(Above photo, credit: Maureen Dwyer taken at Presque Isle State Park)
With 121 state parks in Pennsylvania, I expected to find a variety of settings when I made a goal to see all of them in 2021. I’d find parks in forests and along streams. I’d find parks in cities and out in the middle of nowhere.
But never did I expect to find them in the middle of rivers. To my surprise, Pennsylvania is home to several state park islands. Surrounded by water on all sides, these stunning parks provide amazing views, recreational activities and so much more.
Shikellamy State Park
Shikellamy State Park is a very unique island park, as it has two portions, one 54-acre island section in Union County and the other 78-acre section in Northumberland County.
The Shikellamy Marina on the southern tip of Packers Island is at the confluence of the West Branch and North Branch Susquehanna River. The island has been the area’s hub for boating activities for years. The nearby seasonal Adam T. Bower Memorial Inflatable Dam creates Lake Augusta, a 3,000-acre body of water located at the main confluence of the Susquehanna River.
Unfortunately, repairs to the dam means that the park’s marina and boat ramp docks cannot be installed without the dam functioning normally.
Regardless, Shikellamy State Park provides amazing views and atmosphere for those looking to get out of the house. While it’s light on hiking trails, the park does have great paved pathways to walk and ride bikes while taking in the scenery.
There’s also a butterfly garden to keep kids entertained while learning about nature. Be sure to visit the Shikellamy Overlook, located across the river. A 360-foot cliff overlooks the confluence of the branches of the Susquehanna.
Milton State Park
Located between Northumberland and Union Counties, Milton State Park sits in the West Branch Susquehanna River. The 82-acre state park provides visitors with ample opportunities to explore the outdoors.
There are 3.5 miles of hiking trails. The well-kept North and South Trails bring you around the island and along the river, offering awesome views and a surprising immersive experience despite being sandwiched between two towns and a bridge overhead.
There’s also plenty of space for fishing, giving anglers an opportunity to catch smallmouth bass, panfish and catfish. Boaters and kayakers can also put in at the southern section of the island.
Be sure to pack a lunch, as Milton State Park has picnic tables with great views of the river.
Milton State Park is located about 25 minutes from Shikellamy State Park, if you’re interested in a weekend of exploring state park islands.
Allegheny Islands State Park
Allegheny Islands State Park is one of the oddest parks we have in Pennsylvania. Why is that? It’s because the park is made up of two islands in the Allegheny River with ZERO land access. The only way to get there is by boat, cutting it off for most Pennsylvanians. It is, in fact, the only state park that is in almost total isolation.
But that’s kinda the point. The 50-acre Allegheny Islands State Park consists of two alluvial islands and seven shoals. The park is heavily covered in vegetation and remains undeveloped.
The two islands are split by C.W. Bill Young Lock and Dam #3. The islands contain no developed trails but offer several footpaths. They are some of the few islands left in a natural state – making it a perfect home for animals and plants.
Allegheny Islands State Park was the most difficult section of running I did during my 2021 attempt to run one mile in all 121 state parks in a year. Not only did I have to bring my own kayak, but I also had a muddy beach to try to complete my one mile. It was brutal.
Presque Isle State Park
Ok. I’ll admit it. Presque Isle State Park is not TECHNICALLY an island. It’s a peninsula that arches into Lake Erie – with road access all the way into downtown Erie. But any blog about state park islands has to include Pennsylvania’s only “seashore.” It also has “isle” in the name, so cut me some slack.
I cannot say enough good things about Presque Isle. There are so many beautiful trails, areas to relax, places to learn and things to do. My visit in 2021 was a revelation. I could not stop asking myself, “This is in Pennsylvania?”
The 3,200-acre sandy peninsula offers visitors a beautiful coastline and almost countless recreational activities. Run, bike, hike, birdwatch, swim, boat or fish. Don’t like any of those? How about photography? There’s the Instagram-worthy North Pier Lighthouse. How about learning? The Tom Ridge Environmental Center is one of the best I’ve been to. Are you hungry? Grab an outstanding meal at Sara’s just outside of the park then enjoy a picnic at the beautiful Perry Monument.
Every Pennsylvanian must make a pilgrimage to Presque Isle.
Pennsylvanians are fortunate to have so many options when it comes to enjoying the outdoors. We have 121 state parks and 2.2 million acres of state forest at our fingertips. We have forests and beaches and trails and lakes and prairies and mountains and overlooks. And we have islands. All free to explore to your heart’s desire. I hope to see you out there!
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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