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Spectacular lands in Pennsylvania Wilds

By George Bailey, Special to Postmedia Network

A bull elk on a grassy hillside in Pennsylvania. (Shutterstock)

A bull elk on a grassy hillside in Pennsylvania. (Shutterstock)

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In north central Pennsylvania there's an area referred to as Pennsylvania Wilds.

It consists of two million sprawling acres of unspoiled, spectacular scenic public lands. My wife Ellen and I recently took three days to explore a very small part of this states vast network of parks and wild forests.

After a four-hour, 300-kilometre drive from the Niagara, Ont. border we stopped for the night at the lovely town of, Wellsboro, Pa., on the north east edge of Pennsylvania Wilds.

Before exploring we headed downtown for lunch at a place I had visited before, the famous Wellsboro Diner. The diner was originally diner car number 388, made of porcelain inside and out, and manufactured in 1938 by the J.B. Judkins Co. of Merrimac, Mass.

As I remembered, the diner still served up sumptuous home cooked, reasonably priced meals by a friendly staff. Don't pass up having a piece of baker Holly Musselman's delicious German Chocolate Cake. After lunch we checked into the nearby Penn Wells Hotel and Lodge at 4 Main St. We figured if this historic landmark hotel was good enough for Groucho Marks and Joan Crawford (separate years-separate beds) it would be for us. We were right.

Early afternoon we drove 15 minutes outside of town to Ansonia to meet up with John Dillon, owner of Pine Creek Outfitters. He took us to the top of Colton State Park for one of the most spectacular views in the world. Below was The Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania. Although it's not as famous as its bigger sister in Arizona it's no slouch when it comes to the WOW factor.

This gorge is 76 kilometres long and 240 metres deep was carved by Pine Creek, a product of the last ice age. Dillon said, "This gorge contains, as you can see, superlative scenery, geological and ecological features and is one of the finest examples of a deep gorge in eastern Unites States."

For those ready to embrace the outdoors try other activities such as hiking, biking, fishing, canoeing and white-water rafting offered by his company.

The following day we drove an hour and a half rising and falling along scenic roads that hugged mountainsides to Howard, Pa., to Bald Eagle State Park in the center of the state. We had reserved a room at an inn unlike any other in the Pennsylvania State Park System. As a matter of fact, it's the only inn in the system.

The Nature Inn at Bald Eagle State Park is special. Here's a few of the reasons why. This is a tranquil and quiet place set alone in the midst of the splendor of the outdoors. Yet, this fully modern 16-room inn offers comfortable beds and hot showers with such amenities as 40-inch flat-screen televisions, Wi-Fi, microwaves and refrigerators. OK, no roughing it here. But besides being located in a forest it's on the edge of a hill that overlooks an eight-mile-long lake. There is something else that makes it special. When the $10 million Nature Inn opened in September of 2010 it was awarded the prestigious Gold LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification.

Innkeeper, Charlie Brooks beams with joy when he told me, "In building the inn we've used a smorgasbord of green building technologies. The most major is undoubtedly the geothermal system that draws on the earth's surface to cool and heat a water-based solution that cycle out of the inn and through underground pipes."

They even collect rain water in four large cisterns to use in the flushing of energy efficient toilets.

At bedtime we left the windows open and were lulled to sleep by what locals call Spring Peepers, they're small tree frogs. In the morning we had coffee on the balcony and watched a gray fog rise above the lake.

A one-night stay, including breakfast and taxes, runs about $175 and worth every penny. There's no place at the inn to have dinner so bring along a mid-night snack.

Our last stop on the agenda before heading home was another magnificent hour and a half drive to the Elk Country Visitor Center at 134 Homestead Dr., Benezette, Pa. This center is located within the 99-hectare Lake State Forest.

Rawley Cogan, CEO of Keystone Elk Country Alliance was waiting for us at the front door of the center to show us around. He explained the nonprofit conservation organization focuses on the conservation and enhancing of Pennsylvania's Elk population. This interactive center (another LEED certified building which opened in September 2010) is open seven days a week free of charge from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m.

Younger visitors will love the Discovery Room where they can get hands-on with the wild.

We didn't spot any Elk at the time we were there, but we did spot a flock of wild turkeys that gave us the eye then scurried off.

A trip the Pennsylvania Wilds is a terrific place where you can rest and recharge your batteries before going back into the fray.

For more information

www.visittiogapa.com or 1-888-846- 4228.


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