Gifford Pinchot State Park, located on Pinchot Lake in northern York County, is a Pennsylvania state park that spans across rural, sprawling farmlands and rolling, tree-lined hillsides. RVers and visitors who crave recreation but want to experience a quiet and peaceful stay will find Gifford Pinchot a little piece of waterfront-farmland paradise.
The park is open year-round from sunrise to sunset for day-use activities such as fishing, picnicking, and hiking. The park office, the beach, and overnight areas have seasonal schedules that change depending on the time of year. Visitors should check with the park for the most up to date information regarding open facilities and current hours of operation. Whether you are staying overnight, or just passing through, Gifford Pinchot State Park should be a stop along your route.
Guests who treasure visiting our national forests and protecting our unspoiled wilderness areas will love the fact that the park was named after conservationist Gifford Pinchot. In 1898, President Theodore Roosevelt appointed Pinchot to be the first Forester of the United States. Together, Roosevelt and Pinchot worked to place more than 200,000,000 acres of national forest land under scientific land management, a move which helped develop the Department of Agriculture’s U.S. Forest Service.
Gifford Pinchot State Park is less than half a day’s drive from many locations in Pennsylvania. From Philadelphia, the park is approximately a 120-mile drive northwest of the city. York and Harrisburg, larger metropolitan areas, are located approximately 20 miles away, and the iconic Pennsylvania Dutch Country is about an hour’s drive southeast of the park.
For campers who don’t have reservations, the campground offers same day, first-come, first-served campsites. Visitors should proceed to the campground office for more information about same-day availability. Please note that the campground office and the park office are two separate facilities, and they are accessible from different entrance stations.
In Elizabethtown, PA, you are surrounded by American Revolution and Civil War reminders, Amish culture, and the sweet, chocolatey legacy of Milton Hershey. Experience them all from Elizabethtown/Hershey KOA, where big rigs of up to 100 feet are welcome in premium and deluxe patio sites that offer full hookups and up to 50-amp service. Make your stay more comfortable with gliders, fire pits/rings, firewood, a charcoal grill, and an outdoor picnic area. Keep connected with Wi-Fi and cable TV, while staying well-fed at the on-site snack bar, or burn some calories swimming in the pool, fishing, or playing mini golf. You can find propane available for purchase on-site.
The Gifford Pinchot Campground is a large, seasonally-operated, lakeside campground featuring 289 asphalt back-in spaces available for reservation. Each campsite varies in size from 15 to 50 feet, with many of the areas giving campers view of the lake. This two-looped campground has many hookup options including full hookups, electric-only hookups (both 30 and 50 amp), and primitive style-camping with no hookups. Be certain to check your reservations carefully to ensure that your site is large enough for your vehicle, and you have all of the hookups that you are looking for. Pets are welcome at the Gifford Pinchot State Park, but pet-parents will need to ensure that they reserve a spot in the portion of the campground designated for pets.
The campground has several amenities, including community hydrants, bathhouses with showers and flushing toilets, a playground, horseshoe pits, a volleyball area, a swim beach, a boat ramp with boat mooring for overnight guests, an amphitheater, and close access to hiking trails. Campers may purchase ice, firewood, and use the campsite dump station for an additional fee. Generators are permitted during the day but should be silenced between the hours of 9 PM and 8 AM.
The wildlife is diverse and abundant year-round, and visitors can find animal watching a fun activity whenever they visit the park. Deer, rabbits, coyotes, and squirrels are commonly found throughout this large park, and if you are lucky, you may even catch a glimpse of a muskrat, mink, or bobcat. If you stay out past dark, you may see one of Pennsylvania’s many bat species hunting for night-flying insects.
Reptiles and amphibians are also abundant in this state park including turtles, toads, and interesting snakes like the brightly colored ringneck snake. Don’t discount the insect life either; Gifford Pinchot hosts a number of beautiful and unusual insects, such as the spicebush swallowtail, with its glossy black wings, and the American snout, a brush-footed butterfly with elongated mouthparts.
Pinchot Lake is an excellent destination in the wintertime for individuals who enjoy skating on natural surfaces. It is important to use safety precautions when skating on natural ice, and be aware of your surroundings. While four inches of ice is thick enough for a single skater, a pair or group of skaters will probably need thicker ice. People skating on the surface of a frozen lake should always skate with a buddy, wear a life jacket, and keep a close watch on weather conditions, as consistent below-freezing temperatures make the safest ice conditions. Avoid skating near cracks, slushy areas, and protrusions.
Many people don’t think about visiting state parks when there is snow on the ground, but at Gifford Pinchot, the wintertime is a beautiful time to visit. Rolling hills and farmlands covered in snow make cross country skiing scenic and more challenging. In the winter, when the snow is deep enough, many of the state park’s hiking trails are transformed, often making exceptional cross country trails.
Cross-country skiers should be sure to bring their gear in their RV or trailer, as well as appropriate cold-weather clothes. If you are just stopping by for the day to go skiing, rather than camping overnight, there is convenient parking at the Conewago Day Use Area and near the campground entrance. This will give you to access the Lakeside, Oak, Gravel, and Alpine trails, noted as some of the best skiing trails in the park.
Anglers who enjoy warm-water fishing should be sure to pack their rod and reel in their campervan. Pinchot Lake is a superb fishing destination for both boat and shore fishermen. The lake is best known for its large bass population, with largemouths, smallmouths, striped, and hybrid bass, which can reach anywhere from five to 12 pounds. Bass are by no means the only draw to this lake, however. Panfish, walleyes, crappie, and catfish all have healthy populations in this lake, as do smaller baitfish, like gizzard shad.
This lake hosts many types of events, such as bass fishing competitions, rowing regattas, and triathlons. Some of these activities may interfere with the efforts of anglers, so it is a good idea to check the park’s calendar of events before heading out. Ice fishing is often lucrative during the winter as well, with higher than average catches of Muskellunge, crappies, and walleye.
Gifford Pinchot State Forest is well-known for its clearly-labeled hiking, biking, and equestrian trails. The park has trails ranging in difficulty from easy, like the half-mile Alpine Trail or one-mile Old Farm Trail, to very difficult such as the 1.5-mile Beaver Creek Trail or the 8.5-mile Lakeside Trail. Visitors can plan anything from short, easy hikes to much longer and more strenuous hikes by using the interconnected, color-blazed trail system. Yellow blazes indicate hiking-only trails, red blazes mark multi-use trails, and blue blazes indicate that the trail is part of the Mason-Dixon Trail, a 200-mile trail that traverses a seven-mile section of Gifford Pinchot State Park.
Three boat-launch areas are available 24 hours a day on Pinchot Lake, and there are several mooring and canoe rack spaces that can be rented during the summer months. Campers can tow in their own boats, as long as they have the proper registrations and permits. If you did not bring your own boat along with you, the Quaker Race Day Use Area, about 2.5 miles north of the camping area, has a seasonally operated boating concession that rents boats hourly, daily, overnight, and weekly. Visitors can choose to rent canoes, kayaks, paddleboats, rowboats, or electric motor boats, when the weather permits. Rental operations can close because of inclement weather.
During the peak season, from around late-May to mid-September, water enthusiasts can visit the swimming beach at the Quaker Race Day-Use Area. This picturesque swimming beach is a smoke-free area located next to the boat rentals. Close the marina, you can also find picnic facilities, a playground, a restroom, and a snack bar. People of all ages and interests can enjoy the water, whether they are swimming or observing the lake from the shore.
The swimming beach is particularly active on weekends during the height of summer; if you are looking for a more leisurely swim, you may want to plan your trip for a weekday. While pets are allowed in the majority of the areas in Gifford Pinchot State Park, they are not allowed on swimming beaches. It should be noted that there are no lifeguards on duty and swimming is at your own risk.
Gifford Pinchot is a prime location to record some new birds in your book. This state park is a unique resting stop because the trees in the area provide a haven for resting birds that have spent many hours flying over open farmland. As the weather warms or cools, different bird populations migrate through the park. Vireos, thrushes, and warblers are just a few types of birds that are frequently seen resting in the park along their migratory flights. During the summer months, campers set up lakeside can watch for waterfowl, including ducks, geese, gulls, and herons, as well as raptors like the bald eagle or red-shouldered hawk. In the winter months, seven species of woodpecker inhabit the park including red-headed, downy, and pileated varieties.