The gorgeous gorge of Pennsylvania

And nearby Wellsboro is a small-town postcard

Trips

September 01, 2005|By Donna M. Owens | Donna M. Owens,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The story goes that when Pennsylvania businessman Larry Woodin laid eyes on Pine Creek Gorge in the 1920s, he was so struck by its beauty he dubbed it "Pennsylvania's Grand Canyon."

The name stuck -- and remains popular in these parts and beyond. Annually, nearly a half-million visitors journey to this region of north-central Pennsylvania, perhaps seeking vistas as lovely as those that mark the natural wonder out West.

While they won't find quite the same precipitous drops and etched crevasses of its famous namesake, this gorge is endowed with its own unique beauty and splendor.

Bald eagles soar through the canyon. River otters swim in its pristine waters. Bobcat, white-tailed deer, fishers (a member of the weasel family) and even black bear are part of the landscape.

Meantime, natural beauty abounds: Pine Creek winds through the gorge, eventually flowing into the Susquehanna River. And the 165,000-acre Tioga State Forest surrounds the gorge.

"It's a very scenic place," says park operations manager Chip Harrison, who oversees eight state parks, including Leonard Harrison and Colton Point, where the gorge is located. "It's great for watching birds and other wildlife and doing all kinds of outdoor activities."

Indeed, the area presents abundant opportunity to revel in nature as the seasons change.

Spring and summer make for great swimming, canoeing, rafting, and fishing (bass and other species), not to mention camping and mountain biking. There's birding and hiking (try following the Barbour Rock Trail to an awesome lookout point on the west rim of the gorge).

In the fall, visitors can choose old-fashioned covered wagon rides, horseback riding and view the changing foliage (officials say peak time this year will be Oct. 10). Winter brings cross-country skiing and more.

Locals say the stargazing -- intensified by extremely dark skies in the evening -- is not to be missed.

"I grew up in the area, but as a child I didn't visit the gorge," says entrepreneur Henry Wood, who lives in the neighboring town of Wellsboro, population about 4,000. "As an adult, I have fallen in love with it."

Wood says he often hikes the Pine Creek Rail Trail, a scenic stretch that spans more than 50 miles and has proven a major draw for visitors year-round.

Voted one of the "10 great places to take a bike tour" by USA Today, the trail is a hard-packed gravel surface suitable for bikers, equestrians and hikers.

"As a Boy Scout master, I have taken my Scouts," says Wood. "We've hiked all over the world, including Belize. But this is one of the most beautiful places you will ever see. It's breathtaking."

To See and Do

Wellsboro is about 10 miles from the gorge. The small town has Victorian architecture and tree-lined streets reminiscent of New England (complete with charming gas lamps). It offers antiques shopping, dining and lodging that includes a historic hotel and cozy B&Bs.

Restaurants

Timeless Destination (570-724-8499, 79 Main St.): Serves fine Italian cuisine, and offers everything from gourmet pizza to filet mignon. Be sure to check out the new martini menu.

The Steak House (570-724-9092, 29 Main St.): Steaks, seafood and much more. Cozy atmosphere.

Attractions

The Arcadia Theater (570-724-4957, 50 Main St.): Four-screen movie theater in historic setting.

The Wellsboro Historic District is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Self-guided walking tours start at the fountain in the town's center park, known as the Green. A statue of Wynken, Blynken & Nod remind you of being gently put to sleep by this Dutch lullaby.

Lodging

At the Woods Bed & Breakfast (800-774-6256): Henry and Sylvia Wood are owners of this cozy space with 11 rooms.

Getting there

Tioga County is accessible via U.S. 15 (Interstate 99) or U.S. 6. It's about 235 miles from Baltimore, about four hours by car.

For more information, contact the Tioga County Visitors Bureau, 114 Main St. in Wellsboro or call 888-TIOGA28 or go to www.visittiogapa. com.

For more regional trips, see Page 32.

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