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Wildlife Watching at Sinnemahoning State Park

Sinnemahoning offers visitors a variety of wildlife watching experiences. Depending upon the season, visitors could encounter:

  • Nesting bald eagles
  • Elk cows with calves
  • Bears gorging on berries
  • Coyotes yipping in the night
  • Elusive bobcats slipping through the brush

Bald Eagle

Bald eagles are a common sight around the lake. Since 2000, a pair of eagles has set up year-round residence in the area. January through March, visitors can observe the pair engaging in bonding rituals and nest-building activity. During March, one to three eggs are laid and incubation begins.

Eaglets hatch around the middle of April with fledging occurring usually in the month of June. During the winter months, watch for eagles fishing in the open waters below the dam or eating carrion along the roadside.

Throughout the rest of the year, a good pair of binoculars and some patience will provide the casual observer with a spectacular display of eagle behavior.


Sinnemahoning State Park is home to a growing elk herd. Elk are mainly grazers preferring to feed on forbs, legumes, and grasses, but will browse on trees and shrubs when adequate ground vegetation is not available. Look for elk near the:

  • Wildlife viewing platform
  • 40 Maples Picnic Area
  • Wildlife Center at Sinnemahoning

The viewing platform area is managed cooperatively between the Pennsylvania Game Commission and DCNR's Bureau of State Parks. The grassy opening near the viewing platform was planted in clover and trefoil, a wildlife favorite. Although elk prefer these open, grassy areas, other wildlife benefit from the food source as well.

Fall is the rut or breeding season for elk. Watch for a herd of cows being guarded by a dominant bull. Listen for the bugle and belly grunts of a bull as he defends his harem from other intruding bulls.

Remember that elk are wild and can be dangerous -- especially during calving (June) and rutting (September/October) seasons. Please view elk and other wildlife from the viewing platform at the northern end of the food plot and stay on designated trails.

Wildlife Watching Tips

When watching wildlife, keep in mind the following tips to enhance the quality of your viewing experience:

Fade into the woodwork:

  • Wear dull colors that will not contrast with your surroundings
  • Walk softly and crouch behind trees or rocks to blend in and break up your outline

Think like an animal:

  • Imagine how the animal you are seeking spends its day -- check field guides to find out about preferred habits
  • As a rule, the border between two habitats is a good place to see residents from both places
  • Dusk and dawn are usually the best times of day for viewing
  • Consider the weather -- after a rain, for instance, many animals emerge to feed

Let animals be themselves:

  • Resist the temptation to ‘save’ young animals -- the mother is usually watching from a safe distance
  • Give nests a wide berth -- your visit may lead predators to the nest
  • Let animals eat their natural foods -- sharing your sandwich may harm the digestive systems of wild animals and get animals hooked on handouts

Viewing etiquette:

  • Leave pets at home
  • Observe from a distance
  • Film and photograph wildlife responsibly
  • If an animal shows stress, move away
  • Stay on trails to lessen impact
  • Treat others courteously
  • Report inappropriate behavior to the authorities

Common Bird List

The common birds brochure lists the birds most likely to be seen in the park and in which habitat:

Common Birds of Sinnemahoning State Park (PDF)

Natural History

From a birds-eye view, Sinnemahoning State Park sits in a deep narrow valley carved out of a high plateau. Melt waters of glaciers massively eroded layers of sandstone and shale and created the deep valleys of this area. For a spectacular view, climb to the top of Brooks Run Road and go right onto Ridge Road to the Logue Run Vista. Notice the uniform, flat-topped hills that rise 2,300 feet above mean sea level.

The deep valleys contrast with the heavily forested terrain of the mountains. The farm fields and riparian habitats of Sinnemahoning State Park are part of a rich tapestry that support a variety of plants and animals.

Spring in northern Pennsylvania is a time of renewal. Wildflowers, such as spring beauty, hepatica, and wood lily spot the forest floor.

During an early morning walk, visitors may encounter a variety of migratory songbirds returning from South America to raise their young in the seclusion of the park. Common migrants include:

  • Scarlet tanagers
  • Ovenbirds
  • Northern parula (look for them at the 40 Maples Picnic Area)
  • Black-billed cuckoo -- one of the few birds that may even be heard singing at night

​Summer is a time of growth. Lush vegetation provides the needed nutrients for elk and deer to nourish their young. Look for spotted elk calves and fawns along the Lowlands Trail and a variety of butterflies along the trails and near the Wildlife Viewing Platform.

At the northern end of the park, scan the sandy banks of the First Fork for holes indicating the presence of nesting belted kingfishers, a fish-eating bird.

This is a time of growth for invasive species as well. These species, such as mile-a-minute vine, threaten native species and biodiversity when uncontrolled. Park staff and volunteers are involved in efforts in the northern end of the park to control invasive species. Visitors may see areas of browned vegetation as a result.

During the fall, foliage reaches its peak as the reds, oranges, and yellows are revealed in the leaves of the deciduous forests. Watch for the annual migration of bald eagles as they rest and feed on the lake before trekking to their winter grounds. A resident, nesting pair can be seen year round at the boat launch area.

Watch for small congregations of monarch butterflies in October as they prepare for their long migration to South America.

Winter is a good time to search for signs of wildlife. Look for strips of bark removed from trees indicating the presence of elk or tracks of coyote and bobcat in the snow. Resident bald eagles can be seen nest building and preparing for the upcoming nesting season.