Back to PA – Locust Lake State Park

Back to PA – Locust Lake State Park

After wrapping up our tour through Vermont, we steered the RV west back into New York for a brief stop at Love Apple Farm before venturing onward to Locust Lake State Park in Pennsylvania. Love Apple Farm features pick-your-own fruit from the expansive orchard of apple, peach, plum, and cherry trees, as well as a large farm market with local produce, meats, cheeses, and freshly baked goods. After a delicious lunch at the cafe, we stocked up on fresh fruits and vegetables before exploring the grounds.

The farm is also home to goats, llamas, a miniature pony, a miniature donkey, ducks, rabbits, and other animals which are part of the petting zoo, freely open to all visitors. If your travels take you close to Ghent or Hudson in southeastern New York, try to plan a stop at Love Apple Farm for a snack, incredible produce, cider donuts, or just to pet a goat.

Planning his escape…

Our return to Pennsylvania entailed lots of driving on interstates 84 and 81, something we normally try to avoid as much as possible. But we had many miles to cover before arriving at Locust Lake, so we navigated the frequently bumpy, often congested, perpetually-under-construction PA highways to reach our next destination.

Locust Lake State Park is located in Barnesville PA, about seven miles from Tuscarora State Park. Locust Lake features 282 campsites, 80 of which are 50-amp electric sites, and all are well-shaded. The campground offers a dump station, flush toilets, hot showers, boat rental, swimming area, camp store, boat launch, fishing pier, and numerous hiking and biking trails. Our Labor Day weekend plans were up in the air through August, so we didn’t book a site here until about a week before the holiday. The campground had plenty of non-electric sites still available, so we chose a site online that would fit Cecil and hoped we’d have enough of a break in the trees to use the solar panels. Between the multiple rainy days and thick canopy, we didn’t enjoy any solar recharging, so we resorted to firing up the generator to keep the batteries charged. We don’t like to use the generator much at all (we’ve clocked seven hours of use since we bought the RV in March) for various reasons, but luckily the sites in our loop were empty early in the week so we didn’t have to disturb the neighbors for a couple of hours of generator use. The sites quickly filled as the holiday weekend approached, and we skated through the weekend without the need to run the generator anymore.

Swimming beach at Locust Lake
Boat launch area

The quality of sites vary, so I find it difficult to point any potential campers in a particular direction. The electric sites seemed fairly level, but the non-electric sites range in size and grade. Our site (202) had a large recreation area, but the stone parking area was fairly short and not level – we used three leveling blocks on one front tire and still had to walk uphill from the kitchen to the bedroom for the week. We saw a handful of people checking out sites before deciding, so that’s an option (assuming everything isn’t already booked for a holiday weekend). But I should also point out that the showers were always hot, even when the campground was filled for the weekend – which was a definite bonus as the skies remained overcast and the temperatures crept closer to 50 than 70. We also fought off hordes of mosquitoes all week, rain or sun, warm or cold – not sure if this is a common thing at Locust Lake, but we didn’t experience so many at any of our other stops this past summer.

Cecil in site 202
Site 173, much longer and flatter than most

The history of Locust Lake will be familiar to our regular readers at this point – early mining and heavy logging in the mid-1800s leading to widespread deforestation and seasonal flooding and wildfires by the early 1900s, a theme that carries throughout the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The land was eventually purchased privately and developed into a fishing spot and picnic grove, before the state purchased the land in 1966. The U.S. Soil Conservation Service, together with the state, constructed the dam for flood control and recreation, creating Locust Lake, and the two state parks officially opened in 1971 and 1972. The surrounding hills were reforested and the existing trails lead hikers through the second and third growth timber.

During our stay, one of my friends sent me a message informing us that the Taste of Hamburg-er Festival was happening on Saturday in the nearby town of Hamburg (appropriately so). I may have a stronger than average affection for a well-made cheeseburger, so Ashley and I contemplated packing up a day early, parking at the local Cabela’s and heading into Hamburg for the festival. Turns out that the festival attracts 40,000 visitors to the town of Hamburg for the short eight-hour event. We ultimately (and regretfully, for my part) decided not to go mostly because we were unsure of parking with the crowd, and because the weather on Saturday was cold and rainy. But I would like to point out that I would have braved the rain for a hot, delicious cheeseburger or three. Maybe next time! I suppose I mention this because if you like to plan your travel in advance, you could use Locust Lake State Park as your home base for the weekend of the Hamburger Festival in the future.

Locust Lake also features plenty of playground areas spread throughout the park. From the common exercise course (with pull-up, balance, push-up stations, etc.) to jungle gyms, to more unique climbing structures, the park offers plenty of activities for kids of all ages.

I couldn’t resist.
I even convinced Ashley to give it a try!

After wrapping up our stay at Locust Lake we departed Sunday morning with the intention of stopping by the local Cabela’s just to check out the overnight RV parking accommodations. Luckily we had no plans to buy anything because we stopped at the nation’s largest Cabela’s location on the day before Labor Day – which is to say I saw the longest line of people waiting to checkout that I’ve ever seen at any store in my life. The line of eager consumers snaked through the depths of the store, winding through displays and around counters, and at some point must have reached the registers even though I never saw the actual purchasing area.

The RV parking area is actually very large – plenty of long, wide spaces – wide enough to put our bedroom slide out if necessary. The store even has a dump station on site and a fenced horse exercise area, if you’re traveling with your horse trailer. So we saw what we intended to see, and much more so inside the store. The place was filled with taxidermied displays of animals posed in “the wild,” as well as a huge aquarium featuring local freshwater fish. Hunting and fishing gear of all varieties covered the store, as well as clothing and camping displays. The store even had a restaurant on the second floor, a general store selling jerky and fudge, and an arcade-style shooting gallery. While we weren’t necessarily interested in the store itself, it was certainly interesting to see, especially in the frenzied state of Labor Day weekend.

These animals must be well-trained to stand so still…

We fought our way out of the crowd (it was a close call) and made it back to the RV ready to head to our next destination – Saucony Creek Craft Brewery and Gastropub in Kutztown PA. When I first checked out their website and saw the logo (a road sign with an Amish buggy pulled by a unicorn), I knew we had to stop before continuing to Reading for Labor Day. Ashley and I spent the afternoon casually sampling beer and enjoying dinner, all of which was fantastic. The brewery has a wide range of beer styles, with maybe half of the menu a bit on the high-ABV side (just something to pay attention to when ordering, if that matters). You can get growler fills, as well as bottled six-packs to go. We finished the evening with their “Unicorn Toast” dessert (lemon curd, grilled brioche, macerated berries, cinnamon lavender honey), followed by the Imperial Vanilla Porter, which was probably the highlight of the whole day.

Lucky unicorn.

We decided to spend the holiday catching up with some long-time friends from college. I don’t think anyone ever really gets to visit with family and friends as much as one might want to, so fitting this stop into our travels was important for me. We shared food and stories, caught up on the highlights of recent years past, and enjoyed our brief and fleeting time together.

Reading is also home to a mysterious pagoda perched atop Mount Penn overlooking the city. Ashley had never seen the pagoda, let alone walked around it, so our friends graciously took us on a tour to the top of the hill to explore this seemingly out-of-place structure.

The pagoda was completed in 1908, commissioned for $50,000 by William Witman Sr. to cover his stone quarry. Originally intended to become a luxury resort at the top of the mountain, the pagoda was never opened due to bank foreclosure and the denial of a liquor license. By 1910, the pagoda and surrounding land were deeded to a local business owner who then sold the pagoda to the City of Reading in 1911 for the sum of one crisp dollar bill. The pagoda has been owned and cared for by the citizens and city ever since.

View of Reading from Mt. Penn

A few interesting tidbits on the pagoda before we go:

  • Before the era of radio broadcasting, the lights on the pagoda were flashed as signals using Morse Code to direct firemen and give the public results of sporting events.
  • The bell on the seventh floor was cast in Japan in 1739, purchased by Witman in 1906, shipped via the Suez Canal to New York Harbor, and ultimately reached Reading by rail in 1907.
  • The lights on the pagoda flash at 9PM every Christmas Eve to let the children know that Santa is on his way.

Now that summer is drawing to a close, we’re preparing our route south for the winter – nothing official yet, just some basics at this point. We hope everyone enjoys the rest of the summer and our thoughts are with those affected by the recent hurricanes. Seems like another reminder to enjoy time visiting with family and friends while you are able!

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