Editor’s note: This will be the first in a series of travel articles featuring points of interest in Pennsylvania, as well as up and down the east coast, and occasionally farther afield. Suggestions for everything from day trips to vacation-length excursions will be included.
Almost everyone has heard of the Grand Canyon—the one in Arizona that’s famous all around the world. But few outside Pennsylvania have heard of the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon, also known as Pine Creek Gorge.
Sometimes abbreviated PAGC, the canyon is created by a combination of erosion from Pine Creek, and glaciation from the last ice age.
Most of the mountains in the area are amazingly uniform and flat-topped. At least they appear so from a distance.
Driving is another thing altogether.
From Chambersburg, there is no easy way to get to Pine Creek Gorge.
The straightest route, which is still rather indirect, takes you through State College.
If you drive the route at night, it might take just under three hours.
If you drive through State College during peak hours from 6:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m., you will almost certainly hit a lot of stop-and-go traffic. Add an extra 30-60 minutes in that case.
Although the PAGC is only 10 miles from Wellsboro, it might take an hour or more to drive that distance, depending on weather conditions.
There are few straight roads in the area, and most twist and turn more than a bowl full of wet spaghetti noodles. And getting from one side of the canyon to the other, although less than a mile apart in most places, involves a drive of fifty miles or more.
There are no roads that go directly across the canyon.
The canyon is part of Tioga State Forest, and the east rim of the canyon is home to Leonard Harrison State Park.
This is the more developed of the State Parks that rim the canyon. There’s a visitor’s center and a fantastic overlook. Viewing is especially good on a clear day from late afternoon until sunset.
Trails abound in the park, including one, the Turkey Path Trail that goes down to the bottom of the gorge. It’s not recommended for the very young, the elderly, or those who aren’t in good physical condition as it’s a steep, and often slippery trail.
On the west rim is Colton Point State Park, which also abounds with hiking trails, including the 30.5-mile West Rim Trail. The best views of the canyon from Colton Point are from sunrise to late morning.
Down in the canyon, a rail-trail runs along Pine Creek for more than 60 miles, starting near Ansonia.
Bikes, canoes, rafts and kayaks can be rented, in season, from outfitters, including Pine Creek Outfitters.
Fishing is available to those with valid Pennsylvania fishing licenses. Pine Creek is home to rainbow trout, walleye, smallmouth bass, and panfish.
You can bring your own rod and tackle, or you can rent from a local outfitter.
Birding is another great pastime in the area, and birds as diverse as bald eagles and common mergansers nest in the canyon.
In 2004 the Pennsylvania Audubon Society designated the canyon as an Important Birding Area.
Camping is available in both Leonard Harrison and Colton Point State Parks, but is seasonal, so check the websites for information and reservations.
Nearby is Cherry Springs State Park, a renowned Dark Skies area—one of the last east of the Mississippi. While there are telescopes for rent, it’s generally preferable to bring your own and set up in the designated Overnight Astronomy Observation Field.
If you’ve never been to a Dark Skies area, you’re in for a shock and one of the best experiences of your life.
Many states (and countries, for that matter) host canyons that can be called ‘grand’ for one reason or another.
While Pennsylvania’s Grand Canyon isn’t as long, wide, or deep as many, it is still awe-inspiring.
Of all the reasons to visit, the scenery is the best.