave souls, however, can still fish in the winter by going out on the lake for some ice fishing.

For many visitors, the biggest attraction to the park is the excellent birdwatching. Careful observers often spot birds like Bitterns, Coots, Terns, Wrens, and the tongue-twistingly-named but beautifully colorful Prothonotary Warbler.

Osprey sits on nest built of sticks

Raptors, like Osprey, have also been spotted at the park. The diversity of bird species at the park has led the Audubon Society to designate it as an Important Bird Area.

Why We Love Presque Isle State Park

People love Presque Isle State Park for a variety of reasons, but perhaps the most crucial factor in the park’s popularity is its oceanic vibes. Pennsylvania has plenty of superb lakes, but Lake Erie is the only place in Pennsylvania where people can have an “oceanic” beach experience. This sense is due to the immense scale of Lake Erie: the lake has an area of 9,940 square miles, which makes it just about the size of the state of Vermont!

Another reason people love Presque Isle State Park is its convenient location. The park is close to the city of Erie and very close to several major highways.

In addition, it is only about an hour and a half from the major cities of Cleveland, Ohio, and Buffalo, New York, making it easily accessible to out-of-state visitors. As a final note, Presque Isle State Park is also convenient to the Erie International Airport and easily reachable by boat.

Beaver gnawing on tree branch in the water

For many, the major attraction of the park is the wildlife. Watchful visitors can often encounter animals like deer, beavers, raccoons, rabbits, and mink. There are also several species of turtles at the park, as well as a population of garter snakes and DeKay’s brown snakes, neither of which is harmful to humans.

A growing number of people are interested in mushrooms and foraging, and Presque Isle State Park is a great place to find desirable mushrooms like Chicken of the Woods and Half-Free Morels. But, of course, as there are many dangerous wild mushrooms, we would never recommend you eat a wild mushroom unless you’re 100% certain of its identification.

As great as Presque Isle State Park is, there are other parks that are also massively popular. Two worth mentioning are Pymatuning State Park and Prince Gallitzin State Park.

Keystone Answers Fun Fact: Lake Erie occasionally generates mysterious, large waves. In 1882, a wave at least 8 feet high appeared out of a calm lake, carrying logs, boats, and barges with it and snapping mooring lines on ships. On another clear day in 1942, a 15-foot-high wave smashed ashore near Geneva, Ohio, drowning at least seven people.

Pymatuning State Park

Clocking in at 21,122 acres which includes the land and water, Pymatuning State Park is absolutely enormous. Located on the Pymatuning Reservoir on the Ohio state line, Pymatuning State Park is very popular with water lovers. People love boating, paddling, and swimming at the reservoir. And since there’s a fish hatchery on the reservoir, it’s excellent for fishing. People often catch species like carp, crappie, walleye, and perch, plus largemouth and smallmouth bass.

Canadian geese and carp congregate at dam spillway

Pymatuning State Park is a popular hiking destination because the trails are very approachable. For example, the Classroom Trail is a ¼-mile out-and-back trail that follows the lake’s shoreline to Westinghouse Bay. Several other trails range from 1 to 10 miles, but all of the trails at Pymatuning are very easy and accessible, making them great for families, beginners, or regular people.

Prince Gallitzin State Park

Prince Gallitzin State Park is Pennsylvania’s third-most popular state park. This park, however, is a little more rugged. Located in central Pennsylvania on the Allegheny Plateau, the park offers beautiful views of the forest and a 1,635-acre lake that has 26 miles of shoreline.

One of the most popular amenities at Prince Gallitzin State Park is the boat rental. If you love boats but don’t have the scratch to buy your own vessel, you can easily rent one at the park. We recommend booking far in advance, as this is a very popular activity at a very popular park.

Unlike Presque Isle State Park, where camping is forbidden, Prince Gallitzin State Park is a popular destination for campers. There is a 398-site campground that is open to tents and trailers, and many sites offer electric or even full hookups. Campers will want to book reservations ahead of time, as the campground is only open from April to October.

For “glampers,” Prince Gallitzin State Park has ten cabins available for rent – and unlike the campgrounds, the cabins are open year-round. You can even bring your dog, as three of these cabins are dog-friendly.

Driftwood piled on sandy beach

Does Pennsylvania Have a State Park Pass? 

Pennsylvania does not offer a State Park Pass because admission to Pennsylvania’s State Parks is free! Therefore, whether you live in Pennsylvania or elsewhere, you can enjoy no-cost access to any Pennsylvania State Park any day of the year.

That said, specific activities at the parks do require paid reservations. For example, you need to make reservations to book campsitescabins, or picnic areas. In addition, mariners must pay fees to use their boats at state parks, and parks that operate swimming pools charge a small cost to use the pool.

Is Alcohol Allowed in Pennsylvania State Parks?

We hate to be party poopers, but alcohol is not allowed in Pennsylvania State Parks – with a few exceptions. However, campers of legal drinking age may drink alcohol in specific camping areas (like cabins) at certain parks. To find out if alcohol is allowed where you’re camping, we’d recommend searching the DCNR website for precise information.

Outside of specific camping areas, however, alcohol is prohibited. Of course, there are countless forum posts and message boards that discuss the myriad of ways people find to drink at the park, but we would not encourage this behavior.

If a ranger or another law enforcement official catches you with alcohol, you will likely be asked to discard any open bottles and stop drinking for the remainder of your time at the park. In addition, you may be told to leave and not come back if you become belligerent or display a flagrant disregard for the rules.   

Take a Hike

Of Pennsylvania’s 124 state parks, Presque Isle State Park is the most popular. Pennsylvanians love to come here for swimming, watersports, birdwatching, and (of course) hiking. So whether you’re planning a family picnic, a solo hike, or a fun day at the beach with your besties, Presque Isle State Park is the most popular park in Pennsylvania!

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Pennsylvania is my home state; I reside on the original homestead settled by my forefathers in the early 1800s. Surrounded by thousands of acres of state land, I enjoy the serenity and quiet of rural Pennsylvania. I like ATVing, observing wildlife, sitting around the campfire, photography, and hiking.