Exploring Cowans Gap State Park in Fulton County

A fisherman at Cowans Gap State Park.

If you’re looking for the best things to see and do at Cowans Gap State Park, you’re in the right place!

View from the Lakeside Trail at Cowans Gap State Park.
View from the Lakeside Trail.

Cowans Gap State Park is a fantastic 1,085 acre park located in Fulton County (with a small portion extending into neighboring Franklin County as well).

Springtime view from a fishing pier at Cowans Gap State Park in Fulton County, Pennsylvania.
Springtime view from a fishing pier at the park.

The park is situated in Allens Valley, between Cove Mountain to the west and Tuscarora Mountain to the east.

View from Cowans Gap Overlook at Cowans Gap State Park.
View from Cowans Gap Overlook.

Both Cove Mountain and Tuscarora Mountain are part of the Buchanan State Forest, home to many incredible scenic overlooks.

Big Mountain Overlook near McConnellsburg Pennsylvaia.
Big Mountain Overlook in the Buchanan State Forest.

At the heart of this “park in the valley” lies 42-acre Cowans Gap Lake, built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the mid 1930’s.

A flock of geese on Cowans Gap Lake.
A flock of geese on Cowans Gap Lake.

So with a 1,085 acre State Park, a 42 acre lake, and thousands of additional acres of State Forest surrounding it all, there are TONS of opportunities for outdoor adventures at Cowans Gap!

December afternoon on the fishing pier at Cowans Gap State Park.
December afternoon on the fishing pier.

What I’m going to share with you are 7 of the best things to do at Cowans Gap State Park, in no particular order.

Rest area along the Lakeside Trail at Cowans Gap State Park.
Rest area along the Lakeside Trail.

7 of the Best Things to Do at Cowans Gap State Park

Cowans Gap State Park sign along Aughwick Road.
Park sign along Aughwick Road.

1. Hiking at Cowans Gap State Park

Cowans Gap State Park is home to many miles of trails.

The Lakeside Trail at Cowans Gap State Park.
The Lakeside Trail.

The 1.5 mile Lakeside Trail does an easy, relatively flat loop around Cowans Gap Lake.

The Lakeside Trail at Cowans Gap State Park as it passes over the breast of the dam on Cowans Gap Lake,
The Lakeside Trail as it passes over the breast of the dam on Cowans Gap Lake.

Even in the “off-season”, the Lakeside Trail is a beautiful hike.

Late December sun glare at Cowans Gap State Park.
Late December along the Lakeside Trail.

The Knobsville Road Trail is a steeper but still pleasant trail that follows an old Civilian Conservation Corp road, eventually passing Cowans Gap Overlook (more on that in a bit).

The shared section of Knobsville Road Trail and the Standing Stone Trail.
The shared section of Knobsville Road Trail and the Standing Stone Trail.

You can download the official Cowans Gap State Park trail map for a complete picture of your hiking options.


2. Fishing at Cowans Gap State Park

Cowans Gap Lake is home to trout, bass, perch, catfish, and panfish.

One of the fishing piers at Cowans Gap Lake.
One of the fishing piers at Cowans Gap Lake

The normal PA Fish and Boat Commission regulations apply, and you can download a free Cowans Gap Lake water depth map from the DCNR website.


3. Boating at Cowans Gap State Park

Cowans Gap lake is an excellent spot for kayaking, canoeing, and paddle boarding.

Kayakers and paddleboarders at Cowans Gap State Park.
Kayakers and paddleboarders enjoying the lake.

The standard PA Fish and Boat Commission rules for personal watercraft apply here, and in the summer months you can rent a boat at Cowans Gap as well.


4. Swimming at Cowans Gap State Park

Cowans Gap State Park is home to a 500 foot-long sand beach.

The beach at Cowans Gap State Park.
The beach at Cowans Gap State Park.

This is a swim at your own risk (no lifeguards) beach open from May-September, with restrooms and a concessions stand nearby.

View of the beach at Cowans Gap State Park.
View of the beach in early May.

5. Picnicking at Cowans Gap State Park

Cowans Gap State Park offers a huge array of picnicking options, from simple tables and charcoal grills to 4 large lakeside pavilions with fireplaces.

Picnic pavilion at Cowans Gap State Park.
Picnic pavilion at the park.

6. Scenic Overlooks at Cowans Gap State Park

Cowans Gap State Park is home to a pair of exceptional scenic overlooks just a few hundred yards apart.

Directions to the scenic overlooks at Cowans Gap State Park.
A map to the scenic overlooks at Cowans Gap State Park in Fulton County.

Cowans Gap Overlook along the Knobsville Road Trail offers an eastern view out over Cowans Gap Lake.

Fall foliage as viewed from Cowans Gap Overlook.
Fall foliage as viewed from Cowans Gap Overlook.

While Knobsville Vista along the Standing Stone Trail offers a western view in the direction of Knobsville roughly 1.5 miles away.

Knobsville Vista along the Standing Stone Trail at Cowans Gap State Park.
Knobsville Vista along the Standing Stone Trail.

7. Trail Riding at Cowans Gap State Park

Certain trails at Cowans Gap State Park are open to equestrians; the Knobsville Road Trail in particular is popular with the horse riding public.

Horse riding along the Knobsville Road Trail at Cowans Gap State Park.
Horse riding along the Knobsville Road Trail at Cowans Gap State Park.

There is a designated parking area (Lot #7) on the western side of the lake for horse trailers.

Horse Trailer parking at Cowans Gap State Park.
Horse trailer parking at the park.

If you’ve ever hiked to Cowans Gap Overlook, you’ll agree that riding a horse up to it seems like a much better option!

A horse and rider along the Knobsville Road Trail at Cowans Gap Overlook.
A horse and rider along the Knobsville Road Trail.

So there you have it – 7 of the best things to do at Cowans Gap State Park!

The Lakeside Trail at Cowans Gap State Park.
The Lakeside Trail.

Of course there are plenty of additional options – camping, birdwatching, hunting, nature photography, etc.

A view of Cowans Gap Lake from the Lakeside Trail.
A view of Cowans Gap Lake from the Lakeside Trail.

No matter what your tastes in outdoor recreation, you’re bound to find something to love about Cowans Gap State Park in Fulton County!

People enjoying the beach at Cowans Gap State Park
People enjoying the beach at Cowans Gap State Park.

Nearby Attractions

As mentioned at the beginning of this article, the Buchanan State Forest, which surrounds Cowans Gap State Park, is home a number of magnificent scenic overlooks.

An autumn afternoon at Big Mountain Overlook in the Buchanan State Forest
Big Mountain Overlook in the Buchanan State Forest near Cowans Gap State Park.

In my write-up “The 7 Best Scenic Overlooks in the Buchanan State Forest” you’ll find maps, directions, and photos of all 7 vistas.

Summit Road Vista near Sideling Hill in Fulton County PA
Summit Road Vista near Sideling Hill in Fulton County PA

10 Must-See Attractions in Franklin County shows you some of the best things to see and do just east of Cowans Gap State Park.

The best things to see and do in Franklin County Pennsylvania.
Scenes from Franklin County.

For a completely different experience, check out the Abandoned Pennsylvania Turnpike hiking/biking trail, with one of the trail heads located near Sideling Hill in Fulton County.

Sideling Hill Tunnel on the Abandoned PA Turnpike in September 2020.
Sideling Hill Tunnel on the Abandoned PA Turnpike in September 2020.

The abandoned South Penn Railroad Aqueduct in Fulton County is a 140 year-old, perfectly-preserved remnant of a railroad that never was.

The intricately-crafted South Pennsylvania Railroad Aqueduct in the Buchanan State Forest.
The intricately-crafted South Pennsylvania Railroad Aqueduct in the Buchanan State Forest.

The abandoned Sideling Hill POW Camp in Fulton County was used to house German prisoners of war after the Nazis surrendered in May, 1945.

Inside the General's quarters at the abandoned Sideling Hill POW Camp.
Inside the General’s quarters at the abandoned Sideling Hill POW Camp.

“The 15 Best Scenic Overlooks in Huntingdon County” will introduce you to a dozen magnificent vistas in this neighboring county.

The Ledges Trail Overlook in Huntingdon County at Trough Creek State Park.
The author at the Ledges Trail Overlook in Huntingdon County.

19 Must-See Attractions in Huntingdon County will introduce you to a host of recreational opportunities inside the borders of Fulton County’s northern neighbor.

Sunrise at Whipple Dam State Park.
Sunrise at Whipple Dam State Park in Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania.

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Rusty Glessner
Rusty Glessner is a professional photographer, lifelong Pennsylvanian, and a frequently-cited authority on PA's best travel destinations.