“This can’t be it.” That was the thought that rolled around in my mind when I pulled up to Upper Pine Bottom State Park. My goal of running one mile in each of Pennsylvania’s 121 state parks came with a lot of surprises, but this was just odd.

My arrival at Upper Pine Bottom was the first time I ever encountered such a small state park. While Pennsylvania is home to parks spanning hundreds and thousands of acres, I found that some are no bigger than a parking lot.

And while these parks may not have the lakes and amenities you’re used to seeing, they have plenty to offer the weary traveler and Pennsylvania explorer.

Upper Pine Bottom State Park

Located in Lycoming County, Upper Pine Bottom is a 5-acre park that provides visitors with a welcome rest area. In addition to serving as a small roadside picnic area, the park also provides  access to hiking, cross-country skiing, snowmobiling and hunting in the surrounding Tiadaghton State Forest.

With much of the area taken up by Little Pine Creek, I ended up running sprints along the creek and laps around the parks to get my required one mile. The gentleman who was fishing at the time I was doing this, picked up his rod and left. I can’t say I blame him.

I would definitely visit this park again if I was in the area to have a meal along the creek and perhaps do some fishing.

Sand Bridge State Park

Sand Bridge State Park is another roadside park that provides visitors with an opportunity to stretch their weary legs and enjoy the outdoors. Located in Union County, this 3-acre park has pavilions that make for a great place to enjoy a meal on the road.

The sounds of nearby Rapid Run and birds fill the small but enjoyable park. Spend the day exploring McCalls Dam State Park and R.B. Winter State Park, then bring your packed picnic basket for a lovely meal on the side of Seven Notch Mountain at Sand Bridge.

The temperature was nearing 100-degrees on the day I arrived to run my one mile at Sand Bridge. The previous six park runs that day had weakened my legs. Luckily the overhanging trees gave my friend Wes and I a welcome respite from the brutal heat.

Prouty Place State Park

Prouty Place State Park in Potter County was another park I visited that made me go, “huh?” A single road bisects the 5-acre park. There are no pavilions, no bathrooms, no information centers. No nothing. But that’s just at first glance.

When you look closer, you discover it provides access to hunting, fishing and great hiking within the surrounding Susquehannock State Forest. It serves as a great staging area for a day of adventuring. Unfortunately, my 121 In 21 Challenge never gave me more than 15 minutes in any park. Since I plan to spend more time in the Pennsylvania Wilds, I’m sure I’ll visit Prouty Place again.

McCalls Dam State ParkMcCalls Dam State Park

The moment I stepped out of my SUV to run my one mile, I knew I was going to love McCalls Dam State Park. The 8-acre park is quiet, remote and located at the far east end of Centre County. Stunning pines, hemlocks, maples and oaks surround the small picnic area.

Much of my running that took place at McCalls Dam was in the surrounding Bald Eagle State Forest. Beautiful foliage covers the running and hiking trails. Big, luscious ferns cover the ground for as far as you can see in some areas. The running surface was covered in pine needles, making the run along White Deer Creek one of the best I’ve ever had. A true hidden gem.

Laurel Summit State Park 

With five Pennsylvania State Parks in the area, it’d be easy to miss or even skip Laurel Summit State Park. But that’d be a mistake. While it has the obligatory picnic area with pavilions, water and restrooms, this Westmoreland County park also serves as the perfect staging area for amazing hikes.

Laurel Summit is the trailhead for Spruce Flats bog and Wolf Rocks Trail. Wolf Rocks is a 4.3-mile trail that features stunning wild flowers and ends in an outstanding view. I ran along both the Wolf Rocks Trail and Spruce Flats to get a taste for the area. But my short time there was not enough. I cannot wait to visit Laurel Summit again and hike the Wolf Rocks Trail.

Oh yeah. An added benefit of Laurel Summit is its natural air conditioning. The park is 2,739 feet above sea level, which means it is several degrees cooler than surrounding towns.

Hyner View State ParkHyner View State Park

While Hyner View State Park may not be the best for runners, it’s great for everyone else. That’s because this small, 6-acre park in Clinton County has one of the most incredible views. In my opinion, Hyner View provides the most beautiful and expansive mountain top view in all of Pennsylvania – that includes those found at the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon.

In addition to providing an amazing view of the valley below, Hyner View is also a favorite spot for hang gliding. That’s right. Take a day trip to Hyner View, and you may just find yourself watching people hurl themselves off the top and soar through the sky. That’s enough for me to always make Hyner View one of the places I recommend everyone visit in Pennsylvania.

Whether it’s a day of hiking or an afternoon picnic, Pennsylvania’s small state parks are worthy of everyone’s time. Much like their much bigger counterparts, these micro parks offer beautiful scenery, solitude and opportunities for adventure. I hope to see you out there.

Christian AlexandersenChristian Alexandersen has visited all 121 state parks in Pennsylvania, running one mile in each! Now he shares with us tips and tales from his journey. To read more blog posts from Christian and other PPFF guest bloggers, visit our News page.

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What to Do and How to Enjoy PA’s Tiny State Parks