By 2016, Mike Lipay had been hiking in Pennsylvaina’s parks and forests for more than 50 years. He spent decades on trails, content to explore the nooks and crannies of the woods around his Western Pennsylvania home. 

Then, he heard about the Pennsylvania Parks and Forests Foundation’s Passport. The spiral-bound book enables participants to track their visits to public lands with stamps. Inspired and determined to see more of this big, beautiful state, Lipay made plans to visit all 121 state parks and 20 forests.

He began exploring the parks and forests as he always had, alone on hikes. The first park he visited was Keystone State Park in Westmoreland County. Lipay, who lives in Plum, said what he enjoys most about his time in Pennsylvania’s public lands is the solitude.

Photo by Mike Lipay

“Even when you meet people along the trails you still feel this overwhelming sense of calm and peace, like you’re all alone,” Lipay said. “You get a feeling of what it must have been like for the early settlers and explorers to visit Penn’s Woods.”

On a visit to Prince Gallitzin State Park in Cambria County he encountered the sprawling Glendale Lake. The 1,635-acre lake with its 26 miles of shoreline was too beautiful to just see from the shore. So, Lipay bought an inflatable kayak and came back to see the park in a different way. 

Ever since then, he takes his kayak whenever he goes to a park with a lake. Later, he took up snowshoeing. That way, he was able to enjoy the parks and forests 365 days a year.

After each visit, he would visit a park office to get a stamp. Each of the Passport pages slowly getting filled. Almost always he explored the parks and forests alone. Whether it was kayaking around a lake or hiking through the woods, he was able to enjoy his solitude. 

However, he was joined by family and friends at times. Lipay fondly remembers the trip he took with his son on a visit from Arizona. They had watched the meteor showers from Cherry Springs State Park, Pennsylvania’s first dark sky park. The Potter County park is popular with stargazers and amateur astronomers. Then, they kayaked down Lyman Run.

Lead Story Credit Mike Lipay

“That was exciting,” Lipay said. “If you’ve never experienced the Leonids from Cherry Springs then you’ve never really seen them. 

In 2021, he visited Ricketts Glen State Park. The huge 13,000-plus acre park is best known for its 22 named waterfalls – including the 94-foot Ganoga Falls. The park provides some of the most beautiful scenery in all of Pennsylvania. A fitting end to his five-year journey.

His Passport filled to the brim with stamps from public lands around the commonwealth, he had visited all 121 parks and 20 forests. He has Seen ‘Em All.

But just because his Passport was filled, didn’t mean he was done. His journey encouraged him to spend more time visiting parks and forests in and outside of Pennsylvania. 

“We live in an amazingly beautiful and diverse country, and the wilds are much more interesting places to visit than concrete buildings, Lipay said. “From the woods and waterfalls here in the east, to the deserts of the Southwest and colorful rocks of the Unita Mountains of Utah, and grandeur of the canyons in the west. Get out there and enjoy them, and maybe we’ll meet up.”

Lead Story 3 credit Mike Lipay

Lipay recommends more Pennsylvanians, especially kids, spend time in Pennsylvania’s parks and forests. They serve as great places to unwind after a tough day at work or school. And, he said, the more time you spend in nature, the more you understand our real place in it. 

“It’s important that we all do our part to keep our parks’ and forests’ beautiful legacy to future generations,” he said. 

Unfortunately, not everyone is as good a steward of our parks and forests. 

“Over the last two years the parks have seen a large increase in the number of visitors, visitors who aren’t treating the parks and forests with the love and respect they deserve,” he said. 

Litter, graffiti, unauthorized campfires. Lipay carries a garbage bag when he is out on the trails, to pick up trash and help keep Pennsylvania’s public lands beautiful.

Lead story 5 credit Mike Lipay

“If everyone would do this, the parks would be a much nicer place to visit, and a healthier place for our woodland friends,” he said.

Lastly, Lipay urges parks and forest visitors to purchase a Passport. During their visits, they can get stamps, track their activities, write down animals and plants they see and complete special “Challenges.” These challenges require a lot less effort than the full Passport. You can receive medallions for visiting specific vistas, going on certain trails and more. While parks often get more attention, he urged visitors to keep forests in mind when planning trips. Forests offer more rugged adventures than parks, he said.

No matter what, just go out and explore. Go on hikes. Go canoeing. Go make friends. Go find your peace and quiet. Go find your solitude.

“Having visited state parks in over 20 different states, people here don’t know what a treasure they have,” Lipay said. 

Photo credits: Mike Lipay

Christian Alexandersen

Christian Alexandersen

Follow the Pennsylvania Parks and Forests News page to read more of Christian’s blogs, as he interviews other Seen ’em All Challenge completers, and writes about his own visits to Pennsylvania’s state parks and forest. 

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!

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5 years, 121 parks: Pennsylvania hiker, kayaker visits every state park