What’s the Largest Artificial Lake in Pennsylvania?

Raystown Lake
© Jason Calimer/Shutterstock.com

Written by Kristin Hitchcock

Updated: September 15, 2023

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Raystown Lake is the largest artificial lake in Pennsylvania. The lake itself is 8,000 acres, but the area around the lake is 29,000 acres. Therefore, there are lots of things to do in and around the lake. There are many picnic areas, boat launches, beaches, trails, and hunting opportunities. While Pymatunong Reservoir is also a very big lake in Pennsylvania, much of it is located in Ohio. Therefore, we consider Raystown Lake as the largest lake in the state.

On top of being the largest artificial lake, this lake is also the biggest lake overall. This lake is completely within Pennsylvania.

Originally, this lake was built by the Simpson family as part of a larger hydroelectric project. However, it was finished as we know it today by the Army Corps of Engineers in 1973. The lake was made mostly for controlling flooding, but it also provides electricity and allows for recreational activities.

This lake is 200 feet deep at its deepest point. The deepest part is also the closest to the dam.

The Largest Artificial Lake in Pennsylvania is Raystown Lake.

There are many activities available at this dam. You can fish, mountain bike, swim, and even scuba dive. The lake is surrounded by a wide swath of land that is dedicated to recreation activity. There are several campsites, as well as many trails and restaurants. Community events, like fireworks, are also commonly held at the lake.

Raystown Lake History

Raystown Lake

Raystown Lake is surrounded by a wide swath of land that is dedicated to recreation activity.

©iStock.com/Capturing Moments by Christina

This lake was created through the use of three different dams, and it has slowly grown bigger as new dams were added. The idea to create the lake was put forth by Warren Brown, who found the spot to be a great location for bass fishing. He thought about building a hydroelectric development to improve local fishing.

Eventually, the correct charters were granted, and building the dam commenced. Construction started in 1906. However, the dam brought many changes to the area. Italian immigrants moved into the area to help build the dam. There was also an improved economic factor thanks to the dam.

However, in the 1970s, the dam was purchased and went through several hands. To help with more flood control, recreation, and tourism, there was a proposal for a new dam. This second dam was mostly built for flood control, especially with the threat of hurricanes. For this reason, the dam was approved by the US Army Corp of Engineers.

The creation of this second dam involved covering several cottages and community landmarks. While the dam appears to have been well accepted, there were quite a few controversies. During this period, the Vietnam War was going on. Therefore, many individuals thought that the army’s money was better spent elsewhere.

The completion of the second dam occurred in 1972. Shortly after that, Tropical Storm Agnes rolled through and filled up the dam. The dam prevented must damage from occurring to the surrounding areas and limited the flooding.

Archaeological Areas

The Sheep Rock Shelter was a historically significant area that provided shelter for those who lived there. Once the second dam was announced, several universities got together and decided to excavate the area and preserve the remains. There were several artifacts that were discovered that may have been flooded otherwise.

This work discovered artifacts from nearly 12,000 years ago. There is a documentary titled “Discovery at Sheep Rock” that discusses what was found in depth.

Today, there are many ruins and other archeological areas that can still be explored today. You can see several half-submersed buildings. Many of these are not normally visible. However, some of them are when the water level gets low. Usually, this occurs in the winter months, when the vegetation has died back, as well.

There are many homesteads around the lake and inside it. There are many homesteads that were abandoned when the lake was built. It helps to have some sort of a guide when looking for these, however. Otherwise, they can be challenging to find.

Modern Reviews

There are many homesteads that were abandoned when the lake was built.

©Christian Hinkle/Shutterstock.com

Today, the lake gets mixed reviews. Many people love that the area around the lake is protected, preventing homes from being built right on the lake. Therefore, the area is solely dedicated to camping and other recreational activities.

The lake is very deep, though. Therefore, anchoring is challenging. The shallow areas quickly become packed for this reason. However, the lake is quite large, and there are lots of things to do. Therefore, it is a great place for those looking to partake in outside activities.

There are some complaints about poor law enforcement around the area. For instance, there were several noise complaints. This includes both the lake and the campgrounds around the lake.

With that said, on average, this lake does have pretty good reviews.

What Animals Live Around Raystown Lake?

Herring Gull

Gulls can be seen early in the morning taking full advantage of the lake’s abundance of gizzard shad and striped bass

©Lukas Pavlacik/Shutterstock.com

Raystown Lake and its environs are a bird watcher’s paradise. During winter, bald eagles can be admired practicing their fishing and pilfering skills at the northern part of the lake. They can also be seen showing off their dancing skills or simply playing games of tag in the air.

Gulls can also be spotted early in the morning and the Aitch Access boat launch is the best spot for watching them taking full advantage of the abundance of gizzard shad and striped bass in the lake.

It is also possible to spot grebes, hawks, herons, several species of waterfowl, and wild turkeys, too. 

Otters and mink too can be observed putting their excellent swimming skills to good use and catching their breakfast, lunch, or dinner, while beavers can be observed busily going about a productive day. 

Where Is Raystown Lake Located on a Map?

Raystown Lake is 130 miles east of Pittsburgh, but there are a number of smaller cities nearby. Because most of the area around the lake is still owned and protected by the Army Corps of Engineers, there are no lakeshore houses but only forest blanketing the hills right up to the shoreline.

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About the Author

Kristin is a writer at A-Z Animals primarily covering dogs, cats, fish, and other pets. She has been an animal writer for seven years, writing for top publications on everything from chinchilla cancer to the rise of designer dogs. She currently lives in Tennessee with her cat, dogs, and two children. When she isn't writing about pets, she enjoys hiking and crocheting.

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