Pennsylvania is home to a wide array of state parks. Beaches, forests, meadows, lakes.
Aside from each parks’ distinctive natural features, there’s also a large difference in each parks’ development.
Some parks have multi-million dollar interactive learning centers and others don’t have bathrooms. This blog will focus on the undeveloped parks.
I have a soft spot for parks that don’t get enough love just because they lack the facilities many of the 121 parks in Pennsylvania do. Undeveloped parks – which often lack modern restrooms, paved roads and maintained trails – offer a charm and solitude many of the large, well-equipped parks do.
Here’s a breakdown of the undeveloped parks I recommend you spend some time exploring:
Allegheny Islands State Park
Allegheny Islands State Park is one of most unique state parks we have in Pennsylvania. The 50-acre Allegheny Islands State Park consists of two alluvial islands and seven shoals.
Since there is no land access to the two islands, any visit must involve a boat, kayak or canoe. The closest you can get to the park without some sort of boat is by driving on the Pennsylvania Turnpike – which crosses over the larger of the two islands.
The park is heavily covered in vegetation and remains undeveloped. According to the DCNR website, the islands are some of the few islands left in a natural state. As a result, the islands are home to many animals and plants.
I visited the park in 2021 during my journey of running one mile at all 121 state parks. Trying to run one mile on an island with no trails was a challenge – which you can read about here. On the island there’s a small platform where you can jump off the island into the water, making it a fun rest stop for boaters. That’s the activity you want to do here. Relax. Jump into the water. Don’t try running there.
It is the only state park that is in almost total isolation, which makes it a must see for anyone who wants to know what the area looked like before steel plants and skyscrapers.
I do believe that undeveloped parks – even the extent to which Allegheny Islands are undeveloped – are important to have in a state park system. Untouched land is important to conserve for future generations.
Hillman State Park
Hillman State Park is a 3,654-acre undeveloped park located in Washington County. Also known as State Game Lands 432, Hillman consists of rolling terrain dominated by deciduous and coniferous forests, shrubs, grassy fields and steep slopes.
The park contains more than 34 miles of trails for running, biking and horseback riding. I really enjoyed the Haul Trail – which provided for fun switchback trail running through narrow corridors. Hillman is also home to the K. Leroy Irvis Radio Control Model Airport. The radio-controlled plane airport includes a covered shelter, asphalt runways and taxiways, asphalt and grass pit areas, windsock poles, frequency board, parking area spectator area. The airplane field is operated and maintained by the Greater Pittsburgh Aero Radio Control Society.
While there are thousands of acres to explore, some people may be turned away by the fact that the park contains no facilities or restrooms. As long as you time it right, you should be able to have a great time checking out everything Hillman has to offer without the need of a potty.
Erie Bluffs State Park
Due to its proximity to Presque Isle State Park, Erie Bluffs State Park is often overlooked by visitors of the area. But it would be a mistake if you ignored this beautiful park.
The 587-acre park lies along the Lake Erie shoreline in western Erie County. It has a number of beautiful features including one mile of shoreline and 90-foot bluffs overlooking Lake Erie. Aside from a paved road, gravel parking lots and one rustic restroom, Erie Bluffs is virtually undeveloped.
Which allows visitors to hike five miles of trails with little influence from the outside world. No blaring music from nearby beachgoers. No crowds. No interruptions. Just peaceful scenery.
Picturesque overlooks offer great photography opportunities to anyone with a cell phone or DSLR camera.
Benjamin Rush State Park
Despite it being located within the Philadelphia city limits, Benjamin Rush State Park remains a mostly undeveloped park. The three major highlights of the park include walking trails, a giant community garden and a radio-controlled model airplane field.
While there are bathrooms available, there are no trash collection or recycling facilities. Whatever you pack in, you must pack out. I really enjoyed my visit to this park, as it gave me an opportunity to run on well-maintained trails and check out the incredible garden.
While the small size of the park limits what activities are available, it is worth a visit to see cool model planes and beautiful community gardens.
There’s more undeveloped parks than just the ones I mentioned here. What’s your favorite undeveloped park in Pennsylvania?
Christian Alexandersen ran one mile in each of Pennsylvania’s 121 state parks in 2021 and has been sharing with us stories and tips from his journey! To read more blog posts from Christian and other PPFF guest bloggers, visit our News page.
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