Family Fun at Fred Woods Trail

After seeing ONE picture in the Elk State Forest map, Fred Woods Trail has been on my trail bucket list.  Fred Woods Trail is a 4.57 mile loop on Mason Hill Road in Elk County, Pennsylvania.  It is known for some AMAZING rock formations, which can be found on the north side of the trail.  A trail guide can be found here.

One weekend in Benezette, I suggested to Bryan that I take our kids, ages 9 and 12, along with their two friends, ages 7 and 13 up to Fred Woods for a short hike.  So, I packed all four kids in the truck and made my way down 555 listening to the some chatter that indicated excitement for some and reluctance for others.  I just wasn’t sure how hiking with four kids in the middle of July was going to go!

Turning onto Mason Hill Rd, we drove 2.75 miles up to the parking area where we unloaded all the kids, got everyone’s sneakers on (don’t try this in sandals!), and made sure everyone had water.  There is a .76 mile path to the loop, and I tried to quell the whining with promises of “really cool rocks.”  Two falls, one scratched knee, and one scraped side (WATCH FOR THE ROCKS ON THE TRAIL!!!!!), things were NOT looking good… until we started finding, well, COOL ROCKS.

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And they climbed, and climbed, and fell some more, but spirits were high!  What was supposed to be an hour or so trip, turned into a solid 5 hour adventure.

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What I didn’t realize was how large the rock formations are a couple miles in… as big as houses!  The kids were amazed, and I was impressed with some serious eye candy.

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I think that everyone was in awe.  The girls walked around with me, in sheer amazement, and as boys will be boys, they did more climbing.

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After this, everyone was getting pretty tired, so we hiked out the way that we came.  I have to say that although we didn’t make the whole loop, it was totally worth it to watch all the kids having SO MUCH FUN in the woods!  What a beautiful, and memorable, experience for all!  We are surely going back for another rock climbing adventure soon!

Post any Fred Woods memories or adventures in the comments below!

Happy Trails,

Jennifer

It’s Not All About the Bugle… 5 Reasons NOT to Visit Elk Country During Rut

I will never forget the first time I heard an elk bugle.  It was below the Winslow Hill Viewing Area, and the cry cut through the eerie, early morning fog, a hauntingly beautiful sound like none that I have ever heard before.

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Benezette and the surrounding areas are PACKED with people hoping to hear the elk bugle during the rut.  As explained by the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (RMEF), when August draws to a close, a bull’s antlers are fully grown, and ready for the display and fighting that comes with their mating season, known as “rut.”  Larger bulls tend to have a louder bugle than their more youthful rivals, this is an important indicator of size and strength not only for cows in search of a mate, but also potential rival bulls.

A bugle can also indicate acceptance or the challenge to engage in a fight with another bull.  A show of strength, bulls typically do not get injured, though this may occur.

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One common misconception that we hear from tenants over and over is that you can only see elk in Pennsylvania during the rut.  NOT TRUE!!!!!!  Not only can these majestic creatures be seen at ANY time during the year, there are several reasons why visiting in the “off-season” can be more fun!

1. Smaller Crowds

This is a no-brainer!  If you have ever been stuck in an elk-induced traffic jam on Winslow Hill, you know EXACTLY what I am talking about.  Though the PA Elk Range is estimated to cover land from Coudersport to Clearfield (see RMEF map below), the majority of the tourism is conducted in and around Benezette, which isn’t a very big town!  So skip the traffic and lines at the local restaurants!

Range Map

2. “Friendly” Elk

Don’t get me wrong, elk are WILD ANIMALS and should not be approached, nor should you try to touch or feed them!!!  During the rut, bulls are considerably more aggressive in trying to protect their harems (groups of cows) from other males, according to the RMEF.  Benezette boasts an elk population that is rather tolerant of humans and they will often let you get close.  This past weekend, our kids and their friends climbed in a fenced perennial bed at The Elk Grove for an up close and personal look at a local cow interested in the apple tree.

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3. Baby Elk… Need I say More?

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I shot these photos at dusk this past weekend, who WOULDN’T want to see a baby elk who still has its spots???

4. Shed Hunting

Shed (dropped antlers) hunting is pretty much the unofficial spring sport of Elk Country.  According to the RMEF, antlers grow throughout the year as layer upon layer of cartelige gradually develops into solid bone by the start of rut.  As testosterone levels start to taper off, by spring, bulls are ready to lose their antlers.

As the sheds drop, people follow.  I have yet to find an elk shed, but I can say that I have logged a good amount of miles on foot (and snowshoe) in search of the prize!  For a very cool shed hunting success story, see this forum post from pahunting.com!

5. All of the Other Awesome Things to do in Elk Country

Elk viewing is just ONE of the amazing parts of the Pennsylvania Wilds!  Elk State Forest covers 200,000 acres that is part of Pennsylvania’s extensive 2.2 MILLION acre system of state forest.  We have hiking, camping, hunting trapping, fishing, mountain biking, horseback riding, kayaking and canoeing, and winter activities such as cross-country skiing and snowmobiling.  For an excellent resource about what to do in and around Elk Country, see the Pennsylvania Great Outdoors Visitor’s Bureau’s website here.

Happy Elk Viewing,

Jennifer

The Elk in the Orchard

Who doesn’t love seeing wildlife up close?  One thing that the town of Benezette, Pennsylvania has to boast about are the elk, lots of them, and ones that are VERY used to tourists.

I grew up in Pittsburgh, PA and though we have copious amounts of white tails that annihilate everyone’s landscaping, my experience with wildlife viewing has been limited to squirrels and chipmunks for the most part. Until Bryan and I acquired a new property, right in downtown Benezette, which we named “The Elk Grove.”

Named after the former owners, Walt and Donna Grove, this cottage was one that we were hesitant to buy.  Bryan and I both like our space, and any location in the center of any town, even Benezette, PA isn’t really our cup of tea, so to speak.  After spending a few nights there ourselves, we both fell in love with this amazing spot.

The former owners told us all about the regular visitors to the yard, bull elk, cows and their babies.  They had an apple tree growing in the perfect location, within view from the dining room table.  What better view while enjoying your morning coffee or evening glass of wine?

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I was lucky enough to get the chance to photograph this beauty two nights in a row during our last stay.

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AND saw these two cows one morning from the back yard!

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Thanks to a few nights at the Elk Grove, my close encounters with the wild kind have increased in number significantly.  What a very cool thing to have roaming through your yard!

Happy Elk Viewing,

Jennifer