We found Kooser State Park in Somerset, Pa., to be the perfect place to base camp out of while we toured extensively in the area. It is a small Pennsylvania campground located in the Laurel Highlands near two other state parks, Linn Run State Park and Laurel Hill State Park. Laurel Hill appeared to be much more popular with campers but the sites were not as spacious, the bathrooms were older, and very few sites had 30/50 amp service (with none in the pet loop). The campground host at Kooser told us Laurel Hill plans to add a few full hookup sites in the future. (Update: According to the state park website there are now sites offering full hook-up.)
During our entire stay at Kooser there were only seven other camp sites occupied (including the campground host). The bathrooms had been renovated recently and were well-maintained during our visit. There was also a fantastic (covered) dish-washing spot. Additionally, a park ranger usually drove through the campground at least once each day to check on the area. The park unfortunately has two big detractors for us: noise from the nearby drag line and road noise just outside the park. Those issues aside, we still think it’s a fantastic campground.
This park provides a few short hikes and a small lake (which I hear from a cousin offers great fishing). It is also just minutes from Hidden Valley and Seven Springs ski resorts.
During our stay we squeezed a lot of touring in with our fellow camping friends. Our first stop was to Idlewild, where our kids had a blast touring Story Book Forest, Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, and riding the little kid amusement rides. We then made a trip to Johnstown, the site of the historic dam break. While there we discovered the fantastic Heritage Discovery Center, which featured a children’s museum, an immigration exhibit, an iron and steel exhibit, and more. The Children’s Museum was small, but very well done, featuring lots of hands on exhibits including a coal mine maze. Admission to this museum also bought you admission to the Johnstown Flood Museum and the Wagner-Ritter House & Garden. Before the day concluded we also made a stop at the Johnstown Flood National Memorial.
The more somber visit we made on the trip was to the Flight 93 National Memorial. This was a hard place to take young children, but something the adults all wanted to make the trip for. At the time of our visit, they were still in the process of completing the memorial.
The final stop we made before hauling home was to Powdermill Nature Reserve, Carnegie Museum’s environmental research center. With free admission, there were some great hands on exhibits for the kids to explore as well as hiking trails and a garden area. They also have a bird banding station on site.
While our touring took us mostly to the north and east, Kooser is so well situated that you could easily access Ohiopyle, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater and Kentuck Knob, Fort Necessity, the Laurel Caverns, and other destinations to the south. There is so much left to explore in the area that we plan to return to Kooser at some point in the future!
UPDATE: We returned to Kooser in August 2014 and stayed in one of the recently added four full-hookup campsites. Our site, 17, was nice because it faced an unused portion of the campground, but it also turned into a river during a rainstorm. Unfortunately, the road noise was much louder in this back portion of the campground. The front portion of the campground, where we first stayed, has a vegetation barrier that muffles some of that road noise.
Of the four full-hookup sites, which are all rather close together, 21 was probably the best. Interestingly enough, there were only about eight other campers during our stay–although the campground host said it would fill up over an upcoming weekend due to a nearby bluegrass festival. Another recent update was the addition of a nice playset to complement the swing set and sand digger. We were also impressed that, just like our last visit, the park ranger usually drove through the campground at least once during the day.