Are you looking to spend your next RV vacation in a grandiose mountain setting? Cowans Gap State Park, located in Allens Valley between the Cove and Tuscarora Mountains, not only offers scenic views but also treats guests to a rich history and a plethora of outdoor recreation opportunities. Pennsylvania was of great importance during the French Indian War in the mid-1750s, and Cowans Gap was used as a critical route through the mountains by the British.
Fast forward 100 years, and the area became a significant iron mining area, eventually leaving the area barren after years of deforestation. Relief came in 1907 when the lumber company shut down for good. By 1933, the area's natural landscape was beginning to recover, and with the help of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), the park we know and love today was constructed. Many of the original CCC structures remain to this day, including the cabins, picnic shelters, and hiking trails.
If the history and scenery weren't enough to entice you to the area, the sheer number of outdoor activities available may have you speeding towards southern Pennsylvania. Visitors to this 1,000-acre park can partake swimming, boating, and fishing on the lake, or enjoy a picnic along the scenic shoreline. There are also 13 miles of trails available to hikers, and hunting is allowed in the park and the surrounding Buchanon State Forest during specific seasons. The park's unique geography and geology prove to be a good habitat for a variety of species, and you can see the diverse flora and fauna that call this area home. The park remains open year-round, and even in the winter, people flock here to enjoy ice-skating, cross-country skiing, and ice-fishing.
Cowans Gap's Campground is open from April through December and offers hundreds of sites for RV and tent campers. You can hunker down at one of the many electric sites, or sleep under the stars at a walk-in tenting site. However you choose to enjoy your time at Cowans Gap State Park, you'll be glad you stayed a while.
Cowans Gap State Park is located in Allens Valley in southern Pennsylvania, halfway between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. Situated in the middle of two mountain ranges, the Tuscarora and the Cove mountains, the park is a great getaway for those looking to enjoy scenic mountain views without lugging the rig all the way up a mountainside. That being said, the roads in and around the park do still present some steep inclines and sharp turns, so RVers should proceed with appropriate caution. Luckily, a few major routes will get you within minutes of the park, including I-76, US-30, and US-522.
Once inside the park, roads are paved and well maintained, making for easy travel between the main points of interest. The main campground and rustic cabins are located on the south side of the park, while the other camping loop and lake can be found on the north end. If you don't want to deconstruct camp, consider packing the bikes along in the motorhome so you can ride from point A to point B.
Visitors will find plenty of additional parking outside of the campgrounds, near the boat launch and swimming area at the lake, and by the park office.
There are 162 RV-friendly campsites spread between two loops at Cowans Gap State Park. Sites range in lengths and amenities, from basic 20-foot sites to large 82-foot sites with electric hookups. There are also a number of tent-only sites spread between the two loops. All sites are equipped with a picnic table and fire ring, and restrooms with flush toilets and hot showers are also available.
Campground Area A is the larger of the two loops and is located on the west side of Cowans Gap Lake. Guests will find both ADA-accessible sites and dog-friendly sites in this loop, along with a centrally located dump station. Some sites are available from April through December, while others close in either September or October.
Campground Area B is located on the northeast side of Cowans Gap Lake and offers a few electric sites and a few basic sites with no hookups. A dump station is available at Campground Area A. This small loop is open from April through October.
Whichever loop you choose to stay in, you'll be close to hiking trails, additional parking lots, and lake access. Reservations are available up to 11 months in advance.
If you're not one for planning, you can show up to the park and see if there are any open sites, as any unreserved campsites at Cowans Gap are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Reservations are however recommended, especially during the peak summer months. The campground is split between two loops, with site lengths varying between 20 and 82 feet in length. Some sites are equipped with electricity, while others are basic with no hookups. Wherever you rest your head, you'll find restrooms with hot showers and flush toilets, nearby hiking trails, and a dump station.
If you'd like to get out of the RV for a few nights and really be one with nature, you can sleep under the stars in one of Cowans Gap's tent-only sites. There are seven walk-in sites that are located on the northeast side of the lake near Campground Area B. Each site is equipped with a picnic table and a fire ring, and modern restrooms and drinking water can be found nearby. Guests will need to hike into these sites, but there is a parking lot located nearby for your vehicles. Tenting sites are available from April through October and reservations can be made up to 11 months in advance.
Those camping with a crowd can utilize the park's organized group tenting area. Located on the northeast side of the park just above Campground Area A, the organized group site can accommodate a maximum of 40 people. The site is equipped with fire rings, benches, and picnic tables, along with flush toilets and water spigots. No RVs are allowed at the site, but a large parking area is located nearby. Reservations are required for the group site and can be made up to 11 months in advance.
Cowans Gap State Park offers visitors the chance to stay in one of ten rustic cabins originally constructed by the Civilian Conservations Corps back in the 1930s. These cabins are located on the west side of the lake and are outfitted with an indoor fire pit, modern kitchen appliances, and enough bunk beds to sleep up to four guests. There is no indoor plumbing, but a water faucet can be found outside, and restrooms with flush toilets and hot showers are located in the nearby Campground Area A. Three of the cabins allow pets for an additional fee, and one cabin is ADA-accessible. Cabin reservations are required and can be made up to 11 months in advance.
If all the sites were spoken for at Cowans Gap State Park, you won't have to go far to find a place to park the rig for the night. Cowans Gap is surrounded by state parks and forests, many of which offer RV camping facilities. Colonel Denning State Park is the closest option, located about an hour to the northeast of the park. Here overnight guests will find 44 RV-friendly sites, 31 of which are equipped with electric hookups. Caledonia State Park is about the same distance away to the east of the park and is equipped with hundreds of RV-friendly sites, ranging from basic sites to sites with full hookups.
Mild weather is typical at Cowans Gaps, but the summer months can get fairly hot. Luckily, the park maintains a 500-foot sand swimming beach, so don't forget to pack your bathing suit along in the travel trailer. Even if you don't dip your toes in the water, there is plenty of shoreline for you to soak up some rays, or just relax with a good book. Once you've had enough sun for the day, you can head to the nearby shaded picnicking area, outfitted with shelters, fireplaces, grills, and tables. There are also restrooms, a concession area, and a parking lot near the beach.
Cowans Gap Lake also allows boating for those who prefer to be on the water rather than in it. You can tow your own vessel behind the Sprinter, or rent a rowboat, kayak, or paddleboat at the boat concession on the south side of the lake. Boaters should note that only electric motors are allowed on the lake. Two boat launches are located on the northwest side of the lake, along with parking lots for trailers and vehicles.
Throughout the peak season, Cowans Gap State Park offers guests of all ages the chance to participate in a variety of outdoor education programs. These family-friendly programs are a great way to get the young ones out of the fifth wheel and interested in nature, and adults will likely learn something new too. Programs could include guided hikes, hands-on activities, evening fire-side programs, or talks about specific park animals. Head to the park office to learn about which programs are available during your stay.
Stretch your legs after a long ride in the Class A on over 13 miles of trails available at Cowans Gap. Trails range in length and difficulty, so hikers of all skill levels will be able to find a path that suits them. One of the most traversed trails in the park is the Lakeside Trail. This easy, 1.5-mile loop will treat you to scenic views of Cowans Gap Lake. For a more challenging trek, check out the Standing Still Hiking Trail. About 2.5 miles of the 76-mile trail cross through the park, and if you're a seasoned hiker, you can even hike north to the nearby Greenwood Furnace State Park. Or, you could join one of the many connector trails available, including the Mid-State Trail, Tuscarora Trail, or Appalachian Trail.
No matter what time of year you park the pop-up at Cowans Gap, you're sure to see an abundance of plant and animal life around the park. The off-season is a great time for wildlife viewing because the crowds are sparse, and animals are more likely to come out of their hiding places. Tread lightly along the trails, and you might just see some of the park's full-time residents, from deer and bears to chipmunks and turkeys. It's also possible to hear the chirping of various songbirds or the ribbits from frogs and toads looking for a mate.
Anglers RVing at Cowans Gap will have plenty of opportunities to cast out during their stay. The 42-acre lake has proved plentiful, and common catches include trout, bass, panfish, perch, and catfish. There are two ADA-accessible fishing piers on the lake, along with two boat launches if you prefer to drop a line from further out in the lake. The south branch of the Little Aughwick Creek also carves its way through the park and is another good spot for some trout fishing. Wherever you choose to cast out from, be sure you have a Pennsylvania fishing license.
More than 600 acres of land is available for hunting, dog training, and trapping during designated seasons inside of Cowans Gap State Park. Take aim at deer, squirrel, or turkey during your time at the park -- just leave the groundhogs alone, as the hunting of these critters is prohibited. If you don't have any luck inside the park, drive the campervan over to the nearby Buchanon State Forest for some more acreage to hunt from.
There's no bad time to visit Cowans Gap State Park, and even after the dog days of summer are over, there's still plenty of fun to be had. Pack your favorite winter gear along in the motorhome and spend a day playing in the snow. Hiking trails and unmaintained roads transform into routes for cross-country skiers, and once there's a healthy layer of ice on the lake, visitors can enjoy skating and ice fishing. Be sure to dress in lots of layers, as winters in southern Pennsylvania can get cold.