Pennsylvania is home to 124 state parks (and counting!) that encompass more than 300,000 acres of public land. State parks are prime destinations for anyone looking to experience outdoor recreation. No matter where you live in Pennsylvania, there’s a good chance that a state park is located within minutes of your location, and many of them have great fishing either within their boundaries or nearby.
In northwestern Pennsylvania alone there are dozens of state parks, but rather than list them all, I’ve chosen four that have become some of my favorite places to visit by myself as well as with family. Some of these parks have lakes within their boundaries. Others, however, offer tons of scenery and adventures for the family but require a little bit of driving to get to a good trout stream.
Below you’ll find brief descriptions of four state parks that have earned my respect, the species available to tempt with flies, a tip or two for fishing there, and additional advice concerning things to do that are of interest to families. If you’re looking for a great family destination where you can find good fishing, learn about history, and all enjoy lots of time in the outdoors, these four northwestern Pennsylvania state parks are a great place to start.
Chapman State Park, Warren County
Chapman State Park is an 862-acre state park in Warren County. The lake within the park consists of 68 acres with good fishing for a number of species including bass and panfish. The park opened in 1951 and sits adjacent to the Allegheny National Forest and State Game Lands 29, both of which offer an abundance of opportunities for outdoor recreation as well. Chapman State Park, though, offers plenty of things to do for families and fly fishers. Here are a few things to consider when visiting this area.
Fly fishing: Stocked trout in Chapman Dam Lake. Fish for native brook trout in Farnsworth Creek. Fish for stocked trout and lots of warm water species in nearby Tionesta Creek. Fish for stocked trout and native trout in Blue Jay Creek. Other productive trout streams require just a bit longer drive.
Chapman Dam Lake was recently drained and re-stocked with bluegills and other panfish. While anglers are permitted to keep the stocked trout, the panfish currently must be released. The young fish are hungry, and fly-fishers can enjoy catching and releasing panfish throughout the summer. (Tiny dry flies with barbless hooks are strongly suggested). Farnsworth Road forks off of Chapman Dam Road and provides easy access to Farnsworth Creek, which is a narrow, usually crystal-clear stream that flows through a beautiful habitat. At Farnsworth, sneak up to fallen timber in the stream and drift size 18 and smaller offerings.
Family activities: There are two boat launches, (one in the campground and another on the opposite side of the lake), for canoes and kayaks. Chapman Park offers some of the best hiking in Pennsylvania. Biking the flat-grade, former railroad bed trail that extends from the campground for at least 5 miles into State Game Land 29 is popular. Hunting opportunities in the SGL include bears, deer, squirrels, and turkeys.
A drive to the nearby Allegheny Reservoir and Kinzua Dam is a family favorite. A trip to nearby Barnes, Pennsylvania, is where Route 666 leads to souvenir shopping at the Tall Oaks Store, which is nestled next to Tionesta Creek. It is known to locals as “The Neatest Little Store in the Woods”.
Camping: Two, well-supervised, loops provide electric sites for RV use, as well as a dozen tent sites that are secluded in the forest surrounding the upper loop. Sites on the upper loop are scheduled to be revised for full hook-up. Yurts and cabins are available for rent. Pets are permitted on lower loop only. Two playgrounds, a picnic grove, a swimming beach, and several fishing piers are available for handicapped people. When they post a 5 MPH speed limit in the campground, they mean it!
Pymatuning State Park, Crawford County
Pymatuning State Park in Pennsylvania’s largest state park and encompasses 17,088 acres of Pymatuning Lake. Three-quarters of Pymatuning Lake resides in Pennsylvania and the remaining quarter in Ohio. A three-mile causeway runs through the center of the lake, between Pennsylvania and Ohio. The lake was formed in the 1930s by damming up the Shenango River and has become a prime destination for walleyes, bass, and musky. Pymatuning Lake can be accessed via PA Route 6 from the north and U.S. 322 from the south.
Fly fishing: Bass are probably the most sought fish with a fly-rod at the Pymatuning Reservoir. When the water is above 62 degrees, fly fish for bass in any of the numerous bays from a boat, canoe, or kayak. Twitch poppers or any significant dry fly near bay entrances or boat docks. Pymatuning Reservoir, which is one of Pennsylvania’s largest inland lakes, shares reciprocal fishing rights with Ohio, because it can be accessed from many launches in both states.
Surprisingly, boats are limited to 20 HP or less. Pymatuning is renowned for its bounty of fish, especially bass, walleye, and muskellunge. Most muskies stocked in lakes throughout the Keystone State begin their lives in Pymatuning and its hatchery.
Family activities: Picnicking areas are available in dozens of areas. Hiking and biking trails are accessible at nearby Jamestown Park. Canoes, kayaks, and boats (including pontoon boats), can be rented at several nearby establishments. Children enjoy feeding carp at the Linesville Spillway, where fish food and bread morsels can be purchased. The waiting carp are so abundant that it is common to see ducks and gulls appear to walk on the fish.
Camping: Electric sites for RV and/or tent use at two separate locations. (Linesville, PA and Jamestown, PA,). Both campgrounds include a sandy beach and play areas for children. Modern bath & shower facilities. The Jamestown campground includes a camp store.
Presque Isle State Park, Erie County
Presque Isle State Park is a 3,112-acre peninsula that juts out into Lake Erie a few miles west of the the city of Erie. This unique land structure was formed approximately 11,000 years ago and is today a great staging point for anglers to launch watercraft to fish the wind-sheltered bays and lagoons along Lake Erie’s southern shore.
Fly fishing: Bass and northern pike in all the bays and lagoons that are protected from Lake Erie by the peninsula. I enjoy casting minnow imitations or white woolly buggers from a vessel floating in any of Presque Isle’s bays. Gray, green or yellow floating poppers work well when stripped near lily pads.
Both the East Basin Pond and West Basin Pond on Presque Isle are stocked with trout twice every spring and once in the fall. Fishing generally slows down here during the summer months as these “ponds” warm up, but by then, bass fishing in the bay starts getting good.
Family activities: Boating, including canoes and kayaks, which can be rented. Fishing charters on Lake Erie itself for walleyes or steelhead are popular. Presque Isle borders the City of Erie, where you’ll find all the dining and shopping options you’d expect at any large city. Waldameer Amusement and Water Park is positioned at the entrance to Presque Isle State Park and is a great place to take the family to cool off on a hot summer day.
Camping: Although Presque Isle State Park is primarily a day-use park, there are a few campsites available. Your best bet for camping is to check out local options in Erie County but aren’t actually located on the peninsula. These generally fill up quickly, too, so you’ll have to book fairly far in advance of any trip. On Presque Isle, though, there are picnic shelters and picnic tables where you can stop and have lunch.
Oil Creek State Park, Venango County
Oil Creek State Park consists of 6,250 acres that includes the well-known Oil Creek, a population trout and bass fishing destination in Venango County.
Oil Creek State Park has the distinction of being the location of the world’s first commercial oil well, Drake’s Well. The oil boom of the 1860s in this region almost left Oil Creek for dead. It’s reported that a fine layer of oil coated the surface of the stream and the streets in many of the small nearby town were simply a mixture of mud and oil. Fortunately, time has healed many of these scars, and Oil Creek State Park now is a great place to bring the family to fish, camp, and learn more about how the history of this region still impacts our society today.
Fly fishing: Oil Creek flows through the gorge located within the state park. On each end of the gorge are sections, designated at Delayed Harvest Artificial Lures Only. The upper DHALO can be accessed via the parking area near Drake’s Well. The lower DHALO can be accessed in Petroleum Center; this section is also a part of the Keystone Select Trout waters program.
Hatches aren’t as prevalent as they once were, but blue-winged olives, tan caddis, and terrestrial imitations are good choices. Nymphs and streamers usually catch their share of fish, too. During the summer months, strip larger streamers or crayfish imitations in the lower sections of Oil Creek for smallmouth bass.
Family activities: Picnicking, a paved bike trail and several hiking trails are available throughout the park, including by Drake’s Well and in Petroleum Center. A hiking and biking trail also parallels Oil Creek through the gorge and provides a peaceful experience away from the crowd. Drake’s Well, (America’s first commercial oil well) provides historical interest and is a great place to take the family for a day.
Camping: Oil Creek State Park offers tent-only camping in designated areas. For RV sites with full electric hookups, check out the nearby Oil Creek Campground in Titusville.