Pennsylvania’s Great Outdoors region has more than a million acres of woodlands, so you have endless opportunities for adventure and exploration here. Whether you hike, bike, kayak, canoe, fish, geocache, watch wildlife, take photos, or ride horses, ATVs, bicycles, or dirt bikes, you’ll find plenty of destinations perfect for your favorite type of recreation here.
On the Trail
Hundreds of miles of trails from rugged backcountry paths to wide, smooth rail-trails crisscross the region, and the area’s natural scenery and rolling hills offer endless variety for trail users of all types. Hikers, cyclists, horseback riders, ATV and dirt-bike riders can find trails designed for their specific sports as well as multi-use trails that accommodate more than one type of activity.
In Cook Forest State Park, hikers will not want to miss the majestic Forest Cathedral, a National Natural Landmark filled with giant pine and hemlock trees, with some dating back to the 1600s. The 1.2-mile Longfellow Trail passes through some of the tallest, oldest, and largest eastern white pine in the northeastern U.S. Nearby, Seneca Trail leads to the Fire Tower and the Seneca Point overlook that feature commanding views of the Clarion River Valley. Just upriver from Cook Forest in Clear Creek State Park and Beartown Rocks that is known for house-sized boulders sprawled across several acres. Kids and adults alike enjoy hiking around the rocks, some of which have trees growing on them.
Another noteworthy rail-trail, the Redbank Valley Trail from Brookville to East Brady earned the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ first “Trail of the Year” designation in 2014. The 51-mile trail runs along Redbank Creek over several bridges and stone arches and through a tunnel, with a spur that extends from Lawsonham to Sligo. Make sure to explore the trail’s 608-foot Climax Tunnel near New Bethlehem that reopened to pedestrian and bicycle traffic after an extensive renovation in 2018.
From Ridgway to Brockway, the 18-mile Clarion-Little Toby Trail follows the path of a former rail line through the Clarion River and Little Toby Creek Valleys. Along the way, visitors can see what remains of half a dozen ghost towns, a flooded dam, and a train wreck, and take a fun detour on a swinging bridge over Little Toby Creek. In eastern Elk and northern Cameron Counties, the new four-season West Creek Trail spans 18 miles between St. Marys and Emporium, giving hikers, bikers, cross-country skiers, and snowmobilers a place to stretch their legs.
The Mahoning Shadow Trail in Punxsutawney and the Black Cherry Trail in the Allegheny National Forest have been designated National Recreational Trails, and they showcase some of the region’s industrial heritage as well as its natural beauty. The Allegheny National Forest features hundreds of miles of trails offering a variety of trail lengths and difficulty levels to accommodate any hiker. Come explore the ever-popular Buzzard Swamp Trail System, which provides some of the best wildlife and bird watching opportunities in Pennsylvania’s only National Forest. The Twin Lakes Trail north of Ridgway, the Beaver Meadows Trail System near Marienville, and Minister Creek Trail near Tionesta are also great ways to explore all the ANF has to offer visitors.
The 4,600-mile North Country National Scenic Trail, one of only 11 National Scenic Trails in the country, runs right through this region on its route between North Dakota and the New York/Vermont border. More than 100 miles of the 4,600-mile North Country National Scenic Trail run through Clarion and Forest Counties. This section features several Adirondack-style shelters for multi-day hikers. The Clarion Loop Trail is a three-mile spur added to North Country Trail connecting the town of Clarion to the Clarion River that winds through hemlocks and hardwoods, passing over creeks and rocks until you reach the river.
Rail 66 Country Trail is a non-motorized, 4-season trail that currently extends 20 miles through the scenic countryside of northern Clarion County near the Village of Lucinda on the historic Knox-Kane railroad bed. Community organizers in the Forest County town of Marienville are developing the Knox-Kane Trail along the same line. Plans and funding are in place for Marienville to develop several more miles of trail on the Knox-Kane corridor and create a recreational hub at the historic train station in the heart of Marienville. Ultimately, trail organizers hope to unite the two developed sections and create a longer-distance recreational route.
The Fred Woods Trail in Cameron County is 4.5-mile loop in Elk State Forest featuring unique rock formations and breathtaking views from Top of the World and huge boulders in area known as “rock city”. The West Creek Trail is a 19-mile rail-trail from St. Marys to Emporium for hiking, biking, cross-country skiing, and snowmobiling.
Kayaking & Canoeing
Less than one-quarter of one percent of the United States’ rivers are protected under the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System, and Pennsylvania’s Great Outdoors region is fortunate to contain two of its prize gems, the Clarion and Allegheny Rivers, along with hundreds of miles of other beautiful waterways.
French explorers originally dubbed the Allegheny River “La Belle Rivière” or “The Beautiful River” for its picturesque route through the Allegheny Mountains, and 87 miles of it in northwest Pennsylvania have been protected by the act for recreational purposes. The Allegheny winds through narrow forested valleys and across broad rural landscapes, and more than 100 undeveloped islands dot its path, including seven in the Allegheny Islands Wilderness near Tionesta that allow overnight camping. Canoers, kayakers, and tubers can float the river throughout the year. Power boaters and water skiers can find nine miles of horsepower-friendly twists and turns at Pool 9 near East Brady. The Allegheny also offers anglers year-round opportunities to enjoy excellent muskellunge and walleye fishing.
Portions of the Clarion River, a tributary of the Allegheny, have similarly been designated as scenic and recreational. The river meanders for more than 100 miles past undisturbed forests and steep-sided hills, and it creates a remote sense of isolation while still providing multiple easily accessed launch points. Kayak and canoe liveries in Cooksburg and Ridgway provide rentals and shuttle services to make floating the river easy for visitors. For those looking for more of a thrill, the river’s Piney Dam area welcomes power boaters and water skiers. The Clarion was honored as 2019 Pennsylvania River of Year and was also featured on the U.S. Postal Service’s Wild and Scenic Rivers stamp. The northern Clarion is famous for trophy brown trout and the entire river system is teeming with fish and wildlife.
In Cameron and Elk Counties, the Sinnemahoning watershed with Bennett Branch, Driftwood Branch, and Sinnemahoning Creek combining to provide more than 75 miles of seasonal paddling routes. At Sinnemahoning State Park in Cameron County, the George B. Stevenson Reservoir spans nearly three miles of shoreline, and the boat mooring area offers great views of bald eagles and ospreys seeking fish. During the summer, the park offers interpretive pontoon boat rides that detail the wildlife and geography of the area.
ATV, UTV, and Dirt-Bike Riding
If you love kicking up dust or splashing through mud, check out the 100-plus miles of trails in the Allegheny National Forest open to ATV and dirt-bike riders. The Marienville, Penoke, and Timberline trails follow the routes of old roads and rail lines throughout the forest, and they vary in difficulty to give riders of all levels a thrill. In the spring and fall, roads and trails usually closed to the public open for the popular Tour-de-Forest events, giving riders a chance to explore a wider network of trails. The Piney Rail Riders, Elk County Riders, and Marienville ATV Club are local clubs that offer ATV enthusiasts more riding opportunities.
While many trails in the area welcome horseback riders as well as other users, equestrians can enjoy several trails here dedicated specifically for their use. In Elk State Forest, the highly scenic Thunder Mountain Equestrian Trail lets riders view elk and other wildlife as they pass through woods and beautiful vistas of Pennsylvania’s wild elk country. Trail maps and information are available at the forest office in Emporium or call (814) 486-3353.
Throughout Allegheny National Forest, horses are permitted on hundreds of miles of Forest Service roads, and open riding is permitted except on specified hiking and cross-country skiing trails. Spring Creek Horse Trail, located just outside of Marienville, winds through a beautiful remote area of the forest for nearly 40 miles. For more information, contact the Marienville Ranger Station at (814) 927-6628.
In Cook Forest State Park, equestrians can check out the Bridle Trail and Browns Run Trail, and horses are also welcome on state forest and old wood roads. Find out more by calling (814) 744-8407.
Private stables also charter guided trail rides in the region, including several in the Cook Forest area.
Cold mountain streams, clear flowing rivers, and quiet lakes crisscross the region, and anglers can find a wide variety of fish in these waters. The Clarion River offers both cold-water and warm-water fisheries, making it an ideal destination for the angler seeking diversity. In Elk County, fishermen can find a wealth of trophy brown trout, and as the river makes its way to Cook Forest, smallmouth bass and other trout species make an appearance as well. Piney Dam offers warm-water species like bass, walleye, musky, catfish, and crappie.
Cameron County boasts some of the very best fishing in the state, and anglers can find miles of secluded waterways here. This rugged region features many excellent trout streams, and the Driftwood Branch and Sinnemahoning Creek are two of the best-kept smallmouth bass secrets in the Eastern U.S.
Native brook trout live in many of the mountain streams here, and stocked brook, brown, golden, and rainbow trout help increase your chances of hooking your share. Additionally, lakes such as Tionesta Lake in Forest County, Cloe Lake and Kyle Lake in Jefferson County, and Kahle Lake in Clarion County are teeming with fish. Each spring, many local sportsmen’s clubs host popular youth fishing derbies and Elk County hosts an annual Trout-A-Thon.
Cook Forest has a special fishing pond at Tom’s Run and the Ross Run children/special need fishing area in Forest County are both stocked with trout just for use by children 12 and younger and people with disabilities.
The Allegheny River and Tionesta Lake contain walleye, bass, muskie, northern pike, yellow perch, and trout, and those in search of catfish can find tournaments in East Brady every year.
Our new Fishing & Paddling is a twenty-page brochure is an informative guide to fishing and paddling adventures in the region. It features lakes, streams, approved trout waters, and boat/kayak/canoe launches.
Download or request free guides and visitor information online at VisitPAGO.com/free-information.