Part of the allure of the Pennsylvania Wilds Region is the distinct feeling of self-reliance one gets while backpacking through the woods or camping out for a night or two. Perhaps no better place to do this is around Kinzua Lake (aka the Allegheny Reservoir). A national forest grows here and the reclamation effort of the U.S. Forestry Service has been so successful one can imagine that this is what the woods felt like to the very first explorers through Pennsylvania's "Impenetrable Forest" on the Allegheny High Plateau.
The land itself was the home of the state's last Native American homeland, up until 1965 when they were forced to move across the border to New York due to the flooding caused by the Kinzua Dam and the creation of Kinzua Lake.
The outdoor opportunities here seem limitless, but bear in mind that the forestry service is run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and their number one job is not to provide tourist destinations. They are more concerned with land management which includes mineral extraction and timbering. That being said, the area offers excellent prospects for those who want to experience the wilds for an unforgettable summer vacation or just a day trip. Just bear in mind that an expedition like this is pretty much a "do it yourself" type of adventure. That's because camping and hiking are just a sideline for the Department of Agriculture.
One interesting spot, among many, is the Morrison Campground, located at the outflow of Morrison Run. In the Google map below, Morrison Campground is located on the shore due north of the "Kinzua Bay" letters on this map:
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You can click on the link below the map which reads "View Larger Map" in order to zoom in and out to see exactly where this remote campground is located in relation to nearby cities of Warren and Bradford, PA.
Due to its lack of accessibility, this is not exactly a "user-friendly" campsite but perhpaps that is its beauty. It affords primitive camping in an excellent location with the added benefits of seasonal water taps and even a sweet-smelling vault bathroom. You won't hear any cars here. There are no roads. And you won't hear any loud motor boats. Mooring is not allowed and there are no docks. If you have friends with a boat they are allowed to drop you off here and that is probably the fastest way to get to this spectacular setting which includes picnic tables and fire rings.
The Forestry Service has outsourced management of Morrison Campground to Allegheny Sites out of Bradford, PA. It's recommended you give them a call at (814) 368-4158 to get all the details you are looking for. In particular, the "self pay station" was not easily found here.
If Allegheny Sites is not available to answer your questions, you can always stop in at Allegheny Outfitters located at 2101 Pennsylvania Avenue in Warren, PA. They are our local guide service and they can give you quite valuable information for free. They love to do it. Their phone number is (814) 723-1203.
The quickest and easiest way to get to this site is to load up your backpack and have someone drop you off at the Morrison Traihead, located a couple miles east of Kinzua Marina, just across the McKean County Line. The Allegheny National Forest web site says it's about 6-7 miles down to the campground, but we discovered that it is less than 4 miles.
Alternatively, you can ride your mountain bike in. This has become a popular trail for adventuring cyclists. For more detailed info on hiking the Morrison Trail down to Morrison Campground, visit this link (the article hasn't been written yet, come back soon to read it).
Alternatively, if you don't have friends with a boat, you might think about renting a canoe at the Kinzua Marina, which is not too far away, and get to the campsite Indian-style. As was said before, mooring is not allowed at the campsite, but you could always "portage" your canoe off the shore and I think this would be OK. But check with the experts on this first. I could be wrong. But I still believe the best way in is to make the hike from Morrison Trailhead. The only catch here is that you would need a ride to and from the trailhead. I'm not sure I would want to leave my car parked there overnight. This is the Pennsylvania Wilds, after all.
On a recent visit on Father's Day, not a single camper was seen at any of the 38 sites at Morrison Campground, which probably means this place never gets crowded. But for the few who do make it out here, one gets the impression that they really love it. Here is a photo of "lounge chairs" made by one set of campers, including a "Papa Chair", a "Momma Chair," and even a "Kid's Chair." Someone had a really good time here:
I call this "The Three Bears" campsite.
If you really want to experience the wilds at very little cost, primitive camping is allowed FOR FREE as long as you are 1500 feet away from the water and from other campsites and facilities. That would be about 500 paces away. There are numerous spots nearby that seem suitable for this, but you would miss the atmosphere of being on the lake. But hey, 10 bucks is 10 bucks and if the area is empty like it was the other day you'll have the whole place to yourself. If you are looking for the quintessential Pennsylvania Wilds, take a ride up Kinzua Road (aka Route 59). You won't be disappointed.
-- Chris Lareau
Photos are Copyright 2011 by Chris Lareau and may not be duplicated or altered without permission.
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