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Pennsylvania Wilds, Pennsylvania

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Did You Know … ?

  • The skies are so dark at Cherry Springs State Park that, with a clear sky, the Milky Way casts a shadow.
  • Twyford Motor Car Co., operating 1905-1907 in Brookville, produced the world’s first four-wheel-drive car.
  • The Foxburg Country Club is America’s oldest golf course in continuous use (from 1887).
  • Until destroyed by a tornado (2003), Kinzua Viaduct was the world’s longest (2,053 feet) and tallest (301 feet) railroad structure.
  • Little League baseball was born in Williamsport in 1939.

An apt nickname

Sometimes nicknames are mysteries, but not this time. The area of Pennsylvania called the Wilds, covering 12 counties in the north central part of the state, is characterized by wilderness, including two million acres of forested public lands. The Wilds counts 29 of the state’s 117 parks and eight of 20 state forests, as well as the 517,000-acre Allegheny National Forest. That adds up to the most public land between New York and Chicago.

The area is laced with trails suitable for or designed for ATV driving, biking/mountain biking, cross-country skiing, hiking, horseback riding, snowmobiling and snowshoeing.
And the water — 83,000 miles of rivers and streams, plus lakes and ponds — beckons for fishing and lots of that, plus various forms of boating including whitewater rafting.

The Pennsylvania Wilds boasts of two special features. First is the Pine Creek Gorge, almost 50 miles long and 1,000-plus feet deep. Dubbed Pennsylvania’s Grand Canyon, it offers compelling views and unrivaled biking, hiking and more.

Cherry Springs State Park is considered a dark sky preserve because the night skies are so dark (meaning there’s no light pollution from human activity) that it’s a stargazer’s dream; astronomy professionals like it, too.

The Wilds is home to the largest collection of elk in the Northeast, more than 800 roaming a range of 835 square miles. The animals can easily been seen in areas of Cameron, Clearfield and Elk counties. The Elk Country Visitor Center in Benezette is a good place to start an elk-focused itinerary. Other wild creatures in the area include bobcats, deer, minks, river otters and 375 species of songbirds.

People live in the Wilds, too, in small towns that dot the region, many with histories connected to coal mining, the gas and oil businesses, and lumber. Those stories generally started in the 19th century and, with business successes, left towns with some mansions, a lot of Victorian architecture and numerous historic districts.

In the meantime, the area has cultivated an Artisans’ Trail, supporting local artists and leading visitors to them. Following that trail for some culture — and shopping — will lead to many of the same small towns.

Things to do for Venturers

  • Look for geocaches along the Allegheny GeoTrail. Geocaching involves using a GPS to find hidden treasures of a sort (not based on dollar value). The point is the successful search, then leave the treasure in its place after signing the logbook and leaving a small memento behind.
  • Get an overview of the countryside while hang gliding at Hyner View State Park.
  • For the ambitious and experienced hiker, choose the75-mile Quehanna Trail, which passes through some of the state’s most remote areas. Starting at Parker Dam State Park, you will pass through the Elk and Moshannon state forests. Or, choose the 300-mile rugged Mid-State Trail, called the wildest in the state. The wildlife viewing is good in both cases.
  • Cycle the Pine Creek Rail Trail, or use the trail for horseback riding. The trail is at the bottom of the Pine Creek Gorge, aka Pennsylvania’s Grand Canyon. Besides being a great place for a bike tour, it is an important birding area.
  • Order and see if you can eat Ye Olde 96er at Denny’s Beer Barrel Pub in Clearfield. It weighs nine pounds including six of beef.
  • Do your rappelling and rock climbing in the Wilds. Both are permitted in state parks and state forests with some restrictions to protect the environment. Or, check out the 100-plus miles of ATV trails in the Allegheny National Forest.

Things to do for Centrics

  • Hike the Elk Trail as a way to spot and observe elk — and keep an eye out for a range of other wildlife.
  • Time this right and you can attend one of two annual Punxsutawney Groundhog Festivals, one timed for Groundhog Day and the other in summer. At any time of year, visit the town’s Groundhog Zoo where you might catch sight of Phil, the weather forecaster.
  • Fish on Tioga and Hammond lakes, or on any of several other lakes or rivers and streams. Or, in winter, drop your line through the ice at the Allegheny Reservoir and Kinzua Dam.
  • Love the smell of wood? Attend the Chainsaw Carvers Rendezvous at Ridgeway in winter. It is the world’s largest gathering of chainsaw carvers.
  • Arrange to participate in a Star Party or other special programs at Cherry Springs State Park that, with guides and experts, make stargazing more meaningful. Sometimes, you will need your own telescope.
  • Walk the 600-foot Kinzua Bridge skywalk. Using surviving support towers, the skywalk is a reinvention of the dramatically situated Kinzua Viaduct after it was hit by a tornado. The skywalk has a glass floor overlook 200 feet above the Kinzua Gorge.

Things to do for Authentics

  • Drive any or all of the 127-mile Elk Scenic Drive for the scenery but especially for spotting elk. The route offers 23 viewing areas.
  • Look for original works by local jewelry makers, painters, potters, sculptors and others. More than 100 artisans are part of the Pennsylvania Wilds Artisan Trail.
  • Watch the kids compete in the Little League World Series in South Williamsport in August.
  • Come to Renovo in October for the Pennsylvania State Flaming Foliage Festival. Also, drive scenic byways during the best of the fall foliage.
  • Plan an itinerary around historic districts or Victorian architecture as seen in the small towns. Brookville, Coudersport and Williamsport have both, but you’ll want to look at Smethport, Wellsboro and others, too.
  • Tour the Straub Brewery in St. Marys and sample beer from its Eternal Tap.

Additional Resources

For more information, consult the Pennsylvania Wilds Tourism Marketing Corporation at