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Pennsylvania Wilds
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Driving. From the Ohio Valley or beyond, drive to I-80, then follow it eastward across Pennsylvania. Northwestern Pennsylvania is a scenic region of picturesque barns, classic farmhouses and rolling hills. Then you'll enter deep forest and the Appalachian Mountains. If your stereotype of Pennsylvania has been of an urbanized, industrial state this drive will shatter that image. The north central region of the state is referred to as "The Pennsylvania Wilds." This was the heart of The Iroqouis Federation, the so called Seven Nations, which lived herre for several thousand years before the arrival of White Europeans. Important events occurred here during the French & Indian War, the American Revolution and the War of 1812. It is still home to Elk, Bear, Beaver, Wildcat, and other big game. It's a hunting, fishing, hiking, backpacking, canoeing and skiing area. Major long distance trails wind through these mountains, and there are remote valleys here as isolated as anywhere in the nation. You can even go to college here, at Clarion State University, which is strong in Biology, Ecology and other outdoor fields.
Cook's Forest
Cooks Forest trees

Cook's Forest is the crown jewel of the Pennsylvania Wilds. This is the largest remaining expanse of virgin timber East of the Rockies. Massachusetts is a two day trip from Kentucky or the Ohio Valley, so you have to stop for the night somewhere, and we highly recommend you make that stop here. Many travellers spend two nights here, using the day between to hike beneath the huge trees and canoe the Clarion River. The largest herd of free roaming elk east of the Rockies inhabit these five million acres. 1100 miles of trails wind through the deep shade. 2067 miles of flowing water in rivers and side streams hold trout and other cold water fish. Birds of prey ride the skies. This has been proposed for National Park status, which it will probably achieve as money becomes available. Until then, it is a state park, national forest, wilderness, and federal reserve. The oak, hickory, and white pine are among the largest remaining in North America. If you leave Lexington, Indianapolis or Detroit at 9 a.m. you'll reach here by about 5 pm. Turn off I-80 at Brooksville and take route 36 13 miles to Cook's Forest. Or take our alternate directions to the Gateway Lodge, described below.

The Gateway Lodge is one of America's greatest forest retreats, offering rooms, suites, cabins, and an outstanding restaurant. Gateway's rooms and dining hall are in a beautiful 1933 pine and hemlock log structure tastefully maintained and updated over the century. Floors are oak. Except for an updated front porch and stairs, and a wing added for the pool, the lodge today stands exactly as it was built. There's an indoor heated pool and sauna. The small Tap Room resembles an Olde English Pub. The restaurant has a beamed ceiling and log walls with antique rifles, harnesses, snowshoes and other artifacts mounted on the walls. Wagon wheel chandeliers provide lighting while kerosene lamps are on each table. Most of the dishes and silverware are pewter. The food is excellent and the wine list includes 225 varieties. They serve breakfast, lunch and dinner, so you could stay here for two days, explore the forest and the river, and come back to the lodge for all meals. For couples, families or a small group there could be no finer beginning for a vacation trip. If you really want to get comfortable in the wilderness, the Luxury Suites include jacuzzis right next to the fireplaces. From I-80 exit at Clarion, turn left, go straight for 13 miles, turn right on 36 and go south for four miles. Gateway Lodge is on the left 1/4 mile past Cooksburg Bridge.

gateway lodge
The cabins are classic backwoods fishing and hunting retreats updated to more civilized quarters for a modern clientele. All have fireplaces and some have jacuzzis. The photo at left shows the Clarion River behind these cabins. The Clarion is calm here, but it gets much livelier further downstream. Cabins have kitchens, outdoor fire rings and picnic tables. Firewood is provided. The Gateway operates year round, with snowmobilers and cross country skiiers coming in the Winter and a large number of families coming every Christmas.

Unfortunately, Gateway Lodge cannot house a large group. For that you might try MacBeth's Cabins, at the southern entrance to Cooks Forest on route 36. They have 28 cabins overlooking the Clarion River, and some of them hold 12. You could eat over at Gateway, or at nearby Clarion River Lodge. 800-331-6319.

Evergreen Cabins, again on route 36 at the southern edge of Cooks Forest. They have one cabin sleeping 10, one sleeping 12 and one sleeping 13. All have fireplaces, kitchens, and large dining tables. 1-800-561-6463.

Cook Riverside Cabins. 800-680-0160. River Road, Cooksburg. On the Clarion River. Good canoeing, fishing, tubing.

Cooks Forest has over 400 commercial campsites. We recommend one of the following :

Shiloh Resort. 814-752-2360. This campground also has a small restaurant. Along route 36, inside Cook Forest.

Kalyumet Campground. 814-744-9622. Right off I-80 at Exit 62 (route 68) 8630 Miola Road. Large sites, shaded. Also a small motel and luxury cabins.

Pine Crest. 814-752-2200. Route 36, 2 miles south of Cooksburg Bridge. Also mini golf, go carts and cabins.

Hiking. The 140 mile Baker Trail, a 90 mile section of the North Country Trail, 30 miles of Cooks Forest trails and 25 miles of trail in Clear Creek State Park invite you deep into the big trees. The Ox Shoe Trail will take you about an hour and a series of displays shows the history of the logging industry. If you stop here in early June as we recommend, the mountain laurel and rhododendron will be in full bloom.

Canoeing. The Clarion River is a federally designated Wild & Scenic Waterway. Standard two hour and five hour trips are available for one day visitors. Pale Whale Outfitters, 800-680-0160.

Biking. The Clarion River Little Toby Rail Trail currently extends 18 miles from Ridgeway to Brockway. It follows the Clarion River to the ghost town of Carman, then comes down Little Toby Creek to Brockway. There are parking areas and picnic pavilions at both trailheads. The tree cover extends the length of the trail, so you are rarely in the sun. This is an old railroad bed, so rises and drops in elevation are very gradual. The trail never crosses a road or street and vehicles have no access to it.

If you would like to take a day and ride this beautiful trail out and back, for a total of 36 miles, you can rent bikes from Love's Canoe & Bike Rentals in Ridgeway. 814-776-6285.

Horseback Riding. 300 miles of riding trails are available along the Clarion River. There is also a complete facility that offers horses, meals, cabins, one day trips or overnight pack trips deep into the forest. Cook Forest Ranch, 814-226-5985. Pine Crest Ranch, 814-752-2200.

Cook Forest Sawmill. 250 local artisans produce their work in front of you. The quilting, weaving and carving are especially impressive. One hour classes are offered. A summer theatre stages evening shows. The 200 year old sawmill alone is worth the visit.

The National Elk Research Center has a visitor center, educational facilities, labs, a library and other features involved with studying these magnificent creatures who were native to Pennsylvania and are now protected in this northern forest. Elk are not confined, however. They roam wild over the hills and forests, and can often be heard bugling or crashing through the brush. You want to drive watchfully when off the interstate, especially coming around bends or over the tops of hills, because encounters with Elk can total vehicles. These are not deer. They are very, very big animals. Fortunately, a high fence keeps them off the interstate.

Continue Eastward on !-80, I-81 and I-84 across Pennsylvania and New York. This will bring you to a late lunchtime stop at Newburgh, just before you cross the Hudson River. Alexi's Diner is the largest original diner still operating in America. Only 12 originals remain, and none are as impressive as this. It has been beautifully maintained and restored. The food is very good. Alexi's offers Greek, Italian and traditional American. People drive here on Sunday afternoons from New York City. Alexi's is open 24 hours a day. They serve breakfast round the clock. Several websites and magazines rank their waffles and french toast the best in New York. Dave loves Greek food and spent a year living in Greece, and he considers these Gyros in his top 10 anywhere. The menu is extensive and includes many salads, soups and main dinner courses, so Alexi's becomes a stop to satisfy all the varying tastes in your group.

The skyscrapers of New York City are on the Southern horizon, but the Hudson River Valley at Newburgh is a beautiful landscape. After climbing a five mile hill, pull off at one of the viewing areas for a look at the1700s and early 1800s America Washington Irving wrote about and early artists painted.. It is hard to believe that this scene remains this close to America's largest metropolitan area.

Hudson River

Sturbridge Lodge

Continue on I-84 across Connecticut into Massachusetts. As you approach the modern town of Sturbridge and the merger with I-90, take the Old Sturbridge Village exit and follow the signs to the historic village and lodge, where we recommend you spend the night. Old Sturbridge Village is a great portal to begin your journey back in time to the 1800s, 1700s and 1600s.



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