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Heart’s Content Recreation Area, PA

Now that's a tree. Photo by Jarod Boulden.

Hiking at Heart’s Content in Pennsylvania’s Allegheny National Forest will give you a picture of what settlers to Pennsylvania saw: 300- to 400-year-old beech, Eastern hemlock and white pine trees dominating the woods. (Bugs and animals feasting on the beech have reduced their numbers.)

“There are a lot of hiking trails,” says Anthony Scardina, district ranger for the Allegheny’s Bradford Ranger District, “The general interest is a stand of trees – what we call virgin forest – that have never been cut; they made it through the heavy logging days of the 1900s."

The interpretative trail is a great start because it provides an introduction to the history and nature of the area. In the mid-1800s, the Wheeler and Dusenbury Lumber Company cordoned off 20 acres of virgin forest for preservation and then, in 1922, they donated it to the National Forest Service. The service preserved additional land and Heart’s Content is now 102 acres. In 1936, the Civilian Conservation Corps built picnic shelters and roads; but it wasn’t until 1977 that the government designated it a National Natural Landmark. Look for giant root balls of fallen trees and if you’re lucky you might spot snakes, fox or maybe even a black bear.

Then tackle the 11-mile Hickory Creek Wilderness Trail, which circles around the forest. This trail is not well marked and often-dense underbrush covers the path. (Hey, it’s wilderness!) Not for the timid, a trek along this trail provides some of best views of the forest.

If you like to forge your own path, enjoy Heart’s Content’s many hidden trails that are not noted on the map, such as the Wheeler Trail, where you will step into a cathedral of pines (planted in 1958) onto a soft blanket of needles covering the ground and where the wind rushing through the trees sounds like a raging stream.

If forging your own path seems like it’s too much for you, the cross-country ski trails covers six miles of Heart’s Content and are well maintained year-round.

Where it’s at: Three hours northeast of Pittsburgh; from US 6 near Warren, PA, take the Mohawk exit and follow signs for Heart’s Content Recreation Area — after crossing the bridge, bear to the left and follow it 13 miles to campground and scenic area.

Contact: Allegheny National forest or (814) 723-5150

Digs: Pitch a tent in one of the Heart’s Content Recreation Area’s 26 campsites with vaulted toilets, pressurized water and playground for $10 a night (April 1-Dec. 14), alleghenysite.com or 877-444-6777. The closest available cabins look like a relic from Friday the 13th’s Camp Crystal Lake. Cabins are located in other areas of the Allegheny National Forest.

Grub: The Liberty Street Café in Warren provides upscale bistro food, (814) 726-3082 or www.thelibertystreetcafe.com; The Flying W Ranch, eight miles north of Tionesta, PA, serves Western food from May to October on weekends only, (814) 463-7663 or www.theflyingwranch.com.

Gear and Outfitting: Allegheny Outfitters in Warren, www.alleghenyoutfitters.com or (814) 723-1203