Pennsylvania: Camping in the Pennsylvania Wilds

Pennsylvania: Camping in the Pennsylvania Wilds
When Christa asked me to do a motorcycle camping trip in Pennsylvania, I said “Sure!” with great enthusiasm. Just between you and me . . . I didn’t mean it. The last time I lashed a tent to the bike was in the dark days BFI (Before Fuel Injection). I’ve since graduated to walls and roofs (also known as “hotels”), and have come to appreciate the finer points of free Wi-Fi and “make your own waffles” breakfast buffets.

But heck, I’m as outdoorsy as the next guy, as long as the next guy isn’t Grizzly Adams. Or that guy from Man versus Wild. Or the Cub Scout that lives down the street. So the night before the trip, I excavate the basement to find the camping gear. This trip will be a great way for me to reconnect with nature, to travel simply. Or maybe not simply, but simpler than usual. First things first—where’s my heated jacket?

Known as the Pennsylvania Wilds, north central Pennsylvania is just that: a thinly settled throwback to a wilder time. Much of the area is state and national forest, replanted and re-nourished after the clear-cutting of the 1800s. The rest is a patchwork of small farms and small towns, pre-agribusiness, pre-Walmart. Geologically speaking, it’s a desiccated plateau, a formerly flat area worn down over time by glaciers, wind, rain, and the occasional World Series victory. The hills, valleys, creeks, and rivers give the area its rustic charm.

The aptly named Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania.

The Digital Rider Goes Camping

One of the cool things about motorcycle camping is that it opens up a whole new area of gadgetry. Ultralight tents, sleeping pads that compress down to the size of a Harry Potter paperback, kitchen utensils made from space-age materials, and camp stoves that burn everything from gasoline to propane and everything in between are all parts of the puzzle. And while most campsites don’t have a Starbucks (yet), I brought something even better along: a stove-top moka pot. No grind-filled camp coffee here, just smooth, tasty espresso every morning. The Moto Guzzi looked on approvingly every time I made a pot.

Motorcycle & Gear

2011 Moto Guzzi Norge GT 8V

Jacket: Firstgear Teton, Aerostich Kanetsu Windstopper Electric Liner
Pants: Aerostich DarienLight
Helmet: HJC CL-Max II
Boots: Sidi Touring
Gloves: BMW Touring
Back Protector: Joe Rocket Speedmaster

Keeping digital gadgets charged on a camping trip is a bit of a challenge, particularly if you can’t charge while you ride. It’s good to bring spare batteries for digital cameras and to know how many pictures you can get from a typical charge. Smart phones and tablets can often be charged with external batteries, and power-sucking features (i.e., Bluetooth and Wi-Fi) should be turned off, unless of course campgrounds have Wi-Fi, which some do.

The Routes

The routes cover some of the main attractions of the area and are centered on the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania. This isn’t a Shamrock Tour per se, as there are only three loops and multiple accommodations. But it can be turned into one easily with a little creative trip planning.

The Western Route: Into the Woods

The Western Route features the Susquehannock and Tiadaghton State Forests, thick second-growth woods that embrace the undulating hills and valleys. The area is a stone’s throw from I-80, but it feels like a different world, remote and mysterious, especially when ridden on a foggy fall day.

South of Blackwell, Route 414 shadows Pine Creek for the run to Jersey Shore, where it joins the west branch of the Susquehanna River. For much of the way, the road sits in a narrow valley with steep, tree-covered hills rising 1,000 feet on either side. The road is narrow, evoking the picturesque valleys of Northern England and other parts of Europe, and encourages a mellow sightseeing pace instead of a more frantic sprint.

Peering into an old motorcycle shop in Jersey Shore.

Route 44 is a gem, following the valley carved by Pine Creek before shooting westward and into Susquehannock and Tiadaghton forests. Essentially a road in the middle of nowhere, there’s very little traffic except for the odd mining and logging truck. The asphalt is good in places and not so great in others, sometimes with a heavy crown, other times with rippled pavement. The added degree of difficulty just adds to the character of this fun road, with tight turns, scenic vistas, and a show of fall color.

Route 287 is a quiet country road. It’s neither a must-ride nor a must-avoid as it winds its way between Wellsboro and Jersey Shore. It’s a good road to take when pressed for time.