Planning a Fall Foliage Tour? Check out these vistas in the heart of Elk Country…

When the stifling heat of August inevitably rolls around, my thoughts drift to the sights and smells of Autumn.  Cool, crisp air with the smell of fall leaves drifting on the breeze, the stunning display of nature as our trees turn brilliant shades of red, yellow, and orange, as Mother Nature prepares for her long winter hibernation.

A couple weeks ago, I stayed in Benezette to make for a shorter drive to Prowl the Sproul, an awesomely difficult 10k race in Hyner, Pennsylvania.  Aside from having to attend the race, the dog and I were free to explore Elk and Cameron counties the rest of the weekend.  A “tour” of nearby vistas has been on my blog bucket list for a couple months, so the dog and I hopped in the Subaru with the Elk State Forest map in hand.

(See the map at the end of this post for the visual of our route, highlighted in fuschia!)

Starting Point: Bucktail Overlook

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This vista showcases a southeast view of the Bucktail State Park Natural Area, which stretches from Emporium to Lock Haven, boasts forest land that is abundant with trees such as sycamore and river birch, which thrive in the river valley.  Elk, whitetail deer, bear, and other animals call the Bucktail Natural Area home as well, along with many species of birds, plants, reptiles, and amphibians.

After the Bucktail overlook, I headed west on Mason Hill Road into the village of Sterling Run.  This is NOT a route that should be attempted in snow and ice unless you have tire chains!  Once in the village of Sterling Run, I turned left onto Highway 120 towards Emporium, making a right onto Hunts Run Road.  After another right turn onto Whitehead Road, and another right, it becomes apparent that Ridge Road is aptly named.

Logue Run Vista

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On the East side of Ridge Road, is this spectacular view overlooking Logue Run, a tributary of the First Fork of the Sinnemahoning Creek.

Not boasting any spectacular views, but still having some picnic-potential, is the Whitehead Pavillion, just a short drive south from the Logue Run Vista.

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Steps lead from Ridge Road to the Pavilion
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Pavilion with Picnic Tables

Unnamed West-Facing Vista

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The next stop on the vista tour was this unnamed spot, facing west, overlooking Whitehead Run, still stunning!

Norcross Run Vista

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Vista overlooking Norcross Run

This vista was not my favorite.  As you can see from the picture, the land immediately adjacent to the road has been timbered, and though the view in the distance is nice, the fallen trees and brush isn’t too visually pleasing.  The vista overlooks… you guessed it, Norcross Run!  Though the view is somewhat tainted by the timbering, it is still worth a stop!

Square Timber Vista

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This isn’t the first time I have posted about the west-facing Square Timber Vista, it is situated less about one mile from access to the Bucktail Path, for more information about that stretch of the trail, see my blog post here.

This is a stunning overlook that provides a view for miles over the Square Timber Wild Area, which consists of 8,461 acres of steep hills and deep valleys.


If you follow Ridge Road, it eventually leads down the hill to Grove Hill Township Road, and back onto Highway 120 in between Sterling Run and Driftwood.  Below, you can find a map of exactly where we went.

As a side note, if you see Brooks Run Fire Tower signs and your interest is piqued, the hike from the intersection of Brooks Run Road and Ridge Road is one solid mile up hill, and the tower is fenced in with barbed wire around the top.  Neither the 11 year old dog nor I were pleased >:(

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One tired beast…

I hope this helps our readers with some ideas for planning a trip to see the fall foliage this year in the PA Wilds!  What are your favorite things about fall?  Comment below!

Happy Vista Viewing,

Jennifer


Tour Map

 

 

 

 

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.

Kids and Elk

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

Bucktail Path… Miles of Ferns and Mt. Laurel!

I. love. trails.

I started running trails in the spring of 2015, and it has kind of become an obsession for me.  I have one trail running friend who loves checking out new spots, and we actually stumbled upon this stretch of the Bucktail Path by accident after we bypassed another trail head.

Map

Bucktail Path is a 34 mile trail that starts in Sinnemahoning, Pennsylvania and traverses through the Johnson Run Natural Area and Elk State Forest.  Our intentions were to run the Square Timber trail, near the village of Sterling Run in Cameron County, but we drove right past!  After studying the map, we changed plans and were aiming to pick up Bucktail at the trail head at the intersection of Stillhouse Rd. and Ridge Rd. (see red arrow on the above image). Parking is problematic, so we ended up driving a bit further and parking at the Square Timber Vista, which was another spectacular, serendipitous find!

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Square Timber Vista

For a full map, please see the PA DCNR website here.  This was a hands-down GORGEOUS trail!  We ran about three trail miles out and back (see red dot on the map for our turn-around point), and could not stop saying how beautiful the scenery was.

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There is some weaving in and out of the woods across a gas line right-of-way, but even these clearings were stunning!  Back in the forest, there were ferns as far as we could see!  The trail was very friendly, and very run-able.  We did do quite a bit of climbing, but more between miles two and three (and on the back-side, of course).

Ferns along Bucktail

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I would have to say that one of my favorite aspects to this run was the fact that the Mountain Laurel were blooming!  On May 5, 1933, the Mountain Laurel was declared the Pennsylvania state flower by Governor Gifford Pinchot, and for good reason!  This showy shrub blooms across our beautiful state from June through July, predominantly in wooded areas.

Mt. Laurel in bloom

Native Mt. Laurel

Just a short drive from Camp Eagle’s Nest, this section of the Bucktail path is a perfect day hike (or run!) for the intermediate level trail enthusiast!  Make plans for a June hike, and you will not be disappointed by the spectacular floral display!

Happy Trails,

Jennifer