The Pennsylvania’s State Park system provides access to 200,000 acres of nature and includes a variety of terrain and geological features. In Philadelphia and the adjacent counties alone, there are 14 state parks, where anyone can go enjoy forests, fields and water, free of charge. The parks are open every day of the year, from sunrise to sunset, with day areas closing at dusk. Some also offer overnight camping to groups or individuals. Picnic tables are usually easy to find and some areas also have grills. Dogs are allowed in most areas of the parks, but must be kept on a leash. Pet owners are responsible for cleaning up after them. All boats in state parks must display current registration or launch permits. Details on rules and regulations regarding boats can be found here. Check the PA DCNR website and Facebook page for information and regulations about specific state parks.
Bordered on one side by the Delaware River, Bucks County has the largest number of state parks in the Philadelphia area. Water activities are available at most of these as well as a variety of hiking and biking trails.
Delaware Canal State Park
This unique park parallels the Delaware River from Easton to Bristol. In addition to the 60-mile towpath along the Delaware Canal, the park also has a 90-acre pond and 11 river islands. Canoeing and kayaking are popular activates in the canal, the Delaware River and at the Giving Pond Recreation Area. There are multiple public access launch sites in both PA and NJ; motorboats are permitted in the river. The towpath, once used by mules pulling barges down the canal, is now used for hiking, biking and cross-country skiing. A 30 mile stretch of the park is connected to NJ’s Delaware and Raritan (D&R) Canal State Park via five bridges, enabling visitors to plan a “loop” while still enjoying the sights and sounds of the river. There is no camping in the park, but there are a number of campgrounds nearby.
A popular destination is the Locktender’s House in New Hope where visitors can learn some of the history of the canal; a mule-drawn canal boat ride gives a glimpse of life on the canal in the 1860s. Like most parks, educational programs are offered. There are a number of year-round programs, covering such things as area birds, boating safety, the importance of forests, ecosystems and watersheds, orienteering, teambuilding, and wildlife population growth. You can learn more about the area from a park educator, either by bus or while paddling yourself down the Delaware River. Guided hikes, bike rides and river trips help you learn to identify birds and other wildlife, as well as area plants. A digital photography class can help you bring a piece of what you see home with you. Nature classes are available for elementary age students and they also have environmental education kits to loan and teacher workshops and resources are also available. Check out their calendar of events and Facebook page.
Neshaminy State Park
This park is also along the Delaware River, in lower Bucks County, at the point where the Neshaminy Creek enters the river. The park’s 339 acres offer hiking, a swimming pool and a children’s spray park (both in season), as well as boating access to the river. There are a total of four miles of short trails (each less than a mile), some of which are ADA-accessible. The park also has three picnic pavilions. These are first come, first served, or for a fee, can be reserved up to 11 months in advance. While it seems the ocean is far away, this is one place you can see the tide come in and go out, with an overall change of seven feet between tides. The Tidal Marsh Natural Area has 71 acres of freshwater wetlands. With a combination of forest, wetlands and fields, Neshaminy State Park is home to a wide variety of birds and the park has provided a list of those you may see. Check out their calendar of events.
Nockamixon State Park
Further north in Bucks County is the 5,286-acre Nockamixon State Park. The main feature of this park is the 1,450 –acre Lake Nockamixon, which is fed by Tohickon Creek, Three Mile Run and Haycock Run. In addition to hiking, biking and of course, boating, visitors can also enjoy disc golf and swimming (in season) in the park pool. Horseback riding is also permitted in sections of the park. In the winter, bicycle trails and closed roads can be used for cross country skiing and the area above the marina can be used for sledding.
The lake has six public launching areas as well as a marina that can dock 648 boats up to 24 feet long plus dry storage for boats on trailers. A boat rental concessions (open summers) offers canoes, motorboats, kayaks paddleboards and pontoon boats. Most years, water is released from the dam twice a year, giving whitewater enthusiasts an opportunity to run the Tohickon Creek to the Delaware (the fall 2016 release has been canceled due to low water levels). There are a number of hiking trails, of varying length and difficulty in the park. There is also a 2-mile paved bike trail that winds through the Day Use area as well as a 10-mile system of mountain biking trails on the east side of Haycock Cove. Nockamixon has ten modern cabins, open year round. The Weisel Hostel, operated by the Bucks County Department of Parks and Recreation also offers overnight accommodations. Scenic Vista, along South Park Road, provides a view of the dam spillway, which freezes over the winter in a number of colors and shapes. Sentinel Rock is an unusual rock formation downstream, accessible via the mountain bike trial. More information about the geology of the park can be found here.
Educational programs such as guided walks and hands-on activities are held late spring through fall, and teacher workshops and school programs are also available. Pontoon boat tours of the lake provide a history of the park while seeing wildlife. More than 250 species of birds, including over 20 species of waterfowl have been seen in the park. See the park’s calendar of events and Facebook page for more information.
Ralph Stover State Park
This 45-acre park in Pipersville is a popular destination for area rock climbers and experienced whitewater canoeists/kayakers. The park website stresses that these activities are dangerous and that only experienced individuals should participate. The Tohickon Creek travels through the park and has carved out areas such as the High Rocks section. Here experienced climbers scale the 250-foot sheer rock face while visitors stay behind the guard rail. The park has one mile of easy hiking trails along the Tohickon Creek which pass numerous habitats and WPA-era structures. The park has no trash receptacles and counts on visitors to “carry in /carry out” all items and dispose of properly at home.
Educational activities include guided walks and hands-on activities. The park also offers lessons in rock climbing (pre-registration is required). More information can be found on their calendar of events.
Tyler State Park
A mere 33 miles from Center City, Philadelphia, this 1,711-acre park in Newtown offers 25 miles of trails, many of which are multi-use. The park has a number of picnic areas, with both first-come, first-served and reservable pavilions. There are 10.5 miles of paved bike trails (bikes may only be used on these trails) and 10.5 miles of non-paved trails which can be used by those on horseback. Hikers can use all of these trails, as well as an additional 1-mile nature trail, which is labeled “more difficult” and offers views of rock outcrops and large boulders. The park features a 36-hole disc golf course which is said to be “one of the top rated courses in the country.” Non-powered and electric boats can be used on Neshaminy Creek; canoe rentals are available daily through the summer months. The park also offers classes in kayaking basics for teens. In the winter, cross country skiing and sledding are popular activities. Educational programs take the form of hands-on activities, history hikes, guided walks and workshops, with environmental programs also available for school and youth groups as well as homeschool families. More information can be found on their calendar of events.
Washington Crossing Historic Park
The site of George Washington’s Christmas Day crossing of the Delaware River during the Revolutionary War is also a National Historic Landmark. The park is divided into an Upper Section and a Lower Section. Parts of the park are operated by Friends of Washington Crossing, which may charge a fee. The Visitor Center and building tours have specific hours, contact the park office for more details. Non-powered boats can be launched from here into the Delaware. The 500-acre park has a number of restored historical buildings, picnic tables and five pavilions. A five-mile section of the Delaware Canal State Park towpath runs through the park and can of course be used for hiking, biking and cross country skiing.
The Visitor’s Center has a 248-seat auditorium and provides information about the history of the park. The 125-foot Bowman’s Hill Tower is in the upper section of the park and provides a view of the Delaware River Valley for a fee (Note: while the elevator is being repaired, visitors must take the stairs). One of the highlights of the year is the re-enactment of Washington’s historic crossing of the river. Hundreds of troops in Continental uniform, led by George Washington, row across the river, both on the actual anniversary (Christmas Day) and a couple weeks before. (Note, there is a fee for First Crossing which includes activities and demonstrations throughout the historic village.) More information can be found on their events calendar.