One has only to look at state parks (many free) to realize the abundance of beauty in the Mid-Atlantic region, not to mention the unlimited recreational opportunities it offers. There’s no better time than the present to explore the region’s parks and to take advantage of everything they have to offer. Check out state websites for the latest information and downloadable maps and brochures. If you are not sure about where to begin adventuring in the Mid-Atlantic, here are a few suggestions:
Scattered from the mountains to the sea, Virginia’s 41 state parks offer a plethora of recreational opportunities, plus museums and science centers. (800-933-7275, dcr.virginia.gov/state-parks) Approximately 1,148 acres make up Smith Mountain Lake State Park, which sits on the north shore of the lake near Huddleston. One of the state’s most popular parks, it offers boat and cabin rentals, the Discovery Center, and activities such as camping, picnicking, fishing, and hiking. (540-297-6066) Covering 7,919 acres near Richmond, Pocahontas State Park is Virginia’s largest park. Visitors enjoy boating, picnicking, camping, fishing, hiking and bicycling trails, outdoor concerts and entertainment, an aquatic center, boat and cabin rentals, and a museum devoted to the Civilian Conservation Corps. (804-796-4255) Natural Bridge State Park has long been a popular destination for motorists traveling through the Shenandoah Valley. The National Historic Landmark covers more than 1,540 acres and includes the iconic 215-foot-tall limestone bridge, a visitor center, and a gift shop. A trail from the visitor center leads to the Monacan Indian Village and the 30-foot-tall Lace Falls. (540-291-1326) Grayson Highlands State Park at Mouth of Wilson encompasses more than 4,500 acres in the Blue Ridge Mountains, with scenic views of Mount Rogers (elevation 5,730 feet) and Whitetop Mountain (elevation 5,520 feet), access to the Appalachian Trail and the Virginia Highlands Horse Trail, waterfalls, and overlooks. Recreational pursuits include hiking, camping, and horseback riding. (276-579-7092)
The Mountain State’s 45 parks are inland. (833-WV-PARKS, wvstateparks.com) Because its mineral springs remain a constant 74.3°F, Berkeley Springs State Park has attracted travelers since colonial days. Visitors bathe in the park’s soothing, warm spring water, use the historic bathhouses, and enjoy spa services such as massages, saunas, baths, and showers. (304-258-2711) Canaan Valley State Park, located at Davis in the Allegheny Mountains, offers year-round recreation amid its 25,000 acres. Visitors pursue golf, skiing and other winter sports, camping, and more. Overnight lodging options include a full-service lodge, rental cabins, and campgrounds. (304-866-4121) Pipestem Resort State Park is home to two lodges and 26 cabins. Situated on 4,050 acres on the east rim of the Bluestone River Gorge, the park offers zipline tours, guided trout fishing trips, mountain biking, water activities in the lake and splash park, whitewater adventures, and more. The park’s aerial tram travels to the bottom of the gorge, putting visitors close to Bluestone State Park, another option in the Mountain State. (304-466-1800) Located 20 miles southeast of the New River Gorge Bridge, Babcock State Park occupies 4,127 acres where visitors enjoy hiking, fishing, and mountain biking. The scenic Glade Creek Grist Mill is a magnet for photographers. (304-438-3004) Shay engines pull the trains that travel over 11 miles of track from the company town to Bald Knob (elevation 4,480 feet) at Cass Scenic Railroad State Park, which covers more than 10,000 acres. Visitors also enjoy the Cass Company Store (home to The Last Run Restaurant and Soda Fountain), a historic theater, artisans co-op, and authentic lumber railroad museum. (304-456-4300)
Maryland’s 66 parks are located across the state. (877-620-8367, dnr.maryland.gov) Deep Creek Lake State Park near Swanton in Western Maryland encompasses 1,800 acres next to the Deep Creek Lake Natural Resources Management Area. Open year-round, it has a mile-long shoreline, two swimming beaches, 20 miles of hiking/biking trails, 112 campsites, and the Discovery Center. (301-387-5563) The Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad State Park and Visitor Center provides opportunities to learn about her early years in the Choptank River region and her legacy as a leader, liberator, and humanitarian in the resistance movement of the Underground Railroad. The 17-acre park is located near Church Creek on the trailhead for the 125-mile Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway, next to the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge. (410-221-2290) Assateague State Park, located on the island by the same name, is known for its wild ponies, which roam freely and are rounded up every year for the swim to Chincoteague Island in Virginia (July 27 this year). Visitors also enjoy swimming, beachcombing, sunbathing, surfing, and fishing, plus canoeing and kayaking at the state’s only oceanfront park. (410-641-2918)
Pennsylvania’s 120 parks are scattered across the Keystone State. (888-727-2757, dcnr.pa.gov) Big Pocono State Park near Tannersville in northeastern Pennsylvania covers 1,306 acres of rugged terrain on Camelback Mountain, a favorite destination for hikers, skiers, and snowboarders, as well as adventurers who enjoy ziplining and zooming downhill on a mountain coaster or alpine slide. The Camelback Lodge and Aquatopia Indoor Waterpark offer lodging and water fun. (570-894-8336) Recreational opportunities also abound in nearby Gouldsboro, Tobyhanna, and Hickory Run state parks, as well as the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area. The northwestern part of the state is home to the 8,500-acre Cook Forest State Park and 3,136-acre Clarion River Lands, which include 13 miles of river. The park’s Forest Cathedral of towering white pines and hemlocks is a National Natural Landmark. The park near Cooksburg offers hiking, bicycling, fishing, canoeing, kayaking, tubing, and many winter activities. The park has a log cabin classroom and the Sawmill Arts Center, plus cabins. (814-744-8407) The 2,338-acre Gifford Pinchot State Park near York is named for the first director of the U.S. Division of Forestry and a twice-elected governor of Pennsylvania. Visitors pursue hiking, hunting, swimming, ice skating, ice fishing, bicycling, camping, and other activities. The park also offers overnight cottages and yurts. (717-432-5011) Lehigh Gorge State Park near White Haven takes its name from the Lehigh River, which runs through the 6,107-acre park. Visitors enjoy hiking, bicycling, fishing, sightseeing, and photography. (570-443-0400) The Washington Crossing Historic Park at the Thompson-Neely Farmstead in Bucks County recalls the winter days of 1776, when George Washington and 2,400 Continental soldiers camped here before crossing the Delaware River. Those who fell in battle are buried at the site. Replicas of Durham boats are used in the annual re-enactment of the crossing. The third mill to be built on the property is open for tours and special events. The park has several other historic buildings, including a country store. (215-493-4076)
Delaware is home to 22 state parks. (destateparks.com) Seashore State Park covers 2,825 acres, bound by the Atlantic Ocean on the east and Rehoboth Bay and Indian River Bay on the west. It offers six miles of ocean and 20 miles of bay shoreline. Visitors enjoy swimming, surfing, sunbathing, caping, fishing, clamming, crabbing, and educational activities. The Indian River Life-Saving Station, built in 1876, features historical exhibits and re-enactors. Delaware’s parks and beaches, including Dewey Beach, attract millions of visitors each year. (302-227-2800)
Opened during the 1976 U.S. Bicentennial, the 1,212-acre Liberty State Park in Jersey City, one of the state’s 39 parks, offers spectacular views of the Manhattan skyline, Liberty Island, and Ellis Island. On the north end of the historic park are the Central Railroad of New Jersey Terminal, a performance arena, marina, restaurants, and the New Jersey Empty Sky 9/11 Memorial, plus picnic and playground areas. The Liberty Science Center is located on the west end of the park. Ferry service runs from the park to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty. 201-915-3403, nj.gov)
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