Pennsylvania's Best Family Vacations

Pennsylvania offers some of the most diverse and interesting places to go for a combination fishing-camping-sightseeing vacation that is sure to please everyone in the family.

By Vic Attardo

Can 36.5 million people be wrong?

According to Terry Brady, deputy press secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR), the agency that oversees Pennsylvania's state parks, that's how many visitors enjoy the state park system in a year. Also, some 454,000 visitors stay overnight in state-operated camping facilities, Brady said.

Many Pennsylvanians prefer close- to-home summer vacations, and fishing is high on the list of things to do.

The DCNR operates 116 parks boasting nearly 281,000 acres that are open to public use. Nearby lakes and streams offer a wide range of angling opportunities. In warmwater lakes anglers will find bass, panfish and pickerel, while in cooler waters trout are the typical fare. Larger lakes may contain walleyes, stripers and muskies.

While the state park system offers security as well as relatively low prices, you're also doing something to help the economy if you take your fishing vacation at a Pennsylvania state-run facility, at least according to a study performed by Penn State University. The state park system pumps over $1 billion annually into the state's economy, but few vacationing anglers worry about that as they struggle to bring a 4-pound bass to the net!

Information regarding Pennsylvania's state parks is easy. To make camping reservations at any Pennsylvania state park, just call (888) PA-PARKS.

The following is a sampling of the best places to go for a Keystone State family fishing vacation in 2003:

Photo by Chester Moore Jr.

The jewel of the Southwest Region is Ohiopyle State Park in Fayette County. Covering over 19,000 acres, the park offers a wide range of outdoor activities including fishing, biking, hiking and arguably the best whitewater rafting in the state.

The state park includes a portion of the Youghiogheny River, which has a trophy trout section in a nine-mile section from Ramcat Run to the Route 381 bridge in the town of Ohiopyle. Good fishing from rafts can be found from the park's Bruner Run access to Connellsville.

Waders should concentrate their efforts around the town of Confluence. The junction of the Youghiogheny and Casselman rivers and Laurel Hill Creek, in the area known locally as the "Turkey Foot," offers excellent wade-fishing. Anglers also use the park's facilities to work a 30-mile segment of Laurel Hill Creek in Somerset County, where rainbow and brown trout are the area's main fare.

The Youghiogheny River supplies the water for whitewater rafting at Ohiopyle Falls. The lower Youghiogheny River begins after Ohiopyle Falls and contains Class III and IV rapids. The middle Youghiogheny, around the town of Confluence, contains milder Class I and II waters. A number of outfitters in the region provide whitewater tours and guide services on the river. Fishing close to Ohiopyle Falls is not recommended.

Over 235 camping sites are available at the state park, which can accommodate RV and tent campers. Advance reservations are recommended for summer stays.

In addition to the Youghiogheny River, trout anglers should try Meadow Run, a small stream in the park. Nearby Youghiogheny Reservoir, in Pennsylvania and Maryland, offers 2,800 acres of fishing for bass, walleyes and panfish. The lake has three ramps, two off Route 40 near Addison and one off Route 281 near Confluence.

In addition to outdoor activities, Ohiopyle State Park is close to Fallingwater, a home designed by noted architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Call (724) 329-8501 for more information on visiting the site.

For information on the state park, call (724) 329-8591. For additional accommodations in the area, call the Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau at (800) 333-5661 or visit their Web site at

In a state full of top vacation spots, the Pocono Mountains rank as the busiest. Drawing visitors from all over the Northeast, the Poconos offer great fishing, camping and a host of family attractions.

The region has a number of state parks featuring a variety of attractions, but none is as popular as Promised Land State Park in Pike County.

This 2,791-acre park contains two lakes. Promised Land Lake, also known as Upper Lake, is the deeper of the two and covers 422 acres. It's great for bass, panfish, pickerel and stocked trout. At 173 acres, the Lower Lake is shallower with more stumps. It's a great spot for largemouths and pickerel but is not stocked with trout.

Upper Lake has rental boats available. It is best suited for shore-fishing, particularly in its large coves. Lower Lake has few shore-fishing opportunities, but is perfect for shallow draft boats. Only electric motors are permitted on these lakes. There's a swimming beach on the big lake.

Promised Land State Park has a mix of accommodations including rustic cabins and 480 tent sites. A large onsite store provides campers will all their needs.

Just a few miles from the state park is the Bruce Lake Natural Area, a 51-acre glacial lake in pristine form. Visitors park on Route 390 near Greentown and then hike through the woods to this beautiful location. Canoes are permitted on the lake, but no motors are allowed.

Lake Wallenpaupack is about 30 minutes from the state park. At 5,700 acres, it is one of the largest impoundments in the state. Fishing for smallmouths, walleyes, stripers and pickerel can be good when recreational boating activity ebbs. Pennsylvania Power and Light Company, which operates the facility, offers four lakeshore campgrounds, each with a launch ramp. Three such ramps can be found off Route 507, and another off Route 590.

In addition to great angling experiences, the Poconos present a wide range of family activities. In nearby Hamlin, a wild animal park, (570) 698-6154, offers visitors a chance to view exotic animals; in Honesdale, the Stourbridge Railroad offers 50-mile scenic rides. For more information, call (800) 433-9008. At Lake Wallenpaupack, take a scenic boat tour by calling (570) 226-3293.

For additional information on Promised Land State Park, call (570) 676

-3428. For other regional information, call the Pocono Mountains Vacation Bureau at (800) POCONOS or visit the bureau's Web site at

Loyalsock Creek is the centerpiece of Worlds End State Park in Sullivan County and just happens to be an excellent fishery for stocked trout.

The 780-acre park offers a mix of overnight accommodations including 19 rustic cabins and 70 tent and trailer sites.

In addition to fishing, a small dam on the stream forms a swimming area that is popular with summer visitors. The cold mountain stream is a great place to cool down on a hot day. Whitewater boaters also use a portion of the stream. Strenuous hiking is available along the 60-mile Loyalsock Trail between Loyalsockville and Laporte. Hiking trails in the park are also steep and rocky.

Perhaps the most striking attractions in the area are Canyon Vista and High Knob Overlook, which provide breathtaking views of the Endless Mountains. Chamber of Commerce brochures can't do justice to the beauty of this site during the mountain laurel bloom.

Worlds End State Park is on Route 154; take Route 87 from Williamsport. Call (717) 924-3287 for more information.

The park is adjacent to Wyoming State Forest with nearly 43,000 acres. For more information, call (570) 387-4255.

For information on other regional accommodations, call the Endless Mountains Visitors Bureau at (800) 769-8999, or visit their Web site at

Sometimes you can't travel far enough for a vacation, and sometimes relaxation can be right around the corner. French Creek State Park in Berks County offers both options.

With over 7,450 acres, two great lakes to fish, plus miles of hiking trails and other outdoor activities, French Creek has something for everyone. At 68 acres, Hopewell Lake is the larger of the two impoundments. The lake features good largemouth bass and crappie fishing and also contains northern pike, a rarity in the Southeast Region.

The second lake at French Creek State Park is 21-acre Scotts Run, which still holds the state record for smallmouth bass in Pennsylvania. Don't expect to catch many smallies there, however, because it's stocked with trout.

Both Hopewell and Scotts Run lakes offer good shore-fishing from banks that are easily accessible on foot. Both lakes also have boat ramps, but only electric motors are permitted. Hopewell Lake has a boat rental concession.

In addition to the park's lakes, nearby French Creek offers fishing for stocked and wild trout.

Swimming is not permitted on either lake, but there is a swimming pool adjacent to Hopewell Lake.

The state park has 201 campsites and 10 furnished cabins.

One of the unusual attractions at French Creek State Park is disc, or Frisbee, golf on two woodland courses that require a Frisbee to be thrown into "holes" to score points.

In addition, nearby Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site gives visitors a glimpse into the 19th century. The furnace is a well-preserved example of the early American iron-making process. During summer, period-costumed storytellers give visitors a taste of the times. For more information, call (610) 582-8773.

In addition to the usual outdoor activities available at the state park, the area has wonderful tourist attractions. St. Peters Village, a popular shopping area, is along Route 23. However, the most interesting regional attraction is the widespread Amish culture that surrounds Lancaster and is a short ride from the park.

For additional park information, call (610) 582-9680.

For information on Amish Country attractions, contact the Pennsylvania Dutch Visitors Bureau at (800) PADUTCH or visit the bureau's Web site at

Because of its monstrous size, fishing Lake Erie can be a daunting thought to many anglers. Many feel they need a large craft, or must hire a charter boat, in order to work the lake. But Presque Isle, a peninsula that juts out from shore, makes it possible to fish a large section of the lake from shore or with more modest craft.

While cartoppers are not recommended because of traffic, anglers can still get into some excellent smallmouth and panfish angling, particularly for yellow perch, by working Presque Isle Bay's semi-sheltered waters. A 3,200-acre state park of the same name offers excellent boating facilities, but unfortunately, no camping.

Presque Isle State Park has four launch areas with a number of ramps at most sites. All are free; however, there is a fee for overnight dockage and other services.

The big perch that thrive in these waters can satisfy anglers of all ages, and the lake's smallmouths are some of the largest in the state. Each year, many Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission's award-winning smallmouths come from this area. The bay also contains a good number of northern pike.

The state park has overnight facilities, and camping and other accommodations are widely available nearby. Call the Erie Area Convention and Visitors Bureau at (800) 524-3743 for additional information about the wonderful lighthouse and maritime museums in the region. Other attractions in the area include a 90-minute boat tour that departs from Perry Monument (call 800-988-5780), and there are many vineyards and wineries around the town of North East. Call the North East Chamber of Commerce at (814) 725-4262 for more information.

After a hot day of fishing or wine tasting, you can always swim at the park's sheltered beach.

A thriving tourist community capable of handling all the vacationer's needs has grown up around Raystown Lake. While the lake is not operated as a state park with the usual camping facilities, it is a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers impoundment that's open to all types of boating.

For the angler, the main attraction at the 8,300-acre lake is its striped bass fishery. In fact, the state-record striper was taken from Raystown Lake. While no one has officially landed a 50-pounder in several years, fish in the 30- and 40-pound range are netted each season.

In addition to striped bass, Raystown Lake also has good largemouth and walleye fishing, and plenty of panfish to satisfy the youngster in all of us.

Besides angling, water-skiing

is a popular activity at Raystown Lake.

If lake fishing isn't your cup of tea, try fishing the Raystown Branch Juniata River below the dam for some excellent river smallmouth action.

Raystown Lake park headquarters is on Seven Points Road east of Hesston. Hesston is the main hub around Lake Raystown and has numerous motels to choose from.

One attraction close to the Raystown area is the Horseshoe Curve National Historic Landmark, a railroad line over the Allegheny Mountains - there is no other like it in the East. Call (888) 946-457 for more information.

For a unique experience, visit the Jimmy Stewart Museum. The famous actor has his own museum in nearby Indiana. Call the museum at (800) 83-JIMMY or the Indiana County Tourist Bureau at (724) 463-7505.

For camping in the area, try Greenwood Furnace State Park in Huntingdon County. The park contains 423 acres with 51 campsites. Call (814) 667-1800 for more information. The park also has lake swimming and fishing. The 3-acre lake is stocked with trout.

Even the occasional angler should be able to catch quality fish at Conewago Lake, which is in Gifford Pinchot State Park. The 340-acre lake in York County has several great angling hotspots along its meandering shoreline. In summer, the weed line is clearly visible, and most anglers have good luck working the exposed rocks that appear near the park's beaches.

Conewago Lake (most people still call it Pinchot Lake) has an excellent largemouth and panfish population with some muskies and striped bass. Boating is relatively easy on the lake and the impoundment is also popular with sailboaters.

Pinchot State Park has everything you'll need for either a long or short week's vacation. Camping options include 339 tent and RV sites, plus a number of modern cabins.

The park is off Route 117 between Lewisberry and Rossville. There are several launching and mooring areas on the lake, where only electric motors are permitted.

For information on Pinchot State Park, call (717) 432-5011.

In addition, Gettysburg National Battlefield provides an emotional experience into our country's Civil War. For information on the battlefield, call the Gettysburg Visitors Bureau at (800) 337-5015 or visit

Less than an hour east of Pinchot State Park is the town of Hershey, home of the famous chocolate company of the same name. State residents call a Hershey bar "Pennsylvania Soul Food!" Don't miss the free chocolate-making tour at the visitor's center. Call (717) 534-4900 for more information.

For additional information on fishing vacation opportunities in the Keystone State, contact the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission at (717) 705-7800 or the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at (877) 444-6777.

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