into the wilds

Spring Break in New Jersey; where to go?  Literally every one of my friends has gone to Florida (aka Jersey South).  But no, not us.  We decided to go to Pennsylvania.  Yes, Pennsylvania!  What, PA is not your first choice as a spring break destination?  Okay, maybe not ours either, but we had an amazing time and discovered a beautiful, unique part of the state that we did not know existed!

It’s known as the Pennsylvania Wilds.  The area consists of 2 million acres covering 12 different counties in what I would consider north central PA.  The area is full of state parks, rivers, bucolic green valleys, and hidden dirt roads crisscrossing the Allegheny Mountains.  I love to explore areas that I have never been to; it really doesn’t matter where as long as it’s a new area.  This year we knew we could not travel far, but did want to get away.  So, after some research I came across the PA wilds, just 3 and a half hours from our home.  I began to plan what we would do each day and stumbled across what became the best find of the trip.  While looking at the various state parks in the area, I came across a page that listed the various places to stay in the parks.  I saw the word “yurt” and immediately searched for availability.  One of my dreams is to stay in a yurt, don’t judge!  Well, the yurt was a no go (someday…), but I found something better, The Nature Inn at Bald Eagle This is a 16 room “green” resort located overlooking a lake flanked by mountains in Bald Eagle State Park.  The Inn opened just a year and a half ago and  is the first of its kind in PA.  Our room was a small suite with a balcony overlooking the lake.  The room was spotless!  My husband and I even had privacy, which usually never happens on a trip, because the queen sized bed was in a separate room (the kids slept on a pullout couch).  The Inn is bird themed and has a lot of great extra touches such as binoculars in every room, various bird foot prints stamped into the walkways, neat displays of bird eggs and local finds, and a computer to log bird sightings.  There are also great outside areas like the large covered porch with chairs overlooking the lake, multilevel patios with interconnecting walkways, picnic tables, and a fire pit.  My husband’s eyes rolled when he learned that the hotel is promoted as “green”, envisioning  stinky waterless toilets, cold showers, scratchy hemp bed sheets, compost barrels, and toilet paper made from recycled cardboard.  Not to mention the degrading looks he thought we would get from all the hybrid car owners when we roll up in our 12 mpg Yukon.  But none of that turned out to be true.  Okay, he did say that the parking lot  looked like a used Subaru dealer, but the green aspects were mostly behind the scenes and pretty interesting to learn about.  We highly recommend staying here if you are ever in the area; it is such a unique spot!

Despite how nice the Inn was, we are not the type to hang out at a hotel all day.  We spent our days exploring the area.  One day we drove into the Allegheny Mountains on a road that followed the meandering Susquehanna River though small towns and wild looking forests.  Driving and hiking to the tops of these mountains provided amazing views of mountain after mountain sharply receding down to meet the crystal clear shallow river.  The tiny towns interested us as well,  it is difficult to imagine living in a town that  isolated!

Later that day we decided that we were finished with touristy overlooks on paved roads, it was time to do some real exploring!  We headed into the “black forest”, as this part of the forest is referred, due to its wild untouched quality on a dirt road.  Yes, we were only two hours from sunset, but we couldn’t resist!  The drive was a bit wild (you need a 4 wheel drive!) but so beautiful.  The road traveled up the mountains with nothing but a sharp drop off on one side of you then down into valleys with rhododendron lined creeks rushing into the Susquehanna somewhere far below!

As we headed further and further from the main road and climbed up to the top the mountain, we started to pass camp after camp after camp!  Little cabins, hunting lodges, and weekend getaways nestled deep in the forest.  It was work to get back here!  These were true retreats.  We finally stopped near one such camp to hike to our destination.  Our hike would not be far, but we were nearing sunset.  Of course, this did not stop us!  We piled out of the truck and began a quick hike down into a valley, following a little stream the entire way.  The hike was beautiful!  Large pines mixed with rhododendrons bordered the moss and stone covered path.  The creek flowed down over boulder after boulder creating numerous mini waterfalls and a delightful noise.  We reached our destination, 3 Falls, a beautiful three-tired waterfall!

My husband got to taking pictures while the kids climbed all over the falls, including behind it!  Soon we noticed that darkness was quickly falling, so I gathered the kids and began to head back up the trail through the now murky woods.  My husband stayed behind to take more pictures.  Time stands still when he photographs, so I really wasn’t sure when we would see him!  We made it back to the truck and waited ten minutes or so, straining our eyes into the darkness to look for him.  Soon, he came running out of the woods.  He had lost track of time!

Thanks to our gps, we drove off the mountain without incident, back to our hotel.  Dirty and tired, we knew we had managed to squeeze everything we could out of the day!