BRENT PENNINGTON Handlaid sandstone dam holding back Halfway Lake at Raymond B Winter State Park on the afternoon of 29 August 2015.

In my original plan, Raymond B. Winter State Park was my stopping point for the day.  I’d drive out, check out the other parks on the way, and end up there to see about a camping space.  PA has a really great camping system, and a great online reservation system to go with it.  Unfortunately, during the summer season, you can’t book just a Saturday night at a campground; there’s a two-night minimum for stays that include a Sat.

On the other hand, you can always show up, checked the posted board at noon, and claim and open site on a first-come, first-serve basis, which is what I had in mind.  By all accounts, RB Winter looked like a great little park, nestled into a steep valley between the mountains.  It’s smallish, but the facilities all looked great, and the spring-fed cold water pond at its center would be nice on a hot day.

But plans so seldom work as intended.  I arrived earlier than I had anticipated.  I took a relaxing stroll around the pond, stopping at several points to take photos, and especially around the dam, a hand-laid sandstone industrial structure of uncommon beauty.  Then I sat on a swing near the marshy end of the pond and just chilled for a while.

BRENT PENNINGTON Hemlocks rise above the trail amid large rock formations alongside Halfway Lake, in Raymond B Winter State Park.  29 August 2015

The beach was bustling, with plenty of kids playing in the water.  A bunch of 20-somethings were playing volleyball with an inflatable beach ball.  The picnic tables at the beach edge were all filled with coolers and containers and adults lounging in the shade.

There were still campsites available for walk-ins, including the site I had picked out.  But moving through the park, amid all the families and couples and groups of friends, I started to feel a bit isolated.  If Mandy had been with me, I’d have stayed.  But even after a hotdog from the concession stand – run by an especially nice older couple – it still wasn’t 1pm.  So after studying a paper map of PA, spread out on the hood of the Jeep – still no cell service here – I hit the road again, heading north to Ravensburg State Park.

BRENT PENNINGTON Wildflowers bloom alongside the sandstone dam and spillway at Halfway Lake, Raymond B Winter State Park, on the afternoon of 29 August 2015.

I want to highlight that, while RB Winter is a fairly small park, it takes all the best pieces and really packs them in.  The campground was the most inviting I’ve seen, and I very much want to return and enjoy it before the end of this season.  The pond is lovely – in fact the whole park is, nestled snug amid dense forest.

There are a number of trails through the woods, running through the dense, cool green shade of the hemlocks.  Most of them are easy hikes, although you can certainly go and climb the hillsides if that’s what appeals to you.  

I guess what I’m trying to say is that it’s picturesque; it looks the way I imagine a forest park should.  I could easily spend a day, or an overnight here.  It wouldn’t be an intensive, activity-filled stay – I could probably do all the hiking I wanted in a few hours.  But it would be the ideal place to relax, to unwind, to spend the day sitting in the shade with a good book, as a couple, content to be out of doors.

BRENT PENNINGTON View of Raymond B Winter State Park and the surrounding hills from the Overlook Trail.  29 August 2015

I can’t wait to return – it’s definitely worth the trip!

Brent Pennington is a freelance photographer and the driving force behind The Roving Photographer. When he\’s not working with portraiture or promotional clients, he’s usually in the field, hiking, or kayaking in pursuit of nature and wildlife shots.

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