Our Best Family Fishing Vacations

Our Best Family Fishing Vacations

Pennsylvania has more fishing-camping options than you can visit in two lifetimes! Here are some of the best places to go for family vacation fun this summer. (June 2006)

To find a summer-vacation getaway that offers fantastic fishing along with plenty of other family fun can be a challenge. Luckily, the Keystone State has all the options covered.

Campgrounds nestled into our state's 17 million acres of forestland offer everything from primitive sites to cozy cabins. With Pennsylvania's 83,000 miles of wilderness streams and rivers, 160,000 acres of inland waterways, plus 470,000-acre Lake Erie, fishing opportunities abound. Factor in the rich local history, whimsical amusement parks and unusual shops and eateries, and visitors to Pennsylvania are sure to find the winning combination for their family fishing vacation!

GREAT LAKES REGION

There's no way to talk fishing in Pennsylvania without mentioning Lake Erie, renowned as the walleye capital of the world as well as a hotspot for smallmouth bass and yellow perch. State-record Chinook salmon, coho salmon, lake trout and palomino trout have all been taken from Erie's depths.

Great angling can also be had just inland from Lake Erie. Pennsylvania's northwestern region is home to fantastic family fishing in any number of locations, including Edinboro Lake in Edinboro, Pymatuning Lake near Linesville, Woodcock Creek Lake near Saegertown, Lake Wilhelm near Sandy Lake and Justus Lake near Franklin.

Lake Wilhelm contains 1,860 acres of warmwater habitat that's perfect for largemouth and smallmouth bass, walleyes, northern pike, muskellunge, bluegills, crappies, catfish, perch and sunfish. Rowboats, pontoons, paddleboats, kayaks and canoes can be rented at the marina.

The 2,856-acre Maurice K. Goddard State Park borders Lake Wilhelm and is adjacent to 2,027-acre State Game Lands No. 270. This rolling, open terrain, mixed with wooded areas and lake habitat, contains ducks, rabbits, turkeys, pheasants, squirrels, woodcock, grouse, deer, eagles, ospreys and a variety of other critters for wildlife watchers.

A total of 150 picnic tables are available throughout the park, and the boat launch areas feature restrooms and larger picnic facilities. There are 14 miles of trails along the lake and through nearby open fields. Six miles of mountain bike trail weave along the north shore. Creek Road on the south shore offers bikers a 12.5-mile loop.

For more information, you can visit www.dcnr.state.pa.us/stateparks/parks/mauricekgoddard.aspx.

Family-friendly lodging can be found at Camp Wilhelm next to the state park. Sites include full-hookup and primitive sites, cabins and rental campers. Guests have access to the park, the lake and campground amenities, which include a heated pool, arcade room, sand volleyball court, playground, horseshoes and more. Call (724) 253-2886 for more information. Or give Goddard Park Vacationland Campground a try. They have 602 sites; 514 are full hook-ups and 16 are rental units. Call (724) 253-4645 for details.

When the family tires of boating, hiking, the great shoreline-access fishing, and bird watching, there's still plenty to do. To see what programs are scheduled, visit the McKeever Environmental Education Center at www.mckeever.org, or call (724) 376-1000.

McKeever has three dormitories and a dining hall that can accommodate 120 people. The site also has a discovery building, auditorium, five miles of hiking trails and an outdoor amphitheater.

In nearby Hermitage, visit Shenango River Lake to picnic, swim and hike while anglers fish for bass, walleyes and a variety of panfish. Hike the Shenango Trail or the nearby Seth Meyers Trail, which is one-half mile long and offers a self-guided interpretive nature hike.

Shop for unusual souvenirs at the Flip Side Collector's Mall, which houses over 2 million records along with a large selection of collectibles from the music and movie industries. Visit www.flipmall.com for details.

For something sweet, stop by the Philadelphia Candies chocolate shop to nibble on one of more than 75 tempting creations. Tour the factory and see how chocolates are made.

Just a short drive away in Mercer is Encounter Sports U.S.A. Paintball Adventures. The field is open weekends from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and during the week for groups of 10 or more. Bring your own equipment from home or rent on site. Visit www.encountersports.com for more information.

Car buffs will want to swing by Quaker Steak and Lube in Sharon. Scarf up hot wings prepared in several degrees of "hot," while ogling motorcycles and Corvettes hanging upside down from the ceiling!

After all that paintball action and auto-viewing excitement, cool off at the pool in Buhl Farm Park. Hiking trails and frequent outdoor concerts make this a great place to visit.

The Meadville area is worth a look. Search for treasures at Unger's Antique Shop or Troyer's Antiques, or stop by the Meadville Market House. Renovated in 1970, the Market House is a city market and the hub of downtown doings. The Vendors Marketplace on Chestnut Street offers a large selection of items including old and new merchandise, antiques and collectibles, crafts and more.

The Chestnut Street Station honors the area's railroad heritage through a wide range on antiques on display. Check out the custom bears and bobbleheads at JC Bears. For a mid-afternoon snack, check out Hank's Frozen Custard, where flavors like butterscotch, peanut butter, black raspberry, black cherry and banana give new twists to an old favorite.

WILDS REGION

The Pennsylvania Wilds Region has so many great fishing holes and family fun offerings that it could keep your clan occupied for many vacations to come.

For starters, wish upon a star in Pennsylvania's first dark-sky preserve at Cherry Springs State Park, visit the state's "Grand Canyon" at Pine Creek Gorge, or shop for outdoor gear at The original Woolrich Company store.

The Beaver Creek Nature Area has 850 acres of lakes and wetlands stocked with largemouth bass and bluegill. This area is a favorite for wildlife watchers and photographers because over 150 species of birds and waterfowl visit and nest here. A campground, boat ramps, playgrounds and picnic areas make this a great vacation destination.

Consider staying nearby at Wolf's Camping Resort. Choose from tent, pop-up and RV sites as well as cabins. Wolf's has a pool, hot tub, nine-hole golf course, baseball field, camp store, ice cream shop and arcade, in addition to boating and fishing. Visit www.wolfscampingresort.com.

Nearby eateries include the Captain Loomis Hotel (known for its good and friendly service) and Michelle's Café, a coffee shop and art gallery featuring a different artist every month, plus open-mike performances free to the public on weekends.

A short drive away, Kittanning State Forest offers camping, swimming, hiking trails and, most importantly, fishing! Kittanning is a popular starting point for an 11-mile canoe trip from Clear Creek State Park to Cook Forest State Park, with 6,668 acres bordered by the Clarion River and best known for its old-growth forests. Cook Forest is a National Natural Landmark and is known as the "Black Forest" of Pennsylvania.

Stocked and native brook trout may be found in Clear Creek. The Clarion River has smallmouth bass and panfish, and is stocked annually with trout at Tom's Run. A special stocked fishing pond near the Clear Creek park office is open to children 12 and younger and for people with disabilities.

Kittanning State Forest is open to the public for fishing in season. White-tailed deer, wild turkeys, squirrels, grouse and black bears are common here. Nearby Clear Creek offers overnight camping, swimming, fishing, hiking and day-use areas.

The Bear Town Rocks offer an excellent view, as does the Hays Lot Fire Tower. A trail system, maintained by the Pennsylvania Bureau of Forestry, is easy to find. Look for orange blaze markings on trees along the trail. To learn more, log on to www.dcnr.state.pa.us/forestry/stateforest/kittanning.aspx.

The Venango County tract has over six miles of frontage on the Allegheny River, providing a scenic backdrop for boaters and anglers. For a complete list of the region's extensive hiking trails, you can log on to www.dcnr.state.pa.us/forestry/hiking/index.aspx.

Stop by Bendigo State Park in Jones Township to take a dip or wet a line. The 100-acre park has a large, shaded picnic area and a swimming pool. The East Branch Clarion River flows through Bendigo and is stocked annually with trout.

East Branch Lake offers 1,160 acres of coldwater fishing and is stocked with muskellunge, walleyes, smallmouth bass, brookies, rainbows, browns and lake trout.

This region is loaded with family-friendly activities. Animaland Zoological Park houses over 200 critters, a snack barn and gift shop. Visit www.animalandzoo.com for details. The fabled Pennsylvania Grand Canyon is nearby.

For a lodging experience bound to delight young children, set up base camp at Bucktail Family Fun Park Camping Resort in Mansfield. A merry-go-round, train and other amusement rides are free on site, as is a unique "Active Kids" playground. Horseback trail rides and Tioga Central Railroad train rides are available nearby.

The Bucktail Family Fun Park has tent, trailer and motor home sites with picnic tables and fire rings, volleyball, basketball, hiking trails, miniature golf and a pool. Call (570) 662-2923.

Pick up the pace at Clinton County Speedway in Mackeyville. The third of a mile oval track hosts weekly sprint car and stock car competitions.

Learn more about your honey at Draper's Super Bee Apiaries, where observation hives and tours of the honey-packing plant are available. Visit www.draperbee.com for details.

Stop by Punxsutawney and follow Pennsylvania's most famous groundhog's tracks to Gobbler's Knob, the famous spot where Punxsutawney Phil makes his annual coming-of-spring prediction, on a 1.5-mile trail that begins in Barclay Square and ends in Sportsman's Park. Visit www.punxsutawneychamber.com or www.groundhog.org.

How about panning for gems at nearby Parker's Indian Trading Post, where "miners" get to keep all they find? Also pan for arrowheads and fossils from around the world. While there, check out their rock shop and gift shop featuring the Monfort collection, American Indian collectibles and a covered wagon display.

The Holgate Factory Store and Museum in Kane boasts "America's Finest Wooden Toys." Ride the Kane-Kinzua scenic railway from the terminal one block from the store.

Holgate's roots go back to a woodworking shop established in 1789. Years later, Jarvis Rockwell, brother of famous illustrator Norman Rockwell, designed many of Holgate's most popular toys such as the Rocky Color Cone, Jumbo Lacing Beans and the Classic Bingo Bed.

Stop by the Lock Haven Area YMCA, where families can tackle the rock-climbing wall, two rappel towers and vertical caves in addition to pool and gym equipment. Visit http://kcnet.org/~lhymca for more information.

PITTSBURGH DIVERSIONS

Mention of this gritty industrial city doesn't always conjure images of tackle-busting angling action, but the Pittsburgh Countryside Region is loaded with great family fishing destinations.

Keystone Lake offers 78 acres of warmwater and coldwater fishing with year-round stocking. Largemouth bass, tiger muskellunge, northern pike, black crappies, yellow perch, carp and brown bullheads can all be caught here. Nearby Kooser Lake doesn't allow boating or night-fishing, but it's a great fishing hole for trout, bass and bluegills.

Laurel Hill State Park contains thousands of acres of pristine forestland complete with a 63-acre lake swimming with bass, trout, catfish, suckers, bluegills, perch, crappies and sunfish. Nearby Laurel Hill Creek and Jones Mill Run are excellent trout streams. The Laurel Hill Trout Fishing Pond is heavily stocked and offers great family fishing. Rental poles, bait and a cleaning service are available.

The park's campground has 264 sites; 149 with electricity, flush toilets, hot showers and drinking water. Three cottages are also available. Hiking offers great wildlife watching in old-growth stands along Hemlock Trail. Remains of a logging railroad can be seen along Tramroad Trail.

Boat rentals are available at the beach including paddleboats, canoes and rowboats. Environmental programs are offered year-round in the park, and interpretive programs include guided hikes, outings and campfire presentations. Log on to www.dcnr.state.pa.us/stateparks/parks/laurelhill.aspx for more information.

Ohiopy

le State Park is the gateway to the Laurel Mountains and has 14-plus miles of the Youghiogheny River Gorge passing through it. The "Yough" boasts some of the best whitewater boating in the Eastern U.S., spectacular scenery and fantastic fishing! Fingerling trout are stocked along the entire section of the river within the park and an all-tackle trophy trout program is in place for 3.5 miles from Ramcat downstream to the state Route 381 Bridge in Ohiopyle. Meadow Run has good trout for anglers who prefer small- stream fishing.

Surrounding Ohiopyle Falls is a day-use area complete with parking, restrooms, gift shop, snack bar and platforms overlooking magnificent scenic vistas.

Kentuck Campground has 226 sites, 27 of which are walk-ins. Each site has a picnic table, fire ring and parking space. A few sites have electricity, plus three platform tents pre-pitched for visitors with reservations, and several cottages.

The campground has washhouses with hot water and flush toilets, and four children's play areas.

The Youghiogheny River Trail has 27 miles of hike-bike paths and is part of the Great Allegheny Passage. There are 79 more miles of hiking trails in the region if families really want to stretch their legs! Or let the horses do the legwork on nearly 10 miles of equestrian trails.

To cool things off, sit in the creek bed and ride the currents through two natural waterslides in Meadow Run. The Youghiogheny River has exciting whitewater boating for all experience levels. River levels may change the difficulty of the rapids, so contact the park office for current conditions.

Visit the Cascades, a beautiful woodland waterfall in Meadow Run near the park office. It's pretty to look at and its cool, clean waters make this stream a favorite for trout anglers.

The 30-foot bridal veil Cucumber Falls on Cucumber Run is easily reached from the Meadow Run Trail and has room to park on state Route 2019. Several small falls can be seen from the Jonathan Run Trail. Just before the trail meets the Youghiogheny River Trail, the largest waterfall tumbles over rocks between rhododendron-lined banks.

To learn more about Ohiopyle State Park, and what it offers, log on to www.dcnr.state.pa.us/stateparks/parks/ohiopyle.aspx.

When your family's had enough of communing with nature, there's still plenty to do in this region. The Fort Necessity National Battlefield, where then-Colonel George Washington once served, is 11 miles east of Uniontown.

The park comprises approximately 900 acres in three separate sites. The main unit contains the visitor center, battlefield with the reconstructed fort. The Mount Washington Tavern was originally constructed as a stagecoach stop on the National Road. Today it is a museum memorializing life along the historic road.

The Looking Glass Theatre in Little Lake performs a variety of productions for children and to add to the fun, most shows include audience participation. For more information visit www.littlelaketheatre.org.

Idlewild Park in Ligonier is bound to be a hit with children of all ages. Attractions include the Soak Zone water park, Mister Roger's Neighborhood of Make-Believe, Jumpin' Jungle, Story Book Forest, Hootin' Holler, Olde Idlewild and Raccoon Lagoon.

Also in Ligonier is a fantasy toy store located in a Civil War-era building. The Toy Box features toys for kids under the age of 110! Visit www.ltoyboxligonier.com for details.

To help you plan a Keystone State vacation, go to www.visitpa.com and click on your region of interest for links to lodging, dining and fishing destinations.

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