If you’re looking for the best National Park sites in Pennsylvania, you’re in the right place!
What follows is a list of 11 of the best National Park sites in Pennsylvania, out of the more than two dozen sites in PA managed by or affiliated with the National Park Service.
I’m going to list these National Park sites from east to west, starting in Philadelphia and ending up north of Pittsburgh.
The list will include National Historic Sites, National Military Parks, National Memorials, and National Recreation Areas, among others.
I’ll keep the descriptions rather brief here – if you see a National Park site that interests you, click on the blue text links to read a more in-depth article about it.
1. Independence National Historical Park
You can’t have national parks without a nation, so it seems fitting to start this list off with Independence National Historical Park, nicknamed “America’s Most Historic Square Mile” due to the high concentration of iconic landmarks located here.
Independence Hall, Congress Hall, the Liberty Bell – the birth of our Nation can be traced back where Independence National Historical Park now stands.
Both the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution were signed here, making this arguably one of the most important historic sites in the United States.
2. Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area
The Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area is a 70,000 acre National Park site that protects 40 miles of the Delaware River, the longest free-flowing river east of the Mississippi.
Established in 1965, this recreation area is used for hiking, boating, fishing, camping, and a variety of other outdoor activities.
Raymondskill Falls, the tallest waterfall in Pennsylvania, can be found in the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area.
As can Dingmans Falls, the second-tallest waterfall in PA.
3. Valley Forge National Historical Park
Valley Forge National Historical Park near Philadelphia is a tribute to General George Washington and the Continental Army, which spent the winter of 1777-78 here, overcoming adversity of many kinds and emerging as a stronger, more capable fighting force that ultimately defeated the British forces in the Revolutionary War.
The park is spread out over 3,500 acres of meadows and woodlands, crisscrossed by miles of roads and hiking trails.
Scattered throughout the park you’ll find 52 monuments, markers, and statues, along with numerous structures, fortifications, and artillery pieces (some originals, some reproductions).
4. Gettysburg National Military Park
The Gettysburg National Military Park preserves the story of the Battle of Gettysburg, one of the defining events in our nation’s history.
Gettysburg was the bloodiest battle of the Civil War, with combined losses between the Union and Confederate armies of (roughly) 8,000 soldiers killed in action and another 40,000 wounded, captured, or missing in action.
Today the park encompasses nearly 6,000 acres, including large portions of the original battlefield and the Soldiers’ National Cemetery as well.
5. Eisenhower National Historic Site
President Dwight D Eisenhower and his wife Mamie purchased a farm adjacent to the Gettysburg National Military Park, where they retired to after his two-term presidency from 1953 to 1961.
President Eisenhower passed away in 1969 at the age of 78; Mamie continued to live on the farm until she passed away in 1979.
In 1980 the National Park Service opened the farm as a National Historic Site, allowing visitors to learn more about both Eisenhower’s presidency and private life.
6. Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site
The Allegheny Portage Railroad was the finishing piece of the Pennsylvania Main Line Canal, creating the first direct route between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.
This 36 mile-long track was the first railroad built across the Allegheny Mountains, allowing for canals on the eastern and western sides of the state to be connected, cutting the travel time between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia from weeks to just days.
Using an ingenious system of 10 inclined planes, 10 stationary steam engines, and a series of rails, cables, and pulleys, canal boats carrying freight and/or passengers could be loaded on flatbed train cars and winched up and down over the mountains, similar to how a modern day ski lift operates.
Today, the Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site is maintained by the National Park Service, allowing visitors to learn about and explore first-hand the “glory days” of the Allegheny Portage Railroad near Altoona.
Constructed as part of the Allegheny Portage Railroad and holding the distinction of being the first railroad tunnel built in the United States, the Staple Bend Tunnel is also maintained by the National Park Service as part of a rail trail.
7. Flight 93 National Memorial
The Flight 93 National Memorial is a tribute to the bravery, service, and sacrifice of the 40 passengers and crew members onboard United Airlines Flight 93 on September 11, 2001.
On that fateful morning, the passengers and crew of Flight 93 fought one of the first battles in what is now called the Global War on Terrorism in the skies over western Pennsylvania.
Thousands of visitors from around the world stop here every year to pay their respects and learn more about how the passengers and crew of Flight 93 fought back against their radical Islamic hijackers, thwarting the terrorists’ attempt to use the airplane as a missile against the United States Capitol.
8. Johnstown Flood National Memorial
The Johnstown Flood National Memorial honors the more than 2,200 lives lost and the thousands more injured in the Johnstown Flood of May 31, 1889.
The Johnstown Flood occurred after the South Fork Dam failed, causing 20 million tons of water from Lake Conemaugh to be suddenly released.
The Johnstown Flood National Memorial was authorized by the U.S. Congress in 1964, and preserves the remains of the South Fork Dam, the former Lake Conemaugh lakebed, the farm of Elias Unger, and the clubhouse and cottages of the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club, owners of the lake and dam in 1889.
The Visitor Center at the Johnstown Flood National Memorial is housed in a barn-shaped structure, located on the former farm of South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club President Elias Unger.
9. Fort Necessity National Battlefield
Fort Necessity National Battlefield in Fayette County is the site of the first battle in what would become known in North America as the French and Indian War (and known elsewhere as the Seven Years War), a global struggle for empire between the two superpowers of that time, France and England.
The Fort Necessity National Battlefield and three related, nearby properties managed by the National Park Service each tell an important part of the story of the French and Indian War and the years that followed.
In addition to the replica of the fort (the original was burned to the ground by the French following George Washington’s surrender), there is an exceptional Visitor Center with many artifacts, interpretive displays, and a theatre that shows a brief film about the events that unfolded at and around Fort Necessity.
10. Friendship Hill National Historic Site
Friendship Hill National Historic Site preserves the western PA home and estate of Albert Gallatin, often described as “America’s Swiss Founding Father”.
Gallatin was born in Geneva, Switzerland in 1761, emigrated to America in 1780, and purchased 400 acres in western PA in 1786, where he built the home he dubbed Friendship Hill.
Gallatin’s record of public service to his adopted country spanned nearly seven decades, including terms as both U.S. Senator and U.S. Representative from Pennsylvania, Ambassador to both England and France, and United States Secretary of the Treasury for 13 years.
The Friendship Hill National Historic Site preserves not only the home and estate of Albert Gallatin, but many artifacts from his long and distinguished life.
11. The North Country National Scenic Trail
The North Country National Scenic Trail is a footpath stretching over 4,800 miles through 8 states, including northwestern Pennsylvania.
The trail passes through some of northwestern PA’s prettiest state parks, including the Forest Cathedral at Cook Forest State Park.
The Glacier Ridge Trail at Moraine State Park makes up yet another section of the North Country Trail.
Alpha Falls at McConnell’s Mill State Park is one of several waterfalls along the PA portion of the North Country National Scenic Trail.
So there you have it – 11 of the best National Park sites in Pennsylvania!
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