Whether you’re a full-time State College resident, Penn State student, or are visiting State College for the weekend, sometimes you just need an escape. Luckily, there are several mountain trails and lakes surrounding Happy Valley, including the beautiful Whipple Dam.

Coming from State College, simply follow West College Ave. and continue onto Route 26 for about 20 minutes. Along the way, enjoy the scenic views as you drive through Rothrock State Forest.

Whipple Dam State Park has a lot to offer. The lake is a great place to bird (and people) watch, enjoy a picnic on the beach, or take a dip. If you’re feeling more ambitious, hop on a boat/kayak rental or check out the tree-lined hiking trails surrounding the lake.

The lake at Whipple Dam State Park near State College Pennsylvania

Our view from the shoreline

For those visiting in the colder months, the park is open year-round and offers plenty of winter activities such as cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, ice skating, and ice fishing.



The still waters of Whipple Dam State Park make it the perfect place for water activities. Beyond swimming in the roped-off area, the park rents equipment including kayaks, canoes, paddle boards and pedal boats. At $10 for half an hour and $15 for an hour, the cost to rent is relatively cheap compared to other parks.

Thanks to our friend Katie, who brought her own kayak, we did not have to rent one! While Leslie opted to nap on land, I took the kayak out for an hour. Even though parts of the lake get pretty shallow (a few inches deep at certain parts) I was able to easily navigate through the water. Personally, I enjoyed being able to see the plants and logs that were underwater.

Kayaking Whipple Dam State Park on a sunny summer day

It was a beautiful day out on the water

At the far end of the lake, the water turns into a creek that winds through the woods. Eventually the still creek begins to flow forcing you to paddle against the current. While it takes some work to paddle upstream, the effort is worth it when you are able to ride the current on the way back.

Kayaking at Whipple Dam State Park near State College Pennsylvania

The beginning of the creek, just before the current began



After basking in the sun lakeside with Katie & friends, I decided to retreat to the shade and catch up on some reading. There were a few trees by the water perfectly spaced for a hammock, so I thought why not? I hung the hammock, hopped in, and before I knew it, passed out with a book on my face. I decided the best way to celebrate National Hammock Day was subconsciously.

Leslie hammocking at Whipple Dam State Park near State College Pennsylvania

Enjoying our Grand Trunk hammock

Brad woke me up once he returned from kayaking and informed me that a tiny lizard was scurrying up one of the trees the hammock was attached to! I jumped out to take a peek and after a google search, found out it was an American five-lined skink.

Apparently, these little guys change colors as they grow older. Juveniles have blue tails and are known as blue-tailed skinks, while adults have red heads and as you probably guessed, are known as red-headed skinks.

an American Five-Lined Skink at Whipple Dam State Park near State College Pennsylvania

The speedy American five-lined skink



After spending a few minutes watching our new friend (and taking entirely too many photos of him), I decided to slackline for a bit. Katie’s friend, Kyle, had brought one and we were able to set it up in some trees just a few feet away from where Leslie was hammocking.

Slacklining at Whipple Dam State Park near State College Pennsylvania

Kyle showing me how it is done

I had tried slacklining once before with Katie at Sidney Friedman Parklet in downtown State College. However, that was over a year ago and I never really got the hang of it. This time around I was able to get my balance a lot faster (it must be the core strength I got doing yoga).

It took me ten minutes just to be able to walk the 20 feet between the trees. Another ten minutes later I was able to turn around without using the tree. And after about thirty minutes total I was able to walk across and back without falling off.

I had so much fun on the slackline that I decided to buy my own! I purchased a Gibbon Fitness Slackline Kit for $44 on Sierra Trading Post. While I usually opt for products with many customer reviews, the fact that this one was $20-$30 cheaper than most slacklines AND included Gibbon Tree Protectors ($13) made it a no-brainer for my first slackline.



As the sun started to set we were reminded of how hungry we were and decided to pack up. On our way back to the main road, we were hit with the strong scent of home-made barbecue and couldn’t resist. Doan’s Bones Barbecue sits on the corner of Whipple Dam Rd. and Route 26, and is perfect for hungry hikers leaving the park.

Outside of Dones Bones Barbecue near State College Pennsylvania

The restaurant is quite charming

We walked up to the outdoor window to look at the menu and order our sandwiches, and about five minutes later we already were eating them. I ordered the Whippler (pulled pork BBQ with fresh coleslaw and potato six fries all on a steak roll) and Brad ordered the Mt. Nittany (grilled pulled pork, sautéed onions, shredded cheddar & horseradish sauce on a toasted steak roll). Of course we washed down the sandwiches with a delicious chocolate shake.

The Whipper sandwich from Doans Bones near State College Pennsylvania

The Whippler

The Mount Nittany sandwich from Doans Bones near State College Pennsylvania

The Mt. Nittany

Out front they have a nice outdoor dining area with several picnic tables. Out back are the pit barrel smokers that give off the sweet smell of fresh BBQ. The BBQ pits are even named, the smaller one is called “The Cub” and the larger one is called the “Woodsman.”

he outdoor seating area at Dones Boans near State College Pennsylvania

The outdoor seating area

Two Pit Barrel Smokers at Doans Bones Barbecue near State College Pennsylvania

The pit barrel smokers

It’s funny because as soon as we got back to State College, we noticed a small Doan’s Bones location downtown on West Beaver Ave. How did we not know about this place before? Let’s just say we regret not trying it sooner! Ironically, we ran into the restaurant again a day later at Wing Fest.


Soon after leaving Doan’s, we passed a scenic pull-off on Route 26. After debating for a few minutes, we turned around and made our way back up the mountain to enjoy the view. Jo Hays Vista is part of Rothrock State Forest, and offers a panoramic view of State College and Penn State’s campus.

The view from Jo Hays vista near State College Pennsylvania

A great spot to catch the sunset

Have you been to Whipple Dam State Park before? If so, tell us what you did while you were there in the comment section below!