When you say “island,” most people think of a sandy, tropical oasis, but in Pennsylvania, we have tons of beautiful river islands. While you won’t find cabanas or fruity drinks with little umbrellas in them, these islands are a great place to explore. We’ve picked out 11 to feature here that we think you should definitely check out.
1. Allegheny River Islands Wilderness
Crull’s Island is the largest of the seven islands in the Allegheny River Islands Wilderness. Although it doesn’t have any trails, the island is pretty easy to explore, especially in spring before the brush grows dense. You can canoe and kayak out to the island, and camping is allowed – but there are strict Leave No Trace standards to protect the wildlife in the area.
The other six islands, Baker Island, Courson Island, King’s Island, Thompson’s Island, R. Thompson’s Island, and No-Name Island, are also open to explore. King’s Island is one of the most easily accessible, and several of the islands are home to old growth river bottom forests and wetlands habitats that are great for birdwatching.
2. Venice Island
Although Venice Island is now partially connected to the mainland near Manayunk, it’s still a fun place to explore without traveling far from Philadelphia. The island used to be a mill, but these days it’s home to the Venice Island Performing Arts and Recreation Center with a 250-seat theater, basketball and volleyball courts, and a spray park for kids.
3. Neville Island
Neville Township, which occupies Neville Island in the Ohio River, is home to the RMU Island Sports Center and the hockey arena used by Robert Morris University NCAA teams and the Pittsburg Curling Club. The Island Sports Center also has a golf range, inline and ice skating rinks, sports fields, and a miniature golf course.
Neville Island is only 15 minutes away from Pittsburgh, which makes it an excellent afternoon destination when you can’t get away for a bigger adventure.
4. Big and Little Indian Rock
If you are looking for a cool step back into history (and have a bit of experience kayaking), Big and Little Indian Rock are home to hundreds of amazing Native American petroglyphs carved into the rocks! Experts believe they are several thousands of years old, but the exact dates are unknown. The petroglyphs are easy to miss, as they are very hard to see in the middle of the day, but if you visit them in the early morning or evening, they stand out against the face of the rocks.
Both Big and Little Indian Rocks rise out of the middle of a rocky section of the Susquehanna River near Safe Harbor in Lancaster County, which can make them difficult for beginner kayakers to get to, but there are guided trips that can help you make it out to see them. Remember: these beautiful relics of the past – treat them with respect.
5. City Island
This one is pretty obvious to Harrisburg residents – it’s the home of Commerce Band Park and the Harrisburg Senators baseball team! But just because it’s well-known doesn’t mean we would leave if off of this list; City Island is a great place to wander the grassy parks, play miniature golf, take a paddlewheel boat trip up the river, or just spend a relaxing on the beach.
6. Hendrick Island
Hendrick Island used to be connected to Pennsylvania’s mainland, but current changes in the Delaware River north of New Hope has separated the land and it’s now a fun place to visit by boat. While camping is prohibited, as it is a protected natural area of the Delaware Canal State Park, the beautiful deciduous forest and lowland riparian areas provide great spots to look for wildlife – sometimes there are even deer, which swim to the island from the mainland.
7. Herrs Island
This Allegheny River island is officially part of a city neighborhood in Pittsburgh. The Troy Hill neighborhood has both residential and business areas, and the marina is the starting line for the annual Head of the Ohio two-day regatta each October. While you should definitely come to see this crew race in the fall, this island is a fun little daytime destination any time of the year. The river trails and public park are fun to wander and offer a great view of the city.
8. Presque Isle
Yes, we know Presque Isle isn’t a true island – it’s a Lake Erie peninsula connected to the mainland in Millcreek Township – we think its unique enough to include on this list…and there is tons to do on this cool almost-island.
The beaches are beautiful, and it’s fun to watch some of the amazingly talented kite flyers who come to Sunset Point. Presque Isle has tons of trails to explore, including the paved Karl Boyes Multi-Purpose National Recreational Trail, which is easily accessible to visitors of any age and ability. This trail is a popular spot for walkers, runners, bikers, and skaters who come to enjoy a sunny afternoon. During the summer, Presque Isle hosts free concerts every Wednesday night on Beach 1, so bring a blanket and a picnic basket to relax and enjoy the show.
9. Wade Island
Wade Island, part of the Sheets Island Archipelago, is a rookery and major nesting area for herons, egrets, and other waterfowl of the Susquehanna River. While the island itself is off-limits for recreational use (as it is a protected area for several endangered species), you can still observe the beautiful little island and its feathered residents while paddling canoes or kayaks around its perimeter. You may even see deer, beavers, and other small mammals roaming the untouched natural area. Once again, this area is a protected space – please do not disturb the animals here. We suggest taking a leisurely paddle around the island before returning to land to explore the Susquehanna River Trail.
10. Little Tinicum Island
This island is part of the William Penn State forest and has beach and scrub forest areas that provide a fun little spot to explore. The area is surrounded by freshwater tidal wetlands, where you can find several species of birds and animals not found elsewhere in Pennsylvania. You may see bald eagles and peregrine falcons, as well as several species of hawks and owls that nest on the island. The John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum is one of the only urban wildlife refuges and is a green oasis in the midst of Philadelphia. Hiking and biking on the refuge trails is a popular activity for visitors to the area.
11. Allegheny Islands State Park
This Pennsylvania State Park in the Harmar Township contains three islands: Twelve Mile Island, which is the furthest downstream, is partially developed (the eastern end contains the park land), and the other two islands are uninhabited. The two islands were once joined together (as Fourteen Mile Island), but they were split when the C.W. Bill Young Lock and Dam (Allegheny River Lock and Dam Three) was built in 1932.
Allegheny Islands State Park is only accessible by boat, and the area is a great spot for fishing and exploring. There are no established trails on the islands, but there are several paths that make it easier to navigate for bird- and wildlife-watchers.
There are hundreds of other small and unnamed islands throughout the rivers of Pennsylvania. Do you have any favorites that you like to visit? Tell us about them in the comments!