A broken wagon, a Native American chief and slashes on a tree led to the naming of Cowans Gap State Park. The story goes that in the late 1700s, John Samuel Cowan and Mary Mueller eloped from Boston. While crossing the Conococheague Creek near Fort Loudon, Pennsylvania, their wagon broke down. John traded the wagon and horses to a Tuscarora chief in exchange for land. After obtaining peace pipe and tomahawk rights, John marked a big chestnut tree with three slashes, a sign of peace to the Native Americans. The terrain includes a gap, or pass, in the Tuscarora Mountain. Today, the land is called Cowans Gap.
Thanks to the depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps, Cowans Gap State Park opened to the public in 1937. When the CCC arrived, the land had suffered from a period of excessive logging. The young men of the CCC planted thousands of acres of trees, built bridges, roads, trails, and a sandstone dam that took three years to construct using a single bulldozer. Four pavilions were built by hand. The Cowans Gap Rustic Cabins made by the CCC are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Ten original rustic cabins are available for overnight stays; dogs are permitted in three cabins. The park also features a campground with over 200 sites, for tents to large motor homes.
The park has plenty of activities to excite adventurers. Stop at the visitor center and get a park map that shows the variety of trails, including the most popular Lakeside Trail that circles the 42-acre lake. Rowboats, kayaks and paddleboats are available to rent seasonally. Or bring your own motorboat, (electric motors only). Fishermen will enjoy the excellent trout, bass, perch, and panfish fishing. There’s even an ADA-accessible fishing pier. A 500-foot sand beach and roped swimming area invites visitors for a refreshing swim. Picnic areas, modern restrooms and concessions are available. Watch for wildlife including turkey, deer and bear. Enjoy some birdwatching or visit the park’s bat boxes and read the exhibits dedicated to these unique creatures. Visit the nature center, take a guided walk, play volleyball, or go horseback riding. There’s a lot to do in this 1,085-acre park, and state forest land surrounds the park for even more outdoor fun!