Experiencing nature in Pennsylvania

We have spent a lot of time lately playing tourist – taking historical, chocolate, brewery and wine tours – so now it’s about time we experience the wild side of Pennsylvania.  Our home base on this stop was in the western part of PA at Woodland Campground.  Click here for Steve’s review if you’re interested.  Once settled in, we began researching things to do around the Woodland area.  Initially we didn’t find much, but we were happy to eventually find a few nearby activities.

Bilger’s Rocks

Located in Grampian, PABilger’s rocks was rescued and restored by a local non-profit group after teens in the area had used it for years as a party spot where they defaced the unusual boulders with graffiti.  Today, it has been cleaned up and promoted as the beautiful spot that it is.  Walking trails meander among the huge moss-covered sandstone blocks that average 20′ to 25′ thick.  This is the “greenest” spot we’ve ever seen!


300 years ago, “Rock City” as they called it was formed by Frost Wedging.  Water seeped into cracks of the sandstone slab and as it froze the rock cracked and eventually broke into sections away from the main body. As water continued to enter the cracks it slowly eroded the soft sandy soil out from under the broken rock sections.  Gravity then slowly moved the large boulders down the hillside, which is what we witnessed.

There are several trails in the area and we covered 6 miles of them that lonely day, for we were the only ones on the trail – just the way we like it!

Green, green everywhere!

Elk Country

We just learned that Pennsylvania is considered elk country, and to showcase that is the newly-built Elk Country Visitor Center located at Benzette, PA.  It was designed specifically to allow folks to experience these animals year-round and to learn more about them.  They even boast having the premier viewing location and home of the largest wild elk herd in the northeastern United States.  So off I went as Steve told me there would probably be no elk there this time of the year – he decided to stay home and clean Betsy.  Was he right?  Well, yes and no.  There were three viewing areas within the visitor center area and I did not see a single elk roaming around.

Elk country Visitor Center
One of the viewing areas at the Elk Country Visitor Center

During my visit I enjoyed an informative and interesting 30-minute 4-D show complete with a new level of sensory experience – smoke, snow, and crackling campfires.  An historical account of elk in Pennsylvania was presented, including their behavior during all four seasons.  The ongoing conservation efforts were also explained.  I learned that the current elk population came from Yellowstone, as all elk previously in PA were killed due to overhunting.

Although I learned a lot, the trip would be incomplete without seeing a single elk.  Luckily, on my way home and miles away from the visitor center, I caught a glimpse of these cow elk grazing quietly.  Getting proof that Steve was wrong after all brought a smile to my face!

Grazing Elk in Elk Country, PA

Cow elk (females) with their babies

Parker Dam and SB Elliott State Parks

Within 20 miles of our home base were two state parks, S B Elliot and Parker Dam State Parks at Penfield, PA,  where we found several trails to choose from.  The Old Horseman Trail at SB Elliott was a dud, muddy and not clearly marked.  We turned around after two miles of exasperation trying to follow the overgrown trail.  The park was very green, lush and quiet, however.

Parker Dam State Park, on the other hand, was a different story.  The Beaver Dam and Laurel Run trails were decent and well-marked, so we walked both of them.  There were some muddy and infrequently-traveled areas on these trails, and the gnats and other flying bugs were the worst we have encountered.

Beaver Dam Trail
Beaver Dam Trail

But despite those relentless critters we completed eight miles on the wildflower-laden trails, enjoying dense forest and the sounds of the gushing river as we trudged on.

Laurel Run Trail
Laurel Run Trail
Parker Dam State PArk
Just being stylish – not!  That white thing on my glasses is an insect repellent

Clearfield County Rails to Trails

On another day we found ourselves on a bike path in nearby Clearfield, PA, about 10 miles from our campground.  The crushed gravel path is fairly flat from Clearfield to Curwensville, and we chalked up a 15-mile ride there.  The trail initially parallels the PA879 highway, but after a mile and a half we rode in tranquility beside a river and more blooming wildflowers.

On our last day here we got up early and went back for a 6-mile walk on this path.  It was the day after a big storm hit the previous night, and there were several downed tress and branches blocking some sections.  But crews were already cleaning up and the path is well taken care of.

To regain all the calories we burned, off we went to Denny’s Beer Barrel Pub, home of some of the world’s largest burger challenges.  This place was a blast!  Steve loved it so much that we came here twice in one week!  Check out these burger challenges:

Denny's Beer Barrel Pub
Outrageous burger challenges

They have over 30 beers on tap, and 37 different sauces on their wing menu.  And for entertainment, how can you beat watching people trying to eat a 2+ pound burger in under an hour?  On the first day we were there, a man from NY was attempting to do just that.  We had to leave about 30 minutes into his challenge, but he was already about 2/3 finished.  However, we learned that although hundreds of people try it, this particular challenge is completed only once every few months.  And we find it hard to believe, but it’s true – one man completed a 15-pound burger in less than 5 hours, and another wolfed down a 3-pounder in 9 minutes and 3 seconds.  Wow!

And you know you’re living right when you get onto the freeway and see the Oscar Meyer Wienermobile just ahead of you!  Steve got up to 80 mph just to check it out, and of course I had my trusty camera at the ready.  How cool is that?  Check out the cute Wisconsin license plate.

I’m just realizing we were actually quite active during this one-week stop.  During our hikes and bikes I managed to get a glimpse of these very unusual and colorful mushrooms/fungi…

…and flowers with beautiful critters pollinating them…

…and some other notable critters.




  1. Do tell us more about that insect repellent.

    Sorry – can’t watch people wolfing down food … gag reflect too strong, I guess. But I like everything else you did. My only trips to Philly have been for business, I didn’t explore the surrounding area much. Nice to know there is so much to keep us busy out in nature.

  2. We do enjoy the” touristie” tours and sights, but experiencing nature is at the top of the list for us. What an active and fun time you had. Those were some great hikes! The mushrooms are so neat…I am so glad you saw the elk. What a nice treat!

    Happy trails.

  3. I’m envious of the exercise you’re getting in those beautiful places! I’m feeling like a slug as I recuperate from my bike accident and just itching to burn some calories that way. Great pics! -Linda

  4. Okay, you had me lost til you went to Clearfield. We’ve never heard of the other areas and the atlas didn’t have them. You found some beautiful places! Oh, but with all the rain they’ve had, you were in bug heaven! It is bad even when it isn’t wet.

    When you leave Toronto and head back into the US, which bridge will you use? We are headed to my mother’s on the St. Lawrence River in Clayton. She is 10 miles from the Thousand Island Bridge. We will be there til mid August.

    We just passed your Warren exit on 90. We are going to Erie for five days to see John’s family. Then, up to my mother’s.

    Maybe we will catch each other!

  5. I didn’t know PA had Elk….cute babes. The mushrooms are so interesting. I sure don’t miss the bugs and you are looking pretty…um….unique in those sunglasses with the bug repellant thing. And the burgers actually look ridiculous….wow, can’t imagine 🙂

  6. Looks like you certainly had a great time in PA. Such a pretty place. The mushrooms look cool! Can’t wait to get somewhere where we can hike and bike. Burgers looked crazy huge!

  7. Gorgeous country and photography! As I was reading about your hikes my first thought, being in OH, was what about the bugs. I have never seen an insect repellent such as the one you were sporting Mona. Where did you get it?

  8. This is one whole travelgasm of a post!!! Awesome looking trees and rocks, tranquil water, foodie, a cool chance upon on the road, and beatifully photographed nature – Very Well Done!

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