The Ultimate Guide to Staying in Yurts and Cabins in Pennsylvania State Parks

From how to pick a spot to must-pack essentials to the wildlife you’ll encounter, here’s everything you need to know to have a great woodsy getaway.


an example of cabins in pennsylvania state parks

This camping cottage, as it’s classified, can be found at French Creek State Park,  just an hour outside Philadelphia. It’s one example of cabins in Pennsylvania state parks. (Photo courtesy of Pennsylvania State Parks, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania)

Fall is the perfect time for a cabin or yurt getaway in a Pennsylvania state park — or the perfect time to plan one for next spring or summer. Plenty are within an easy drive of the Philadelphia area. And with high elevations, swimming lakes and waterfall hikes, there are plenty of options for cooling off. Here’s everything you need to know about tent-free camping, from which parks allow pets to that whole bathroom sitch.

I. PLANNING YOUR TRIP

Where are these state parks?

Pennsylvania offers more than 40 state parks that have cabins, yurts or both.

The map below shows you the locations of these parks, with each green tree indicating a state park with overnight lodging (meaning something more than a place to pitch your tent):

a map of state parks with cabins and yurts in pennsylvania

A map of state parks with cabins in Pennsylvania (Image via Commonwealth of Pennsylvania)

The closest to the Philadelphia area are Nockamixon State Park in Bucks County and French Creek State Park, which straddles the counties of Chester and Berks. So, just over an hour from Center City.

If you want to extend your radius to, say, about two hours, you can head north and a bit west and book a cabin or a yurt at one of our favorites, Tuscarora State Park, which offers a great swimming lake and an elevation of more than 1,000 feet. Or proceed due west from Philly to Gifford Pinchot State Park, which is just south of Harrisburg. Lots of amenities there. But also lots of people.

pennsylvania state park cabins

Tuscarora State Park, which is two hours from Philly.

If you’re looking to get away from it all, consider traveling further. Get closer to the “wilds” of Pennsylvania.

I can personally recommend the yurts at scenic Bald Eagle State Park in Centre County, a little less than three and a half hours from Philadelphia. And I’m a big fan of the cabins at the very wilderness-y Parker Dam State Park, in the middle of Pennsylvania’s elk country. That will cost you just under four and a half hours of travel time, but there’s plenty of payoff. (Did I mention the elk?)

pennsylvania state park cabins

Gather round the fire at a Pennsylvania state park.

How far in advance do I have to book?

If you like to plan: Reservations for cabins and yurts in Pennsylvania state parks open 11 months in advance, and lots of people like to book early. Plenty of options remain for the warmer months next year, but if you’re trying to land a lakefront yurt over Fourth of July weekend, you’d better get moving. Flexibility is key. The state’s reservation page allows you to extend your search window by two to four weeks. If the park you want shows nothing available, try another park. They’re all delightful in their own way. And if all else fails, check back later, since people cancel all the time.

If you like to wing it: A little secret about reservations in the state parks is that the cancellation fee is only $10. Because the parks are so popular, some die-hard regulars will book multiple blocks over the next year. If they cancel seven days or more before their arrival date, they’re only out 10 bucks. Not behavior we approve of, but that’s people for ya. The good news is, this means that if you’re more of a last-minute person, you can use the state’s “Camping This Weekend” search and almost always find something — especially if you don’t mind going a bit further afield, where more middle-of-nowhere adventures await.

pennsylvania state park cabins

Parker Dam State Park, which is 4.5 hours from Philly.

Are all the cabins in Pennsylvania state parks the same?

No. Far from it.

There are a few things that all of the lodging options come with, so let’s get that out of the way first. No matter what level you choose, you’ll have lights, electrical outlets, an outdoor fire ring, an outdoor picnic table, and some number of beds.

Now for the differences.

For the most comfort, you’ll want to look at what the state classifies as modern cabins, which are all log cabins. These are the only cabins with bathrooms inside them, so if you don’t fancy walking outside to a bathroom at three in the morning, the modern cabin is for you. The bathrooms in the modern cabins also contain showers.

a modern cabin in a Pennsylvania state park

An example of a modern cabin at a Pennsylvania state park (Photos via Commonwealth of Pennsylvania)

The modern cabins in Pennsylvania state parks also come with electric heat, sleeping for up to eight people (varies by park and cabin) in a combination of full-size beds and bunks, a dining and living space with seating and tables, and a full kitchen. That kitchen comes complete with a full-size refrigerator, a sink, a stove, a microwave and running water. (Modern cabins are the only cabins with running water inside.) So, yeah, really “roughing it.”

The bad news: Most Pennsylvania state parks that offer overnight lodging don’t have modern cabins. The good news: Three of the aforementioned nearby ones — French Creek, Nockamixon and Gifford Pinchot — do.

The next level down, though still quite comfy, is the rustic cabin. These were built way back in the 1930s and are either log or  stone cabins. Depending on the park, your heat might come from a fireplace, a wood stove or agas heater. Your rustic cabin will contain a stove and a refrigerator and sleep anywhere from two to eight people.

an example of a rustic cabin at a pennsylvania state park

An example of a rustic cabin at a Pennsylvania state park (Photos via Commonwealth of Pennsylvania)

You’ll need to leave the rustic cabin to find a bathroom and running water, though these are always very close to your cabin. The nearest state parks with rustic cabins are more than a couple of hours away: Black Moshannon, Worlds End and Promised Land.

Then are deluxe cottages, which as far as I can tell are pretty much the same as rustic cabins in Pennsylvania state parks but were built much more recently. Heat is always electric. The closest park with deluxe cottages is Hickory Run, near the Poconos.

Yurts in Pennsylvania state parks are essentially rustic cabins but in the form of a yurt, which is an enclosed circular structure with a domed roof. Fourteen state parks offer yurts, including French Creek, Tuscarora, Gifford Pinchot and Bald Eagle.

an example of a yurt in a pennsylvania state park

An example of a yurt at a Pennsylvania state park (Photo via Commonwealth of Pennsylvania)

And then there are oh-so-quaint camping cottages, which are really lovely in an absolutely minimal way. (That’s a camping cottage at the top of this article.) You’ve got your beds, a porch, some chairs and maybe a table. No heat. Gifford Pinchot, Tuscarora, French Creek and Hickory run are the closest state parks with camping cottages.

Got all that? Here’s a cheat sheet — including price ranges to book — to help you remember:

MODERN CABIN
Bathroom Sitch: Indoor bathrooms and showers
Kitchen: Full-size fridge, sink, stovetop, oven, microwave
Water Source: Indoors
Heat: Electric
Skylight: No
Sleeps: 6-8, depending on the park
Cost: $55 to $140 per night, depending on park and season

RUSTIC CABIN
Bathroom Sitch: Bathrooms within 300 feet
Kitchen: Full-size fridge, stovetop and, in some cases, an oven and microwave
Water Source: Pump nearby
Heat: Fireplace, wood stove or gas heat, or a combination thereof
Skylight: No
Sleeps: 2-8, depending on the park
Cost: $20 to $105 per night, depending on park and season

DELUXE COTTAGE
Bathroom Sitch: Bathrooms within 300 feet
Kitchen: Full-size fridge, stovetop and, in some cases, microwave
Water Source: Pump nearby
Heat: Electric
Skylight: No
Sleeps: 5-6, depending on the park
Cost: $52 to $104 per night, depending on park and season

YURT
Bathroom Sitch: Bathrooms within 300 feet
Kitchen: Full-size fridge, stovetop and, in some cases, microwave
Water Source: Pump nearby
Heat: Electric
Skylight: Yes
Sleeps: 4-6, depending on the park
Cost: $35 to $85 per night, depending on park and season

CAMPING COTTAGE
Bathroom Sitch: Bathrooms within 300 feet
Kitchen: None
Water Source: Pump nearby
Heat: Electric
Skylight: No
Sleeps: 5
Cost: $35 to $85 per night, depending on park and season

pennsylvania state park cabins allow dogs

Yes, your dog is invited (to some of these parks).

Can I bring my dog?

In some cases, yes. But only dogs. Leave your cat, potbelly pig, lizard, etc., at home.

Some parks allow dogs in a handful (or sometimes one or two) of their cabins through their “Dogs in Cabins” program. Some don’t allow dogs at all. And the list changes each year, so be sure to scout it out well in advance. The fee is just $3 to $5 per mutt, with a two-dog max. But keep in mind that state parks are pretty serious about noise complaints, so if your dog is one of those incessant barkers, you may be asked to leave. And that would be, well, ruff.

Here is a list of the participating “Dogs in Cabins” parks for 2021:

a list of pennsylvania state parks that allow dogs in cabins for 2020

And here’s a list of the Dogs in Cabins parks for 2022:

What should I pack?

This will, of course, depend on how long you’re staying, what you’re planning on doing (fishing? mountain biking?), and what your personal needs are. My packing list when I go to Bald Eagle by myself is much different from when I’m taking the family.

It also depends on whether you’re planning on doing all of your cooking over the open fire (which sounds great until it rains) or using the kitchen, if you’re staying in a cabin that has one. No cookware is provided, so you’ll have to bring your own. That said, it seems that there’s a Walmart within 15 or (maximum) 30 minutes of every single Pennsylvania state park where you can pick up groceries and anything you forgot.

Speaking of which, the things we always forget and wish we didn’t are …

Duct Tape: Once you have it, you’ll realize all its uses, like patching the holes in the window screen that the squirrel climbed through to steal your food. (Yes, this happened to us.)

A Good Fan: It may seem like cheating to bring a strong fan, but what’s wrong with a little cheating when it’s 2 a.m. and you’re still awake because it’s hot?

Extra Batteries: You really don’t want to have to walk to the bathroom in total darkness after the batteries in your flashlight die. Better yet: Bring extra flashlights. Darkness is your enemy.

An Extension Cord: All of the cabins and yurts have electrical outlets, but they’re not always in the best places — especially when you’re trying to watch a movie you downloaded on Netflix on a dying iPad while the rest of the family is sleeping.

Want more recommendations? Here’s an exhaustive — and I do mean exhaustive — packing list published by the state:

Pennsylvania State Park Camping Supplies Checklist by philly victor on Scribd

II. YOUR CABIN EXPERIENCE

How do I check in/check out?

You used to go to the park office and check in, but during COVID, the rangers started leaving keys in lockboxes or elsewhere at your cabin. Just call the park office the day before your stay to find out what the current procedure is. For checkout, you leave the keys in a dropbox at the park office. Check-in and checkout are both easy and straightforward.

Is there air-conditioning?

If air-conditioning is a deal breaker for you, stay in a hotel. There are no cabins or yurts with air-conditioning in Pennsylvania state parks.

But the rustic cabins and yurts we’ve stayed in all had fans. Plus, as I mentioned earlier, all of the lodgings have electrical outlets, so you can bring your own fan as well. I’ve also heard of people bringing those portable air conditioners.

You can also consider staying in a state park when it’s not peak summer heat. (After all, we’re only talking about a month or two of real heat in Pennsylvania, and many parks are open year-round, or at least most of the year.) Or pick a cabin that’s in the mountains, where temperatures are cooler.

Should I be scared of those communal bathrooms?

Our experiences at the Pennsylvania state parks have shown us that these communal bathrooms are well-maintained and that the showers inside are nice and hot and have good water pressure. That said, they are communal bathrooms, so take that for what it’s worth. There are toilet stalls as well as shower stalls. This isn’t going to be like reliving the nightmarish showers in your high-school locker room.

Is there wi-fi in the cabin?

If you have to ask if the state parks have wi-fi, you might want to consider another type of trip. Because they don’t. And if you’re thinking, well, I have a hot spot through my cell-phone provider, you better check your provider’s coverage map to be sure you’ll have service, because depending on the park, you may not. Some parks are more off-the-grid than others, so if you do need to be in touch with the outside world, plan carefully. We’ve gone days without so much as one bar. It’s unsettling and just plain weird at first, until your primal self remembers: Oh, right, this is what the world used to be like.

Where are the cabins with indoor fireplaces?

You may be thinking that you have an outdoor fire ring, so why would you need an indoor fireplace? Two things: The ambience it creates is incredible. And rain. There’s nothing that cures a rainy day like a game of Scrabble or reading by a real fireplace inside.

a fireplace inside a cabin at Parker Dam State Park in Pennsylvania

The wood-burning fireplace inside our cabin at Parker Dam State Park

The following parks have cabins with indoor fireplaces: Black Moshannon, Clear Creek, Cook Forest, Cowans Gap, Hyner Run , Kooser, Laurel Hill, Linn Runn, Ole Bull, Parker Dam, Promised Land, Raccoon Creek, Simon B. Elliott, Sinnemahoning and Worlds End.

PSA: Never bring firewood from home to a Pennsylvania state park, for reasons of ecological impact (think: lanternflies). Use only local firewood, whether from a nearby store (very easy to find firewood at gas stations, convenience stores, etc., in rural PA), the local firewood guy (there’s always one — look for signs on telephone poles near the park or ask at the office), or harvested by you from the woods. Just don’t cut down any standing trees. That’s a no-no.

Is it true that I can’t bring beer?

When you enter a Pennsylvania state park, one of the first things you’ll notice is a sign that reads: Alcohol prohibited. And it is. Remember, this is Pennsylvania. It wasn’t that long ago that you couldn’t even buy wine on a Sunday.

But once you walk around and talk to people, you’ll realize that many of them quietly and discreetly enjoy some beer or wine. Rangers don’t take kindly to a party atmosphere (nor do most campers), so those rule breakers who decide to drink a fifth of bourbon and howl at the moon at midnight are going to get cited and kicked out.

III. OUTSIDE YOUR CABIN

No, you won’t come across a grizzly bear. They don’t live here. But you may come across black bears, which lay claim to most (if not all) of our state parks.

Are there lots of wild animals?

You’re in the woods, and the woods are home to plenty of wild animals. Depending on where in the state you choose to go, some of the “scarier” wild animals you might see are bears, bobcats, bats and snakes, among others. Problems between humans and these animals are few and far between. But bears are plentiful enough that you should probably familiarize yourself with what to do when you encounter a black bear, since what you should do is probably not what your instincts will tell you to do.

Other animals you might see: wild turkey, deer, elk (elk-spotting is a huge thing out near Parker Dam), coyotes, eagles, osprey. The list goes on. Bring binoculars, and don’t get too close.

pennsylvania state park cabins

You’ll never see one of these majestic animals in the eastern half of the state. But in the western half, they’re a big wildlife tourist attraction, with people driving for hours to play spot-the-elk.

Is it buggy?

Again, you’re in the woods, and there are bugs all around you. As for whether you’ll see them, that’s a little bit like asking if there will be those biting flies on any given day at the Jersey Shore.

But in all our Pennsylvania state park stays, we’ve never had bugs ruin our trip. It might get gnatty at certain times of day, depending on the weather, so this might be a good time to take a dip in the lake or read a book indoors. We’ve never been overwhelmed by flies or bees, though they’re obviously out there.

If you have a spider phobia, I feel obliged to tell you that you’ll probably see spiders.

pennsylvania state park cabins

If you’re a true, diagnosed arachnophobe, a Pennsylvania state park probably isn’t the best place for you.­ More than three dozen species of spiders populate the parks.

What do we do in the park other than sit around the fire?

Immerse yourself in nature, see new sights, and get that much-needed R&R.

Catch a big one: Nearly all the state parks in Pennsylvania contain or lie near a body of water where you can fish, whether that’s a lake, a river or a stream. Bass, trout and catfish are among the most commonly hooked in these parts. And speaking of hooks: Many state parks participate in equipment loaner programs, so you can grab a rod and other gear at the camp office. No, they won’t put the worm on the hook for you. Yes, they will remind you that you need a fishing license. Grab one online before your trip.

pennsylvania state park cabins

Locust Lake State Park.

See the stars: One of the benefits of being in a barely lit state park, far away from civilization, is that you get to see the sky filled with stars. If you’ve had a telescope sitting in your closet for the past 10 years, this is the time to break it out. If not, you can still have a lot of fun by using stargazing apps like Night Sky or Star Walk, which help you identify the stars, planets, and celestial bodies you’re staring at. Remember to download one before you arrive in case you don’t have a signal. These GPS-based apps still work even if you have no bars.

pennsylvania state park cabins

Go hiking at Ricketts Glen State Park.

Take a hike: Whether you want a gentle woodland stroll or a more strenuous outing that resembles actual exercise, you’ll have plenty of options. Stop by the park office upon your arrival to pick up a trail map. If hiking is a major priority for you, consider Worlds End State Park, about three hours away from Philly. Avid hikers say Worlds End offers some of the best hiking in the entire state.

Sit back and relax: If you’ve forgotten how to disconnect, now is the perfect time to remember. Be sure to pack a good book — actually, make that two good books, in case you get rained out. Bring all those New York Times crossword puzzles and New Yorker back issues you have in a pile somewhere. And by all means, assuming this isn’t a solo trip, don’t forget a deck of cards and Scrabble.

Should we venture outside the park?

I’ve never taken a trip to a Pennsylvania state park without venturing outside of it. Research the area around the park you’re staying at before you go, and make a list of some spots you want to check out.

If you go to Tuscarora, take a day or half-day trip to Jim Thorpe. And if at Tuscarora on a Wednesday, you’ve just gotta pay a visit to the Wednesdays-only Hometown Farmers’ Market, which is filled with all sorts of curious objects and curious people. Oh, and lots of good food.

If you visit Bald Eagle, you can’t miss strolling around the charming Victorian town of Bellefonte, just 15 minutes away.

And if you go way out to Parker Dam, drive the long winding roads to Benezette for prime elk viewing. There’s also a 100-mile yard sale out there each July.

These are just a few examples. Each park has its own nearby attractions, oddities and restaurants worthy of a trip. All you have to do is find them (just like those elusive elk).