Looking to plan a three day weekend in the Pennsylvania Wilds? Keep reading for an itinerary to hit up three state parks, five waterfalls, and miles of awesome trails!
As always, follow the principles of leave no trace when you're exploring the wonderful trails of Pennsylvania!
Pennsylvania Wilds Itinerary
How to Use this Itinerary
This itinerary is for those who have never been to the Cook Forest/Clear Creek Area of the Pennsylvania Wilds before. In this itinerary, you can visit five waterfalls, hike through one of the oldest growth forests in PA, and check three state parks off of your list. It is a fairly fast paced itinerary so if you prefer to travel a little slower, I’d recommend taking Day 1 or Day 2 and making them its own section. That being said, I loved this trip and highly recommend visiting everything on the agenda!
This list of things to do starts on Day 1, meaning I don’t count travel time. Since things get busy in peak season, I highly recommend coming in the night before you want to start all your activities to beat the crowds. We left from Pittsburgh after work on a Friday, drove the ninety minutes to our Airbnb, cooked dinner, and then were refreshed and ready to hit the trails the next day.
Pennsylvania Wilds Itinerary: Day 1
Cook Forest State Park
Cook Forest is the crown jewel of this itinerary. You can spend an entire three day weekend here as there is a ton to do in the area.
- Forest Cathedral – oldest growth forest in Pennsylvania
- Henry Run Sawmill Dam Falls –
- Scurry Overlook – a beautiful scenic overlook with views of the Clarion River
- Seneca Firetower – Climb to the top of an 80 foot firetower for views of the surrounding forest
Great news for those of you who want to fit in a lot of sightseeing in a short amount of time – Scurry Overlook, Henry Run Falls, and the Seneca Firetower are all sights on a six mile hike along the Baker Trail. For more information on Cook Forest State Park, check out my guide here!
Clear Creek State Park and Forest
Because Cook Forest had so many things to do, I really don’t feel that we gave this park the attention it deserved. Clear Creek is only 11 miles from Cook Forest
The park has 29 miles of trails for all abilities. Next time I visit, I want to do the Tadler Trail. It’s four miles long and when the trees are bare, features two scenic overlooks. If you’re feeling really adventurous, you can take the eight mile point to point Tobecco Trail, which connects Cook Forest and Clear Creek State Parks. Personally, I’d recommend tacking that when you have more time. For a trail map, click here.
The one thing you must make time for in Clear Creek State Forest is Beartown Rocks. These giant boulders are remnants of an Ice Age. There is almost no hiking involved – just park in the parking lot and stroll through the massive boulders to the scenic overlook. Click here for more information about visiting Beartown Rocks!
Love the Pennsylvania Wilds? Check out Kinzua Bridge State Park!
Pennsylvania Wilds Itinerary: Day 2
Oil Creek State Park
If you’re a history buff or someone who loves waterfalls, Oil Creek in Venango County has something for you! The valley is the site of the world’s first commercial oil well and contains a museum, three tableau, and trails to help visitors understand the history of the oil industry there.
The park is also home to four waterfalls, Plum Dungeon Falls, Millers Falls, Pioneer Falls and Boughton Falls. With some pre-planning (and downloaded AllTrails maps – there’s ZERO cell service), the first three listed above are easy to visit in a day with under six miles of hiking. However – be aware of the time of year you’re going! These falls are seasonal and may not be waterfalls in warm summer months!
For those who love hiking, the 36 mile Gerard Trail circumnavigates the park and is great for day hiking or overnight backpacking. For more information on what to do in Oil Creek State Park, visit my guide here!
Pennsylvania Wilds Itinerary: Day 3
Great news – three of the coolest features in the Pennsylvania wilds are located only a mile from each other! Freedom Falls, Rockland Furnace, and Rockland Tunnel are the perfect stop on the way back to Allegheny County from the PA Wilds. However, if you’re coming from the east, it may be better to move these stops earlier in your trip.
Freedom Falls and Rockland Furnace
Freedom Falls is one of the best waterfalls in Pennsylvania! It is not particularly tall but is really long and almost has two separate falls. Visitors can walk above the falls or swim/wade in the pools at the bottom. This is a must-see waterfall for anyone visiting the area. Click here for my guide to visiting Freedom Falls!
Less than half a mile from the waterfall is Rockland Furnace. This is an abandoned furnace that visitors can go inside of.
Less than a mile from the parking area for the falls, visitors can explore an abandoned trail tunnel. This tunnel now is part of the Allegheny River Trail, a thirty mile bike path. The tunnel is DARK because of its slight curve and I do not recommend visiting without a headlamp or flashlight (your phone will work in a pinch, but it is really not bright enough for exploring).
For more information about the Rockland Tunnel, visit my guide here.
Where to Stay in the Pennsylvania Wilds
Whether you want to sleep under the stars or in a lovely country inn, there are options for you!
There are a ton of awesome Airbnb options in the PA wilds for those who prefer to keep their nature outside. We stayed at the Mitchell’s Pond Inne, which was the perfect location for our itinerary because it was pretty equidistant from all of the things we wanted to do. This Airbnb has a main house and a cottage. We stayed in the cottage and it was perfect! It was a great base for our many adventures from but also comfortable enough to hang out in at when we wanted to relax.
The best part? It was dog friendly! Tom got to join on our fun weekend of adventuring. The cottage was two bedroom with a kitchen/living room combination. However, the second bedroom was only one twin bed and the bathroom was off of the master bathroom so it would be great for a couple or a family with a younger child rather than two couples. We cooked in the kitchen all three nights to save money on food and it was very well stocked. I highly recommend staying here.
There are many camping options for the fancy glamper to the most rustic camper in the Pennsylvania Wilds. Each of the state parks on my below itinerary offers different camping options. Based on this itinerary and the distance traveled, I’d recommend staying at Cook Forest or Clear Creek for Days 0 and 1 and moving to Oil Creek on Day 2.
Cook Forest Camping: Full Hookups, Modern Rustic (both Electric and Non-Electric), 20 Rustic Cabins, and Rustic Organized Tenting Site. To reserve a campsite in Cook Forest, click here.
Clear Creek Camping: Modern Electric and Non-Electric, two Yurts, and 22 Rustic Cabins. To reserve a campsite in Clear Creek, click here.
Oil Creek State Park has very limited camping with amenities. There are only two rustic organized tenting sites. However, park users can get backpacking permits for camping in the park. The backpacking shelter and tent sites can hold 4 people per site. For more information on backpacking permits, click here.-
Frequently Asked Questions
Where is the Pennsylvania Wilds?
The PA Wilds are a region in North Central Pennsylvania, known for being an amazing place for outdoor adventures. It’s a pretty remote area – according to PAWilds.com, the Wilds covers approximately 25% of the state’s land acreage in north central Pennsylvania, yet just 4% of the population. This post covers a three day weekend itinerary in the western-most part of the PA Wilds.
What is the best time of year to visit the Pennsylvania Wilds?
This depends on what you want to do! Summer is peak season so there may be more crowds, but the weather is more predictable. Fall brings amazing foliage but seasonal waterfalls may be more plentiful in the spring. Winter can mean some of the roads are hard to travel but frozen waterfalls are always worth a visit.
What to pack for a trip to the Pennsylvania Wilds
This depends on the season, but I always recommend layers. Bring rain gear because the weather can turn quickly. Keep an eye on the weather and make sure to hike safely and be prepared for all conditions. For more information on what to bring on your day hikes, check out my ten essentials for day hiking recommendations here!
Love exploring State Parks? Check out my aggregate guide to all the Pennsylvania State Parks I've visited!