Six AM Saturday morning, Mom comes in the room and jostles me gently – “Time to go!” Sleepy sand still in my eyes, I somehow pull my clothes on and stumble to the car, plug myself in the back seat and promptly fall asleep again.
The car had been packed, the boat loaded and covered and all preparations made the night before so all we had to do was fall into the car so Dad (who could drive forever without rest or pee stops) could truck us all to the Adirondacks to camp for the week. With the four of us kids, I never knew if mom & dad considered it heaven or hell, but the best memories of my young life involved vacations in the forest.
Carrying all these wistful images from childhood, my friend Rob and I rode our motorcycles into Northwest Pennsylvania and entered the Allegheny National Forest. The region was a complete unknown to me – and frankly, the reason I chose this direction was the string of little green dots on the AAA map showing a scenic drive. Those little green dots really know what they’re talking about.
Warren PA is at the northwest corner of the forest roughly 40 miles south of Jamestown, NY, and is home to the Allegheny National Forest’s headquarters. We rolled in after a three hour ride to our destination, the Hampton Inn. Just because it’s a forest, doesn’t mean you HAVE to camp – and at 64, I don’t do sleeping bags well any more.
Touring through the region is pleasant on the well maintained roads with many gentle turns and MANY 45 MPH zones. Riding on Rt 59 east from Warren, we pass the Kinzua Dam.
I had never heard the word “Kinzua” before this week, but I would a thousand more times in the next 2 days. The Kinzua dam backs up the Allegheny Reservoir, larger than any this side of the Mississippi. The stated purpose of the dam was flood control and power generation, but it is a wonderful recreation resource as well, with boating, swimming, hiking, camping, fishing and just plain relaxing.
On either side of the Kinzua Lake Bridge are roads leading up to lookouts perched on the edge of the surrounding mountains. On the west side is Jakes Rocks where you can look down on eagles soaring on the wind while enjoying spectacular views of the dam and reservoir. On the east side, a small – REALLY small – road leads to a parking area and trailhead. A few moments’ walk down the path and stairs leads to an observation space on the edge of a cliff and the end of the Rimrock Trail.
Allow an hour and a half to walk the 1.3 mile trail up from Kinzua Beach. The trails end is a set of stairs rising through a tight crack in the rock formations. A truly formidable sight, I’ll leave that hike to the younger set.
On another branch of the reservoir is the Kinzua-Wolf Run Marina where you can park your boat, or rent one to enjoy the water up close and personal.
US Route 6, also known as the National Recreation trail makes its way through the center of the forest, exiting at the village of Kane, but the fun isn’t done yet. Just past the hamlet of Mount Jewett is a sign for Kinzua Bridge State Park, home of the “SkyWalk”. On July 21’st, 2003, a tornado destroyed half of the 1890’s era, 301’ tall railroad bridge. The remaining portion has been made into a historical sight where anyone can walk out to the end and see the remains of the rest of the bridge where it fell on that violent day. More information on the bridge is at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kinzua_Bridge.
I’ve provided only a pale taste of what this region can offer a family – or two aging bikers who can’t let go of the wonder of childhood. And inexpensive too. The only place we visited that charged was the Skywalk parking lot (the sign said $1), but there was no one there to take the dollar. Compared to the NYS State Parks it’s a deal.
I have a few words about the Hampton Inn in Warren PA. The greeting we received was truly warm – almost like “treasured family” warm. “We love bikers! You want cleaning supplies and rags?” and sure enough in the room behind the front desk was a pair of bins marked “Motorcycle Clean” and “Motorcycle Dirty” with spray bottles of cleaner ready for our use. A hot breakfast was complimentary, but we didn’t expect Monday’s evening meal to be as well.
A year ago or so, they came up with the idea of giving their tired business travelers (and anyone else who stayed there) a “pick-me-up” by providing a meal – almost picnic style – of hot dogs, beans and potato salad in their lobby on Mondays.
The heated indoor pool is also a welcome treat for dusty and tired bikers. It rejuvenated us so much that we went back for another helping of hot dogs…
Without a doubt, this is the friendliest hotel I’ve ever had the pleasure of staying at, and can recommend them very highly.
The Allegheny National Forest is a vacation location truly “Within Reach” of Lansing, NY. Take your family, your boat, or maybe only your bike and a friend and have a truly delightful time there.
For more information visit http://www.fs.usda.gov/allegheny/ or stop in at Headquarters on Rt 62. Expect a very friendly welcome.
And you can contact the Warren PA Hampton Inn at http://www.fs.usda.gov/allegheny/ or phone them at 1-814-723-2722