Tucked between the Midwest (Ohio) and the Eastern Seaboard (New Jersey), Pennsylvania is home to rolling hills and beautiful forests, making it a picturesque place to camp. The highest point is found in Western PA on Mount Davis at 3,213 feet, part of the Allegheny Mountains; plus there are the Pocono Mountains in the northeast, so there are numerous alpine campgrounds to escape the summer heat. Both are part of the Appalachian Mountain Range for those looking to do some backpacking.
Where To Go Camping in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania is a state steeped in early United States history, but it also puts up a strong showing for camping. With 25 National Park Service (NPS) sites and well over 100 state parks, the Keystone State is quietly one of the better states in the country for outdoor access.
It’s a fairly large state, with the 5th biggest population in the US, and the 33rd largest by landmass. Cities like Pittsburgh and Philadelphia draw in tourists looking for bustle, while the forests, mountains, and Amish country in between attract those looking for a quieter camping experience.
Best Times to Go Camping in Pennsylvania
While you can explore Pennsylvania from spring to fall, summer isn’t the most ideal time to visit. Summers here can be fairly hot and humid, meaning the traditional camping season here isn’t as comfortable. Marienville, near the Allegheny National Forest, for example, gets into the upper 70s and low 80s during the summer months. While that’s not overwhelmingly hot, the humidity does add to it.
Travelers who can only visit Pennsylvania in the summer should stay further inland. That’s generally good guidance for any state on or near the eastern seaboard, and it holds true in PA.
Eastern cities like Philadelphia and Allentown tend to get up around 90 in the late summer, so staying west is ideal. Of course, you can always stick to the Delaware River area and spend time on the water if you’re not in western Pennsylvania.
For those who can travel outside of summer, spring and fall are both enjoyable times to be in Pennsylvania. Fall brings beautiful colors, while spring is going to have slightly lower crowds. While both seasons see lower visitation numbers than summer, travelers chasing fall foilage make autumn visitation a bit more popular than spring visitation.
It’s not impossible to winter camp in Pennsylvania, though few are going to want to. Philadelphia and southeast Pennsylvania tends to be the warmest year-round. While there are some state parks in that section of the state, the average overnight low is around freezing in the winter. While it’s possible to winter camp here, open campgrounds are going to be few and far between.
National Park Service Sites in Pennsylvania
There are 25 National Park Service sites in Pennsylvania, though only three of them have campgrounds. Many of the NPS sites here are based around the history of the area, meaning there are plenty of national historic sites and national historic trails. However, there are no true national parks in the state, and the camping options here center around the Delaware River.
It’s worth noting that much of the Delaware River Valley is private property. While there are spots to camp along the way, especially for people kayaking or canoeing along the river, campers must know where they’re allowed to spend the night. Along the river, there are options for lodging, developed campgrounds, and even some more primitive campgrounds on the riverfront.
- Upper Delaware Scenic & Recreational River
- Lower Delaware National Wild and Scenic River
- Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area
National and State Forests in Pennsylvania
There’s only one national forest in Pennsylvania, the Alleghany National Forest. There are, however, 20 state forests for visitors and locals to enjoy. Like national forests, much of the camping in these state forests is free, primitive camping.
Note that since these are state entities, the rules may differ from federally run national forests. Familiarize yourself with any unique state forest regulations before free camping. Also like national forests, there are plenty of traditional, structured campsites. Some parks even offer cabins, yurts, and cottages for overnight stays.
Consider this list of ten state forests (plus the Alleghany National Forest) when planning a campout in the Keystone State.
- Alleghany National Forest
- Susquehannock State Forest
- Sproul State Forest
- Loyalsock State Forest
- Elk State Forest
- Bald Eagle State Forest
- Tuscarora State Forest
- Michaux State Forest
- Black Moshannon State Park
- Buchanan State Forest
- Rothrock State Forest
Best Free Camping in Pennsylvania
About 28% of the state of Pennsylvania is managed by the federal government. The United States Forest Service manages the significant majority (83%) of that land, while the NPS and the United States Department of Defense (DoD) manage equal parts of the remaining land.
Pennsylvania State and Public Parks
What Pennsylvania lacks in federal parks and forests, it sure makes up for on the state level. There are 124 state parks here, and 65 offer camping. Pennsylvania is actually in the top 10 for most state parks (ahead of Alaska and behind Illinois) and boasts an incredibly strong parks system. While there are so many to choose from, these 10 especially stand out.
- Ricketts Glen State Park
- Hickory Run State Park
- Codorus State Park
- French Creek State Park
- Promise Land State Park
- Ohiopyle State Park
- Caledonia State Park
- Bald Eagle State Park
- Laurel Hill State Park
- Parker Dam State Park
RV Resorts and Unique Stays
Private campgrounds in Pennsylvania are also impressive, complementing the state-level offerings nicely. While the state parks here offer a surprising amount of comfort, campers looking for even more comfortable or unique experiences should consider these six spots.
- Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park Camp-Resort: Quarryville
- Sun Retreats Lancaster County
- Airydale Retreat
- Keen Lake Camping & Cottage Resort
- Twin Grove RV Resort & Cottages
- River Mountain Resort
The rich history and a strong outdoor scene come together in Pennsylvania. While kayakers may want to spend their time along the Delaware, hikers and campers have a wealth of options throughout the state.