National Parks in Pennsylvania for History and Nature

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The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania gave birth to the United States of America. As the first capital of this great nation was based here, it is only natural that the history of this state is well preserved. The national parks in Pennsylvania pay tribute to this rich historical and cultural past.

This list covers all the sites administered by the National Park Service in Pennsylvania, including the National Parks, National Historic Sites, and National Heritage Trails. This showcases both the breadth and depth of both the natural beauty as well as the cultural heritage of the region.

Independence National Historical Park

Independence Hall
Independence Hall and the mall

When talking about national parks in Pennsylvania, the Independence National Historical Park is the one that most freely comes to mind. This national park site is located in Old City Philadelphia and is federally protected space preserving several different sites relating the founding of the country and the American Revolution.

Located along Independence Mall, these buildings are collectively known as the birthplace of America and the founding of our democracy. From this spot, the leaders of our republican forged the future direction of this young nation. Later, Independence Hall would gain world-wide recognition as the central place where democratic ideals are formed.

This park is still a symbol of the founding ideals that represents both democracy and freedom. For those visiting Independence Hall, Congress Hall, the Liberty Bell, the Benjamin Franklin Museum, and the National Constitution Center is a chance to learn about our freedoms and the honor the longevity of the country.

Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site

Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site
Poe’s house on North 7th Street

The Edgar Allan Poe Historic Site is a well-preserved home that the American author once called home. The monument is off Spring Garden Street in the Northern Liberties section of the city. Although this great poet lived in many houses during his stay in Pennsylvania, this home is the only one that still stands.

You can describe Poe’s writing as brilliant, creative, enigmatic, and quite dark. The six years he lived in Philadelphia can be described as his happiest and most productive. Despite the author struggling with his personal life, his work was always exemplary and has engaged readers worldwide. It is believed he wrote his masterpiece The Black Cat in this home.

A visit to Edgar Allan Poe’s house paints a clear picture of his literary contemporaries, creative work, and a theater show about his life and most famous works. Visitors also have the privilege of touring the entire three-story house where his imagination was untamed. Don’t miss the mural a half block north of the site at the corner of 7th and Green Streets.

Gloria Dei Church National Historic Site

Another historic place worth visiting is the Gloria Dei Church also known as Old Swedes. This church is the oldest one in Pennsylvania and the second oldest in the US. It was built between 1698 and 1700 and is located in South Philly. Its design is that of the English vernacular, although it also has a slight combination of gothic and medieval look. 

Early Swedish settlers were the first inhabitants of this particular area back in 1646. The first congregation dates back to 1677, five years before the establishment of the city of Philadelphia. Gloria Dei church initially had a Swedish Lutheran congregation until 1845 where it switched to Episcopalian. Whenever you need spiritual fulfillment, the Gloria Dei church is the place to be.

Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial

The Thaddeus Kosciuszko Memorial is the preserved home of the famed American Revolution hero and Polish patriot. This memorial is located at 301 Pine Street in Philadelphia.

Kosciuszko was a Polish military engineer and an American Revolutionary volunteer who made a significant contribution in battles in West Point and Saratoga. After an unsuccessful uprising attempt in his own country, Tadeusz returned to Philadelphia in 1797.

In this home, Kosciuszko hosted Thomas Jefferson and Chief Little Turtle of Miami, among many high-profile guests back in the day. There’s also a memorial room that showcases his military career, a bed-chamber furnished with artifacts of his time, etc.

Valley Forge National Historical Park

White granite memorial arch in park
The Memorial Arch in Valley Forge

The Valley Forge National Historical Park is another excellent site worth visiting. Valley Forge is where the Revolutionary War encampment was held. It’s also among the rare places that bring out the spirit of patriotism, tenacity, and the great sacrifice among the patriots.

The highlight in the park is the famous stone house where George Washington used to live between 1777 to 1778. This park is where the American spirit was born.

The Valley Forge National Historic Park also has trails that link historical structures and key monuments. Most visitors enjoy the Muhlenberg Brigade log cabin barracks and the dramatic 20th century National Memorial Arch. Visitors get to experience the park’s historic landscapes, archeology, American history, and myths.

Schuylkill River Valley National Heritage Area

House in garden with wildflowers
Bartram’s Garden along the banks of the Schuylkill

This Heritage Trail is found near the tiny town of Tuscarora. The Schuylkill River, which is one of the main attractions, was canalized early in the 1820s. Its primary purpose back then was to transport coal downstream, leading to industrial growth around the region.

The Schuylkill River starts from the mountains near the coal region and flows 137 miles southeasterly through Schuylkill, Berks, Chester, Montgomery, and Philadelphia counties. It is one of the two rivers that create the borders of Center City.

The Philadelphia Art Museum, boathouse row, and the Fairmount Dam are all located on the Schuylkill. Before flowing into the Delaware River, the river passes through Bartram’s Garden, the oldest botanical garden in North America.

Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area

Among the loveliest spots in the Pocono Mountains is the Delaware Water Gap Recreation Area. Here a 40-mile section of the Delaware River flows between the high bluffs, rolling hills and a dense forest.

The Delaware Water Gap is located between Northeastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey and cuts through the Kittatinny Ridge. This recreation area is nearly 70,000 acres and typically draws close to five million visitors yearly, making it the most visited public land in America.

The Appalachian Trail traverses 28 miles of the Delaware Water Gap area. In addition to hiking, the area is ideal for kayaking, canoeing, fresh-water swimming lakes and sightseeing.

Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site

Railroad tracks leading to a barn
The Allegheny Railroad yard (photo: Jeffrey M. Frank/Shutterstock)

The Allegheny Portage Railroad is among the top Pennsylvania national park sites worth visiting. This national historic site was constructed in the Allegheny Mountains and began its operations between 1834 to 1854. Back in the day, this railroad was one of the great technological milestones. It played a crucial role in making the entire Pennsylvania region accessible to trade and settlement.

The Allegheny Portage Railroad in southwestern Pennsylvania, is among the best places for history buffs and also train enthusiasts. It has a visitor’s center, an engine house, and an exhibition shelter. An arch bridge and a staple bend tunnel are also located about four miles east of Johnstown. Allegheny Portage Railroad Park also has an expansive hiking trail and picnic area ideal for outdoor activities.

Appalachian Trail National Scenic Trail

The most famous hiking trail in America, the Appalachian Trail came about in 1921 and was completed by 1937, however modifications are currently being made to make the route more accessible.

The Appalachian Trail passes through the Blue Mountains. It extends through the Cumberland Valley and goes all the way to the top of the Blue Mountain. The trail covers 2,200 miles (3,500 km) and extends from Georgia to Maine, but the halfway point is here in the Keystone State at Grove Furnace State Park. This national scenic trail is a hiker’s paradise as each year, over two million people tackle hiking on some portion of the trail.

Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail

Known as the first National Water Trail, it covers 3000 miles going through Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia, based on the original maps of the famous captain. The Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail covers the historical routes that the English explorer’s voyages took between 1607 and 1609. This trail passes through the Chesapeake Bay, James, York, and several other rivers.

The famous Captain John Smith Chesapeake was a Virginia colony leader who led an exploration along the Chesapeake Bay and the rivers of Virginia, between September 1608 and August 1609. The captain was also the first English explorer who mapped the Chesapeake Bay area and the coast of New England. When visiting the park, you get to explore colonial towns, magnificent landscapes, as well as take to the water while kayaking or boating.

Delaware & Lehigh National Heritage Corridor

Among one of the top NPS sites in Pennsylvania, the Delaware & Lehigh National Heritage Corridor covers several sites over 165 miles through the Lehigh Valley. It passes through trails, railroads, canals, and rivers.

The Delaware Lehigh Valley trail section covers the central region. A visit through the Jim Thorpe and Easton Trail leads you through ancient mid-18th century German villages, surrounded by bridges and uniquely styled Victorian houses.

Lehigh Valley is also renowned for being the producer of our nation’s building blocks, leading to the economic industrialization of the country. History buffs can also visit the National Canal Museum, while explorers can go hiking by following trails that lead to beautiful landscapes brimming with outdoor adventure.

Eisenhower National Historic Site

The preserved home of Dwight D. Eisenhower, the United States 34th President, is now a National Historic Site. The home and grounds sit on 690 acres, located just outside Gettysburg in rural Adams County.

The Eisenhower Historic Site also preserves the farm that acted as a weekend retreat for the President and his wife. It was here that he hosted many world leaders and where many historic meetings were carried out, among them a special focus on reducing the Cold War tension.

The Eisenhower National Historic Site is open to the public, and the house, barn, grounds, and cattle operation are available for viewing. Two different films cover the former president’s life and his premises. The home is beautifully decorated during the Christmas holidays and is very popular to visit with locals during this time.

Flight 93 National Memorial

The Flight 93 National Memorial commemorates those who lost their lives on the United Flight 93. This plane was one among four unfortunate aircraft hijacked during the September 11th terrorist attacks. United Airlines Flight 93 crashed on a mountain-top field in Somerset County when passengers and crew attempted to regaining control of the aircraft.

Visitors get to see interactive exhibits, artifacts, and multimedia-related news that aired on that fateful day. There is also a visitor’s center complex convenient for those visiting.

The memorial’s final phase was completed in 2018, making Flight 93 officially a permanent memorial. This monument stands ninety-three feet tall, and is designed as a musical instrument having forty wind chimes, a representation of the number of victims who died on the flight. Of all the national parks in PA, we found this one to be the most emotionally moving.

Fort Necessity National Battlefield

Wood fort in green field
Fort Necessity is a small fortification (photo: Jeffrey M. Frank/Shutterstock)

Fort Necessity National Battlefield is where the French and Indian War began in 1754. Here, British troops under the command of George Washington battled the French, and lost. Washington surrendered. While the British were initially defeated, the French would ultimately lose their colony.

This national park site was designated a national battlefield in 1961 and was listed as a national historic site in 1966. Washington’s battlefield was named Fort Necessity, a structure that protected the storehouse, which had supplies such as rum, flour, gunpowder, etc.

This historic battlefield is situated in the southwestern mountains of Pennsylvania, about 11 miles east of Uniontown. The entire Fort Necessity site covers approximately 900 acres and is a truly remarkable place worth visiting.

Friendship Hill National Historic Site

The Friendship Hill National Historic Site is a 675-acre parcel of land on the Monongahela River’s east bank. Situated between Point Marion and the Monongahela River, this stately Federalist home is a monument to Albert Gallatin, the former U.S. Congressman, Treasury Secretary, and Ambassador to Great Britain and France.

The stately home has several sections, and the earliest or initial building was a brick house built in 1789. The structure of the building was constructed using a Flemish bond having a Federal style. Minor modifications of the house have been done over the years, and they include a stone kitchen added in 1824, a state dining room in 1895, a bedroom wing in 1902.

History buffs can also learn more about this statesman through highlighted contributions and accomplishments at Friendship Hill.

Gettysburg National Military Park

Stone memorial at Gettysburg
The Gettysburg Memorial

Gettysburg is considered the turning point battle in the Civil War. Between July 1 and July 3, 1863, the most significant battle of the entire war was waged in the fields surrounding the town – and even in sections of the town itself.

Gettysburg is now among the most popular Pennsylvania national parks and has an estimated 2 million annual visitors. The park also has a museum and visitor center that showcases artifacts from the Civil War, Gettysburg National Cemetery, and a site where President Abraham Lincoln made his most famous speech, the Gettysburg Address. The best time to visit this national military park is from March to May or September to November.

Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site

Stone and red barn
Barn at Hopewell Furnace (photo: Lee Snider Photo Images/Shutterstock)

The Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site is located near Elverson in Berks County. Founded in 1771, Hopewell showcases the historic American 19th-century rural iron plantation. The furnace used back then was charcoal fired and iron blast based.

Between 1820-1840, the Hopewell Furnace was in demand and had the best production years. This was especially true during the Civil War, when business was booming. However, during the 19th-century, iron processing shifted from charcoal-fueled furnaces to steel mills using anthracite coal-fueled furnaces. With Pennsylvania being a large producer of anthracite coal, this was an easy transition for the region to make, however, it also made the Hopewell Furnace become obsolete. It was ultimately shut down in 1883.

In 1938, Hopewell Furnace was declared a National Historic Site, making it one of the very earliest cultural sites within the National Park System. This historical site has 14 restored structures located on 848 wooded acres.

Johnstown Flood National Memorial

Trees in a valley with a bridge
The Johnstown flood site (image: Zack Frank/Shutterstock)

The Johnstown Flood National Memorial came about because of the tragic history here. Back in 1889, the South Fork dam collapsed, causing the Johnstown Flood that took the lives of over 2200 people. At the time, this was the single greatest loss of American life.

Johnstown is located in a valley 60 miles east of Pittsburgh. Situated on the south fork of the Little Conemaugh River, it was perfect for damning. The location of this town has been the subject of frequent disasters over the years. Great floods have been experienced in 1894, 1907, 1924, 1936, and 1977. But the Great Flood of 1889 is the  one commemorated here.

Lower Delaware National Wild and Scenic River

Man fishing in boat on river
A fisherman on the Delaware River

The Lower Delaware is a designated National Scenic River that covers a 39 mile section of the Delaware River. This river has been subject to diversified industry, but also offers lots of recreational activities. The Lower Delaware has a rich cultural and historical background.

This scenic river has unique habitats that are hard to find elsewhere in Pennsylvania. For instance, some cliffs rise 400 feet above the river. North-facing cliffs have a flora found in arctic climates, while southern-facing cliffs are home to prickly pear cactus.

Lower Delaware River is an essential natural resource that provides a habitat for striped bass, American Shad, and river herring. The national scenic river also acts as a significant waterfowl route in the region and offers great birding opportunities. From a historical perspective, the river contains old navigation canals, colonial-era archaeological sites, and cute towns like New Hope in Bucks County.

North Country National Scenic Trail

The North Country Trail is a National Scenic Trail that traverses over 1600 miles of the northern section of the United States. The Pennsylvania portion of the trail covers approximately 265 miles through mainly hardwood forests. This trail marks a cultural, industrial, and historical past that’s worth exploring.

The trail is dedicated to preserving the natural habitat and offering visitors a memorable recreational experience. The trail passes through steam-filled rocky parks such as Moraine, McConnells Mill, and the famous Allegheny National Forest. In Pennsylvania, the trail brings visitors to old growth forests of hemlocks and white pines, while taking in some spectacular scenery.

Oil Region National Heritage Area

The Oil Region National Heritage Area commemorates the Edwin Drakes Oil well of 1859 near Titusville, which influenced the growth of the modern-day oil industry. The Oil Region is a federally recognized historical area in in Northwest Pennsylvania.

Better Known as the oil industry’s birthplace, the Oil Region preserves diverse cultural heritage, artifacts, and museums. In 1994, it was designated as an official heritage area by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

In 1859, the first successful commercial oil well was drilled that triggered the oil boom. The industry’s success led to rapid shifts of wealth, improved communication systems, and the establishment of better transportation systems across the oil-rich regions.

Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail

The Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail, which George Washington explored, is ideal for hiking, cycling and walking. Boaters also get to explore the Chesapeake River. This expansive national trail covers 830 miles of existing trail networks, with a few dozen miles located in Pennsylvania.

The trail begins in the Allegheny highlands of Pennsylvania, near the town of Ohiopyle. It winds its way along the Casselman River before ending near Cumberland, Maryland.

Outdoor lovers and adventures have the option of visiting the highlands to see where this river system begins. While the sections closer to Washington, D.C. are more popular, this area is more rewarding.

Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area

The Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area commemorates the steel-making heritage in the state that played such a significant role in the industrial revolution.

This National Heritage Area is located in southwestern Pennsylvania near Pittsburgh. Congress established Rivers of Steel as a place where historical, natural, and cultural resources combine to form a cohesive significant landscape.

Geographically, the area was formed when water carved through the Allegheny Plateau. Over time, the land set the stage for various economic activities such as agriculture, river trade, and eventually shifting to heavy industry.

Steamtown National Historic Site

Train engine
The train engine in the Scranton yard (image: Wang Kunjia/Shutterstock)

Another place worth visiting is the Steamtown National Historic Site. This railroad museum is on 62 acres in downtown Scranton. Steamtown is the only site in the National Park System that is entirely dedicated to the steam railroad history.

The park has museums and important historical structures worth exploring. It is located on the site where the former Scranton yard of the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad. Steamtown is a paradise for rail and train enthusiasts (and young children). History buffs can explore the History Museum to learn more about America’s railroad history.

Upper Delaware National Scenic and Recreational River

The Upper Delaware Scenic & Recreational River runs approximately 73 miles, with a significant portion along the Pennsylvania border. This river goes through Pike and Wayne counties in Northeast Pennsylvania. This is the last major un-damned river in the Eastern U.S.

Along the river are the remains of the Delaware and Hudson canal that operated between 1828 and 1898. They mainly carried anthracite coal and other products that were shipped to New York City.

The Upper Delaware site has the Zane Grey Museum and also the Roebling’s Delaware Aqueduct. The scenic river is ideal for canoeing and angling, while the trails are great for hiking.

Washington-Rochambeau National Historic Trail

Chairs and tables in an assembly room
The Assembly Room at Independence Hall on the Washington-Rochambeau Trail

The Washington-Rochambeau National Historic Trail is one of the most important in the National Park System. This covers over 680 miles of land and water trails, linking together hundreds of important historical sites that were important to the American Revolution. This is a ideal for history buffs.

In 1781, the French Army allied with the Continental Army under General Rochambeau’s leadership and fought the British Army in Yorktown, Virginia.

The effort and cooperation between the American and French armies led to a Yorktown Victory, which gave America her independence. But the roots of that victory trace back to Pennsylvania.

Within the Keystone State, this trail follows the Delaware River from Washington Crossing to the Delaware border. It takes in the historic sites of Washington Crossing, Independence Hall, Valley Forge, Hopewell Furnace and Fort Mifflin.

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