If you're looking to immerse yourself in the great outdoors during your next camping trip, then pack the RV and head to Colonel Denning State Park. Surrounded by the Tuscarora State Forest, this Pennslyvania park allows visitors the chance to reconnect with nature while enjoying a wide array of outdoor activities.
How the park got its name is a bit of a conundrum. History recognizes William Denning as a Revolutionary War sergeant during the late 1700s, but no one is quite sure why colonel became an adage to his name. During his time in the army, he made wrought iron canyons in Nathaniel Irish's Company of Artillery Artificers. Unfortunately, none of the canyons survived to the present day, but if you're looking to see some history during your camping trip, William Denning is buried in the nearby town of Newville. And that's not all the history you're in for when you visit. The park and much of its structures were constructed in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps, and much of the original edifices remain today.
Those more interested in nature than history will be happy to find miles of hiking trails, a 3.5-acre lake for fishing, boating, and swimming, and winter sports trails once the snow begins to fall at Colonel Denny State Park. While the park remains open year-round, those looking to stay the night can do so between April and December. With nearly 50 RV and trailer friendly sites, most of which are equipped with electric hookups, you'll be able to relax in comfort during your sojourn.
Located in Newville, Pennsylvania, in an area known as the Doubling Gap, Colonel Denning State Park is easily approachable, even for large vehicles. The gap refers to the area where the scenic Blue Mountain doubles back on itself. The park is also surrounded by the Tuscarora State Forest, making it easy for visitors to escape the stresses of city life and unwind in the absolute wilderness that this area presents. Although this park may leave you feeling off the grid, major highways and a few towns are closer than they may seem. Newville city center is just eight miles to the south, and Landisburg is about nine miles to the north. You'll be able to fuel up and find supplies in either of these nearby towns. The park entrance can be accessed from either Doubling Gap Road or Sheaffers Valley Road. Both routes are easily accessible from major interstates, either I-76 or I-81, but those hauling trailers or navigating big rigs should aim to take the Doubling Gap Road, as Sheaffers Valley Road hugs the mountainside and features steep inclines much of the way. Once inside the park, you'll find paved, straightforward roads that should be easy for vehicles of any shape and size to maneuver.
There are a few extra parking areas in the park near popular trails and other points of interest. These extra lots are gravel and fill quickly during the busy summer months, so it might be a good idea to bring the bikes along to get around the park during your camping trip.
The Colonel Denning State Park campground is located on the west side of the park and features 44 RV and trailer friendly sites. Of the 44 sites, 31 are equipped with electrical hookups, and 17 are pet-friendly. Guests will find a picnic table and fire ring at each site, and flush toilets, showers, water fill-up stations, a dump station, and additional parking are also located on-site. Maximum site lengths vary between 15 and 50 feet. Although the park remains open year-round, the campground is only open from April to December. Reservations are available and can be made up to 11 months in advance.
Along with the 44 RV camping spaces, Colonel Denning State Park also offers six walk to tent campgrounds. The tent camping area, located just south of the main campground, is where guests can experience primitive camping while still being close to flush toilets, showers, drinking water, and well, civilization. If you'd like to camp under the stars, reservations can be made up to 11 months in advance.
If you're looking for a campground that can accommodate a large number of people, Colonel Denning State Park has one group campground available for groups up to 20 people. Located at the end of the tent sites, the group site requires guests to hike about 500 feet from the main campground. Once there, guests will find five tent pads, lantern holders, a fire ring, and picnic tables. The group site can be reserved up to 11 months in advance.
Get the poles and tackle boxes out of the Airstream and head to Doubling Gap Lake. This three and a half acre lake is renowned for its trout fishing. The fishing season begins in April, and so long as you are up to date on your Pennsylvania fishing license, you can cast out from the ADA accessible fishing ramp on the southwest side of the lake. When you're ready for a break, a picnic area is located near the fishing ramp.
Once the heat hits during the busy summer months, you'll be glad to find a reprieve in the cool waters of Doubling Gap Lake. A sand swimming beach can be found on the southern end of the lake and is open to visitors from late May to mid-September. No lifeguards are present, so an adult should always accompany children. Once you've had enough fun in the water, picnic tables and a playground are located nearby, as are restrooms.
If you're looking for some education during your RV trip, Colonel Denning State Park offers unique learning opportunities for visitors of all ages. Whether you're interested in history, the environment, flora and fauna, or geology, you'll be able to learn something new when you participate in the programs available at the park. Youth programs are available during the summer months, and the Visitor Center offers exhibits on plants, animals, and geology of the park during the peak season. Check with park rangers to learn about which programs are available during your camping trip.
Don't hesitate to attach the kayak to the top of the Sprinter when you visit Colonel Denning State Park. Doubling Gap Lake is a popular boating destination for canoes and kayaks during the warm summer months. Visitors hoping to enjoy a day on the lake should be aware that motorized boats are prohibited, and that no boats are allowed on the lake during the beginning of the trout season until the Friday before Memorial Day. A carry-in boat launch is available on the west side of the lake near the parking lot.
With over 18 miles of trails, Colonel Denning State Park is sure to please hikers of all skill levels. Trails range in length and difficulty, and some trails connect to Tuscarora State Forest, and from there to the famous Appalachian Trail. For an easy hike, check out the Doubling Gap Nature Trail. This one-mile, self-guided trail will lead you around the lake and features interpretive signs about the area's natural history. If you're interested in hiking the Tuscarora Trail or the Appalachian Trail, you can hike your way over from the Flat Rock Trail, or you can drive the campervan down the road to the trailhead.
If you'd like to partake in hunting during your RV vacation, you're in luck. Colonel Denning State Park has a designated hunting area available for use during established seasons, as does the adjacent Tuscarora State Forest. You can take aim at deer, squirrel, and turkey, but hunting woodchucks is prohibited. Dog training is also allowed from Labor Day through March in certain areas of the park. Before heading out, make sure you have a valid Pennslyvania hunting license.
Even when the dog days of summer are over, there is still plenty to do around Colonel Denning State Park. The park remains open year-round, and when the snow sticks, visitors can enjoy all their favorite snow sports. Once a healthy layer of ice covers Doubling Gap Lake, adults and children alike relish the opportunity to skate across the lake. The park does not monitor ice thickness, so visitors must do so themselves before lacing up the ice skates. Cross country skiing and snowshoeing are also permitted in the park, and although no trails are groomed for that specific purpose, you can ski or snowshoe anywhere you see fit. If you tow the snowmobile behind the rig, you will find trailer parking and various snowmobiling trails located in the adjacent Tuscarora State Forest.
Those looking for a peaceful trail ride can load up the horses and head to Colonel Denning State Park. Along with two equestrian parking areas, horseback riders will find one trail in the park and numerous other trails in the surrounding Tuscarora State Forest. Park trail maps can be found at the park office. Unfortunately, no horse camping is available at the park, but that should not stop you from spending the day out in nature with your favorite horse.