Riding the Pennsylvania Heartland

Riding Pennsylvania
The colorful Middle Ridge United Methodist Church on Route 660. The road leads to Leonard Harrison State Park. Photos by the author.

The heartland of north-central Pennsylvania is a region bereft of large concentrations of people. In fact, studying a map reveals multiple sections that are simply blank and numerous forests. The area has few cities but a cornucopia of farmland, small towns and villages, and impressive state parks. Most importantly, it is a region with a diversity of great roads to ride, making it a perfect destination for a multi-day motorcycle adventure.

Riding Pennsylvania
“Serenity Now!” A heartland farm on Route 87 conjures up the allure of simpler times.

Firing up my Kawasaki Voyager 1700, I began my journey cruising alongside the green mountains surrounding the shoreline of the sparkling Wanaque and Monksville Reservoirs in Ringwood and West Milford, New Jersey. Climbing the serpentine, two-lane Route 511 into the mountains of Abram S. Hewitt State Forest, I then descended into Warwick, New York. Heading west on rural Routes 1A and 1, I rolled across the rich flatlands of the black dirt farming region of Pine Island to Port Jervis. From there, I decided to superslab it as far as Scranton on Interstate 84, which travels over the forested highlands of eastern Pennsylvania. Thundering unencumbered, the warm sun and the blue sky embraced me as I rode through the green woodlands that lined both sides of the Interstate like fortress walls.

Riding Pennsylvania
The author thinking, “How sweet the view,” at the Worlds End State Park, Loyalsock Canyon Vista.

In the Scranton area, I picked up U.S. Route 6, which runs 3,652 miles from Provincetown, Massachusetts, to Long Beach, California. Also known as the Grand Army of the Republic Highway, U.S. 6 honors the Union soldiers of the Civil War. Mostly two lanes, it serpentines across Pennsylvania as a designated scenic roadway. Sections of my route had recently been repaved, making for a smooth ride, but there was congestion going through Clarks Summit.

Riding Pennsylvania
A respite with a farmland view while heading to Leonard Harrison State Park.

Before leaving U.S. 6, I filled up my Voyager. In the Pennsylvania heartland, fill your tank before it becomes a necessity; gas stations can be few and far between. Five miles beyond Tunkhannock, I sailed onto Pennsylvania Route 87, where a panorama of hinterland forest and farms spread out before my eyes like an inland sea. Route 87 is a roller coaster ride that twists and turns through the countryside. Cresting each hill rewards you with a new vista of the lush land and family farms.

Riding Pennsylvania
My Voyager says, “I feel so lonely.”

At Dushore, I took U.S. Route 220 south to Pennsylvania Route 154 heading toward Worlds End State Park. Route 154 is a rough road in certain sections, especially west of Worlds End, where you ride into “the big empty,” as I like to call it. It winds and rolls through some pretty wild country devoid of consistent road markers and people. Nevertheless, the backcountry farms and woodlands please the eye.

Riding Pennsylvania
My Voyager taking a well-deserved rest—heading west on Route 84 in Pennsylvania, surrounded by forest.

Leading to the park, Route 154 curves its way through the 114,552-acre Loyalsock State Forest. Located in a narrow S-shaped valley of the Loyalsock Creek, the park has 70 campsites and 19 cabins, offering riders a rustic place for a respite. For a great view and challenging ride, take the packed-dirt Mineral Spring Road two miles up to the Loyalsock Canyon vista. My heavy Voyager handled the road with aplomb, and I was rewarded with an expansive view of the forested canyon and sloping mountains.

Riding Pennsylvania
The cool, crystal clear water of Loyalsock Creek supplies a soothing respite from the road.

Despite the official warning that the water of Loyalsock Creek is always cold, I ventured into the swimming area for a relaxing swim. The water was crystal clear and comfortable. After my swim, I continued northwest on the rural and bumpy Route 154 as it twisted and turned through lush farmland and the mere blips in the road that the map showed as towns.

Riding Pennsylvania
The Worlds Best Snack Shop at Worlds End State Park. Yummy snacks served!

At Canton, Pennsylvania Route 414 runs west and is in better shape than Route 154, but it also rambles over wide-open land. Montana may be known as Big Sky Country, but this area of Pennsylvania could claim that name as well.

Riding Pennsylvania
The lush forest rolls to the horizon at the Loyalsock Canyon Vista.

When I hit the well paved and relatively straight Pennsylvania Route 287, I blasted the Voyager north to Wellsboro, the gateway to Pine Creek Gorge. Also known as “Pennsylvania’s Grand Canyon,” Pine Creek Gorge is 47 miles long and more than 1,400 feet at its deepest. Wellsboro feels like turn-of-the-century small-town America with a population of only 3,263, and a vibrant main street lined with gas streetlights, shops, historic buildings and stately homes. One such building, the Penn Wells Hotel, has been renovated several times since it was built in 1869 but still has that 19th century feel to it. With a restaurant and bar lounge, it is popular with riders who enjoy dinner in its cozy atmosphere.

Riding Pennsylvania
The author enjoying his morning tea at the Wellsboro Diner.

In the morning, I enjoyed a hearty breakfast dining-car style at the 1930s Wellsboro Diner, then fired up my trusty steed and rode west on Pennsylvania Route 660 through 10 miles of farmland to Leonard Harrison State Park and Pine Creek Gorge. Like Loyalsock Creek at Worlds End State Park, the drought had taken its toll on the water flow of Pine Creek. Nevertheless, the forested gorge was impressive.

Riding Pennsylvania
The Forksville United Methodist Church, across Route 154 from the covered bridge.

Leonard Harrison has a visitor center, campground, gift shop, scenic overviews and two hiking trails, one easy and the other a challenging two-mile round trip into the gorge. The gorge can also be viewed from the western side at the primitive Colton Point State Park, a short ride away, as well as from inside the gorge by hiking or bicycling on the Pine Creek Trail.

Riding Pennsylvania
The Forksville Covered Bridge, built in 1850, spans Loyalsock Creek. It is approximately 153 feet long and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980.

Leaving Leonard Harrison, I headed west on U.S. 6 to Galeton, cruising by farms, rural homes and woodlands. At Galeton, my Voyager rumbled south on the well-paved Pennsylvania Route 144 into the Pennsylvania outback, but first I made a brief pit stop at Germania. The town consists of the Germania General Store, a church, a few houses and a tavern/hotel that looks like something out of the old west.

Riding Pennsylvania
The Marie Antoinette Lookout, on U.S. Route 6 near Wyalusing, is so named because it is believed that members of the French Aristocracy bought land across the river from the lookout and Marie Antoinette planned on settling there. The French Revolution cancelled her plans.

Leaving Germania, Route 144 meanders south through 545,000 acres of the Sproul and Susquehannock State Forests that envelop you at every turn. This is one sweet ride on rolling twisties all the way to Renovo. A former company town, Renovo was built for and by the Philadelphia and Erie Railroad in the 1800s. As a classic railroad town, the buildings run parallel to the railroad tracks. In Renovo’s heyday, the population was 5,000 with thriving hotels, restaurants and shops. Today, the population is less than 1,500 and most people have to travel for employment.

Riding Pennsylvania
A rider leaving the motorcycle-friendly Sherwood Motel in Wellsboro.

Stopping at the friendly Scoot’s Service Center for gas and directions, I met three riders from Ontario who had visited this region several times. We swapped road knowledge, and then I headed east on the smooth Pennsylvania Route 120 toward Hyner View State Park. But first I visited the Veteran’s Memorial at the end of town, which included a Sherman tank.

Downtown Germania—the Germania General Store is a step back in time.

The Hyner View State Park turnoff led to the challenging narrow, bumpy and sinuous five-mile access road to the overlook. Although the summit is only 1,940 feet above sea level, it provides a majestic view of the West Branch Susquehanna River Valley, the surrounding highlands of Sproul State Forest and Route 120, which parallels the river. Like many of Pennsylvania’s state parks, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) built Hyner View in the 1930s. At the summit, a group of hang gliders were preparing for flight.

Veterans Memorial Park in Renovo lists the names of those who made the ultimate sacrifice to preserve freedom for all of us.

With the day growing late, I consulted a local rider about my planned return route. Due to some poor road conditions, he suggested an alternative that was longer in mileage but shorter in time. Following his advice, I took Route 120 south and was able to move along at a good clip and still catch views of the West Branch of the Susquehanna River that flowed alongside.

A Sherman tank, the workhorse of World War II, at the Renovo Veterans Memorial.

Route 120 is one of those rare rural roads with just enough hills and curves to make for an exciting ride at a nice pace without having to brake constantly. At Lock Haven, I blasted east on U.S. 220 to Route 287. Like Route 120, Route 287 is a great road. I gave my Voyager free rein to run the curves and hills through the lush open country back to Wellsboro.

View through the arch at the Marie Antoinette Lookout.

In the morning I headed home, rumbling east on U.S. 6, gliding through rural Pennsylvania while drinking in her sights. Two of the best are practically next to each other just before Wyalusing: the Marie Antoinette Lookout and the Wyalusing Rocks, where panoramic views of the Susquehanna River Valley unfold before your eyes like a giant multi-colored quilt of farms and woodlands.

Riding Pennsylvania
Looking west toward Renovo from Hyner View State Park with Route 120 and the West Branch of the Susquehanna River cutting its way through the Pennsylvania heartland.

At Factoryville, I decided to bypass the congestion around Clarks Summit and Scranton, taking Pennsylvania Route 107, a decent backcountry road, to U.S. 6B and 6. At Waymart, I checked out the massive wind turbines dancing on the horizon and decided to bypass Honesdale by briefly heading south on Pennsylvania Route 296 to State Route 3028. This enjoyable but bumpy backcountry road meanders over miles of hills before connecting to Pennsylvania Route 590, U.S. 6 and Lake Wallenpaupack.

Map of the route taken, by Bill Tipton/compartmaps.com.

Leaving the glistening waters of the massive Lake Wallenpaupack, I listened to the sweet rumbling of my Voyager. Cruising toward New Jersey, thoughts of my journey danced in my head as I savored all the Pennsylvania heartland had to offer: country churches, 19th century villages, farms, forests and impressive state parks. But most importantly, great roads! Who could ask for more?

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1 COMMENT

  1. I live in Northeast Pennsylvania. I’ve been on many of those roads. I was a little disappointed you started out on 84 from Port Jarvis. You redeemed yourself when you came back. 🙂 This is a great article. I love our beautiful state! Thanks for visiting!

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