by Helena Kotala
A gateway town to the area known as the The Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania or Pine Creek Gorge, Wellsboro boasts a charming, historic downtown in the heart of the PA Wilds. It’s surrounded by a playground of mountains, rivers and trails.
The region surrounding Pine Creek includes a beautiful, forested river valley stretching from near Wellsboro at its northern end to Jersey Shore, Pennsylvania, at its southern. It is surrounded by Tioga and Tiadaghton state forests and numerous natural and wild areas. The vast amount of public land, forests, open space, dirt and gravel roads, rivers, trail infrastructure, and ways to escape the hustle and bustle of daily life all make Wellsboro, and all of the PA Wilds, truly special.
“People should come enjoy Wellsboro for its small-town quaintness, small shops, historic buildings, and you can’t forget all the vistas surrounding the stunning PA Grand Canyon,” says local event promoter and Wellsboro resident James Llewellyn. “Large state parks and low population to overall land mass of the county really let you get away from everything and enjoy nature.
In early May, Llewellyn organizes the MAMMOTH Endurance Gravel cycling event. Now in its third year, MAMMOTH is a relatively small, grassroots event based out of the historic downtown of Wellsboro. There are two distance options — the Full Mammoth is usually about 140 miles, while the half is 70 miles, with at least 100 feet per mile of climbing. It’s no joke of a ride, but the views keep your mind occupied while your legs are screaming, with a lovely mix of remote forests and creek valleys, rural farmland, and the occasional respite on the Pine Creek Rail Trail (PCRT), a 62-mile crushed stone path on a former railroad grade that runs parallel to Pine Creek.
The idea for the ride started when Llewellyn hosted a 100-mile gravel ride with a few friends and locals. Four people showed up — two of whom had never done a century (a 100-mile ride) before.
“Everyone had a good time; they were absolutely elated. … And one of the other riders who had joined us said that I should turn it into an event, so I thought I guess I’ll give it a go and see if other people enjoy this as much as the four of us have,” says Llewellyn.
“Mammoth is so special because of the remoteness and beauty of the area as well as the true grassroots nature — it’s literally just me and a few local friends that do the behind-the-scenes stuff and a few small businesses mainly from the local area that support the event,” he continues. “My favorite part [of the event] is getting to enjoy the camaraderie that surrounds cycling but especially gravel cycling as a whole, and getting to watch people come from all over the East Coast and enjoy this area. It is also very humbling and rewarding to be able to watch people push themselves to the limit and persevere beyond what they thought their boundaries were.”
Pine Creek Rail Trail
You don’t have to push yourself to the limit to enjoy cycling in the Wellsboro area. The Pine Creek Rail Trail offers a relatively flat, approachable riding experience for all ages and abilities. It is one of Pennsylvania’s most well-known trails, featuring views of the river and surrounding mountains.
While it is remote, trail towns along the way cater to visitors. Restroom facilities, water fountains, restaurants, camping and other amenities along the trail make it a popular destination for visitors wanting to dip their toes into longer rides or try bike touring and camping. Check out this ice cream tour along the trail for a fun summer activity!
The northern terminus of the trail currently stops short of Wellsboro, but construction just began on the 3.2-mile Pine Creek Rail Trail Extension, which will connect directly to downtown. A visitor center at the trailhead is also planned.
“The trailhead building will feature community-centric displays, local business features, trail resources and local history. The downtown connection will encompass a safe mode of travel for pedestrians to make their way from the trail to the shops, restaurants and hotels of downtown Wellsboro,” says Deb Bigley, a planning specialist with Tioga County. The groundbreaking for the first phase of the extension took place on May 12 and the trail is expected to be completed in 2024.
If you’re looking to get a bit more adventurous, there is excellent gravel and dirt road riding if you head off the Pine Creek Rail Trail and into the hills on either side, with plenty of opportunities to create loops of various distances.
For inspiration, check out the loops that PA Route 6 has mapped in the area, as well as the Pennsylvania Environmental Council’s Tioga State Forest Public Lands Ride route. Also, be sure to grab a Pine Creek Purple Lizard Map and Adventure List.
Another great resource is Pine Creek Outfitters, located along Route 6 outside the small village of Ansonia (10 minutes west of Wellsboro). It offers guided kayak, rafting and hiking adventures as well as bike, boat and tube rentals and shuttles. The family-owned business, now in its third generation, was started in 1984. The shop’s website offers a free, downloadable adventure guide for the region, which includes plenty of helpful info on paddling, riding the rail trail and hiking.
If you go
In town, grab breakfast at the Wellsboro Diner, satisfy your sweet tooth at Highland Chocolates and explore The Gmeiner Art & Cultural Center in a unique mid-century modern style building. Other great places to eat include The Roost (a pub with delicious, locally-sourced cuisine) and The Native Bagel (bagels, sandwiches and wraps).
There are a number of hotel and bed and breakfast options downtown Wellsboro, and camping is available at state parks such as Hills Creek, Leonard Harrison and Colton Point.
The Outdoor Guide Series is underwritten by the Pennsylvania Environmental Council as part of its effort to promote the outdoor recreation economy in Pennsylvania and neighboring areas.