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Litter left behind, people wandering off trails: As visitors spike at PA parks, so do problems

Park leaders remind everyone to check the rules of PA Parks before they visit to limit confusion, trash, and problems on trails

Pennsylvania's 121 State Parks are seeing a huge uptick in visitors.

But with more people visiting, many state parks are also experiencing more problems.

"At first they were leaving trash, littering and wandering off marked trails," said Terry Brady, spokesperson for the PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, who said the onrush of visitors have attracted many people who do not know about 'proper park or forest behavior.'

RELATED: Codorus State Park included in overcrowding alert

"The trail abuse is important because it hikes the likelihood of injury and exposure to deer ticks. We bumped up signage to address; installed more trash collection points; and tried to educate on this and the distancing and masks factors. We do not police these two, just try to educate," Brady said. 

Brady added that parks do not have the funds to increase staffing. Therefore, state parks have to rely heavily on existing staff, volunteers, and in some cases municipal fire police.

"When you looked at parking lots in April, some of them started to look like parking lots in July. We knew that this was going to be a different kind of season," said Gavin Smith of Gifford Pinchot State Park. Smith said Pinchot hasn't been seeing as many problems as other parks in the state. However, since April he said many days have been 'like a holiday' with people packing into campgrounds. Pinchot's campgrounds have a capacity of nearly 2,000 people, which Smith said the Park has reached multiple times this year. 

"We're taking additional steps to make sure restrooms are cleaner for our guests, more frequency of cleanings as well as more robust cleaning practices," said Smith, who added Pinchot has a robust set of volunteers who aid the park every year.

"When you have a lot of people visit the part at any one time, certainly it's a challenge. But, ultimately it's a good thing. We want people to visit the parks," said Smith. 

Marci Mowery, President of Pennsylvania Parks and Forest Foundation, is working to assist parks across the state with educating visitors and helping parks make necessary upgrades. 

Learn how the PA Parks and Forest Foundation is working to help parks here.

Learn specific needs of parks here.

Mowery said the uptick in visitors "means overcrowding. It could mean people are parking in areas that don't support parking like tree roots." 

She reminded everyone to seek out areas of the park that they may not have visited before to help spread out crowds. And, she reminded everyone to pack a trash bag.

"You have a big party at your house, there's more to pick up and more to clean up," she said, as she said the same holds true for PA's parks. 

July’s attendance was 7.28M in 2020 compared to 5.80M last year at Pennsylvania's parks. The uptick in visitors in July is a 25.5% increase over 2019.  

In 2020, five parks also experienced an over 100% increase and an additional 16 parks increased by over 50%, said Brady. Brady added the uptick in visitors hasn't only been at the 121 state parks, but also within the 2.2 million acres of state forestland. 

Read more about PA Park overcrowding here:

State Parks and Forests Overcrowding

A number of state parks and forest recreation areas are seeing significant crowding during the weekends and when the weather is warm.

The extraordinary number of people is causing these places to turn away visitors. Overflow parking also may be closed to help ensure proper social distancing.

Visitors planning to go to these areas are encouraged to find other less crowded locations for recreation.

Overcrowding Alert

A number of state parks and forest recreation areas are seeing significant crowding during the weekends and when the weather is warm.

The extraordinary number of people is causing these places to turn away visitors. Overflow parking also may be closed to help ensure proper social distancing.

Visitors planning to go to these areas are encouraged to find other less crowded locations for recreation.

State Parks Experiencing Overcrowding

State parks that are reaching capacity, and experiencing unsafe overcrowding and/or turning away visitors include:

  • Beltzville -- most overcrowding, visitors should consider Tuscarora, Tobyhanna, and Gouldsboro State Parks for swimming and picnicking alternatives
  • Codorus
  • Keystone
  • Marsh Creek
  • Ohiopyle
  • Presque Isle
  • Ricketts Glen
  • Tyler
  • Washington Crossing

State Forest Areas Experiencing Overcrowding

State forests areas that are reaching capacity and turning away visitors include:

  • Seven Tubs Recreation Area in Pinchot State Forest -- most overcrowding, visitors should consider:
    • Pinchot Trail -- Pine Hill Vista (PDF) -- From the primary Pinchot Trailhead along Bear Lake Road, a 4-mile loop or 1-mile out-out-and-back hike can be made to the Pine Hill Observation Deck overlooking the Pocono Plateau.
    • Black Diamond Trail Opens In A New Window -- This long-distance rail trail can be accessed on PA437 and provides an opportunity for a leisurely walk or scenic bike ride. Visitors will pass several wetlands and scrub oak habitats.
  • Rock Run in Loyalsock State Forest -- visitors should consider:
    • Cherry Ridge Trail -- Located a few miles from the Rock Run Valley, this 5.7 blue-blazed trail provides an easy walk over rolling terrain. Visitors will see typical northern hardwood forests and cross several small streams. This trail can also connect to the Old Loggers Path and other unmarked trails for the adventurous hiker to explore. The trailhead is located at the intersection of Krimm Road and Ellenton Ridge Road.
    • Hawkeye Ski Trail -- This 7.2 mile shared-use trail covers a variety of terrain and even brings forest visitors into the headwaters of the beloved Rock Run. A short jaunt from the intersection with Sharp Shinned Trail will allow hikers an opportunity to wade in its ever-cool waters. The trailhead is along the paved Ellenton Mountain Road near the “Devil’s Elbow.”
    • Old Loggers Path (PDF) -- A multitude of short hikes and loops can be made throughout the 27-mile Old Loggers Path circuit. A small parking area along Yellow Dog Road provides access to a quick out-and-back hike to a vista overlooking the Rock Run Valley. A longer loop can be made using the historic Ellenton Grade.

Find Alternate Outdoor Recreation Opportunities

  • Explore state parks -- Pennsylvania has 121 state parks to explore
  • Explore state forests -- Pennsylvania has 2.2 million acres of forestland to explore
  • Find local parks -- Pennsylvania has more than 6,100 local parks for outdoor recreation
  • Explore PA trails -- Pennsylvania has more than 12,000 miles of trails
  • Water trails -- Pennsylvania has more than 2,300 miles of water trails
  • Featured opportunities -- Visit Pennsylvania helps you find outdoor recreation opportunities in the state