By: Bart Beck
If you’re looking to beat the summer heat while not venturing too far from State College, Whipple Dam State Park has exactly what you need. Cool breezes, water, outdoor recreation, and what always feels like cooler temps, this state park is a great place to spend an afternoon under the sun. Whether you enjoy fishing, swimming, hiking, boating, or simply relaxing, you’re covered. Get ready to pack your bags and head over the ridge to catch yourself some good times.
Located inside of Rothrock State Forest, Whipple Dam State Park is a 256-acre state park comprised of a lake and plenty of woods. The big draw of the park is the lake, which was created by the damming of Laurel Run by the Civilian Conservation Corps. Being fed by a mountain stream, it stays colder than many lakes but does warm up in July and August. Coming in at 22 acres, it also provides plenty of recreational activities.
To begin, there’s the beach and its accompanying swimming. It’s not ocean-side, but the 300-foot sand beach is enjoyable, nonetheless. Kick back and relax or go for a dip, whether you’re there to chill or catch some laps, you’re sure to have a good time. If neither of those beach activities suit you, you can take a walk down to the beach volleyball area for a little summertime competition. The water doesn’t stop there though.
The 22 acres provide plenty of shore to cast a line from and holds many of fish as well. The lake is stocked with trout by the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, but if you’re looking for some native fish, it holds them as well. The most visible fish are the multitudes of panfish, mostly pumpkinseeds. Come in the spring and early summer, and you can easily see them as they nest along the shore. There are also largemouth bass and pickerel, if you’re looking for something that will give a little more of a fight. Fishing from the shore is fun, but it doesn’t have to end at the shore.
Whipple Dam lake is open to all non-powered and electric motor boats. If you don’t have your own boat, or you don’t want the hassle of hauling one there, there are boat rentals available at the park (Fri-Sun, 10am-6pm) from SUP State College. Canoes, kayaks, paddleboats, and stand up paddleboards are all are on the menu and come with everything that you need to get out on the water. For those looking for a little extra challenge, they offer stand up paddleboard yoga classes on the weekend. Once you’re done with boating, or if water isn’t your thing, there’s sure to be a land activity to suit you.
Since eating is universal, let’s start with the picnic areas. The park has a great selection of picnic tables, grills, and pavilions, so whether you want to be close to the water or a little more secluded, there’s a spot for you to set up. All you have to bring is food, maybe some charcoal, an appetite, and a mindset that is ready to relax and connect with nature.
Speaking of nature, the park has more than enough. Its woods and waters are full of birds from swallows to redwing blackbirds, as well as reptiles including blue-tailed skinks and turtles, and insects like mayflies and damselflies. Throw on a pair of hikers and walk the Lake Trail around the park to take it all in and find some of the stillness nature has to offer. Please note that the trail can be wet and muddy along the stream, so come prepared.
If all of this sounds like it’s up your alley, then you’ll love knowing that it is only a 20-30 minute drive from State College. Simply take route 26 south and then take a left when you reach Doan’s Bones BBQ and the Whipple Dam Store. After that, it’s a short gravel drive to the park.
While you’re there, remember that all DCNR and PFBC rules and regulations apply. Also make sure to stop, either before or after, at Joe Hayes Vista to take in one of the most spectacular views of State College and Nittany Valley. And, if you need more information, check out the following websites.