A Nice and Easy Afternoon on the Old Rail Trail in the “Grand Canyon” of Pennsylvania
On the way back to NY from cornering MMA fighters at an event in Jersey City, New Jersey I met my family in Wellsboro, Pennsylvania for a day of hiking and biking along the Pine Creek Trail which runs North and South alongside of Pine Creek at the bottom of “The Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania”. We decided to focus our effort on the portion of the trail that runs from Ansonia to Blackwell (approximately 17 miles each way). We choose this section of the trail because of its inherent beauty and the fact that it is a largely undeveloped area since the trail runs through the Pine Creek Gorge Natural Area as well as Leonard Harrison State Park and Colton Point State Park. The Pine Creek Gorge is 1,450 feet at its deepest point and nearly one mile wide. My oldest son, Austin (age 15), and I planned on biking the whole trail, and my wife, Lauren, was going to hike and bike along the trail on an “adventure” with my two youngest children, Colton (age 3) and Joselyn (age 18 months).
On our way to Ansonia from Wellsboro we found a Pine Creek Trail Head somewhere along route 362 and decided it looked like a great place to start. Lauren embarked with the little ones soon after our arrival while Austin and I readied our bikes. While Austin finished his preparation I headed out to get some water and food for lunch (since we planned this on a rush we had little with us). I had to drive all the way back to Wellsboro to get what was needed and made it back in about 40 minutes to find a very anxious Austin. While I was gone, Austin decided to test drive my new King Kahuna 29er and came to the conclusion that he will be buying a 29er later this year sometime in the spring. We filled up our water bottles and packed the lunches into our bags and then jumped on our bikes…finally ready to embark on our day of fun.
We headed out of the parking lot and down towards the trail. Suddenly I heard a hissing sound and asked Austin what was wrong with his bike. What I assumed was something stuck in his spokes turned out to be a flat tire. Austin was riding the same bike I rode in the Truman Lake AR last spring (click here to read the story) when I got 5 flat tires within a 2 hour period. So we headed back to the parking lot to quickly change the tube. After closer inspection we found out that the tire had a little hole in the side wall. We used a patch on the inside to keep stuff out, threw in a new tube and we were off. We hoped this patch job would hold and we’d still be able to enjoy a great ride in the unseasonably warm weather we were having.
We quickly caught up with the rest of the family and gave them their lunches. Colton had already abandoned his bike in favor of traveling on foot. This made it easier for him to explore the feeder creeks running into the Pine Creek which resulted in a very happy and not so dry Colton. Before Austin and I embarked for some serious riding Colton proudly showed us his discovery of a furry little caterpillar. I kissed the kids, and Austin and I headed off towards Blackwell, where Lauren and the kids planned on meeting us in a couple of hours.
There were many beautiful and interesting little creeks running down the side of the gorge and into Pine Creek. We stopped at a couple of the larger waterfalls for some pictures. The trail ran alongside Pine Creek which was running quite high due to the recent snow run off and rain. There were some nice runs of class 2 white water and Pine Creek looked like it would be a blast to canoe or kayak in the future (we plan on doing this later this year or next spring).
We traveled at a good pace that was set by Austin. At about the halfway point we stopped for Lunch at a little camp ground and ate at a picnic table right on the water. We had some nice conversation and enjoyed the scenery. As we were getting ready to leave, Austin found a silver mini mag-light in the woods when he was taking a leak. And it even still worked. He asked if he could keep it and I answered that I thought it would be alright if he did since the owner was long gone and there wasn’t a lost and found on the trail. However, if you lost a silver mini mag-light on the Pine Creek Trail and can identify it and where you lost it and it is the same place that Austin found this one, we’d be happy to return it to you.
We headed south and began to move at a good clip once again. Near the 11 mile mark Austin let his front tire slip off the packed trail and into the softer gravel on the side of the trail. He quickly steered back on the hard packed trail but had over compensated and ended up flipping his bike and laying himself out onto the gravel. He got a bit of road rash and a little dusty but otherwise was good to go.
He hopped back up and walked his bike over to a bench I was sitting on. He sat down next to me and I told him to give me his shoes. He looked at me a little oddly but when he realized I was loosening my own shoes he started taking his off. I told him we were trading bikes if it was OK with him. He excitedly agreed to the bike swap and we were soon on our way with him on my new ride and me on my old P.O.S. This was a first for me. Nobody has ever ridden my bike for more than a minute or two to “try it out”.
Austin was reinvigorated and pushed the pace the last 5 or 6 miles until we reached the small town of Blackwell. Upon our arrival, we noticed that our ride wasn’t there yet. So we switched bikes back and continued down the path a ways. I was happy to be back in the saddle of my King Kahuna and enjoyed the ease of the ride compared to my clunker. Austin decided to take a breather (and rest his unshammied butt) on a bench near a turnout for camp ground. I kept on and pushed it a little past Rattlesnake Rock (about 18.3 miles from our starting point). Then I turned around and headed to pick up Austin and meet the family at the Blackwell Parking lot. When we pulled into the lot we saw Lauren and the kids in the grass near the parking lot. The kids were throwing rocks into Pine Creek and having a good time. Lauren looked exhausted but admitted that it was a great, albeit tiring day.
Lauren told me it took a good 30-40 minutes to drive Blackwell from Ansonia because there wasn’t a real direct route and she had to go out of the way to get there. Since it would take her 30-40 minutes to drive back to get the other car anyway I asked if she’d mind if I biked back and met them in the parking lot we started from. Lauren, being the good sport she always is, told me to go ahead she’d see me there in an hour to an hour and a half.
So I left the family there in Blackwell and retraced my steps back towards Ansonia. The ride back was pretty and for the most part uneventful. It was a lot like the ride south. The main differences being that things looked different from the south than they do from the north (I guess I didn’t look back that much when we biked south) and there was a slight uphill grade the entire way north (probably only2-3% but noticeable when it goes on nonstop for 17 miles).
I got back to the parking lot and found my family waiting for me. They had beaten me by about 15 minutes and were ready to head for home. I quickly loaded up my bike, chased the kids around a bit and we headed home (which is only like 2 hours away). Lauren quickly called the little car with the satellite radio and no kids. I was happy to ride back with the all the kids and let her have some time to herself. All said I biked about 36.75 (and Austin around 17) miles in a biking time of 2 hours 51 minutes and 23 seconds (which works out to about 12.8 miles per hour). We had great weather for the ride, it was in the mid 60’s and sunny with a slight breeze.
If you are in the area and are looking for a nice and easy ride along a beautiful creek at the bottom of an enormous canyon I’d recommend this ride. It is on hard packed gravel and was fast and enjoyable to ride. The views were outstanding and the potential to see wide life is high. We saw some birds and small mammals but unfortunately nothing big or out of the ordinary. I’d recommend a dawn or dusk ride if you’d like to see more animals. It is rumored that a pair of bald eagles is nesting somewhere in the canyon and there are supposed to be otter in the creek. You could ride it or hike it alone or with you family or friends. I’d also recommend planning ahead and bringing your own water and food to the trailhead since there are no stores very near the trail head (nearest decent sized store is 15-20 minutes away).
We had a great time on a beautiful afternoon and made memories that we will always have. While this canyon may not have been as “Grand” and the other Grand Canyon out west, it was very beautiful and interesting to check out. I am longing to explore more of it on foot or in a canoe. If you are in the Wellsboro, PA area you’d be stupid not to spend an afternoon checking out this wonderful trail and taking in the natural vistas. Check it out; I am sure you will not regret it. If you are hoping for a more technical ride there are supposed to be tons of single track and more technical trails in the area that you could check out. Next trip down, I plan on doing just that.Vodpod videos no longer available.