UPDATED NOV 26, 2019
Nothing beats camping when you’ve got waterfalls, bonfires, mountain overlooks, and a front-row seat to the stars. Next time you’re stuffing your pack or loading up the camper for a big adventure, circle these unbeatable campsites on your map.
Just 30 minutes west of the city, Raccoon Creek State Park is worthy of more than just a one day visit. All that hiking, swimming, and mountain biking can really tucker you out, so you might as well settle in after a long day of adventure. And seriously, you have options, no matter how “campy” you are. Don’t like dirt? Reserve a cabin or stay at the lakeside lodge. Like the camping community? Set yourself up at one of the 172 modern sites, complete with flushing toilets and a warm shower. But if you’re set on the wild, settle into the more primitive Sioux Rustic Campground or apply for a limited spot along the 19.5 miles of backpacking trails.
Ohiopyle State Park is like outdoorsy Kennywood. The thrill is real… and it can wipe you out. Whether you’re just stopping through on your GAP Trail bike ride, or you spent the day exploring the falls, kayaking some rapids, or shooting through the natural waterslides, you’re going to need a place to crash. Kentuck Campground has roughly 200 campsites, each one equipped with a picnic table and fire ring. But if you really want an experience, try a yurt — a round, wood- and canvas-walled tent. Ohiopyle’s yurts bunk five, have a wooden deck, stove, refrigerator, and electricity (not quite roughin’ it).
If you camp to go “off the grid”, you need to get to Quebec Run Wild Area. No, it’s not in Canada. It’s in Fayette County: Forbes State Forest, to be exact. And the Wild Area is really, really wild — there’s nothing developed for as far as the eye can see. Plus, only backpackers are allowed (no RVs or cars). They’re super serious about preserving nature. Even backpackers pitching tents, by rule, need to be out of sight of the numerous hiking trails and roadways. And permits aren't required if you're planning a one-night stay, so only you will know you’re out there, honestly.
Perhaps you’re a long-term camper. Or maybe you own a camper. Or you love camping so much that it’s what you use your vacation days on. In any case, bring your marshmallows and graham crackers to a lakeside spot in Keystone State Park near Latrobe. There, amongst the boating, swimming, and hiking, you can pitch a tent or park your RV at two different campgrounds (we recommend Lakeside, of course). Kick back, relax, and maybe get a jump on fishing the next morning. Oh, and they have two yurts. three camping cottages, and 11 cabins, if you prefer a different style of lodging.
Rock Falls Park near Slippery Rock wouldn’t even be a thing without—you guessed it—Rock Falls. Here, you can wallow in the shallows, sunbathe on the hot rocks, and crawl over the low cascading falls. But when the sun zaps your energy and your sunburn borders on sun-scorched, seek shelter at their rustic (and shady) creekside campground. Pretty primitive in the sense that you’re gonna have to “go” in the woods and bring your own water, the tranquil surroundings and ambient creek noise make it all worth it.
At Bear Run Campground, business is boomin’. No, really, it’s just one big camping community, and perfect for any extended camping stay. Tent space, RV slips, cabins, and cottages litter the 60-acre campus. It’s sort of like a “choose your own adventure” camping experience. You can keep to the primitive campsites before venturing out into sprawling Moraine State Park. Or, you can sit down in the cafe while your laundry is on spin-cycle and friends are in the heated pool… wow, camping is hard.
Okay, Breakneck Campground, we get it—you’re cool. Neighbors with the ever-popular McConnells Mill State Park, the campground is a hangout for all nature enthusiasts, hikers, kayakers, and tough climbers coming over from the Breakneck climbing and bouldering area. Once in the campground, lean on the railing of scenic decks, stoke a fire at a primitive campsite, or round up the gang for a game of sand volleyball. If a sleeping pad just won't cut it and a mattress is necessary for a good night's sleep, snooze in one of the cozy cabins or hillside huts.
Call it a taste of country just outside of the city… and we’re not just talking about their annual Bluegrass Festival. Mountain Top Campground in Tarentum offers another massive camp site for overnighters and those looking for month-to-month stays. They’re open year-round, meaning you never have to leave! (Good thing they have laundry and showers.) There’s plenty of room for camping and Kumbaya, but if you’re lucky enough to choose your spot, there are a few prime tent sites that overlook the mountains beyond.
Now that you’ve got a taste for mega-campgrounds, you need to swing by Buttercup Woodlands in Butler County. It offers the perfect opportunity to get active while camping. Featuring a swimming pool, basketball court, and plenty of open space, you can wash off at the showers before retiring to your RV, cabin, or tent knowing you’ve put in work that day (and by work, we mean fun).
Consider this a bonus camp spot, because Cherry Springs State Park is nowhere near Pittsburgh. Actually, it’s nowhere near anything, and that’s what makes it so special. It has proven to be one of darkest places on the East Coast, making it the ultimate stargazing getaway (seriously, you can’t see stars like these in the Burgh). Pack in the telescope and a few star charts before road-tripping the three- to-four-hour journey to Potter County (North Central PA). After a few hours of driving you can lay back, relax, and take in the stunning, sparkling Milky Way. And when your eyes get heavy, turn in at one of the 30 campsites.
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