Public Lands Rides: Pennsylvania’s Grand Canyon in Tioga State Forest

July 21, 2021By: Helena Kotala
PEC Blog

There are two ways to participate in the 2021 Public Lands Ride. We are excited to promote both an in-person event returning to Black Moshannon State Park on October 2, 2021, and the release of six new routes in different state forests to be ridden anytime. Learn more here


Route Overview: 

Colton Point State Park is located at the edge of the Pine Creek Gorge, also known as the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania. It is the gateway for this ride at the northern end of the gorge, which hugs the west rim, drops to the Pine Creek Rail Trail, and climbs back up to the tops of squiggly ridges via long creek valleys. Get ready for a remote feel, plenty of vistas and little cell service. There are options to add some adventure and chunk, but the route as mapped sticks to gravel roads with only about a mile of pavement in the entire 63-mile ride. 

The Pine Creek Gorge is an 800-foot deep river valley also known as the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania.

 

Route Description:

Colton Point itself is a fairly primitive state park, serving as an access point to the 30-mile West Rim Trail and some shorter spur trails, and providing a number of day-use pavilions for rent and a small campground. The route leaves the park on Colton Road, switchbacking its way along Fourmile Run. At Thompson Hollow Road, the name changes to Painter Leetonia Road as it rolls along the plateau on the west side of the gorge, with occasional views of the creek 800 feet below. Around mile 10, stay left onto West Rim Road, where the road begins to more noticeably climb. It is broken up by some quick descents, but the gravel trends upwards until the intersection with Mine Hole Road. Here, you’ll begin a fast and fun 5-mile descent all the way down to Pine Creek and the town of Blackwell. 

 

A sneak peak of Pine Creek through a break in the trees at Pine Creek Vista.

 

The town doesn’t consist of much except some houses and an access point for paddling Pine Creek and the Pine Creek Rail Trail. The trail entrance is just past the parking lot after crossing the bridge over the river. Turn right and enjoy 5 miles of flat spinning in the valley before hopping off at Cedar Run onto Beulah Land Road (right turn). Make a quick left onto the pavement, and then another right onto Rt. 414. After just over a quarter mile, bear left onto Leetonia Road. 

 

The Pine Creek Rail Trail near Blackwell.

 

Leetonia Road climbs gradually in a deep hollow for 6 miles along Cedar Run, which offers a number of small waterfalls and good swimming holes. Just before the little village of Leetonia itself, you’ll turn left onto Francis Leetonia Road. If you want some extra adventure and climbing, you can make another left shortly thereafter onto Reynolds Spring Trail. It features a pretty steep climb and then some rolling grassy doubletrack for about 3 miles before meeting up with Reynolds Spring Road, which you can then take back to Bear Run Road to meet up with the official route. Otherwise, stay on Francis Leetonia Road and then stay straight onto Bear Run Road. At the bottom of the descent, stay straight/right onto Francis Road. 

 

Optional off-road adventure on Reynolds Spring “Road.”

 

The next big climb is after making a right back onto Francis Leetonia Road. The road climbs steeply for a short distance after the turn, then mellows out but heads gradually uphill for almost 10 miles. There are a few springs along this stretch of road which could be used for water refill at your own discretion — we aren’t going to totally vouch for them all but did snag some at “Cold Spring Camp” with no issue. 

A left onto Cushman Road begins a steeper but short section of climbing and at the top, you’ll be rewarded with perhaps the best vista of the day, a 180+ degree view of miles of mountain layers. It’s fairly flat for the next few miles on Wilson Point Road as it winds its way across a pipeline cut several times and stays on the ridgetop to Ridge Road. A right and then left will get you onto Cedar Mountain Road for a long, swoopy descent to Thompson Hollow Road. The route leaves the state forest very briefly but a right on Thompson Hollow will pop you right back in the woods. 

 

The spectacular Cushman Vista provides an expansive mountain view.

 

After staying left on Thompson Hollow at the intersection with Mill Run Road, the climb steepens just a bit before cresting for a nice creekside descent back down to Colton Road. Here, you’ll backtrack for about 4 miles to the state park. If you’re still feeling zesty, you can make an additional loop with Leetonia and Deadman Hollow Roads, which will add about 8 miles to the ride. 

 

Narrow roads forever!

 

In The Area: 

The two closest towns are Galeton and Wellsboro — both about a 20-25 minute drive from Colton Point (in opposite directions). They are both small towns but have grocery stores, a small selection of restaurants and other amenities. At the intersection of Colton Road and Rt. 6 in the village of Ansonia, the Burnin’ Barrel Bar/Ansonia Valley Inn offers food and libations just a few minutes from the state park. 

The Pine Creek Rail Trail is 62 miles long, running the entire length of the Pine Creek Gorge. The closest access to Colton Point is Ansonia, just a few miles away, and it’s a great option for an easy pedaling day to go as far as you want. There are also some intersecting back roads on the eastern side of the gorge to create a loop for a second day of riding. 

 

The route uses the 62-mile Pine Creek Rail Trail for only 5 miles of its length, but if you have time while in the area ride more of it for an easy spinning day!

 

Pine Creek Outfitters in Ansonia offers raft, canoe and kayak rentals and shuttle services to those who want to paddle Pine Creek. They also offer biking and hiking shuttle services for riding the rail trail or hiking the West Rim Trail. 

The West Rim Trail’s northern trailhead is just north of Colton Point State Park and offers 30 miles of continuous canyon views. Other popular hikes at Colton Point are the quick 1-mile Barbour Rock loop and the Turkey Path, a 3-mile round trip to the bottom of the canyon and back. The highlight of this hike is a 70-foot waterfall, and the trail follows a series of waterfalls all the way down. 

 

Water abounds on this route, with a lot of little roadside waterfalls and swimming holes.

 

Where to Stay:

The 25-site campground at Colton Point is open on a first-come, first-serve basis and payment is based on the honor system. There are non-flush toilets and water is available. There is no electric. 

There are some primitive motorized campsites on the southern section of the route, along Francis Road, and some just off the route on Chestnut Ridge and Slate Run Roads. These are reservable by calling the Tioga State Forest office, but are free to rent. Find a site here.

The Coach Stop Inn and Tavern and Colton Point Motel are located nearby along Rt. 6, and there are several hotels in Wellsboro. There are also some private campgrounds just a few miles from the park that are more accommodating for RVs. Wellsboro also has a number of Airbnbs. 

 

Just another vista — Four-mile on Colton Road.

 

Get the Map:

We recommend you grab a Purple Lizard Maps Pine Creek Map before heading out there. Not only are paper maps a good backup for navigation or course alterations, the Lizard Map is a comprehensive resource for outdoor adventures in the area. 

Don’t forget to tag us @pecpubliclandsride with your photos! 

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