A greater appreciation

for PA

Dec 23, 2022

Since starting this website, I’m gaining a greater appreciation for my home state of Pennsylvania. Don't get me wrong; it's still politically dysfunctional to the point that it owes the entire planet an apology regardless of who might win a Senate race here, it has the most expensive toll roads in the world (and, no, you don't get what you pay for) and I'm not crazy about the weather extremes but at least for enjoying the outdoors (and overnight camping in particular), it’s not too shabby.

According to the Sierra Club, there are 283,000 acres of State Parks in PA where camping is limited to campgrounds only and not all of the parks have one. Those that do range from resort hotels to tent camping with pit toilets but most have parking for RVs and rental cabins as part of the mix. It is extremely likely that you will camp near other people and, in fact, the social aspects are what some folks enjoy about camping there.

An additional 1.5 million acres of the state is set aside as State Game Lands where camping is forbidden entirely although many of the state and national hiking trails cross them and there are some established (illegal) campsites along those trails. (note: please don’t use them as these areas are set aside for hunting. A moving hiker, especially when wearing orange, is much more easily seen than an unmoving tent and camping where you’re not allowed could, in this case, prove to be dangerous or even deadly.)

Finally, we come to the parts of the state where we ARE allowed to camp; whenever and wherever we like and, best of all, without any permits or fees (even for non-residents)!

These, of course, are the State and National Forests. Over 500,000 acres of PA land is in the Allegheny National Forest and an additional 2.2 million acres is contained within the 20 State Forests which, according to DCNR, include acreage in 50 of the state’s 67 counties.

What that means to me is that there is over 2.7 million acres of PA (just under 10% of the total land within the state!) that is open to public camping with very few restrictions. In fact, the only rules I can think of are that all evidence of camp should be removed when you leave the site (many people ignore this resulting in "established" campsites) and a permit is required if you are planning to use the same site for more than one day.

To the best of my knowledge, Ohio, West Virginia and Maryland are all “paid permit required” on all State owned property and only the National Forest is “dispersed, minimum impact allowed” without a fee. (I haven’t looked into NY yet as the other 3 are much closer and, therefore, easier to access for trips but I believe it mirrors PA)

PA is still a tough place to plan a canoe route that doesn’t require a shuttle (best I have come up with would have a 12 mile portage right down SR217 which, in my mind, screams “don’t portage on a highway you idiot, arrange a shuttle”!) but, if you're willing to shuttle your canoe(s), go hiking or even if you just want to go car camping, the price of peace and quiet sure seems reasonable here.