When the mood strikes me to go off on my own for an adventure, I tend to just do it. Exploring new places solo or taking periodic jaunts into the wilderness centers me when I’m feeling overwhelmed by city life. Every once in a while, I simply take off — with little-to-no notice given.
This is pretty easy to accomplish when you’re single. When you’re living with another person, last minute getaways require more finesse. Not that I have any.
“I think I’m going to head out to the Grand Canyon,” I announced a few weeks ago.
“When?” Michael, my partner, said in a remarkably measured tone. He’s gotten pretty used to me traveling last minute, though this trip definitely elicited an eyebrow raise.
“Today, I guess?” I said.
He sighed. “How are you getting there?”
The next sigh was longer. World class. “But, I — we live on the other side of the country. Don’t you think…” He paused. “Call when you get there.”
I laughed. I’m crazy, but in this particular instance I wasn’t planning on driving all night, Andy-and-April-on-Parks-and-Rec-style, to hit Arizona’s famous hole in the ground. I was heading to Pine Creek Gorge in central Pennsylvania’s Tioga State Forest, aka The Other Grand Canyon.
Situated three-and-a-half hours from Philadelphia and equidistant from Pittsburgh (aka the other Pennsylvania city), Pennsylvania’s Grand Canyon is a narrow valley cut into the mountains by a powerful river system that’s filled with winding backcountry hiking trails. It’s also an area that has basically anything you could ever want in a weekend getaway: camping, swimming, hardcore 60-mile treks and casual jaunts, delightfully kitschy mountain lodging, and even bomb Mexican food.
The first time I went, I thought, “The Other Grand Canyon” moniker was tongue in cheek. I was wrong. If you’re ready for an escape from east coast city life, here’s how to explore the Other Grand Canyon in one perfect, nature-filled weekend.
Friday: Get There, Then Relax
Driving to the gorge from Philly is easy. It’s one of those drives that keeps you occupied the whole time with the landscape changing every hour or so. Starting in a huge city, you push through suburbia and then roll into farm country, eventually winding through the Poconos and out into the wilderness. It’s a drive that gently shifts almost imperceptibly. City life melts away the longer you drive. I felt the tension of the week draining from my shoulders as the color drained from the sky, and I made it to my destination as the last of the sherbet colors turned, finally, to inky black.
For my stay, I chose Bear Mountain Lodge: a dark-stained wood cabin surrounded by lush forest. The lodge contains four small rooms with a rustic bear-and-woods tableaux and enormous decks from which you can watch the earth breathe. After driving three-and-a-half hours, I was happy just to drop my stuff in the room and sit in silence. I spent the night relaxing in the hot tub on the deck and listening to the vanguard of insects and bugs, chirping away about the coming spring.
The main lodge is only about a 10-minute drive from the downtown area of Wellsboro, where there are plenty of restaurants, like The Roost, a pub on Main Street that serves a hearty, hits-the-spot burger and shrimp skewers made with Yuengling beer batter. That night however, I survived on the chocolate-covered strawberries they gave me at check-in before I called it a night. After all, I had big plans for the next day.