Hike below the canopies of primeval forests untouched by civilization. Stop for a rest at a breathtaking vista overlooking the Allegheny Mountains. Spot wildlife (including elk) while exploring Elk State Forest, home of one of the largest free-roaming elk herds this side of the Mississippi.
If you’re planning to visit Elk County, PA, get outdoors and take in some of the best views nature has to offer the way it was meant to be experienced - on foot.
We’ve assembled a list of some of the best hiking paths in the area. With options for every skill level, you can take advantage of all that Elk State Forest has to offer, whether that’s getting lost in solitude, gazing out over beautiful vistas, spotting wildlife, or a little of all three.
Whether you’re looking to spend a few days or a few hours hiking, set up your home base at one of our cabins. Combining rustic charm and modern conveniences, you’ll be able to relax and take in all that Elk County has to offer.
The Pine Tree Trail
Location: Benezette, PA | Parking: Hicks Run Camping Area
Easy, 2.0 miles, Loop
Perfect For: Learning and Exploring
This self-guided interpretive or educational trail allows you to explore local history and Elk State Forest as you pass through an abandoned pioneer settlement in the Pine Tree Natural Area. From old chimneys to rock foundation remnants, you’ll find reminders of the past settlement hidden among the forest as you make your way across the old wagon trail.
You’ll also see a field of white pine that was once a farm, and learn about forest management practices, tree species, and insects. Perfect for all ages and skill levels, this easy hike is a great option for families.
Beaver Run Impoundment Loop
Location: Weedville, PA | Trailhead
Easy, 2.7 miles, Loop
Perfect for: Wildlife Spotting
Enjoy the Quehanna Wild Area in a 2.7-mile hike suitable for all skill levels. You’ll circle the Beaver Run Shallow Water Impoundment and can stop and watch for animals at the Beaver Run Wildlife Viewing Area.
Wykoff Run Natural Area
Location: Sinnamahoning, PA | Trailhead
Easy, 4.4 miles, Loop
Perfect For: Beautiful Forest Views
This casual nature hike is suitable for all skill levels, taking adventurers along streams and through white birch forests at the center of the Quehanna Wild Area. Once used as a site for jet-engine testing by Curtiss-Wright, you’ll see how nature has reclaimed the tunnels where the engines were tested until 1960.
Location: Benezette, PA | Trailhead
Easy, ¾ miles
Perfect For: Spotting Elk and Wildlife
This accessible ¾-mile hiking trail winds through 81 acres of protected fields and forests brimming with elk’s favorite foods. If your goal is to see these animals in their natural habitat and enjoy some of Pennsylvania’s natural beauty, but you don’t want to commit to a grueling, hours-long hike through dark forests, this is your spot.
About mid-way through the trail, you’ll come across a viewing platform for elk, but there’s also a chance to see these majestic creatures throughout the trail. Also along the way, you’ll have the chance to learn about the area’s wildlife and its conversation from informational placards. Guided tours are available as well through the PA Game Commission North Central Region.
Kunes Camp Trail
Location: Quehanna Highway, Karthaus, PA |
Moderate, 2.0 miles
Perfect For: Exploring Ruins and Great Views
In the early 20th century, a local family built a hunting camp in the Quehanna Wild Area. When Curtiss-Wright began testing jet engines on the land, the property was abandoned. Today, hikers can explore the ruins of this camp - a stone house built against large boulders, along with the gorgeous natural scenery. While there is no parking lot, hikers can park their cars on the side of the road at the trailhead.
Fred Woods Trail
Mason Hill Road in Driftwood, PA | Parking
Moderate, 5 miles, Loop
Perfect for: Scenery and Vistas
Let your car or truck do the initial climbing as you travel to this 5-mile loop trail that winds its way far above the valleys below. You’ll be rewarded with a relatively flat path through “rock city,” an impressive and unique assortment of massive boulders within the forest. From there, you’ll go on to explore awe-inspiring vistas, like the Water Plug Vista and Huckleberry Vista.
While you’re in the area, be sure to stop at Bucktail Overlook, also known as “Top of the World.” This site offers a panoramic view of the surrounding mountains against wide-open skies - the perfect spot to take in the fall foliage or stargaze.
Location: Benezette, PA Trailhead & Dents Run Road Trailhead
Moderate, 15.8 miles, Point-to-Point
Perfect for: Elk and Wildlife Spotting
Create your own elk-viewing experience on this aptly named trail which offers hikers the opportunity to spot free-roaming elk in their natural habitat. This easy-to-moderate trek covers old logging roads over nearly 16 miles. If you plan on doing the entire point-to-point trail, you can park a car at each of the trail’s heads in Benezette and Driftwood, and you can spend a night or two camping along the trail.
Location: Weedville, PA | Parking and Info at the Parker Dam State Park
Hard, 75 miles, Loop
Perfect for: Dense Forests, Beautiful Views
The Quehanna trail winds its way through Moshannon and Elk State Forests over 75 miles. The main starting point is at Parker Dam State Park west of Benezette Township. While this days-long hike may sound intimidating to casual hikers, cross connectors allow adventurers to carve out shorter, more manageable hikes.
Hiking just a few miles will expose you to some of the most breath-taking sites Pennsylvania has to offer. You’ll hike through dense, mature forest that breaks to expose gorgeous natural vistas. You’ll also loop through PA’s largest wildlife area, the Quehanna Wild Area, where you may spot elk and other animals!
Sizzlerville State Park to Sinnemahoning
Hard, 30 miles, Point-to-Point
Perfect for: Experienced Hikers Looking for Isolation and a Challenge
The Bucktail Path offers a long and challenging backpacking trip for hikers through the heart of the PA wilds. But less-experienced hikers beware - this trail is noted for its isolation and distance from civilization. Its official entrance is near Sizerville State Park and travels south towards Sinnemahoning. Portions of the trail require steep climbs and stream crossings, but travelers are rewarded with passage through old-growth hemlock forests, the Johnson Run Natural Area, and the Squaretimber Wild Area.
Chuck Keiper Trail
Breeze Ave, Renovo, PA | Parking
Hard, 55 miles, Loop
Perfect For: Backpacking, Natural Landscapes
Located about an hour from Benezette, this intense trail is split between an east and a west loop. The challenging, 55-mile Chuck Keiper Trail rewards its hikers with solitude and breathtaking sites through Sproul State Forst, traversing the Burns Run Wild Area, Fish Dam Wild Area, East Branch Swamp Natural Area, and the Cranberry Swamp Natural Area.
The east trail is roughly 22 miles long, and the west trail is roughly 33 miles long, offering two- and three-day backpacking options. You’ll need to cross streams on this hike, many without bridges, so it’s a good idea to save it for drier weather. If you’re up to the challenge, there are plenty of opportunities to fill up your canteen and good campsites to rest!
Hiking in the PA wilds offers a rewarding experience with breath-taking views. But it can also be dangerous. Be sure to come prepared with trail maps, plenty of water, and a plan to stay on track and safe. For tips on safe hiking and more information on the trails, visit the PA Department of Conservation & Natural Resources.