Locust Lake Campground Beach

Camping in Coal Country: Locust Lake State Park & Tamaqua, Pa.

The areas where coal is mined are usually beautiful spots, with nature’s bounty extending well beyond the seams of carbon in the earth.

Camping in Pennsylvania’s coal country treats you to some of the finest woods in the state and a history lesson on the culture surrounding it. Pennsylvania has been producing coal for more than 200 years and is the fourth-largest coal-producing state in the country.

The Poconos are better known, but I think the “Coal Region” just to the west is every bit as pretty (and less crowded.) There are mountain vistas, fishing lakes, meadows and sweeping valleys with interesting towns that mix the old with the new. The region is located 95 miles north of Philadelphia and 100 miles southwest of New York City.

Our trip to the Coal Region included camping at Locust Lake State Park and a visit to the town of Tamaqua, about 20 minutes from the campground. Another state park, Tuscarora State Park, is seven miles away and has a dozen campsites – mostly cottages, yurts, and pavilions to rent for picnics.

This is one of our favorite ways to camp. A “town and country” trip.

Locust Lake is small, it feels more like a pond, with a beautiful hillside view as a backdrop. There is a beach area and lots of good fishing spots, including at campsites on the water’s edge and just off the trails that surround the campground. We easily found a nice spot to ourselves (with two benches!) to drop a line.

The campground is heavily wooded. You will definitely feel forest bathed after a visit here; I don’t think I saw a single campsite without shade.

Locust Lake campground has a boat launch, boat rentals, a fishing pier, and trails that loop around the lake. Walking paths through the woods connect the outer ring campsites to the lake.

We had a “modern campsite” (meaning nearby flush toilets and showers) without hook-ups. Water came from a shared hand pump. The restrooms were clean, and the showers were hot.

Locust Lake has a good number of 50-amp hook up sites, including some choice spots bordering the lake. The campground opens at the start of trout season and closes the third Sunday in October.

Campstore with ice cream & firewood
Cute shingle bathrooms
campsite on Locust Lake
A campsite right on the water

As with other state parks in Pennsylvania, camping with pets relegates you to designated “pet sites”. At this campground, that includes sites with hook-ups and some right next to the water 🙂

Hook-up sites weren’t available when we booked, but we don’t mind going off-grid. Our neighbors were mostly tent campers and a few pop-ups.

Fishing, boating, hiking and lake swimming are the big draws here. There is an outdoor fitness course, a playground and trails for bikers and hikers, including the 4-mile challenging Oak Loop trail.

Our journey into Tamaqua, a coal town of about 7,000 people, was a roller coaster ride. Super fun in the old van! We put her in neutral and coasted down the curvey hills. Then climbed back up in low-gear.

We had a tasty lunch at the old train station, which has been converted to the Tamaqua Station Restaurant. The train tracks that used to move coal now shuttles tourists to nearby Jim Thorpe, an artsy tourist destination in neighboring Carbon County.

First National Bank Building

Train Station Restaurant in Tamaqua, Pa.
Train Station Restaurant

Coal Picking prohibited sign near the train tracks in Tamaqua, Pa.
“Coal Picking Prohibited”

Tamaqua looks like it’s in transition. Most of the buildings are filled with businesses; a section of storefronts on the main drag is getting rehabbed.

Downtown Tamaqua, Pa.

There are restaurants, an old hardware store (with an impresive yarn corner upstairs!) and a few antique shops. There were darling Victorian houses and houses that had seen better days.

M&S Hardware store in Tamaqua, Pa.
M&S Hardware has a great yarn section (more behind the wall!)

Tink's Antiques in Tamaqua, Pa.
Tink’s Antique Store shelves

Pennsylvania Dutch design on serving tray
Vintage Pennsylvania Dutch serving tray

Some interesting facts about Tamaqua:

  • The town passed a law giving ecosystems rights. Any resident can file a lawsuit on behalf of an ecosystem.
  • Morgan Knitting Mills, once one of the largest employers (with a sales office in the Empire State Building in NYC), patented thermal underwear.
  • The Molly Maguires burned a coal plant here, the Greenwood breaker, in 1874.

At the edge of town is Odd Fellow’s Cemetery. I learned the name comes not from its inhabitants but from the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, a fraternal organization that helped the sick and buried the dead.

Oddfellows Cemetery in Tamaqua, Pa.
Odd Fellows Cemetery
Victorian home in Tamaqua, Pa.
Law office in downtown Tamaqua

We took rollercoaster road back to our campsite. The clouds cleared as evening set in, offering the best view of the lake during our stay.

Panoramic view of Locust Lake in Barnesville, Pa.

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