When I hear the first whispers of the siren’s call to hit the road, my desire to rumble off on a multiday trip slowly rises to a crescendo until I have no other choice but to pack my Kawasaki Vulcan 900 Classic LT and ride toward the horizon. On a motorcycle tour such as the one I recently took into the Pennsylvania Wilds on U.S. Route 6, the journey is as important as the destination, so I take time to explore along the way.
Regardless of the destination, the trip itself must satisfy my need for the pastoral – wild land, scenic roads, and the peaceful simplicity of small towns. Cruising U.S. Route 6 deep into the hinterlands of Pennsylvania fulfills all those criteria, making for a deeply enjoyable excursion.
Riding west on Pennsylvania’s famous Route 6, which takes you through the Endless Mountains region to the north-central part of the state, known as the Pennsylvania Wilds. This region is devoid of urban/suburban sprawl and comprises over 2 million acres of public land, 29 state parks, eight state forests, the Allegheny National Forest, ample farmland, and hundreds of miles of rural roadways to ride.
Route 6 provides a diverse and scenic ride through Pennsylvania, but it also traverses the entire country from Provincetown, Massachusetts, to Bishop, California. Construction began in 1926, and it is now the second longest road in the country at 3,227 miles. Route 6 through Pennsylvania is like a wilderness path leading modern-day explorers on steel steeds deep into the Keystone State’s hinterlands, home to bear, deer, coyote, rattlesnake, fox, bald eagle, and elk.
I began my journey by crossing into Pennsylvania from New Jersey on the Milford Bridge over the majestic Delaware River. From Milford, Route 6 begins a rolling, curving climb from the river to the highlands. Throttling on the power, I flew through forests and past ponds until reaching the big enchilada – or locally, the “Big Lake” – Lake Wallenpaupack. Thirteen miles in length, with 52 miles of shoreline and 5,700 acres of surface area, it is the second largest lake within Pennsylvania’s borders. There are six public recreations areas and a wide array of accommodations, outdoor activities, dining, and shopping.
Wanting to savor this moment – and location – I turned south at PA Route 507 into a parking area and stretched my legs by walking along the shoreline of Lake Wallenpaupack and atop the dam. Route 6 passes the base of the dam as it continues to Hawley, one of the typical turn-of-the-century small towns along this route.
Mostly a two-lane rural highway, Route 6 does have a few congested areas along the way, such as in Honesdale, but Honesdale to Waymart is smooth sailing – or riding. The mountains around Waymart are capped with humongous wind turbines, which are an impressive sight, but I prefer my mountains au naturale.
Past Mayfield, I left Route 6 and took PA Route 107 to avoid the major congestion around Clark Summit, reconnecting with Route 6 at Factoryville. From there I cruised through the countryside to Wyalusing, where my Vulcan climbed into the mountains with confidence.
At the summit, both Wyalusing Rocks and Marie Antoinette overlooks are must-stops. Wyalusing Rocks, located 500 feet above the Susquehanna River, was once used as a signaling point for the Iroquois Indians. The Marie Antoinette Overlook is named after the former Queen of France of “Let them eat cake” fame; supposedly she once planned to immigrate to this area.
The river, farmland, and hills unfolded before my eyes, embracing the blue horizon and making me think of Jimi Hendrix’s lyric “Excuse me while I kiss the sky.”
From Wyalusing Rocks, I weaved west with the sweet sound of the Vulcan pulsating in my ears and the cool, crisp air enveloping me. Mount Pisgah State Park is just 2 miles north of Route 6 at West Burlington. This 1,302-acre park has a lake, picnic area, swimming pool, and a scenic overlook of the Endless Mountains region. The park provides a nice stop for rest and a walkabout.
Continuing west on my asphalt “river of dreams” through small villages and the countryside, I eventually cruised into Wellsboro and the rider-friendly Sherwood Motel – my base for exploring more of the Wilds.
Wellsboro is a gateway to this rural region and a popular destination for riders exploring the area. It epitomizes small-town 19th-century America so much so that its streetlamps are still lit by gas. Settled in 1806, it was named in honor of Mary Wells, one of the original settlers. Restaurants, stores, and parks are within walking distance of motels. The first night, I had a tasty dinner at the Steak House Restaurant. Initially, I was a bit anxious about dining solo, but the staff was friendly and welcoming, which is typical of most hinterland Pennsylvanians.
The morning greeted me with a cool but sunny day – perfect riding weather. Firing up my Vulcan, I rolled south on PA Route 287 to PA Route 414 west. Route 414 is one of the prettiest rides in the entire state. This section through part of the Pine Creek Gorge area is rustic, with a few small communities and scattered homes.
Over thousands of years, Pine Creek carved the 47-mile gorge also known as the PA Grand Canyon. The 62-mile Pine Creek Rail Trail is used for hiking, river travel, bicycling, horseback riding, and cross-country skiing. Outside of the wilderness protected area, riders can cruise Route 414 as it slides along for miles next to Pine Creek.
Parking areas with comfort stations offer river and rail trail access. At the Blackwell Access area, I met a young couple from Maryland who were going to backpack into the surrounding wilderness. We talked a bit, and then I wished them luck and warned them to watch out for the timber rattlesnakes that live in the area. Each June there is an annual rattlesnake roundup festival throughout the region.
Continuing my ride, I passed the quaint village of Cedar Run and weaved back and forth on bridges crossing Pine Creek. The roadway crawled up a mountainside presenting a great view. At the intersection with PA Route 44, I roared into the mountains of Tiadaghton State Forest. About 5 miles north of Haneyville, I turned west on Hyner Mountain Road heading toward Hyner Run and Hyner View state parks. With the sun on my face and the sweet mountain air filling my lungs, I was in rider heaven.
The narrow, winding road to the summit of Hyner View can be challenging, but the views are spectacular. Forested mountains roll toward the sky like a vast green sea, and below, PA Route 120 winds through the valley alongside the West Branch of the Susquehanna River.
I connected with Route 120 and continued west toward Renovo, once a thriving railroad company town of more than 4,000 people that has dwindled to a population of 1,228. Entering Renovo on Route 120, I stopped at a moving memorial for the soldiers who gave their lives protecting our country. A green battle tank that matches the lush grass and surrounding forest guards the memorial.
Route 120 heads west alongside the Susquehanna River and the railroad tracks enveloped by thousands of acres of state forests. This route west to Sinnemahoning is beautiful and one of most desolate areas I traveled through. I rode for miles without seeing another soul. It was the first time on the trip that I felt completely alone.
People ask if I get lonely or nervous on solo trips, but I actually don’t. Whenever I pulled over for a photo or route check, people often stopped and asked me if I needed help. Sometimes they offered advice on the road conditions or suggested a scenic stop. It reminded me of Blanche Dubois’s line in A Streetcar Named Desire: “I’ve always relied on the kindness of strangers.”
At PA Route 872, I blasted north through Elk State Forest and stopped at George B. Stevenson Dam and Sinnemahong State Park’s wildlife viewing area. Unfortunately, I did not spot any elk. From there, I cruised north out of the mountainous area into lush hills and returned to Route 6 again at Lymansville.
Turning west, I followed Route 6 to Smethport, PA Route 59 west to Ormsby, and then south to Kinzua Bridge State Park, home to the Kinzua Sky Walk. The park’s namesake bridge was once known as the Viaduct, a railroad structure that spanned 2,053 feet across – and 301 feet above – the Kinzua Gorge. Partially destroyed by a tornado in 2003, what remained of the bridge was converted into a pedestrian walkway.
Visitors can now walk 600 feet out on the remaining support towers to enjoy sweeping views of the gorge and surrounding mountains, as well as a glass platform at the end of the walkway for breathtaking views down below. The Kinzua Sky Walk is an especially impressive place to enjoy fall colors.
Cruising along Route 6, I made my way back to Wellsboro. There are three recommended stops along the way: Larry’s Sport Center in Galeton, which sells Harley-Davidson, Kawasaki, Yamaha, and Suzuki motorcycles, and the Colton and Leonard Harrison state parks, both of which have impressive views of Pine Creek Canyon.
Back at the Sherwood Motel, I enjoyed a relaxing soak in the warm water of the pool. Afterwards, I had dinner in the lounge of the historic Penn-Wells Hotel, originally built in 1869. Conversing with the bartender and locals, I felt as comfortable as a regular.
The next day, I began my journey home heading south on Route 287 to Morris, but this time I went east on Route 414. And what a great ride it was – weaving and rolling through the countryside, passing farms and surrounded by the green hills on the horizon.
Rejoining Route 6 for a spell at Towanda, my Vulcan climbed back up the mountain by the Wyalusing Rocks Overlook, and then I rode PA Routes 409 and 706 through the Endless Mountains region to New Milford.
Somewhere along Route 706, I stopped on a downward sloped shoulder for a photo. As I dismounted, over the bike went. Within minutes, people stopped to help. We righted the bike, I thanked them, and then I continued my ride. I had once again relied on “the kindness of strangers,” and I will pay that kindness forward.
At New Milford, I took a series of pleasantly undulating state routes to Damascus, where I rested and watched Pennsylvanians enjoying the Delaware River. Crossing the bridge into New York, I rolled south on the Upper Delaware Scenic Byway (NY Route 97) toward Port Jervis, which offers expansive views of Pennsylvania and New York.
As I rumbled back home through New Jersey, I could not help but relive this great Route 6 ride through the Pennsylvania Wilds. I knew the region, its roads, and many other delights would soon be calling me back.