Travel the Rolling Hills of Pennsylvania’s Alleghenies

from The Most Scenic Drives in America | 217

7. Pennsylvania Lumber Museum Several miles beyond Sweden Valley, Rte. 6 reaches its highest point in Pennsylvania. From the top of Denton Hill, in Denton Hill State Park, you can look down on the headwaters of the Genesee River, flowing northward toward Lake Ontario and the Gulf of St. Lawrence; Pine Creek, which feeds the Susquehanna River and, ultimately, Chesapeake Bay; and the headwaters of the Allegheny River, a tributary of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. At the Pennsylvania Lumber Museum, just off the highway near Denton Hill, the river of time flows back 100 years to an era when burly men with big saws cut hemlock and white pine for as long as 70 hours a week. All the tools of their trade are on view here, set among the mills, mess halls, and bunkhouses where they lived and worked. The colorful history of the period comes to life in early July at the Bark Peeler’s Convention, which features, among other activities, single- and double-bladed axe-throwing competitions and sawing demonstrations. 8. Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania For nearly 50 miles Pine Creek winds southward along a route cut by glacial meltwater during the great ice ages. Nearly one mile across from rim to rim, the wooded gorge—locals proudly dubbed it the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania—plunges to depths of 800 feet along much of its length, although it is nearly twice as deep near its southern end. Nowhere is this natural wonder grander (or more accessible) than at Colton Point State Park and Leonard Harrison State Park, both located several miles south of Ansonia on opposite sides of the gorge. A visit to Colton or Harrison is immediately rewarded with glorious views from scenic overlooks.

At Harrison State Park those with enough stamina—and not to mention, the right kind of shoes—can venture along Turkey Path, a steep switchback trail that travels a little more than one mile from the main overlook to the bottom of the gorge. Somewhere between the rim and the shallow creek, deep amid the rhododendrons and sycamores, you may just happen to cross paths with that quintessentially American bird, the wild turkey. Once plentiful in these parts, these colorful critters came close to extinction as a result of hunting and habitat destruction. But in recent years they have made a surprising comeback.

Among the wariest of fowl, the wild turkey—despite its three-foot length, bright red wattles, and boastful fan of tailfeathers—is easily concealed by the forest and its own quick wits. One may appear out of nowhere, a strutting flash of iridescent bronze, then suddenly dart—as quickly as you can say “gobble”—into a nearby thicket under a cloak of invisibility. But if you’re lucky enough to see this bird, you’ll long remember it.

9. Wellsboro With its stately stone courthouse, Victorian homes, and gas street lamps, Wellsboro—which serves as gateway to the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania—looks like a New England town that has been transplanted to Pennsylvania. And no wonder, for it was largely New Englanders who settled the community in 1806. Stroll along its shady streets, graced with maples and elms, to the town green, where a bronze statue depicts a scene from the beloved children’s poem “The Dutch Lullaby.” It shows Wynken, Blynken, and Nod adrift in their improbable craft—a seaworthy wooden shoe. 10. Mt. Pisgah With the highest of the Alleghenies fading behind to the west, Rte. 6 descends toward the Susquehanna River valley. Between the town of Troy and the river lie two of the region’s most delightful recreation areas: Mt. Pisgah state and county parks. Mt. Pisgah itself has a road all the way to its gently contoured summit. From here pastured valleys tumble away in every direction, their grassy folds cradling white farmhouses, big red barns, and herds of dairy cattle.

The two most venerable man-made and natural highways in Pennsylvania—famous Rte. 6 and the Susquehanna River—finally meet at North Towanda. The Susquehanna rises in Otsego Lake, north of New York State’s Catskill Mountains. Snaking through eastern Pennsylvania in the shape of a long, backward S-curve, the swift, shallow river slices through five gaps in the Appalachian Mountains to drain the state’s coal-mining and industrial valleys as it flows to the tidewaters found at the head of Chesapeake Bay.

From Wysox, head southward on Rte. 187 to Durrell, then follow the signs to French Azilum. 11. French Azilum One of Pennsylvania’s oddest footnotes to history can be found at a horseshoe bend in the Susquehanna River, some eight miles southeast of Towanda. In the autumn of 1793, several prominent Philadelphians sympathetic to royalists displaced by the French Revolution purchased land in the Susquehanna Valley and made it a refuge for exiled aristocrats.

The Azilum, or asylum, became a genteel community of comfortable log cabin homes, the largest of which, La Grande Maison, was reputedly intended for Marie Antoinette and her children. But any hopes the emigrés may have harbored for a new Versailles-on-the-Susquehanna were dashed when the queen was guillotined; not long after, the French community began to disperse. Some of its members headed south; others returned to France when Napoleon granted them amnesty; a few remained in northeast Pennsylvania, where their descendants live today.

Although none of the 50 or so original structures remain, the site of French Azilum is unquestionably one of the prettiest along the meandering Susquehanna River. A nature trail winds along the river where courtiers once sauntered, and the 1836 La Porte House, built by the son of one of the colony’s founders, offers as close a look as we can get at the settlement’s brief but historic heyday. 12. Tunkhannock Return to Rte. 6 at Wysox and take a longer view up and down the Susquehanna River Valley from the Marie Antoinette Overlook, located about seven miles east of the village. Less than three miles farther down the road, another scenic vantage point commands a broad river view near the massive sandstone-and-shale outcroppings called the Wyalusing Rocks. A horse race once held from Wyalusing to nearby Camptown was immortalized by songwriter Stephen Foster, a resident of Towanda, in his familiar, catchy tune popular in the 19th century, Camptown Races.

The drive through the Alleghenies began with sensational views of its one great signature river—the Allegheny—and at the picturesque town of Tunkhannock, it will end with those of another, the Susquehanna. Just ahead lies Scranton, a hardworking coal town and stop on the Lackawanna Valley railroad. In it, you’ll find connections with I-81 to points north and south.

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