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This 180+ mile ride is a loop around and through the Elk State Forest area between Clearfield and Smethport. This entire region is fertile ground for motorcycle road hunting! There really aren’t any roads here that are lacking in scenery or some degree of fun factor and most of them are in good to great condition too. As with all my recommended routes – traffic and the accompanying entanglements are minimized while off-the-beaten-path sights are plentiful. Since this is a “plateau” – it lacks any significant elevation changes but the terrain generally provides for plenty of gentle curves and sweepers. Lush, thick forest scenery is everywhere, along with plentiful wildlife. You may even spot an Elk or two!
The Elk State Forest derives its name from the great number of elk that once thrived in the area. Pennsylvania’s only elk here can usually be found in the forests between the village of Benezette eastward into the Hicks Run watershed. Between 1913 and 1926, the Pennsylvania Game Commission attempted to restore an elk herd by releasing 177 western elk. A recent survey indicated the herd size to be more than 600 animals, up from a low of 35 animals in the early 1970s.
This route takes you to some very unusual and/or spectacular sights like the George B. Stevenson Dam and two distinct monuments to the failure of man’s ability to contain the powerful forces of nature; the Austin Dam ruins and the Kinzua Bridge collapse.
Clearfield is your recommended base camp due to its strategic location on I80, plentiful overnight accommodations and most of all – Denny’s Beer Barrel Pub, homeof the worlds largest burgers! For more helpful ‘motorcycle friendly’ information on this region – go to www.VisitPaGo.
From Clearfield take PA879 North for 20 miles where it deposits you on the Quehanna Parkway. Take the Quehanna Parkway for 8.5 miles and turn right onto Wykoff Run Road. Take Wykoff Run Road for 10 miles to the end at the intersection of PA120. Turn right on PA120 and then a quick left on PA872 after 150 yards. Stay on PA872 for 28 miles to the Austin Dam ruins – about 1 mile from town. Head back on PA872 to Austin and turn right onto PA607 for 7.5 miles to Keating Summit and turn right onto PA155. Follow PA155 for 11 miles to US6. Turn left on US6 for 10 miles to Smethport and pick-up PA59. Take PA59 for 5 miles and turn left on onto Lindholm Road immediately after the PA59 / PA646 split. Follow Lindholm road for 6 miles to the The Kinzua Bridge Park entrance. Turn right out of the park (back onto Lindholm) and go 3.5 miles to US 6 and turn right. Go 4 miles on US6 to US219south and take it for 46 miles to I80 then back to Clearfield.
Quehanna Parkway (QP)– this is one beautiful, tree lined drive that cuts through the middle of the Moshannon State Forest. According to the route as outlined,you are only on this road for 8.5 miles, however, if you have the time and/or the inclination you should feel free to stay on it for as long as you like -provided you turn back at some point and pick-up Wykoff Run Road. If you love trees, wildlife and wilderness then the QP is your type of road. I imagine this is quite spectacular during the fall foliage season! You will add 30 miles to your route if you follow the QP all the way to the end at PA555 and then back to Wykoff Run Road.
The only real curves on the QP can be found in the first few miles – and few on the far western end as well. This early section is not the most scenic so reserve your judgment until you are on it for awhile. One item of note along the first few miles the QP is the Quehanna Bootcamp correctional facility – a military-style motivational boot camp where inmates undergo a rigid six-month disciplinary and training program which, if successfully completed, will result in their immediate release on parole. The minimum-security facility houses both male and female offenders.
Wykoff Run Road– this is another gem of a road. As opposed to the QP, Wycoff Run Road follows the banks of a winding creek bed so it is full of curves – nothing technical or challenging; however, several of them are semi-tight and blind so be careful! As with most roads in this area – the scenery is second to none as you are surrounded by lush greenery on both sides for the entire 10 mile stretch. Click here for a YouTube video of a run down Wykoff Run Road.
Wykoff Run Rd
More of Wykoff Run Road
PA872– this road follows the valley floor and offers plenty of mini-sweepers and some awesome scenic views. One place worth stopping for a rest is the George B. Stevenson Dam at the base of the Sinnemahoning State Park. The dam itself is not anything special but the view of the Sinnemahoning Creek valley from the walkway is!
View from the Stevenson Dam
Austin Dam– On Sept 30, 1911 the 2 year-old 50ft high, 550 foot wide Austin Dam broke – unleashing millions of gallons of water into Austin and killing 78 people. The Austin Dam break is the second deadliest dam break in Pennsylvania history – dwarfed by the more famous 1889 Johnstown flood, which killed 2,100. When the dam broke – the torrent of water picked up many of 700,000 stacked cords of lumber at the Bayless Pulp & Paper mill. That debris became the flood’s battering ram, completely destroying everything in its path – homes, shops, churches, trees, bridges, even a train. Today – the tiny borough of Austin, is known as “the town too tough to die” and “the best town by a dam site.” Austin had nearly 3,000 residents before the dam broke; fewer than 800 people remain.
Ultimately, it was determined that several ill-fated construction cost cutting measures of the Bayless Pulp & Paper Co were responsible for causing the collapse of the dam, and payment of damages ultimately drove the company out of business. The magnitude and the nature of the event managed to catch the attention of Frederique Longuet-Marx, the great granddaughter of Karl Marx who alluded to the Austin Dam disaster as an example of the ills of Capitalism while speaking at Mansfield University in 1997. ( Apparently there were no similar disasters in the vaunted ‘workers paradise’ of the former Soviet Union…who knew? )
Austin Dam Ruins
Bayless Paper Mill Ruins – just South of the Austin Dam
Kinzua Bridge– This massive iron trestle bridge that spans the Kinzua creek was originally built in 1882 and was billed (at the time) as the “Eighth Wonder of the World“, holding the record as the tallest railroad bridge in the world for over two years. A tornado struck the bridge in 2003 causing a large portion of the bridge to collapse. Contributing to the collapse was the failure, caused by corrosion, of the anchor bolts holding the bridge towers to their foundations.
Kinzua Bridge collapse
At this point – you should have worked-up an appetite worthy of a Denny’s Beer Barrel Pub burger! If so -the quickest way back is to pick-up US 219, but if you are not in a hurry you can pick and choose many of the back roads in the area and you probably wont go wrong if you just head south. If you have the time and the energy – from Kinzua, you can go just 45 miles East on US6 to see the PA Grand Canyon at the Colton State Park.
The Allegheny Plateau is a great getaway destination for motorcycle touring – I hope you get the chance to ride to these interesting and out-of-the-way destinations and enjoy the roads along the way. As always – your feedback and comments are welcome!
Blog author Brad Morgan lives in Carlisle. He also own/operates a SERVPRO business in the Harrisburg metropolitan area. The link to his business website is the only compensation he receives for producing/maintaining this blog: