Deep in the remote and rustic forests of north-central Pennsylvania, the darkest piece of the east coast is preserved as Cherry Springs State Park. The brilliantly dark skies in Potter County are a true haven for astronomers, who readily flock to this location year after year. Within the Susquehannock State Forest, you do not have to share a love for the heavens because there are plenty of other activities to enjoy here.
Attractions are scarce out in these parts, but outdoor recreation is abundant. This is the wild of Pennsylvania woods, and that means limited cell coverage as well as rather backcountry settings. The park and surrounding area make up the Pennsylvania Wilds, and allow for public access to hiking, biking, fishing, hunting, and all sorts of other outdoor adventures. That means there is much to share in these parts, with recreations readily encouraged to extend from the park's boundaries.
As the first Dark Sky Park, Cherry Springs is a well-noted advocate for the protection of our heavenly bodies above and the darkest skies to see them with. That means when you come here, you have to anticipate going by some different rules as the sun sets. Luckily, the park makes it easy to integrate into the surroundings. Options for parking your trailer overnight include staying either within the Rustic Campground or the Overnight Astronomy Observation Field. The richness of this land reflects the beauty held within the arms of the Milky Way. It is a serene, simplistic getaway that makes for a unique east coast excursion.
Getting to Cherry Springs State Park is pretty straightforward, as it is about one of the few things out this far. Be prepared for a decent drive and a bit of an elevation climb. Once you have turned off of PA-44 in Potter County, you will be met with unpaved roads, either leading to public parking or to the campgrounds. All roads to the campgrounds are one way only.
The park is located at the southern end of a 15-mile long bike trail that starts at Denton Hill State Park and goes through Patterson State Park. At the top of the Allegheny Plateau and near the Appalachian Mountain Range, which were formed over 300 million years ago, expect to see some of the darkest skies you have ever witnessed, which is why this park is noted for its astronomy area.
For guests staying in the Overnight Observation Field, it is a courtesy between park guests, and a general rule, for RVs and trailers to park at outer sites within the observation field. This will help not to obstruct any views. Within the park's campground, there are certain sites marked "tent only" on the campground map to help you identify which are available to your rig, and those that are not. Once parked here, it is only a short walk to get to the public viewing area as well as nearby trails.
Cherry Springs State Park hosts a rustic campground with 30 sites that are available for reservation. While reservations are not required for all sites, coming with a rig means you are going to want to be sure you will have adequate space to park it. With only 30 sites, it is a good idea not to rely on the few first-come, first-served spots. This is a popular destination during peak seasons of May through September, when families and astronomy enthusiasts flock to the fields to get a good view of the night sky. Tucked away, far up in the Pennsylvania woods, the campgrounds are quiet and serene. There is not much by way of attractions out here, meaning the people who are here often share the same goal - to enjoy nature at its finest.
Rustic means you will not have any hookups for water, electric, or sewer. However, all sites include a fire ring, picnic table, and a lantern hanger, and you can find several potable water spigots and vault toilets around the park. There is also a dump station to drop by on your way out. All roads through the campgrounds are marked as one way and you can expect a bumpier ride, as the paths are not paved. However, roads are still level and easy to navigate. While a popular destination for all sorts of folk of Pennsylvania and beyond, the campground does not allow for furry additions to the family to join in on the fun. In short - pets are not allowed.
A nightly fee permit is required in order to set up camp on the Overnight Astronomy Observation Field. Fee envelopes are found at the Registration Kiosk, near the entrance to the field. Simply follow all provided instructions, adhere to the posted fee schedule, and list your location on the field so that you can be located in the event of an emergency. When traveling with a rig or trailer, you can expect to be parking along the outer rim of the field. This is a courtesy to other observers, so as not to take up viewing space.
It is also a requirement to not have any white light within vehicles and no headlights can be used after a certain time, meaning: no driving. These strict codes must be adhered to in order for all visitors to enjoy the park as it was intended - as the darkest spot on the east coast. Electricity is provided on the field; however, these power outlets are not available for camper hookups. These setups are all here for telescopes to plug in, batteries to recharge, small appliances, and for laptop use. This is a rather popular location during Star Party events, known astrological occurrences, and simply beautiful, clear nights, so do not be surprised to find the field rather packed.
Alternatively, there are other options when staying for the dark skies of Cherry Springs State Park. If the campgrounds of the state park are a little too rustic for your tastes or if they are full, Lyman Run State Park is about nine miles from Cherry Springs. Here, you can at least get a shower and hookup to electric. There are also several modern restrooms with running water, and you will also find potable water hydrants around the park.
Other recreations can be enjoyed at this park alternative, as this place is home to a lake where you can try your luck at catching some fish. The thick forest between these two state parks makes for some great surroundings for your outdoor favorites. The Pennsylvania Wilds are public lands open to all who wish to hike, bike, fish, hunt, and explore. In addition, pets are allowed here so long as you keep them properly restrained and supervised at all times while you are here.
Throughout the summer, park educators and guest speakers promote stargazing programs, which are extremely popular due to the darkness of the eastern sky here. These programs are open to the public as well as park guests and are held on the north side of the park, at the Night Sky Public Viewing Area. Some programs require prior registration. To find out which will be held during your stay, you can look up program schedules online.
Pack your family and friends in the RV and head to Cherry Springs State Park for a picnic. After spending the first part of the day hiking around, exploring other pieces of Potter County, it is nice to take a welcoming sit and enjoy a quaint picnic. Families staying within the campground each have a table within their site. For guests who want to meet outside of their sites, other tables and grills can be found near the Night Sky Public Viewing Area.
Just because Cherry Spring State Park does not have a lake does not mean you cannot cool off so make sure you pack your swimming suit and beach toys in the RV. If you want to cool off from the Pennsylvania heat you can go to nearby Lyman Run State Park. They have a huge sandy beach that is open from Memorial Day until Labor Day with a bathhouse, snack bar, and boat rental. You can spend your day there before coming back to the Cherry Spring State Park Overnight Astronomy Observation Field for the night.
This annual three-day show attracts thousands of visitors every August. The event features tried and true lumberjack contests, such as log rolling, tree felling, block chopping, chainsaw events, and ax throwing. This is definitely one to tack under the unique column. Besides such attractions, other entertainment is hosted, as well as artisans and food. Make sure you pack your camera in the RV so you can get plenty of pictures to share with your friends on social media.
Cherry Springs State Park is part of the Pennsylvania Wilds and these regions of the woods are also known as Elk Country. Scenic and remote, the park is not only a perfect location for spotting what is in the sky, but what is on this Earth. Elk are such large, magnificent creatures, and it is a joy to spot one during your state park exploration. You will also see other critters such as weasels, deer, otters, rabbits, and chipmunks. If you are quiet, you may even spot some porcupines, raccoons, and even minks.
The park's own one-mile long trail is easy, by all hiking standards. The trek begins at the information kiosk and continues through the surrounding forest. Along the way, side exhibits are featured that inform guests on the landscape and forestry practices. This self-guided trail tour is a great way to take in the park at your own pace and realign with nature. You can also learn about the history of the park and the nature that live within the park’s boundaries.
The peak, green seasons are not the only time you will see plenty of folks out enjoying Pennsylvania's varied climate. Winter weather typically means seeing plenty of the white stuff, and a higher elevation often helps to keep it so. Certain areas of public land are open for snowmobiling, and rentals can be found right in the heart of Potter County. While no snowmobiling can be done within the park itself, visitors can enjoy this recreation just outside the lands in the Pennsylvania Wilds.
You may not have heard of geocaching, but it is the biggest treasure hunt on the planet. All you need is a phone with GPS, and you are all set. Of course, you will need to get on a geocaching website first to get some coordinates for caches left in the area but then you can head out to find them. Bring along a pencil or pen and a trinket or token to place in the container after you find it. Don’t forget to sign your name and date to the logbook and put it back exactly where you found it so others can enjoy the find too.
Whether you have got your camera out to snap some photos of the surrounding wildlife or the awe-inspiring landscape, or are working on your nighttime photography, Cherry Springs State Park is sure to provide the perfect subjects to fill your photo albums. Many come here to perfect their planetary prowess and get the perfect shot of the Milky Way. Be sure to pack your telescope and nighttime lens for your camera in the motorhome before coming to the park to get the best shots of the night sky.
The park features two distinct opportunities for astronomy enthusiasts, the Night Sky Public Viewing Area and the Overnight Astronomy Observation Field. Visitors who want to spend the entire night out, taking in the sky, are welcome to use the Overnight Astronomy Field for observation and photography. You can even park your rig out here - just make sure you are courteous of other visitors and park on the field's outskirts. When staying overnight, there is a small fee to set up in the overnight field or if you are a frequent visitor, get a Galaxy Pass that permits you access all year long.
Do not forget to pack your fishing gear in the camper before heading out. While the park does not feature any areas for fishing, visitors can wade on over to neighboring Pine Creek's waters to get a few bites. The dense forest between Cherry Springs State Park and its sister park, Lyman Run State Park, houses branches of the creek that welcome fishing lines. These woods are part of Pennsylvania Wilds and are open to public fishing. Make sure all permits and licenses are in order for your excursions.
Go ahead and pack the bikes in the RV so you can ride around on the one-mile trail around the park. If the lone trail is too short for you to enjoy for any length on a bike, however, just outside of the park's boundaries, several other trails wind through the thick Pennsylvania woods. Actually, the park itself is at the end of a 15-mile bike trail that starts at Denton Hill State Park. You can also explore some of the nearby Susquehanna Greenway Trail, which stretches over 50 miles through Pennsylvania. This area is open to the public for all recreation, as Pennsylvania Wilds.