The mountains, waterways and natural forests create a thriving environment for Harrisburg’s nature preserves, recreational areas and state parks. If you’re ever in the area and want to take a bike ride in a natural setting or go on a walk through the trees, you have plenty of options.
Keep reading for a list of recreational activities you can enjoy in Pennsylvania and a list of state parks near Harrisburg:
Many of Central Pennsylvania’s state parks have golf courses, wetlands and recreational trails, and Harrisburg is a hot spot for beautiful parkland. Some state parks restrict hunting and other outdoor excursions, and some have affordable, rustic tent camps where you are allowed to bring your animal companions.
Below is a list of the nearest state parks to Harrisburg:
Located on the Susquehanna River, Fort Hunter has 40 acres of land. The park has preserved several 18th- and 19th-century buildings, including a well-kept, Federal-style mansion built in 1814, which is open for tours. The mansion has an elliptical staircase and original furnishings from the 19th century.
This park offers great opportunities to go bird-watching or engage in recreational activities like canoeing, and play areas are available for children’s entertainment.
This Perry County park is a nature lover’s paradise with a decent-sized campground. Pets are allowed here at the campsites and on the trails. Seasonal activities include fishing, hunting and skiing. Or, if you have time for a light walk, get out to enjoy nature while you eat a quiet lunch at any time when the trails are open.
Horse owners are welcome to go on trail-riding adventures here, or you can take your dog for a run. Fowlers Hollow features a variety of special outdoor avenues, and like several other parks, it’s open during every season for events and activities.
This park covers around 229 acres of woodland. Although it is far from the largest state park in the area, it still has more trails than you could walk in a single trip — around six miles worth! Its small exhibit hall called the Friends of Wildwood Lake Nature Center has a bird viewing area, interactive educational displays, a discovery area for kids and a children’s library.
Another attraction you should visit before you leave is Wildwood Park’s Nature Shop. The shop sells souvenir gift items, field guides, greeting cards and a variety of relevant books. Special events are also held at Wildwood, including a summer camp for kids in age groups of 6 through 14.
This large park is around 13,193 acres and has nature trails for hiking, biking or just for a relaxing walk through the trees. The Glens Natural Area is a deciduous forest shaped by waterfalls and steam erosion. It is a designated National Natural Landmark.
At Rickets Glen State Park, you can go hiking in the Falls Trail System. The glens have an ancient quality, with streams and waterfalls of all sizes running through the peaceful hillside. The Ganoga Falls is one of the largest, surrounded by abundant foliage and long-living trees.
About a 20-minute drive from Harrisburg, Gifford Pinchot State Park in Lewisberry offers another expansive 2,338-acre stretch of woodland and reverted farm fields to explore. Hiking trails, cabin or tent camping and organized hunting opportunities await. You can find something to do over the weekend at any time of the year.
Pinchot Lake is a highly sought-after attraction for its boating and fishing possibilities. In the winter, you can even go ice fishing for bass, sunfish and others on the lake, but be careful to follow the park’s safety guidelines.
Local nature preserves are important for the state’s conservation efforts. They are where native wildlife is protected from uncontrolled hunting and poaching. Nature preserves are also cared for in an effort to preserve plant life and to clear the ecosystem of invasive plant species. Below are a few of the most prominent preserves near Harrisburg:
This nature preserve consists of around 1,025 acres around Blue Mountain. Warblers and other mountain-dwelling birds are common sights, and the wildflowers draw butterflies to the open fields if you go at the right time of the year — around late July and early August.
Boyd Big Tree Preserve is often used for outdoor classes about conservation and related topics. You can enter the recreational areas from dawn until dusk to participate in light trail activities such as hiking. Horseback riding, other active pastimes and outdoor sports are prohibited here, so make sure you observe all rules.
This is a truly special nature preserve right outside of Harrisburg. It includes several miles of protected land running along the Kittatinny Ridge. The Central Appalachians are home to diverse populations of wildlife and contain pockets of pure water derived from the Susquehanna River.
Recreational activities at the Cove Mountain Preserve include seasonal hunting, which is unique for a nature preserve. Pets are allowed here, too, as long as dogs are kept leashed and under control.
State parks are fun to explore with kids, but they’re also large, with acres of lengthy trails and few playgrounds in between. If you have young children who need somewhere to release their energy, Harrisburg also has many exciting recreational areas just for families with kids. Below are some popular local play areas and other nature-oriented locations where you can take the young ones:
This unique playground is shaped like a medieval-style castle, perfect for capturing the kids’ imaginations for a few hours of free time. The wooden towers look out over slides and ladders. The area is surrounded by wooden plank walls for a more authentic appearance.
Cocoa Castle Playground is located in Hershey, about a 20-minute drive from Harrisburg. Hershey, PA, is known as the home of the Hershey Company and has several other attractions that kids can enjoy, including an amusement park.
Shank Park is about 90 acres, the largest park you can find around Hershey. It has picnic areas, barbecue grills and a playground. It also hosts sporting events, with multiple baseball, softball and soccer fields, and it has an 18-hole disc golf course.
If you want to take the kids on a few recreational activities, the park has an interpretive nature trail. It’s even an active location in the winter, when you can go sledding or cross-country skiing here.
Bullfrog Valley Pond is another township park with a picnic pavilion and a hiking trail, and it’s within walking distance of Shank Park. Covering a smaller portion of acreage than most, it’s a good place to bring kids.
The pond draws wild ducks and geese, and the walking path around it is stroller-accessible. This is also where the annual Fishing Derby takes place. Kids can watch or help participate in the trout fishing tournaments.
Located in Susquehanna Valley, this institution of art and natural history mainly focuses on preserving the work of Ned Smith. The Ned Smith Center has a shared goal of displaying community values, especially in terms of culture, economics, social life and environment.
Family-friendly events include trail runs, nature and arts festivals and many others. The center celebrates Ned Smith’s birthday each year on Oct. 9 with annual events and also has a few festive seasonal events just for children, like the autumn scavenger hunt
Harrisburg’s parks have their share of active seasonal recreation activities and more common activities like guided nature hikes. Plan your trip to the parks in the area with activity ideas like these:
All of the state parks around Harrisburg have hiking trails, from rigorous to beginner level. If you’re looking for a place to walk your dog, check out specific parks for rules and recommendations. Other trails might be best-suited for experienced hikers. For families with children, many parks also have short trails that wind around ponds or loop through the woods.
Navigating mountain bike trails is a good workout and can be enjoyed in a group. Biking is one of the most popular outdoor recreational activities in the Harrisburg area. Most parks with trails allow either walking or riding a bike, but make sure you check for sign posts.
If you’re unfamiliar, disc golf involves throwing gliding discs at a target. This is a group sport, but you can also play by yourself to practice or just for fun. The rules work similarly to golf. Each throw counts as a stroke would in golf, and the lowest score wins.
Disc golf targets are permanent structures, and you can find them at some local parks.
Recreational areas can offer exciting swimming opportunities. You will realize what you’ve been missing out on once you have gone for a swim in the clear, cool water within view of the mountains.
Of the many wonderful things you can find in Harrisburg, intricate limestone caves might come as unexpected. The combination of the mountains and river is how they formed. You can take a guided tour at the Indian Echo Caverns while you’re exploring the state parks.
The parks provide easy access to ponds, lakes and the Susquehanna River. All are fun places to bring a boat. You have options, whether you want to go kayaking, canoeing or motorboating. Check for any regulations, like whether motor-powered boats are allowed on the water, and follow safety guidelines.
From competitive tournaments to a relaxing boat trip, fishing is more popular in Harrisburg than you might expect. Common freshwater fish include stocked trout and natives such as bass, catfish, walleye, muskellunge and perch. Make sure you have a fishing license, as you’ll be on public property.
Camping is great if you would rather spend your time in the great outdoors than a hotel room or if you just need to get away from urban life for a while. Staying in a designated camping area gives you the chance to make the most of your trip to a state park.
Game animals you can hunt at select locations include deer, rabbit, pheasant, quail, turkey and squirrel. The Pennsylvania Game Commission sets limits for how many game animals you can bag on an annual basis. Hunting seasons typically start around the end of September and end by March. Archery hunting is also permitted in certain seasons. Be sure to have the proper licensing.
Pennsylvania wildlife has a lot of biodiversity. Birders in the Dauphin County area can enjoy spotting ravens, sparrows, cardinals and many other species. Keep a lookout for the elusive yellow-crowned night-heron, which was recently spotted in Harrisburg.
Other animals you might encounter in the local state parks include foxes, armadillos, beavers, flying squirrels, porcupines and more.
Harrisburg has its share of stables, farms and horseback trails in the local parks. If you own a horse or know someone who does, you could go riding outside of a fenced-in pasture. Always check for signposts labeling the park trails as horse-friendly, and look out for down trees while you’re mounted.
Eating outdoors can be very relaxing with the right facilities. Find a park with a picnic pavilion to protect your food from the elements. If you’re feeling adventurous, pack your lunch for a long hike, and stop to eat at a rest area surrounded by trees.
If you enjoy the adrenaline of rushing down a slope on a set of skis, the wind flying past your ears, Pennsylvania is a good place to be. A few notable ski resorts near Harrisburg open their slopes during the winter months, but you can also go skiing at designated ski zones in certain state parks.
To participate in another popular winter recreational sport, you can usually go snowboarding in the same areas where parks permit skiing. Snowtubing might also be possible.
If you’re planning to go hiking in or around Harrisburg or want to spend some time in a local park, you might also want to know about the following:
State parks and recreational areas abound in Harrisburg, where environmental conservation is highly valued by the local government. If you’re planning to move to Harrisburg soon and are looking for a place to live, Triple Crown Corporation can help you find the ideal rental community.
Find a place to call home and connect with like-minded people over the great outdoors in Harrisburg. Contact us to find a community or request rental information, or give us a call at 1-877-TCC-HOME to learn more.