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Agency Spotlight: Elk State Forest
Elk State Forest derives its name from the great numbers of elk that once thrived in the area. Located mainly in Elk and Cameron counties, it comprises 200,000 acres of northern hardwood forest. Today, visitors can once again see elk in the meadows and openings scattered throughout the state forest.

Today, Pennsylvania's only wild elk herd can usually be found in the forests from the village of Benezette eastward into the Hicks Run watershed.

The old-forest in the Elk District consisted of magnificent white pine, hemlock, some red pine, mixed oaks and northern hardwoods, which included beech, sugar maple, birch, American chestnut, and black cherry. The first timber removed from the district was the white pine which was used for ship masts. Some of the finest white pine spar trees in the country were removed from Sterling Run between 1865 and 1872. After white pine became scarce, tanneries that formerly only used the bark of hemlock trees began selling the logs as lumber. Sawmills and logging camps became established throughout the region. Logs cut from the vast stands of hemlock were floated down streams such as the First Fork, the Driftwood Branch, and the Bennett's Branch of the Sinnemahoning Creek.

In 1915, the last log raft went down the Driftwood Branch, thus ending the hemlock logging era. The cut-over areas were further altered by vast wildfires that killed the remaining young trees. With the exception of a few virgin stands passed up by loggers, the old-growth forest in this area was gone.

The first purchase of land for the Elk State Forest was a 3,487-acre tract in Middle Jerry Run bought from D.R. Fullerton on May 31, 1900. Originally called Forest Reservations, these lands were purchased to re-establish a forest that had been nearly eliminated by cutting and burning.



The Elk State Forest offers some of the best opportunities for both experienced and inexperienced hikers to enjoy Pennsylvania’s remote and scenic woodlands. Currently, there are 17 featured trails on the state forest.

Our two premier trails are Bucktail Path and Quehanna Trail. Bucktail Path begins near Sizerville State Park and extends southward approximately 34 miles to the village of Sinnemahoning. The trail can be traversed in short sections, if desired, providing both an enjoyable experience for the beginning hiker and a challenging one for the veteran. Individuals hiking this trail can observe both northern hardwood and oak hickory forest types. The Quehanna Trail, located in the southern part of Cameron County, loops though the Quehanna Wild Area and surrounding state forest land, covering approximately 17 miles on the Elk State Forest. The trail continues into the Moshannon State Forest for another 58 miles.

Other hiking trails of special note in the district are: Fred Woods Trail, a 4.57 mile trail leads hikers to a unique area of large boulders and scenic vistas; Pine Tree Trail, a 1.75 mile self-guided interpretive hike winds through Pine Tree Natural Area; Elk Trail, traverses 15.8 miles of old logging railroad grades, pipelines, logging roads, and trails. Hikers have an opportunity to view free-roaming elk in their eastern habitat along this trail. Lower Jerry Run Natural Area Trail is a 1.1-mile trail that takes you into the headwaters of Lower Jerry Run and the Lower Jerry Run Natural Area, which contains old growth white pine and eastern hemlock.

The Sizerville Nature Trail is a self-guided trail located on state forest land across from Sizerville State Park. A brochure describing numbered sights along the trail is available at the district office and at the trail head.

The Brooks Run Area of Elk State Forest offers ten hiking trails: Square timber Trail 7.4 miles; Lick Island Camp Loop 1.8 miles; Lick Island Trail 2.4 miles; Ridge Trail 6.0 miles; Game Refuge Trail 2.5 miles; Joe King Trail 4.2 miles; Phins Trail 2.9 miles; Big Run Trail 3.7 miles; Big Flat Trail 5.15 miles; Pepperhill Trail 6.4 miles.


Wayside Memorial State Forest Picnic Area provides an opportunity for picnicking, located three miles south of Emporium along PA Route 120.

Hunts Run and Whitehead Pavilions, along Ridge Road (state forest road) are also available for picnicking on a first come basis.


Motorized (including equestrian) and group camping are available at managed sites on the Elk State Forest.

The Hicks Run camping area is located along West Hicks Run about 2.2 miles off of State Route 555. This facility offers 15 designated sites (4 nonelectric tent and 11 nonelectric motorized) through a first come permitting system.

Dark Hollow (10 nonelectric motorized sites) and Gas Well (5 nonelectric motorized sites) equestrian camping areas are located along Bell Draft Road about 5.25miles from Benezette. These two camping areas offer equestrian user’s a total of 15 designated sites through a first come permitting system. Self-contained portable toilets are required at these two camping areas.

Please contact the District Office for site availability and permit acquisition.


Hunting for deer, turkey, grouse, black bear and other wildlife is a popular use of the forest during designated seasons.


Fishing is available during the appropriate season along 120 miles of trout streams, which wind through Elk State Forest, such as Hicks Run, Hunts Run, Brooks Run, and Cowley Run.


Elk State Forest offers many opportunities for sightseeing, scenic drives, wildlife watching, and panoramic views from several vistas. Depending on the season, a scenic drive along a state forest road could reveal not only the fall coloration, but also an awe-inspiring view of a fresh snowfall, spring blossoms of the Juneberry and dogwoods, followed by mountain laurel and rhododendron flowers, and a summer’s view of youngwildlife. An alert visitor may view elk.

Horseback Riding

The Thunder Mountain Equestrian Trail system is approximately 30 miles in length with the majority of trail encircling our Dark Hollow and Gas Well Equestrian Camping Areas in two separate loops. The remaining trail mileage spurs off of these two loops.

Mountain Biking

Mountain bikes may be used on most roads including the gated timber sale roads on the Elk State Forest. Trails and other areas closed to mountain biking include Natural Areas, district designated hiking trails, and State Forest Hiking Trails, such as the Quehanna Trail System and the Bucktail Path. Call the office for more information.

Winter Activities

Elk State Forest offers approximately 100 miles of snowmobile trails, as well as 23 miles of cross-country ski trails. Many additional miles of roads and trails are available for cross-country skiing when snowfall is suitable.

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November 21, 2012

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