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Spring Heralds the Return of Camping in State Parks and Forests

April 17, 2019 12:00 AM

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​As trees begin to bud, wildflowers emerge, and other signs of spring pop up around the state, so do the appearance of tents and RVs at campsites across Pennsylvania state parks and forests.

Staying overnight in Pennsylvania state parks and forests allows you to experience the rhythms and routines of the forest at night. From experiencing amazing sunsets, to gazing at the stars, to hearing the calls of nocturnal wildlife, camping can provide a newfound and deeper appreciation of nature.

Camping also provides an affordable way for families to spend quality time together by having new experiences and disconnecting from the distractions of technology. And, it’s proven to be good for your physical and mental health.

Want to give it a try, but don’t know where to start? Let’s break it down for you…

Camping Opportunities for Your Level of Comfort

Just as diverse as Pennsylvania’s state parks and forests, there are a wide variety of ways to stay overnight based on your desired level of comfort.

Pennsylvania state forests can provide you with a rugged wilderness experience, while state parks offer more modern conveniences.

Need Some Modern Conveniences?

Pennsylvania state parks have the most variety of ways to camp.

Whether you like relaxing in style in an RV or sleeping close to nature in a tent, several types of campsites exist within state parks to meet your needs:

  • Full-Hookup -- nearby restrooms have flush toilets and warm showers, the campsite has sewer, water, electric hookup, picnic table, and fire ring
  • Modern -- nearby restrooms have flush toilets and warm showers, the campsite has a picnic table and fire ring
  • Rustic -- nearby restrooms have vault toilets, the campsite has a picnic table and fire ring
  • Modern/Rustic -- nearby restrooms have modern facilities in the warmer months, then have rustic facilities in the colder months, the campsite has a picnic table and fire ring

Most of the campsites have a designated tent pad or an established stone gravel camping area with a picnic table and campfire ring.

Due to a growing number of visitor requests for more full-service RV camping opportunities, DCNR’s Bureau of State Parks has been adding full-service campsites to selected campgrounds. To date, 17 state parks offer full-hookup campsites with more planned.

Looking to Rough It?

If you want to enjoy the solitude and tranquility of spending a few nights in Pennsylvania state forests, you’ll have to give up those modern conveniences. State forests offer primitive and motorized camping without any modern facilities, water, dump stations, or utility hook-ups.

There are no modern conveniences such as bathroom and shower facilities. You pack in what you need to camp for the night.

In state forests, primitive camping is where all equipment is transported in limited trips by non-motorized vehicle methods; including watercraft, bicycle, or horse, and where a motorized vehicle is not located near or part of the camping experience.

Also referred to as backpacking, primitive camping is a true wilderness camping experience!

You also can camp in or near a vehicle used for storage and transportation in designated areas within state forests -- this is called “motorized camping.”

Hiking in and putting up a tent where you choose is not permitted in Pennsylvania state parks.

All camping must be in a designated camping area and on designated sites. Many Pennsylvania state park campgrounds have walk-in sites which are for tents only and are more private than campsites with a paved camping pad.

Some parks have backpacking trailside shelters or sites, which can be in very remote areas, but visitors still must camp in designated areas.

All camping in state parks requires reservations; however, camping in state forests only requires a permit if you are camping in a location for more than one night or motorized camping.

Camping With Your Animal Companions

Did you know you can camp with your pets? You don’t have to leave your animal companions at home!

Pennsylvania state parks allow pets on designated campsites in 56 state park campgrounds, with more campsites being added each year.

This includes any dog or cat commonly kept in household captivity, or a caged pet that will not be released from its cage, like birds and hamsters.

Pets can only be brought into a designated campground if caged, contained in a vehicle, trailer, motor home or camper, or on a leash. No more than two non-caged pets are allowed to stay on any one campsite.

Check out the Pets in Campgrounds Fact Sheet (PDF) for a complete list of pet-friendly campsites for 2019.

Responsible pet ownership is key to everyone enjoying our state parks! Pet owners must follow all state park guidelines and regulations when bringing pets to a park.

Pets are allowed to camp with you in state forests as long as the owner follows state forest regulations regarding pets (PDF).

What about Horses?

State parks and forests also offer equestrian camping opportunities.

Promised Land State Park offers six equestrian camp sites each with a covered four horse tie stall, picnic table, fire ring, and a lantern hook. A water faucet with a hose bib is centrally located in the camping area.

Many equestrian campsites are located at popular equestrian trails within state forests. Kettle Creek State Park and Elk, Loyalsock, Moshannon, Rothrock, Susquehannock State Forest feature beautiful locations specifically designed for horse camping.

How Do I Reserve a Campsite and What Does it Cost?

There is no fee to camp in a state forest, however, camping permits are required if campers plan to:

  • Spend more than one night at a campsite
  • Camp using a vehicle for storage or transportation
  • Camp with horses

Permits can be acquired by contacting the state forest district office where you would like to camp.

State park campsite prices vary depending on amenities of the campsite and dates of camping; however, the base price of a campsite is $15.00 a night for Pennsylvania residents, and $20.00 for non-residents.

Seniors and people with disabilities can get a reduced campsite price.

Reservations for state park campsites can be made online or by calling toll-free 888-PA-PARKS (888-727-2757) from, 7:00 A.M. to 5:00 P.M., Monday to Saturday, except on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day.

Most campsites in Pennsylvania state parks can be reserved 11 months in advance to noon of the day of arrival; however, we don’t recommend waiting to the last minute!

Start planning your next stay overnight in Penn’s Woods now!

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