Bordered by the Great Lakes, split by the Delaware River, shaped by the great rises of the northern Appalachians, clad with rich forests of oak and hemlock and peppered with more historical sites than you can throw an encyclopaedia at, the State of Pennsylvania is so richly endowed with so many incredible natural oases that first-time visitors could be forgiven for not knowing where to start.
To help, we at Hopper have put together this list of the top five national parks in the state. It includes spots for culture vultures, wildlife seekers, adrenaline junkies and ecotourists alike, ranging from hallowed historical centres, to rugged mountain getaways on the Delaware River.
The dark and transformative events that took place on the fields of Gettysburg are etched into the minds of almost every American. Hailed as the High Water Mark of the Rebellion, the bloody struggle that took place at this National Park marked the turning point of the Civil War, setting off a chain reaction that would eventually lead to Union victory in 1865. Today, visitors can explore the rich history of the site at the park’s dedicated visitor’s center, or by taking one of the regular battlefield tours with a qualified service ranger.
From one of America’s bloodiest battlefields we go to one of its most famous military encampments. Located just northwest of Philadelphia, Valley Forge has enjoyed state park status for more than a century, making it the oldest of its kind in all of Pennsylvania. Guests are invited to wander the grounds where Washington’s Continental Army once camped in 1777 and 1778, navigating their way through the restored log huts, honorific monuments and makeshift artillery lines. Nearby, there’s also a wealth of hiking trails and backcountry biking routes to explore, making this one great for more outdoorsy types too.
Surrounded by purring locomotives and piping engines, visitors to this state run educational facility in Scranton are treated to one of the most comprehensive introductions to the history of the steam rail in the country. The resident collection of historical locomotives at the center includes old Union Pacific engines and the famous Canadian National trains, along with a number of working exhibitions at hand to take guests on longer excursions to the nearby Lackawanna River valley.
Carving its way dramatically through the steep ridges of the Appalachian Mountains, the Delaware Water Gap straddles the border of Pennsylvania and New Jersey, offering up a wealth of outdoorsy pursuits in one of the state’s most magnificent natural settings. Rent a kayak and glide your way between state lines, strap on a harness and scale the famous faces of Silurian Shawangunk, or simply hike the Red Dot trails to the tip of Kittatinny Ridge, where it’s possible to survey the valleys and waterfalls of this iconic enclave of wild.
Standing amidst the Victorian façades and frontispieces of Philadelphia’s downtown historical centre, one can almost imagine the fervor and excitement when the great Liberty Bell first proclaimed America’s independence. Today, the various municipal buildings and clusters of monuments that occupy this UNESCO-attested park, all ooze with historical importance; from the First Bank building of the United States, to Independence Hall - the spot where the Declaration of Independence was signed and ratified in 1776.