In 2021, I set a challenge for myself to run one mile at all 121 Pennsylvania state parks. 224 days later, I achieved that goal with my last run taking place where the idea all started – Little Buffalo State Park.
And while I had expected some tough terrain, hard miles and bumps and bruises along the way, I was surprised to find that my so-called “121 In 21 Challenge” taught me so much about this incredible commonwealth and its park system.
If you’re new to the park system or looking for an adventure, Pennsylvania state parks and forests provide the perfect setting. Here’s what I learned from exploring everything the commonwealth has to offer.
Variety of scenery
There is an incredibly diverse variety of park lands in Pennsylvania. You can go from waterfalls and old growth forests to beaches and prairies all within the commonwealth. There is something for everybody in Pennsylvania’s state parks.
You could relax on a towel at the beaches of Presque Isle State Park. You could explore the Forest Cathedral at Cook Forest State Park. You could dive into history at Washington Crossing State Park. You could… You could… You could… Virtually anything you can think of exploring in the outdoors, we have it here in Pennsylvania.
Seeing this variety first hand is what caused a fundamental shift in my views on traveling. No longer do I have to travel to Iceland for spectacular waterfalls. Ricketts Glen State Park has 22 of them. No longer do I have to visit Scotland to see lush greenery. McCalls Dam State Park is packed with stunning ferns that cover the forest floor. I could go on and on.
All the activities
As someone who discovered their love for the outdoors through the park system, I can say Pennsylvania offers everything an amateur adventurist or weary wanderer could ever want.
For those who want to work up a sweat and explore, there’s trail running, hiking, mountain biking, kayaking and rock climbing. For those who like winter activities, there’s cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, skiing and snowboarding.
For sportsmen and women, there’s hunting, fishing and trapping.
Even with all those activities, Pennsylvania still has more to offer with camping, picnicking, playgrounds, cabins and the list goes on and on.
Knowledgeable staff always willing to help
Throughout my 121 In 21 Challenge, I encountered park rangers and staff that were always accommodating. No matter if it was answering questions, mapping out trails for me to run or offering suggestions, park staff were so friendly and awesome.
I met a ranger at Little Pine State Park that was great. After telling him about what I was doing, he proceeded to tell me about the next few parks I’ll be visiting that day. The conversation was filled with “You could check this out” or “this is a great place to run.” So many helpful suggestions.
After I had completed my challenge, I brought my wife and parents up to Leonard Harrison State Park to see the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon. We met a ranger who talked about the animals in the area, what birds we would find and lots more for 20 minutes. At the end, we told him we were heading to Colton Point State Park. He then, in hushed tones, told us about an amazing lookout no one ever goes to. A 30 minute drive later, we were treated to one of the most beautiful views I’ve ever seen. It was stunning. And it was all because of that nice ranger from Coudersport.
I really could go on much more writing about all the things I love about our Pennsylvania state parks and forests. In fact, I will. Be sure to check out the second part of this blog!
PPFF’s Guest Blogger, Christian 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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