The state of Pennsylvania unites parts of the Great Lakes region and the Appalachian Mountains, including the Poconos and the Allegheny Plateau, of America's Northeast. Scattered amongst the scenic lands are over 2,500 lakes. Most of these were recently artificially created, with only about fifty natural lakes formed long ago by glaciers. That is a lot of swimming (or boating, or fishing) holes to choose from. There are tiny treasures, long, sprawling reservoirs, and, the roughly 77 miles of Lake Erie shoreline that Northwestern Pennsylvania proudly reaches out to claim. The following seven selections offer a beautiful slice of heavenly lake life – even in the wintertime, for some.
Antietam Lake Reservoir
In 1865, the city of Reading, in Southeastern Pennsylvania, purchased a dam and gristmill on Antietam Creek. Before long, the 665-acre Antietam Lake Park (now owned by Berks County) was in full bloom, with over twelve miles of interconnected hiking trails weaving through the tranquil woods and around the adorable reservoir. The focal points of the man-made body of water are the park's original caretaker's home and the short wooden bridge that leads out to the restored stone structure. Other adjacent attractions include the 60-foot-high waterfall formed by the dam and the 22-acre Angora Fruit Farm and educational facility in the center of the park. The area's well-rounded package makes for a lovely escape from Pennsylvania's fourth-largest city.
Allegheny Reservoir, also known as Kinzua Lake, is a long, slim, man-made marvel that stretches across 14 miles of Northwestern Pennsylvania and 13 miles of Southwestern New York, totaling 7,647 acres between the neighboring states. Though Allegheny Reservoir is a popular summer hangout, the 91 miles of scarcely-developed shoreline combined with the vastness of the Allegheny National Forest (on the Pennsylvania side) ensures that you can always find solitude. The gentle park and soft sands of Kinzua Beach make an excellent spot to hunker down, or if you are in the mood for a short but steep grunt up to Rimrock Overview, your reward will be sweeping views of this pristine region.
Even though only the small geographical chimney of Pennsylvania's Northwest touches the shore of this Great Lake, Lake Erie is without a doubt one of the state's best. Lake Erie may be the second-smallest of the five Great Lakes (by surface area), but it is still the thirteenth-largest in the world by the same metric. This massive feature connects The Keystone State via good old-fashioned water crossings with New York, Ohio, Michigan, and Ontario, Canada. In the center of the state's (relatively) short but sweet shoreline is the city of Erie. From here, visitors can head out onto Presque Isle State Park, whose sandy peninsula juts out into the shallow and warm waters, providing several stretches of beaches to choose from, as well as a paradise for bird-watchers.
Lake Harmony; the name alone conjures serene connotations. This glacial lake sits in the Pocono Mountains of Eastern Pennsylvania, fed by the crisp, clean waters from on high (one of the tourist draws for the area). The 2.5-mile-long body of water is home to the resort community of Lake Harmony, in Carbon County. The waters are privately owned, but this creates a perfect excuse to rent a quaint cottage or other waterfront accommodation. In the summer, the lake is ideal for fishing, boating, and simply passing the time without a care. And since most winters in these parts average sixty inches of snow, Lake Harmony becomes a hub for all the fun winter sports.
Promised Land Lake
If resort communities are out of the budget, then make for the promised land instead! This 422-acre lake is one of two watering holes in the 3,000-acre state park of the same name in Pennsylvania's northeastern quadrant. Promised Land Lake is an underrated gem (compared to the much larger Lake Wallenpaupack next door) that is an ideal spot to leisurely paddle around, post up on the modest beaches, spend an entire day walking through the woods, discover invigorating waterfalls, or sprawl out with a packed lunch, awaiting animal sightings. You may catch iconic bald eagle sightings by scanning the waters for fish, and every once in a while, friendly foxes like to poke their heads out from the trees.
The largest of Pennsylvania's inland lakes, Raystown Lake, is in the centralized Huntingdon County. This 8,300-acre beauty has twelve public access spots, ranging from boat launches to beaches, to campgrounds. One of the most memorable ways to explore these waters is by renting a houseboat for the week. Alternatively, Susquehannock Campground is a popular spot to spend a few nights under the shade of hardwood trees, and amongst good, like-minded company. Get to know the surrounding 29,000-acre recreation area by hiking the long, snaking footprint of the lake, or link up with one of the local scuba-diving companies to uncover the secret world beneath the surface.
The 250-acre man-made Gouldsboro Lake sits within the state park of the same name – both of which deserve some quality time. Gouldsboro is a prime swimming hole, which is worth noting since not all lakes in Pennsylvania allow for dip-taking. After tiring yourself out in the welcoming waters, refuel with a wholesome packed lunch at one of about 300 picnic tables spread across five separate wooded areas. This lake is home to plenty of fish, which makes for great year-round angling. In order to keep both air and noise pollution to a minimum, only boats with electric motors are permitted to launch. The surrounding area is both rugged and gorgeous – a recipe for challenging, yet satisfying hikes.
It is fascinating to see how humans can positively influence the landscape. Happening upon many of the Keystone State's beautiful lakes, it would be hard to believe that they have not always been there, cemented in time as peaceful, freshwater gathering points. But regardless of their origin, nothing beats a quiet, tucked-away waterway, or a zesty summer splash pad. If you are a resident of or a visitor to this northeastern state, swing by a few of these seven great lakes.