Whether you are hiking, camping, fishing, or kayaking in Pennsylvania state parks and forests, no one can deny that getting outdoors is both physically and mentally beneficial.
For more than 13 percent of Pennsylvania’s population, getting those positive benefits of time spent outdoors can be challenging.
DCNR and partners are working to make outdoor recreation accessible to everyone, including Pennsylvanians with disabilities.
“Recreation for All” is one of the five core priorities in the five-year statewide outdoor recreation plan currently being finalized. This will help parks incorporate universal design to improve access; and increase the availability of ADA adaptive activities and equipment.
While almost all Pennsylvania state parks and forests offer some form of accessible recreation, there are places where people with disabilities can experience multiple outdoor activities.
Presque Isle State Park -- Hit the Beach
One of the most unique and visited state parks, Presque Isle State Park’s sandy beaches and Lake Erie coastline offer a lot of outdoor experiences to people with disabilities.
The East Pier and West Pier areas of the park feature spectacular views of Presque Isle Bay and the skyline of Erie and have ADA accessible:
- Fishing piers
- Picnic pavilions
- Picnic tables
The paved, Karl Boyes Multi-Purpose National Recreation Trail makes a 13.5-mile circuit in the park, and features an ADA accessible Feather Observation Platform for bird and nature watching.
Beach #7, also known as the Waterworks Beach, features a ramp that provides ADA access to the water’s edge.
Beach #8, also known as the Pettinato Beach, features a Mobi-Mat that provides ADA access to the water’s edge. There also are beach wheelchairs that are available at the Public Safety Building to get you in the sand.
Tom Ridge Environmental Education Center
The Tom Ridge Environmental Education Center, which encourages visitors to experience the unique history and ever-changing, diverse ecosystems of Presque Isle State Park, also is fully ADA accessible, including the observation tower overlooking the park, and other features:
- The Erie Insurance Orientation Theater offers a free 15-minute movie that showcases the spectacular sights and sounds of Presque Isle in all four seasons. The film is open captioned for those who are hearing impaired. The theater also offers ADA accessible seating located at the back of the theater.
- The Big Green Screen Theater offers two headsets for those who are hearing impaired and six ADA accessible seating options.
- The classrooms in the Tom Ridge Environmental Center have hearing assistance available and are equipped with a hearing assistance system.
Tuscarora and Locust Lake State Parks -- Fish On!
Tuscarora and Locust Lake state parks are only six miles from each other in the Locust Valley in Schuylkill County.
Tuscarora State Park offers a variety of ADA camping and fishing experiences. There are ADA camping cottages and yurts that sleep five people with electric lights and heat that open before the regional opening day of trout season.
The boat launch is ADA accessible and there is also an ADA accessible fishing pier at the boat launch.
When the weather is warm enough, you can enjoy accessible picnicking and swimming opportunities at the lake.
Locust Lake State Park features a paved 1.3-mile Bike Trail that circles and provides an excellent view of Locust Lake.
There is also an accessible fishing pier by the Program Pavilion on the north side of the lake, as well as camping, picnicking, and swimming opportunities.
Sinnemahoning State Park -- Wildlife Viewing
Want to see Pennsylvania’s elk herd? Sinnemahoning State Park in the Pennsylvania Wilds has an ADA accessible wildlife viewing platform located at the northern trailhead of the Lowlands Trail.
Part of the Lowlands Trail from the wildlife viewing platform to the 40 Maples Day Use Area is ADA accessible. This area features ideal habitat for viewing:
- Monarch butterflies
The 40 Maples Day Use Area includes two ADA accessible pavilions, along with numerous individual picnic tables scattered throughout the area.
An ADA accessible fishing pier is located near the boat launch of the 145-acre George B. Stevenson Reservoir.
The campsite features an ADA accessible restroom and some accessible campsites which open the second weekend of April.
Cook Forest State Park -- Travel the Emerald Path
The looping, mossy trail called the Paved Path at Cook Forest State Park is completely accessible, with a flat, even surface and easy in and out access.
After heavy rainfall, the quarter-mile trail is covered in bright green moss, making it appear magical. The trail is surrounded by larger, older trees spotted with fungi and moss.
There are also wooden benches along the trail.
The park also offers accessible fishing and picnicking opportunities, and accessible rustic cabins to stay the night.
Accessible Kayaking in Pennsylvania State Parks
During the past few years, with the help of the Pennsylvania Parks and Forests Foundation, DCNR has been able to add accessible kayak launches for people with disabilities at a few state parks, including:
- Beltzville State Park
- Nockamixon State Park
- Little Buffalo State Park
- Laurel Hill State Park
The Pennsylvania Parks and Forests Foundation and DCNR are currently working to add more to the following parks:
- Gifford Pinchot State Park
- Frances Slocum State Park
- Prince Gallitzin State Park
DCNR’s Bureau of State Parks also has developed a priority listing of locations that would benefit from the installation of an accessible EZ Dock; and will be adding 25 EZ Docks to state parks over the next five years to make kayaking opportunities more accessible.
In addition, state parks continue to add more ADA accessible fishing piers, including two being planned for Ricketts Glen State Park and Maurice K. Goddard State Park soon.
While each Pennsylvania state park is different in the number of available accessible recreation opportunities, you can always contact the park if you need an accommodation to participate in park activities.
This includes educational programming as well. Fourteen state parks have adaptive equipment for people to use as part of a park event, including adaptive kayaks and adaptive bike equipment (recumbent tricycle, handcycle, or tandem bike). Check with a park to see if this equipment is available to use before an event.
Access in State Forests -- Hunting
DCNR allows people with mobility disabilities to use powered mobility devices to access state forest land. In some instances, these areas are not otherwise open for motorized access by the general public.
This access can assist people with disabilities who would like to hunt -- a popular recreational activity on state forest land during the appropriate season.
Visitors with mobility disabilities can apply for a permit to use a mobility device, such as a an ATV.
Hunters with disabilities on both state forest and park lands who need accommodations can also contact the appropriate state park or forest district office.
Where to Find Accessible Recreation Opportunities
Many ADA accessible opportunities are listed under the various recreation pages of individual state parks and forests.
Also this year, DCNR will be adding a page for “Accessible Recreation” under the Recreation section of its website, which will make finding accessible recreation opportunities easier for the public.
Another useful tool to find accessible opportunities is DCNR’s interactive map, which has a link and filter to search for ADA accessible amenities and recreation opportunities.