Hiking the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania has its own Grand Canyon, located just south of the border with New York state in a beautiful and lush green Tioga National Fo...

Pennsylvania has its own Grand Canyon, located just south of the border with New York state in a beautiful and lush green Tioga National Forest. And even though the Grand Canyon in Arizona is way bigger, longer and deeper, the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania is nonetheless spectacular and offers arguably the best views in the whole state. It's also located way of the beaten path, so you can pretty much have it to yourself.

Out of a few ways to see the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania from the top, the most challenging yet rewarding one is to hike the West Rim trail which runs (surprise!) along the western rim of the canyon. Other options include visiting Colton Point State Park or Leonard Harrison State Park which can easily be reached by a car.
If you want to explore the lower valley of the canyon, your best bet would be to ride a bike on the Pine Creek Rail Trail which runs along the Pine Creek at the bottom of the canyon. It's called a "rail trail", because there used to be a railroad which apparently became obsolete once the auto industry had taken over a bulk of passenger and cargo transportation in the US. The railroad was torn down and the space under the former rails was resurfaced as a multi-purpose trail for hikers, joggers, bikers and akin.
West Rim trail is linear, so you can hike it from north to south or the other way around - the choice is yours. But you'll likely need two cars unless you want to do a return trip. You can also choose to hike the entire trail which is 30.5 mile / 49 km long, or just a part of it. We decided to hike the first 16 miles / 26 km of the trail from the north and it took us two days to complete a hike.
We arrived to Ansonia, PA on Friday night. Since it was already dark and we were tired after almost 6 hours of driving, we decided to camp right at the trailhead's parking lot. Luckily, there was plenty of space and the parking lot's surface was made of old gravel, so we had no issues setting up our tents. As a bonus, there was lots of firewood right at the lot, so we even put up a camp fire. 
The next morning, we drove our cars to the destination of our two-day hike - Bradley Wales - and left one of the cars there. The parking lot was much smaller and located literally in the middle of the forest. Nonetheless, there was a nice and clean washroom as well as free maps to take. We felt a little bit uncomfortable leaving the car there for almost two days, but we hoped for the best and it's North America after all.
On the way back, I accidentally took a wrong turn and got to an active well which uses a slick water hydraulic fracturing or just 'fracking' to extract the natural gas from a shale. What's interesting is that there was no gate, no fence, no guard at the site. The well was just working and pumping up the gas. Miracle. So I guess it was sort of safe to leave a car where we left it. 
Apparently, Pennsylvania is a hot spot for fracking, and there are numerous wells like this one in the area. The fracking is a very controversial topic. There are tons of information about it which I'm sure has lots of bias as well. But what's apparent is that there is a clear link between the fracking and ground water pollution. And the most recent studies show that it can even cause earthquakes. Out of a respect to a property owner, I didn't take any close-up pictures nor do I reveal the well's location. But this topic interests me, so I'd be glad to have an opportunity to do a separate article about how the fracking works and what the impact of using it is. 
It took us almost 2 hours to drive back and forth, and by around 10:30 am we were finally all set for the hike.
There is a relatively steep ascent at the beginning of the trail, but the rest of the trail is pretty even. The trail is well marked with orange blazes.
After this initial ascent, we were rewarded with some of the best views of the canyon.
Shortly after these lookouts, the trail took us inside the forest and we didn't see the canyon for the rest of the first day.
A beautiful meadow.
Very well-marked detour. 
There is never a shortage of streams to drink water from, but you need to purify it before drinking. I used a filter called Lifestraw to do so, and found it very safe and convenient. I've taken it to 3 different backpacking trips so far and haven't had any stomach problems.
There is a number of primitive free of charge campsites along the trail, but I didn't quite get if we were supposed to register before hitting the road or these campsite were first come, first served. I suggest you get a map from Pine Creek Outfitters (located on Hwy 6 near the northern trailhead; their address: 5142 Rt 6 Wellsboro, PA) as it shows all campsites. 
Although a primitive campsite means no facilities, we actually saw a toilet at one of the sites. So cute.
Anyway, after hiking 10 miles / 16 km, we picked a campsite which turned to be a very good one. It had a fire pit and a bench made of stones as well as a little stream of water. 
We set up tents, put up a fire and made one of the most delicious dinners I've ever tried. That night we had buckwheat with some polish stew and a squash paste which we call a caviar. I don't know why, but food always tastes so good while camping outdoors. We had a great time, but some of us were a bit scared because of the noise in the bushes not far from our campsite. We could not figure out what it was, but it could be a racoon, or maybe a turkey. 
On the second day, we only had to hike 6 miles / 10 km, and unlike the first day, we made it surprisingly fast and easy. 
So we managed to finish our journey around 1 pm at Bradley Wales. What a delight was to find both our cars where we left them!
Great hike, highly recommend it!

Northern Trailhead:
2936 Colton Rd, Wellsboro, PA 16901

Southern Trailhead:
21800-21892 PA-414, Morris, PA 16938 at Rattlesnake Rock Boaters Access Area Parking Lot

Bradley Wales Parking Lot:
Bradley Wales Rd, Wellsboro, PA 16901 (Google does not give precise coordinates of the parking lot, so you'll have to follow the signs).

Additional Information
For additional information visit the Pennsylvania's DCNR's official website.

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