Experiencing the Pennsylvania Wilds Dark Skies and Elk Country

This story originally appeared on The Pennsylvania Wilds blog, where I’m a contributor.

Spending a few days in the heart of rural Pennsylvania offers a chance to disconnect from the bustle of everyday life, see unique wildlife and try new experiences.

I had the chance to spend a few days venturing through the Dark Skies and Elk Country landscapes of The Pennsylvania Wilds this past summer. 


Our trip started with a stop at the 145-acre George B. Stevenson Reservoir within Sinnemahoning State Park. We stopped to walk to the dam and read about the history of the structure, built in 1955 and towering 166 feet high. The dam offers flood control storage that spans 1,470 acres. 

Next, we continued down the road to the park’s boat launch, where we dropped in our kayaks for a paddle. The reservoir is the perfect place for a short, leisurely paddle. We saw quite a few fishermen trying their luck on the body of water known for its trout, bass and panfish. While the places we usually kayak are filled with motorized boats, there was something special about the stillness and quiet at this reservoir. 

After spending time at the reservoir, we continued up Route 872 to visit the Wildlife Center at Sinnemahoning State Park. 

The Wildlife Center is in a state-of-the-art building, featuring interpretive exhibits and information about green building design. We were excited to walk through the exhibit and learn more about the wildlife in the region we were exploring. 

Sinnemahoning Wildlife Center
Wildlife Center at Sinnemahoning State Park.

Sinnemahoning State Park is home to great hiking trails, not far from the Wildlife Center. Before calling it a day, we also completed a quick hike at nearby Sizerville State Park

We stayed that night at The Hygrade Inn in Emporium, a boutique hotel offering a unique experience in a quaint, small town. We especially loved sitting on the front porch admiring the tree-lined Main Street, and being within walking distance of the community’s restaurants and downtown shops. 


You may have seen a video on the PA Wilds Facebook page of my first encounter with an elk. I knew that the chances of seeing an elk were pretty high going into Elk Country, but I didn’t realize that this would be the first thing I saw during my trip down the Elk Scenic Drive.

Experiencing the PA Wilds - Elk Country

The Elk Country Visitors Center is unlike any other visitors center you’ve seen. The center serves as the premiere elk-viewing location in the county, with trails leading to multiple elk-viewing spots. But you might get lucky like I did and just see one on your drive to any of your destinations.

In addition to the visitors center, we made a stop at the newly opened Straub Tap Room. Straub Brewery, founded nearly 150 years ago by Peter Straub in St. Marys, is the third oldest family-owned and operated brewery in the United States. In summer 2019, a 100-plus-year-old brick home originally built by two of the Straub brothers was renovated and transformed into the brewery’s Visitor Center and Tap Room, complete with an outdoor beer garden.

We also stopped at Benezette Wines and had a great wine sampling, and got fueled up with some of their home-roasted coffee for the rest of our trip. 

That night, we stayed at the Towers Victorian Inn. Along South Street in Ridgway stands this Italianate-style mansion built during the Civil War. The inn boasts six guest rooms, decorated with period-appropriate decor and antiques throughout. The inn is one of the stops on the “Lily of the Valley” Historic Homes Walking Tour. 

Experiencing the PA Wilds - Ridgway

You can pick up a brochure that includes a walking tour map, and walk the beautiful, tree-lined streets of Ridgway to see 21 of the town’s most historic homes. You’ll find homes of all different styles and architecture along the way. Since I’m something of an historic architecture junkie, this was one of my favorite parts of the trip. 


We’re the kind of travelers that pack up early to enjoy an afternoon at home after a few days full of exploring. What’s great about a trip in the Pennsylvania Wilds, though, is that even the road home is an adventure. 

Our trip home took us through the Moshannon State Forest on Route 153, and through the I-80 Frontier region of the PA Wilds, until we reached our home of Bellefonte

We were able to go on this trip thanks to the Pennsylvania Great Outdoors Visitors Bureau, who planned our stay.

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