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Elk, A Grand Canyon, Starry Skies, And So Much More: Pennsylvania Wilds An Affordable And Close Getaway

WELLSBORO, Pa. (KDKA) - As more families look to get out, getaway, just what is available within an easy drive of Pittsburgh?

Well, how about considering the Pennsylvania Wilds?

It's the upper north-central part of the state, comprising 12 counties that contain only 10% of the state's population.

In other words, there is a lot of Pennsylvania to explore and much of it is woodlands.

Did you know Pennsylvania has a Grand Canyon?

The Pine Creek Gorge runs 47 miles through the Allegheny Plateau of the Tioga State Forest - just look for Wellsboro on your map.

Michael Chapaloney is the Executive Director of Pennsylvania Tourism.

"There are two state parks that flank the canyon that was created by Pine Creek, and it's truly incredible, amazing VISTAs, and I would say go now and then go again and the fall," he recommends.

It's not just a hiking, biking, camping destination: "there's a covered wagon ride in the canyon floor, and it takes you too along pulled by horses, so it's really fun."

The Wilds are home to the largest population of Elk in North America - they don't call it "Elk County" for nothing.

"They are so plentiful that your chances of seeing them are quite good," Chapaloney says.

If you think deer are fascinating up close, wait until you see an Elk.

"The difference is about 500 pounds," Chapaloney explains. "So, you know, they range around the six to 700-pound range."

They don't call them bulls and cows without good reason.

Speaking of animals, there are plenty to see up close and personal at Penn's Cave near State College, and then there's the cave.

"It is America's only cave you can tour by boat," Chapalone says. "It is very popular for school groups. So I think that it's definitely kid-friendly."

There of course is the Kinzua Bridge.

"The Kinzua railroad bridge was the tallest and longest in the world until it was hit by a tornado and the center portion was destroyed," Chapalone says. "Now they have an incredible skywalk experience."

WATCH: The Pennsylvania Wilds & Punxsutawney

Which at its very end leaves you looking out of the vista from hundreds of feet in the air.

On the western end of the Wilds is Punxsutawney which Chapaloney says is more than just about February 2nd. Sure you can visit Phil at the library in the heart of town but up on the Knob..."Gobblers Knob leads you to hiking trails, and, and biking trails."

There's also a Groundhog Wine trail that leads you to the Wild's "Wineries, breweries, and distilleries, have really popped up."

There are plenty of accommodations along the I-80 corridor but in the small towns that dot the Wilds, you will find plenty of Bed and Breakfasts, and rustic inns.

If you are not into the outdoor activities..."There are artists in these various towns. The food scene has is really fantastic. You know you can get everything from, you know, a fine steak to an actual elk burger," Chapalone says.

Of course, the Little League World Series is in Williamsport and there are sites to see even when the games are not going on.

And if you love a starry night, you'll want to put Cherry Springs Park on your list.

Nestled in the middle of the Tioga Forest there is not much to see during the day but Chapaloney says at night, "The experience when you lay down in the field at Cherry Springs is breathtaking."

People come from all over the world to view the sky.

"The light pollution is next to zero, and just the natural setting of cherry Springs has become an international draw," he says.

One suggestion from the experts, visit during the "new moon" cycle where there is no moonlight. Also, check the forecast and shoot for a night when the skies are clear of clouds.

Cherry Springs is near Coudersport which is about a three-and-a-half-hour drive from Pittsburgh.

The Pennsylvania Wilds has a lot to offer for the children in the family. It just takes a bit of preplanning. To check it all out you can go to the Visit PA website.

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