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Upper Mid Atlantic. Ten Great State Parks in New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania.
High Point State Park, New Jersey. Occupying the high ground at the northern tip of New Jersey High Point State Park contains the state’s highest elevation, High Point (1,803’), which is crowned by the impressive 220 foot war monument, easily accessible by a paved road which overlooks the beautiful tarn, Lake Marcia. Not surprisingly camping is popular in this park of 14,193 acres as is hiking, especially along the Appalachian Trail which winds through the park. The park overlooks the Delaware River and three states can be viewed on clear days. Dryden Kuser Natural Area within the state park harbors an Atlantic white cedar swamp and can be reached by a hiking trail. The Cooper’s hawk is one of the swamp’s denizens.
Letchworth State Park, New York. Western New York has a number of escarpment waterfalls, the most famous is Niagara but many are less well known despite their huge volume and relatively high drops. One such falls is located in Letchworth State Park where the Genesee River cuts its way through an equally spectacular gorge along which three falls, Upper, Middle, and Lower drop for a total of 240 feet. The Middle Falls is the most spectacular with a 107’ drop. The state park is located 35 miles southwest of Rochester and has a total of 14,350 acres. The sheer shale cliffs that border the river are sometimes refereed to as the ‘Grand Canyon of the East’ and unofficial title that is also claimed by Pennsylvania’s Pine Creek Gorge in Tioga State Forest.
Taconic State Park, New York. This state park occupies a sliver of land which borders Massachusetts on the east. Well known for its hiking and biking the steep front of the Taconic Range rises abruptly and preserves one of the last great tracts of forest land on the eastern seaboard. Only about 110 north of New York City, the state park is heavily visited in the summer. A short walk from the park crosses the state line into Massachusetts to Bash Bish Falls, the highest falls in Massachusetts and well worth any effort.
Taughannock Falls State Park, New York. Not without a few other rival claims Taughannock Falls has the highest waterfall drop on the east coast and this is the main attraction of this park in New York’s Finger Lakes region, an area that has some of the finest waterfalls and gorges east of the Mississippi. The upper falls has an unobstructed plunge of 215 feet down a hanging valley of bare sandstone cliffs 400 feet high. A ¾ mile long hiking trail reaches the falls.
Watkins Glen State Park, New York. Only thirty miles from Taughannock Falls State Park, also in the Finger Lakes Region, is the no less spectacular Watkins Glen State Park which is a combination of falls through a terrifically narrow 400 foot deep shale gorge. A trail follows this narrow defile and winds under and over waterfalls. This is truly one of the most spectacular gorge-waterfall combos east of the Mississippi and similar to New Hampshire’s Flume in Franconia Notch State Park.
Cook Forest State Park, Pennsylvania. The eastern United States was heavily logged for generations and little to nothing remains of virgin timber stands that awaited the waves of pioneers centuries ago. There are a few spots however that avoided the woodman’s axe, and to find these areas in northwestern Pennsylvania is truly remarkable since the northern third of the state was well known for lumbering which made for a few timber barons in towns like Lock Haven. Cook Forest State Park is one such place which has some of the largest and tallest old growth trees east of the Mississippi. The state park covers 8,500 acres and was established in 1927 to preserve the forest from the axe and saw. Head to the Forest Cathedral for a look at giant White Pines and Eastern Hemlocks and you might think you are standing in a redwood grove in California. The grove has more White Pines higher than 150 feet than anywhere else on the east coast.
Hickory Run State Park, Pennsylvania. This state park in eastern Pennsylvania has a great mix of natural phenomena as well as some good campgrounds. What makes it geologically unique is the sandstone boulder field which is unlike anything on the eastern seaboard. A National Natural Landmark, the 16.5 acre boulder field is the result of glacial melt water action. There are also waterfalls, such as Hawk Falls (40 feet), and a number of good hiking and biking trails. The state park is only about one hour north of Philadelphia and covers 15,990 acres.
Ohiopyle State Park, Pennsylvania. Kayaking and white-water rafting make this a favorite state park which was developed in the 1950s and finally opened to the public in 1971 covering 19,052 acres. The Youghiogheny River cuts a gorge through the park and provides some of the best white-water rafting in the eastern United States. Located in southwestern Pennsylvania along the Alleghany front, the collection of waterfalls has always attracted tourists. The park features a number of beautiful falls which include Ohiopyle Falls (20 feet), Cucumber Falls (30 feet), and Jonathan’s Run Falls, to name but a few. The area saw a huge boom in tourism with the development of the railroads at the turn of the last century and made the area easily accessible from Pittsburgh. As the railroads declined in the 1950s so did the tourism and many of the resort hotels fell into disrepair. The state bought the property and developed the park and it is listed as one of “Twenty Must-See Pennsylvania State Parks.”
Ricketts Glen State Park, Pennsylvania. The abundance of soft sandstone and shale in northern Pennsylvania makes it particularly well-endowed with beautiful waterfalls, as fast moving streams have cut beautiful gorges and waterfalls across the various plateaus. Many of the state’s waterfalls are located in the northeastern part of the state and many are a day trip from most destinations in eastern Pennsylvania. Although some require hikes into the backcountry, such as Kettle Creek Falls, most are within a few hundred yards from well-traveled roads. One of these is arguably the most spectacular – the Kitchen Creek as it tumbles through Ricketts Glen off the south side of North Mountain. Easy access via a loop hiking trail to these 22 named waterfalls is from Route 118 about 25 miles west of Wilkes-Barre in Luzerne County. The highest fall in the park is Ganoga Fall which drops 94 feet. The 13,050 acre state park is free of charge.
Presque Isle State Park, Pennsylvania. The most heavily visited state park in Pennsylvania, Presque Isle is famous for its working lighthouse, history, bird-watching, and sandy beaches. It saw more four million visitors in 2007 and covers 3,112 acres of a spit of sandy land that juts in to Lake Erie and highlights Pennsylvania’s short coastline along the Great Lakes. Must see sights in the state park include the Perry Monument built in honor of Perry’s victory over the British on Lake Erie during the War of 1812. The Presque Isle lighthouse, still in operation since 1873, is maintained by the U.S. Coast Guard and is 74 feet tall. Gull Point Natural Area is a major nesting area for birds on the Atlantic Flyway.
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