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Alert iconEffective Thursday, November 3, 2022: All designated state forest campsites will be reserved through the Pennsylvania State Parks and Forests Reservations website.

To learn about the reservation system and why this change was made, please see the DCNR Bureau of Forestry Camping Reservation System Frequently Asked Questions (PDF).

Camping in Elk State Forest

Elk State Forest offers several areas for memorable camping experiences. Located in the heart of Pennsylvania Elk Country, this expansive forest has numerous trails and scenic highlights while a night outdoors is dominated by dark night skies and the sounds of nature.

To ensure the long-term sustainability of these valuable natural resources and recreation opportunities, be sure to practice Leave No Trace Principles.

Motorized, Roadside Camping at Designated Sites

Motorized camping or roadside camping is defined as overnight camping in or near a vehicle where the vehicle is used for storage or transportation. This type of camping may only be done at designated campsites and always requires a permit.

There are no developed facilities, modern conveniences, or other improvements at state forest campsites.

There are two types of motorized, roadside camping opportunities in Elk State Forest:

  • State forest rustic campsites -- unlike roadside campsites -- are within a campground setting with a concentration of other sites nearby. There is usually immediate vehicle access or a brief walk-in. These are ideal for those who want a rustic experience but still be near to other campers. They receive regular maintenance and usually include a pit latrine or vault toilet, but no other amenities. They often are centrally located to other excellent recreation opportunities.

  • Equestrian campsites are situated in a campground setting and usually laid out for and include amenities specifically for horses. These may include things such as hitching posts and manure pits. Additionally, riding opportunities are found nearby. Most of these campgrounds are for equestrian use only, but some may allow other campers during the off season. These sites are not recommended for individuals without horses.

The Hicks Run Camping Area is located along West Branch Hicks Run (about 2.2 miles northwest of Route 555). This facility offers 15 RV and tent designated sites (four non-electric tent and 11 non-electric motorized).

The Dark Hollow (10 non-electric motorized sites) and Gaswell (five non-electric motorized sites) equestrian camping areas are located along Bell Draft Road about 5.25 miles from Benezette. 

These camping areas offer equestrian users a total of 15 designated sites through a first-come permitting system. Self-contained portable toilets are required at these areas.

Check campsite details to determine the suitability for your equipment and desired experience.

There are no electric hookups, dump stations, or trash disposal facilities on state forest land.

Permits and Reservations for Motorized, Roadside Campsites

Camping permits and reservations are required to stay at motorized, roadside campsites.

Reservations can be made online at the Pennsylvania State Parks and Forests Reservation website at any time, or by calling 888-PA-PARKS (888-727-2757), Monday through Saturday, 7:00 A.M. until 5:00 P.M. except on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Year's Day. 

Motorized, roadside campsites may be reserved up to eleven months in advance.

Use the Interactive Pennsylvania State Forest Camping Sites GIS Map to view locations and visit the Pennsylvania State Parks and Forests Reservation website to see pictures and additional detailed information on each campsite.

Stays are limited to seven nights at a motorized, roadside campsite.

Check in and check out time is 3:00 P.M. Campers must vacate for at least 48 hours before returning. Please be considerate of other visitors’ opportunities to use this valued resource.

Please review your permit for additional rules and conditions.

Primitive Backpack Camping

Backpack campers are permitted to camp in most areas of the forest without a permit if staying no more than one night in any location.

Backpackers may camp overnight anywhere except:

  • In designated Natural Areas
  • Within 200 feet of a forest road
  • Within 25 feet of a trail
  • Within 100 feet of a stream or any open water

Backpack camping is typically done at trailside campsites and does not allow for access to motorized vehicles during overnight stays.

Primitive, trailside camping is part of an overall backcountry travel experience.

It involves hiking from campsite to campsite, far from your vehicle and nearby buildings, roads, and trailheads where you will find no modern conveniences or campsite improvements.

The Quehanna Trail and Bucktail Path, which run through Elk State Forest offer some of the best opportunities for backpacking; however, other Elk State Forest hiking and shared-use trails can be used to form short loops or out-and-back overnight trips.

Remember, if you are camping close enough to your vehicle to access it to store gear and supplies, you are not primitive camping -- you are roadside, or motorized, camping.

A permit and reservation is always required for motorized, roadside camping, and it is only permitted at designated sites. Please plan appropriately.

Primitive Backpack Camping Permits

A free primitive camping permit is required if a backpacker desires an emergency point-of-contact or if a campfire is requested during the annual spring wildfire season (March, April, and May). 

Camping permits are also required for primitive backpack camping at the same site for more than one night.

To request a primitive backpacking permit in Elk State Forest, please contact the district office at 814-486-3353.

Group Camping

Backpacking or motorized, roadside camping groups of more than 10 people must obtain a Letter of Authorization from the state forest.

These are processed through the Elk State Forest district office and may take up to two to three weeks to obtain. Please plan accordingly.


Campfires are not permitted when the fire danger is high, very high, or extreme; and from March 1 through May 25, unless authorized by Elk State Forest.

Additionally, if the camping date is several days away or more, campfire permission may not be determined until closer to the dates of the camping trip.

Winter Camping

State forest roads do not receive winter maintenance and are not plowed --motorized, roadside camping access is not guaranteed. Travel at your own risk.

Contact Information

Contact the Elk State Forest district office at 814-486-3353 for more information. Office hours are Monday through Friday, 8:00 A.M. to 4:00 P.M., closed state holidays. 

Enjoy your stay in Elk State Forest!