public lands



It’s no coincidence that many of our state’s coldest, cleanest, clear-flowing streams are cradled in the protective flanks of Pennsylvania’s state forest system. There’s a reason why many of our 120 state parks encircle some of the largest lakes in Pennsylvania. Both our forests and our parks protect and enhance our watersheds, while serving as conduits to the legions that come to enjoy and learn from the waters.

From mighty Lake Erie and the sandy beaches of “Pennsylvania’s Seashore”—Presque Isle—to the diminutive Skippack Creek meandering through Evansburg in Montgomery County, waterways are the defining point of just about all our state parks. Small ponds, very large lakes, and sections of Pennsylvania’s 83,000 miles of streams and rivers all help draw more than 35 million visitors to the state parks every year.

Reel ‘em in
State forests are the protector of prime habitat for the brook, rainbow and brown, which translates into some of the state’s finest fishing opportunities. State parks often are the provider for warm-water species and those who fish for them. Top-quality fishing if offered at many state parks. Visit the Pa. Fish and Boat Commission website listing state-record catches and you’ll find three linked to state parks across the state. For the novice, there are learn-to-fish programs through the Get Outdoor PA program. The PA Fish and Boat Commission has Fish for Free days where no license is required, and the Take Me Fishing family fishing program.

Paddle the day away
For those at home in a canoe or kayak, many state parks offer rentals. Ready to strike out on a paddling odyssey? Sample a Pa. Water Trail, often winding through state forests and/or parklands, or try a river sojourn, a multi-day river paddling experience. If a wild ride is what you are seeking, try one of several whitewater experiences in PA. Of course, safety is paramount, so be sure to check out available boating courses and safety information.

Falling for water
Hopefully, your waterways trek will be free of waterfalls, but that bane of paddlers is the delight of photographers, hikers, even ice-climbers. Pennsylvania is graced with many waterfalls, but only one park—Ricketts Glen—harbors Glens Natural Area, a National Natural Landmark. The 94-foot Ganoga Falls is the highest of the parks 22 named waterfalls at that Luzerne County state park and draws its share of notoriety.

Protecting our species
A consortium of Bureau of State Parks, Fish and Boat Commission and other state and federal agencies are hard at work lending structure to state park lake bottoms and improving habitat for fish and aquatic life. Success stories of these significant construction projects are detailed here. Many species that call the water their home are in peril. Learn what is endangered or threatened and what is being done to change that status.

Buffering the bad
Our public lands act as protective buffers for our waterways. Our hemlocks and mountain laurel gracefully shade our streams, providing prime habitat for cold water species like the brook trout. The roots of the mighty oaks act as giant filters, trapping nutrients and pollutants before they reach our drinking water supplies and downstream waterways. Some of those forest species are being threatened by forest diseases and pests and invasive plants that could jeopardize the long-term health of our waterways. Those using waterways must exercise extreme caution to not transport or help spread aquatic invasive species.

Not only do our forests serve a vital role in protecting our drinking water supplies in Pennsylvania, they also serve our downstream neighbors. Just to our south is the Chesapeake Bay, the largest freshwater estuary in the country. The Chesapeake Bay’s land-to-water ratio (14:1) is the largest of any coastal water body in the world. So clearly the Susquehanna River, the biggest river to feed into the bay, plays an important role in its health. Pennsylvania is a partner in the Chesapeake Bay Program, a multi-jurisdictional effort to develop strategies and implement best practices for the ultimate protection of the bay.


As Marcellus Shale gas development continues to grow and pose challenges to waterways and wildlife habitat, the state Bureau of Forestry is guided by stringent land and water protection policies to manage state forest drilling activity.


Water-filled classrooms
At almost 40 state parks, more than 2,000 students and teachers are lured out of the classroom each year and into Pennsylvania’s waterways. Watershed education participants target problems, gauge assets and share data while learning—and having fun.

No matter what your age, you are bound to enjoy one of the hundreds of water-themed programs and workshops on the calendar at Pennsylvania State Parks. From salamander slogs to rain barrel workshops, there is always something new to learn about the water in our lives.


Looking to get involved in improving waterways across the state? Visit here.