Cowans Gap State Park
Cowans Gap State Park is a 1,085-acre park in the beautiful Allens Valley of Fulton County. A 42-acre lake, large campground, rustic cabins and many hiking trails are prime attractions. State forest land surrounds the park, providing additional land for recreation and natural beauty in all seasons.
Picnicking: Picnic areas are along the eastern side of Cowans Gap Lake. Picnic areas are mostly shaded with several CCC-era stone fireplaces and charcoal grills scattered throughout. Four picnic pavilions may be reserved up to 11 months in advance for a fee. Unreserved picnic pavilions are free on a first-come, first-served basis. Pavilions 2, 3 and 4 are stone and have a fireplace.
Make a reservation.
Swimming: The 500-foot sand beach is open from late May to mid-September, 8 a.m. to sunset. Please read and follow posted rules for swimming. Swim at your own risk.
Food and Refreshment Concession: The concession is in the day use area and serves many snacks and sandwiches. It also has ice, charcoal and other camper supplies. The concession is open Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day.
Boating: electric motors only
Motorboats must display a current boat registration. Non-powered boats must display one of the following: boat registration; launching permit or mooring permit from Pennsylvania State Parks, available at most state park offices; launching permit from the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission.
Complete information on boating rules and regulations in Pennsylvania is available from the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission Web site.
Fishing: The 42-acre Cowans Gap Lake offers excellent trout fishing and also has bass, perch and panfish. There is an ADA accessible fishing pier. The South Branch of Little Aughwick Creek offers good trout fishing.
Complete information on fishing rules and regulations in Pennsylvania is available from the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission Web site.
Hunting and Firearms: About 630 acres are open to hunting, trapping and the training of dogs during established seasons. Common game species are deer, turkey and squirrel. The park land borders Buchanan State Forest, which is open to hunting, trapping and dog training.
Hunting woodchucks, also known as groundhogs, is prohibited. Dog training is only permitted from the day following Labor Day through March 31 in designated hunting areas. The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and the Pennsylvania Game Commission rules and regulations apply. Contact the park office for ADA accessible hunting information.
Use extreme caution with firearms at all times. Other visitors use the park during hunting seasons. Firearms and archery equipment used for hunting may be uncased and ready for use only in authorized hunting areas during hunting seasons. In areas not open to hunting or during non-hunting seasons, firearms and archery equipment shall be kept in the owner's car, trailer or leased campsite. The only exception is that law enforcement officers and individuals with a valid Pennsylvania License to Carry Firearms may carry said firearm concealed on their person while they are within the park.
Complete information on hunting rules and regulations in Pennsylvania is available from the Pennsylvania Game Commission Web site.
Hiking: 11 miles of trails
Cameron Trail: 0.5-mile, more difficult hiking
Geyer Trail: 0.5-mile, most difficult hiking
Logging Road Trail: 1.7 miles, easiest hiking
Horseshoe Trail: 0.6 mile, most difficult hiking
Knobsville Road Trail: 1.3 miles, more difficult hiking
Lakeside Trail: 1.5 miles, easiest hiking
One Mile Trail: 0.4 mile, easiest hiking
Plessinger Trail: 1.1 miles, more difficult hiking
Ski Trail: 0.2 mile, easiest hiking
Three Mile Trail: 1.1 miles, more difficult hiking
Tuscarora Trail: 2-mile section in the park, more difficult hiking
Standing Stone Hiking Trail: 72 miles, orange blazes, difficult hiking
Camping: flush toilets, warm showers, electric hook-ups
Explore the campground map.
Explore camping for more information.
Make a reservation.
Free Camping for Campground Hosts: 2 host positions
Rustic Cabins: Ten rustic cabins are available during the spring, summer and fall. The three-room cabins have a four-person overnight capacity and contain a refrigerator, stove, inside fireplace and two bunk beds. There is no indoor plumbing in the cabins. A water faucet is outside. A central comfort station has showers and flush toilets.
Explore the cabin map.
Explore cabins for more information.
Make a reservation.
Organized Group Tenting: This camping area holds organized groups of up to forty people. The area has a modern restroom with flush toilets and is open from the second Friday of April to the third Sunday in October.
Explore organized group tenting for more information.
Explore the Winter Report for the current snow and ice depths.
Cross-country Skiing: Closed park roads and some of the hiking trails are suitable for cross-country skiing.
Ice Fishing: The 42-acre Cowans Gap Lake is open for ice fishing except for the ice skating area. Ice thickness is monitored only in the ice skating area. For your safety, be sure the ice is four inches thick and carry safety equipment.
Ice Skating: A section of the lake by the beach is available exclusively for ice skating. Ice thickness is monitored in the beach area.
Environmental Education and Interpretation
The park offers a wide variety of environmental education and interpretive programs. Through hands-on activities, guided walks and evening programs, participants gain appreciation, understanding and develop a sense of stewardship toward natural and cultural resources.
Curriculum-based environmental education programs are available to schools and youth groups. Teacher workshops are available. Group programs must be arranged in advance and may be scheduled by calling the park office. Programs are offered April to November. Contact the park office for more detailed information.
Explore the Calendar of Events for a listing of events from today forward.
Explore environmental education and interpretation for more information.
Access for People with Disabilities
The park facilities for use by people with disabilities include picnic areas, campground, cabins, parking and a fishing pier. Restrooms in these areas are designated with the symbol for accessibility. A special vehicle permit is issued at the park office to give access to areas of the park not open to vehicles.
If you need an accommodation to participate in park activities due to a disability, please contact the park you plan to visit.
Cowans Gap State Park is in Allens Valley, a narrow, highland valley between Tuscarora and Cove mountains. The valley floor is over seven hundred feet lower than Tuscarora and Cove mountains, yet Allens Valley is still several hundred feet higher than the surrounding valleys. The highland nature of Cowans Gap State Park makes the park an interesting place to see wildlife in all seasons.
Lush vegetation and warm days are hallmarks of summer. Early June is the best time to see the grand displays of mountain laurel along the trails and forestry roads. Watch for deer, bear and even box turtles raiding berry patches. While walking, listen for the ovenbird’s teacher-teacher-teacher call and the drink-your-tea call of the northern towhee as they move about in the brush. As evening approaches, enjoy the flute-like calls of the veery and wood thrush.
Warm summer evenings bring out the bats of Cowans Gap to feast on night-flying insects. Watch the park’s bat boxes for the evening emergence and then enjoy the bats as they dance in the night air catching insects and swooping low over the lake to drink. This is a good time of the year to listen to the bullfrogs as they call into the night jug-o-rum and the twanging call of the green frog.
Fall offers warm breezy days with tree leaves turning to shades of red, golden yellows and orange. Many species of woodland birds make their return visits as they migrate southward. This is a great time to view migrating raptors as they use the updrafts of the mountainsides to conserve energy on their long migration journey. Watch for squirrels, chipmunks and turkey as they compete with the deer and bear for acorns. As you sit around a warm evening campfire, take time to listen for the far off calls of the swan and goose as their v-shaped formations negotiate the dark sky.
Winter is a great time to view the ruggedness of the mountains with their steep rock strewn slopes interspersed with the evergreens mountain laurel and rhododendron. Look for deer and winter birds, like chickadees, titmice and woodpeckers, as they spend their waking hours hunting for food.
Spring brings renewal to the natural environment as spring wildflowers, such as spring beauty and sweet white violets, bloom in the warm spring sunlight before the tree canopy blocks the sun from striking the forest floor. Animals come out of hibernation and many species of migrating birds return or stop at the park on their northward journey. Before the trees get their leaves is a great time to observe warblers as they migrate through or set up their breeding territories. In the mornings, listen for the courtship songs of birds, and listen in the evenings for the courtship calls of frogs and toads along the lakeshore and wetlands.
The Geology of Cowans Gap
Cowans Gap State Park is in Allens Valley, a narrow highland valley between Tuscarora and Cove mountains. Allens Valley runs from south of Cowans Gap Sate Park north to the town of Burnt Cabins. Cowans Gap crosses Tuscarora Mountain, connecting Allens and Path valleys.
A gap is a notch or pass in a mountain. Cowans Gap is an east and west pass in the north and south running Tuscarora Mountain. You can see the gap from the west side of Cowans Lake, looking east, or from PA 75, looking west.
Most gaps are water gaps, which have a stream or river flowing through them. Cowans Gap is a wind gap and has no stream or river—anymore. Millions of years ago, Allens Valley was not very deep. A stream flowed from the southern end of Allens Valley down through the park and out over the hard rocks of Cowans Gap down to Path Valley.
A different stream flowed in the softer rock of the north part of Allens Valley by Burnt Cabins. In a process called stream capture, the two separate streams became one stream. The Burnt Cabins stream quickly eroded the soft rock, deepening and lengthening Allens Valley. The stream’s head (its beginning) slowly moved south until the Burnt Cabins stream’s head met the southern stream flowing out of Cowans Gap. The Burnt Cabins stream eroded Allens Valley faster and deeper than the other stream, until the southern stream eventually flowed into the Burnt Cabins stream, making one long stream that flowed the length of Allens Valley to Burnt Cabins, but did not flow through Cowans Gap.
Over time, the single stream, now called South Branch Little Aughwick Creek, carved Allens Valley deeper until today, the floor of the valley is much lower than left behind Cowans Gap.
The history of Cowans Gap State Park is of war, forbidden love and hard work.
The French and Indian War began in 1754 as the French and British fought for the Ohio River Valley, which included western Pennsylvania. Key to the control of the area was the Forks of the Ohio (Pittsburgh), which was held by the French. In 1755, British Major General Edward Braddock carved a new road from Cumberland, Maryland, towards the Forks.
To carry additional supplies to Braddock’s army, Colonel James Burd began a road from Shippensburg that was planned to reach Braddock’s forces at Turkey Foot (Confluence, Pa.). Burd’s Road climbed Tuscarora Mountain by passing through an unnamed gap that eventually became named Cowans Gap. Braddock’s army was defeated and Burd’s Road was never completed past Berlin, Somerset County.
In 1758, the British again sent a campaign toward the Forks of the Ohio. General John Forbes, along with his aide Colonel George Washington and second in command Lieutenant Colonel Henry Bouquet, carved a new road (Forbes Road) that followed Burd’s Road through Bedford County then headed due west to the Forks of the Ohio. General Forbes drove the French out of Pennsylvania. In 1763, Colonel Henry Bouquet again used Forbes Road to break the siege of Fort Pitt during Pontiac’s War.
In 1775, Loyalist John Samuel Cowan met Patriot Mary Mueller in Boston. Although from opposite political parties, the couple eloped several years later and headed for Kentucky. The family story relates that while crossing the Conococheague Creek near Fort Loudon, their wagon broke down. John traded their horses and wagon to a Tuscarora Indian chief for the land that now is known as Cowans Gap.
John secured peace pipe and tomahawk rights from the Indians, marking a big chestnut tree with three slashes, a sign of peace to the Indians. In 1785, John secured a warrant for the land from the Proprietors of Pennsylvania. John and Mary built their house along Forbes Road, near what is now the junction of Stumpy Lane and Aughwick Road.
Most of Cowans Gap State Park is in Allens Valley, named for neighbors of the Cowans.
Nearby, Mount Pleasant iron furnace operated from 1783 to 1835. Richmond iron furnace operated from 1865 to 1885. The furnaces mined iron ore along the face of Tuscauroa Mountain and in the gap. The furnaces’ demand for charcoal led to the clear-cutting of portions of the forests in the gap and the valley every 20 to 25 years.
Beginning in 1893, Harrison Kalbach, of Lebanon, Pennsylvania, began purchasing land and timbering rights amounting to 4,800 acres around Cowans Gap. Kalbach and Company constructed a railroad of wooden rails from Richmond Furnace up the mountain and into the gap to move the lumber to market. Today’s Richmond Furnace Road follows the old railroad right-of-way. Kalbach and his partner Charles Spangler, of McConnellsburg, operated a portable sawmill in the valley, cutting mainly pine and oak. The final cut ended in 1907, leaving a landscape of over-cut forests and erosion.
In 1933, to relieve the rampant unemployment of the Great Depression, President Roosevelt created the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). The young men in the CCC received food, clothes and a small paycheck.
The CCC boys built roads, trails and recreational facilities, fought fires, planted trees and did many other conservation activities.
Richmond Furnace Camp S-54 was built next to the new forestry station here at Cowans Gap. The camp was locally called Camp Fox for an enrollee killed in an accident while stationed at the camp.
The first enrollees to the camp lived in tents while they built a camp for themselves. From 1933 to 1941, the CCC built 30 miles of road, four bridges, 32 miles of fire trails and 11 miles of telephone lines. In Cowans Gap State Park, the CCC built the cabins, picnic shelters and spent three years building the dam. The Cowans Gap Rustic Cabins are on the National Register of Historic Places.
For more information on the CCC, explore the Civilian Conservation Corps Online Archive.
Improvements have continued at Cowans Gap, with additions like the campground and modern restrooms. In 2002, Cowans Gap State Park closed to visitors for a yearlong renovation to upgrade many facilities.
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We love when young people ask us how to get involved!
DiscoverE has programs for young people ages 4 to 17, provided by Pennsylvania State Park educators. By combining recreation and education, we hope to motivate children to learn more and return often, leading to a lifetime of outdoor enjoyment and conservation leadership.
In Watershed Education, teachers and students assess water quality of a local stream on a quarterly basis and develop strategies to solve local water quality problems.
ECO Camp - Exploring Careers Outdoors - is a week-long residential camp for a cross-section of high school youth from across Pennsylvania, sponsored by the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR). Participate in action-packed, hands on activities and recreational adventures in Pennsylvania’s state parks and forests that expose youth to conservation, recreation and careers in natural resources. Learn how people make a living working in the outdoors.
Explore education for more information on these and other programs.
Explore the Calendar of Events to find a program near you.
Do you take conservation personally? iConservePA is a Web site managed by the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources whose vision is to inspire citizens to value their natural resources, engage in conservation practices and experience the outdoors. Take conservation personally.
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Cowans Gap State Park
Information on nearby attractions is available from:
Fulton County Tourist Promotion Agency www.fultoncountypa.com
The Alleghenies www.thealleghenies.com
Buchanan’s Birthplace State Park is the birthplace of James Buchanan, 15th President of the United States and the only Pennsylvanian to ever occupy the office of president. The park is in the foothills of the Tuscarora Mountains on the western side of the Cumberland Valley, seven miles north of US 30.
The 75,000-acre Buchanan State Forest is adjacent to Cowans Gap and has hiking, fishing, hunting and general recreation. 717-485-3148
Maps and Downloadables
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Interactive GIS Map
The interactive map uses Geographic Information Systems to create a map that does not need to be downloaded and features driving directions, searchable park amenities and customizable maps. Please note that the background maps are maintained by a variety of public sources.
Cowans Gap State Park Cabin Map (.pdf) (60 kb, 3/11)
The park is north of US 30 between Chambersburg and McConnellsburg.
To reach the park from the west take Exit 180, Fort Littleton, of I-76, then US 522 north to Burnt Cabins and follow signs to the park.
From the east take Exit 189, Willow Hill, of I-76, then PA 75 south to Richmond Furnace and follow signs to the park.
From US 30 take PA 75 north at Fort Loudon to Richmond Furnace and follow signs to the park.
Driving Directions: The Interactive GIS Map has turn-by-turn driving directions to the park office from the Park information Window.
Cowans Gap State Park