Wielding my Wildest Dreams

Wielding my Wildest Dreams

For quite some time, I’ve dreamt about being a carefree Tayzau zipping around to new places and sights in her self-built off-grid adventure travel van.

My mom is well aware of this fantasy since I’ve talked non-stop about the history, implications, and privileges tied to living this alternative nomadic lifestyle.

It’s a good thing she is an action-oriented person, because without her, I’d still be closing my eyes, wistfully dreaming about #vanlife.

Recently, she booked a campervan, which allowed us to explore the Pennsylvania Wilds in a completely different way than we’ve ever traveled before.

The Pennsylvania Grand Canyon, Colton Point State Park

What is the Pennsylvania Wilds?

According to the PAWilds.com, the “PA Wilds covers approximately 25% of the state’s land acreage in north central Pennsylvania, yet just 4% of the population… and is home to more than 2 million acres of public land, 50 state game lands, 29 state parks, 8 state forests, 2 National Wild & Scenic Rivers, abundant wildlife, hundreds of miles of land and water trails, some of the darkest skies in the country, and the largest elk herd in the northeast” (Source).

Two centipedes on our hike in World’s End State Park!

Both my mom and I knew very little about this area before we visited. She booked the van without knowing where we were headed exactly, so I was responsible for crafting a 4-day itinerary.  When researching places to visit, I perused small blogs and travel sites that boasted the “Top Sites to See in PA!” and tried to fit the most interesting sounding places into our schedule. #optimization #efficiency #travelplanning

I must say, the websites and blogs were all spot on — The PA Wilds region is freshly stunning and rich with history and pride.

Kinzua Bridge State Park

For four days, we cruised around in a converted Ford E-250 van, that was decked out with a sink, hand pump, refrigerator attached to a flexible solar panel, propane stove, and a bed that converted into a seating area with a removable table.

(Bathroom, not included.)

Cooking dinner in our camper van

Where did we go on our trip?

Here is an outline of our 5 State Park “PA Wilds” itinerary.

Friday – Drive to the Pennsylvania Wilds

  1. Pick up camper van at rental location
  2. Drive to Lyman State Park
  3. Visit Cherry Springs State Park at night to stargaze
  4. Stay @ Lyman State Park

Saturday – Kinzua Bridge State Park

  1. Visit/Hike Kinzua State Bridge Park
  2. Stay @ Lyman State Park

Sunday – Lyman State Park and Pennsylvania Grand Canyon (Colton Point State Park)

  1. Hike Lyman State Park
  2. Hike Barbour Rock Trail, explore the Pennylsvania Grand Canyon, and bird watch
  3. Stay @ World’s End State Park

Monday – World’s End State Park

  1. Hike World’s End State Park
  2. Drive home and return van
Once the highest railroad viaduct in the world, the Kinzua Viaduct was destroyed by a tornado in 2003. Trains used to cross the bridge at a blistering 5 miles per hour! Today, you can walk the skywalk  to view the resulting destruction yourself at Kinzua Bridge State Park.

What did we observe and learn about the PA Wilds?

Here are 13 observations from our trip.

  • Smiles – Met many people with great smiles, solid eye-contact, and all-around A+ acknowledgement, especially in the state parks.
  • Road kill – So much dead animals! It felt like every 10 miles, we’d see another decomposing animal laying limp on the side of the road.
  • Patriotism – Many homes proudly displayed the American flag on their front porches. Large American flags were even raised in the campgrounds as well!
  • Country Music – The openness, the rolling hills, the openness was very fitting for blasting country music
  • Dogs – So many people were hiking or camping with either 1) dogs or 2) kids
  • Obesity – We saw many obese individuals at the campgrounds or sitting on their front porches
  • Religious groups – It was easy to identify groups either by their neon-colored T-shirts or their similar dress attire.
  • Churches and places of worship – Regardless of the town size, we passed countless churches and places of worship (Jehovah’s Witnesses, United Methodist, Baptist, etc.). One of the most striking quotes next to a church: “NO GOD, NO PEACE. KNOW GOD, KNOW PEACE”.
  • Signage – Townships, Counties, and Villages were labeled with signs. I’ve never seen signs for “Villages” before.
  • Chinese Restaurants – Almost every town that was large enough to have a Main St, traffic light, and Dollar General story also surprisingly had a Chinese Restaurant as well.
  • Hellbender – Did not encounter this amphibian (thankfully), but this is PA’s largest salamander, which can grow to the size of 12-15 inches (Source). They’re also a sign of good water quality!
  • Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) – 1) The original CCC bill (s. 598) was signed by President Roosevelt and was only one page! Current bills are ~600 pages long. 2) The CCC built 800 state parks and restored 3,980 historic structures. 3) Approximately 225,000 WWI veterans were able to rebuild their lives through the CCC. 4) The 3 billion trees planted by the CCC are now estimated to be worth $75 billion.
  • Bathrooms – Sometimes it’s cleaner, faster, easier to embrace the outdoors rather than a Porta Potty type situation.  For many reasons, I definitely prefer going au natural.

Final Thoughts

Although our trip was short, I’m very proud that we were able to visit five state parks, each sporting their own unique qualities:

  1. Lyman Run State Park – Serene lake perfect for fishing and kayaking, with fun streams to explore!
  2. Cherry Springs State Park – On its darkest nights, you can see the Milky Way!
  3. Kinzua Bridge State Park – An amazing engineering feat that can be viewed from multiple dizzying angles!
  4. Colton Point State Park (PA Grand Canyon) – A perfect location to watch birds soar above a breathtaking gorge carved by a glacier!
  5. World’s End State Park – Spectacular views, waterfalls, massive boulders, creeks, and more!

Lastly, the camper van added a fun twist to our road trip.  Camping/”living”/sleeping/driving in/lounging/cooking in a van both met my expectations and also made me realize how simple it could be to make my dreams a reality.

Have you ever traveled to the PA Wilds?

If yes, what would you recommend visiting?

If not, are you now intrigued to visit?

A frenzy of Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterflies, Lyman Run State Park