When I want to escape the daily grind for a few days, any motorcycle excursion I choose must have great roads, beautiful scenery, parks and interesting places to visit. The ride getting there is just as important as the destination, too. Rolling west on scenic roads through New Jersey and New York to the heart of Pennsylvania adds to the adventure. The North-Central Pennsylvania Wilds region contains 2.1 million acres of public land and is one of the least populated areas in the northeast.
With hundreds of miles of roads to explore and small towns with a 1950’s vibe that dot the landscape, the Wilds’ forests and mountains are also home to elk, bear, deer, coyote, fox and rattlesnake. In fact, if you really want to add an extra level of excitement to the trip, visit in the spring and participate in one of the annual rattlesnake roundups.
When I started talking about my trip, I thought a few friends might be interested, but eventually 12 riders on 10 bikes wanted to join me—a bit of a large group but manageable. Morning rain delayed our departure time for more than an hour, and we still left Ringwood, New Jersey with it coming down. Traveling west, we bounced along on the two-lane Greenwood Lake Turnpike and weaved alongside the lush forested mountains that line the blue waters of the Wanaque and Monksville Reservoirs. Climbing up and over Bearfort Mountain, we rode through a section of the 34,350-acre Wawayanda State Park and into the expansive farmland of the Pine Island black dirt region of New York State.
At Port Jervis the rain took a respite and we blasted off on Interstate 84, a scenic highway that cuts through the forested hills of eastern Pennsylvania. On weekdays, traffic is usually light. My Kawasaki Voyager 1700 handled the backroads with aplomb and did the same on the Interstate, eating up 65 miles of highway in no time along with the other nine bikes.
Taking Interstate 81 north to Waverly, we had a tasty lunch at the Camelot Restaurant and Inn. After lunch, the sky had cleared and the sun gazed down upon us like a mother admiring her newborn. Traveling west on State Route 632, this curvaceous two-lane road led us to famous U.S. Route 6, also known as the Grand Army of the Republic Highway. It honors the Union Civil War Veterans and travels 3,199 miles from Bishop, California to Provincetown, Massachusetts.
At Russell Hill, we exited Route 6 onto the rural and rustic State Route 87, which for the most part is decently paved and serpentines through wave-like Pennsylvania farmland devoid of any large towns. However, for the rest of the day’s ride, Mother Nature toyed with us like a heartless bully: rain then clearing, rain then clearing and so on.
We continued on Route 87 to the Forksville Covered Bridge. Built in 1850, the 152-foot-long bridge crosses Loyalsock Creek and is on the National Register of Historic Places. Since Wild Bill and Woodstock Mark wanted a snack, we stopped at the Forksville General Store & Restaurant, erected in 1851. The store’s motto is “Let’s get forked up.” It is known for its Philly cheesesteak sandwich, as well as other culinary delights. Nearby the Worlds End State Park has scenic overlooks, a swimming area, a campground and cabins.
Backtracking to State Route 154, which is a more rural route than Route 87, we weaved and bobbed through farmland and forest, the road occasionally caressing small villages where at times we felt like we had sailed into the 19th century. For the most part, this country road was in good condition all the way to State Route 414.
At State Route 287, we roared north to Wellsboro, gateway to Pennsylvania’s Grand Canyon area and our home for the next two nights. Excellent views of the Canyon can be seen from Leonard Harrison and Colton Point State Parks, both roughly a 12-mile ride from Wellsboro. Officially named Pine Creek Gorge, it is almost 50 miles long, more than 1,000 feet deep in spots and a mile across at its widest. A rail trail runs the entire length of the gorge, which is surrounded by 160,000 acres of the Tioga State Forest.
Settled in 1806, Wellsboro’s population is 3,328, and its gas-lit streetlights and Victorian Mansions date back to the early 1800s. The town’s two-storied Main Street architecture screams rural America, and restaurants are within walking distance of several motels. After a hearty meal at the family owned The Steak House Restaurant and a few celebratory libations, we called it a day.
Saturday greeted us with sunshine and blue skies. We left early, our caravan of motorcycles pulsating through the cool morning air as we rumbled through Wellsboro to the friendly waves of locals. Heading south on State Route 287, we stormed through the countryside like the cavalry charging (Fort) Salladasburg, one of only five villages on this 36-mile section of road. State Route 973 led us west into a tunnel of greenery that enveloped this twisting, hilly roadway to State Route 44 north, which plunged us ever deeper into the Wilds.
Finding Hyner Mountain Road proved a bit challenging, so I stopped to consult my map and also asked Warp Speed Vito to program the road into his GPS. Approaching the turnoff, he signaled it was up ahead. Coming from the east, there are two roadways to Hyner View State Park; bypass the first unpaved one and take the paved Hyner View Road a few miles beyond on the left. This narrow, bumpy, twisting five-mile road leads to a spectacular panorama of the Pennsylvania Wilds, which incorporates 304,540 acres of Sproul State Forest. The West Branch Susquehanna River slithers alongside State Route 120 as it passes through several small river towns.
Stopping for lunch at the Sportsman’s Hotel & Restaurant in Renovo, Too Cool Drew and Scott, “the Hurricane,” suggested we dine on the patio. The food and service were good, as was the conversation with local riders who kidded us about being a bunch “tough bikers from Jersey.” Due to recent heavy rains, our waitress mentioned there might be bad road conditions leading to Kettle Creek State Park, but they all proved to be fine.
Riding west on Route 120 to Westport and then Kettle Creek Road is a beautiful run alongside the West Branch of the Susquehanna River and Kettle Creek; both were swollen from the rains. Cruising parallel to the creek surrounded by forest was like floating through the wilderness.
Kettle Creek State Park’s 1,793-acres lie in a valley surrounded by the mountains of the Sproul State Forest. The Alvin R. Bush Dam is 165 feet high and controls 226 square miles of drainage. A flood that wiped out a large portion of this area, including parts of Renovo, was the impetus for the dam and park. Today, Kettle Creek State park is home to elk, bald eagles, coyote, fox and bear, among other wildlife.
Taking a break by the lake proved most relaxing, so much so that Down-on-the-Farm Darwin took a nap in the grass. We enjoyed the view and the cool breeze blowing off the lake. Kettle Creek State Park has two campgrounds, cabins, a small beach and non-motorized boat rentals. For riders who like to combine riding with camping, the park makes a great base camp for additional exploring.
Nordic Linda ended our respite saying, “Hey, guys, let’s get moving. I want to enjoy the pool before dinner.” So we fired up our machines moving north on smooth State Route 144, which snakes its way through forestland to Route 6. Then we traveled east toward Pine Creek Gorge (Pennsylvania’s Grand Canyon), and on to Wellsboro.
Sunday morning greeted us with smiling sunshine that would follow us home. Route 6, a designated Scenic Byway, would be our main route to New Jersey. Although not as impressive as some of the other roads we traveled, it is nonetheless a pretty ride through the countryside and small towns of an earlier era.
One of the most impressive views on Route 6 is from the French Azilum, also known as the Marie Antoinette (of “Let them eat cake” fame) Lookout. Eight miles east of Towanda, the view of the Susquehanna River Valley unfolded before our eyes like a colorful bedspread of farmlands dotting the valley, with low rising mountains sitting on the horizon.
At Dixon, I bypassed the congested areas of Route 6, taking State Route 92 (a bit bumpy) northeast to State Route 374 and then south on State Route 106, both smooth rural roads, and reconnected with Route 6 for a short time at Carbondale (State Route 107 is a shorter, simpler bypass). From Carbondale, we jumped on the Owego Turnpike, which serpentines through the countryside to Route 6 in Hawley.
Riding home from Hawley with the warm wind and sun caressing my face, I smiled with thoughts of the trip. Although we were a large group, all worked out well. We overcame a day of rainy weather and a few missed turns, but we had a great time. We sailed through forests and small towns, visited impressive state parks and rode our motorcycles to the top of panoramic vistas. Yet, there was still so much left to explore, making a return to the Pennsylvania Wilds an enjoyable inevitability.
Story and photos by Kenneth W. Dahse