Your Guide to Hiking and Exploring Pine Creek Gorge
Hike a canyon, bike an old rail line, and get way off the grid.
Location: North-central PA
Getting there: 230 miles northwest of Center City — about four hours by car
Personal space: The gorge is in a 160,000-acre forest sandwiched between two state parks. Altogether, there are dozens of trails and plenty of places to camp
Entrance fee: Free
Most gorges don’t have taglines. And Pine Creek’s — “The Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania” — is a lot to live up to. But this swath of land is pretty damn impressive: 47 miles long, up to a mile wide, and at one point, 1,450 feet deep. (Right here! In the Commonwealth!) Plus, the river-carved canyon is in Tioga State Forest, which is densely packed with deciduous trees that morph into a tapestry of yellows, reds and purples come fall. (Dust off the real camera for this trip — the views are to die for.)
The good news is that you don’t have to be super-outdoorsy to take it all in. The relatively flat Barbour Rock Trail gets you to a lookout point in less than a mile from the trailhead. (Read: You can wear Crocs.) But there are also plenty of calf-busting hikes nearby, like the mega 28-mile Tioga West Rim Trail and the seven-ish-mile Sand Run Falls loop, which features a waterfall halfway through.
The gorge isn’t the only attraction. There’s a huge stretch of the Pine Creek Rail Trail here — a 62-mile converted train line that’s beloved by hikers, bikers and runners. (It’s mostly flat and runs near the bottom of the gorge.) Hop on it and roll past rural towns, old bridges and rock outcroppings — and maybe even the occasional bald eagle or river otter.
The canyon is edged by those two state parks — Colton Point and Leonard Harrison — of which the latter, on the eastern rim, is a good home base. There’s a welcome center, a food truck with hot dogs and ice cream, and playground and modern camping facilities, some of which are pet-friendly, so you can bring along that pandemic puppy you picked up. The Turkey Path trail, which takes you to the bottom of the canyon, is currently closed due to trail conditions, but you can still get gorge-ous views (forgive us) by taking the easy Overview Trail. Worth noting: There’s water at the bottom of that gorge, so you can fish and boat, too.
Published as “Pine Creek Gorge” in the “Call of the Wild” guide in the October 2020 issue of Philadelphia magazine.