Pennsylvania Big Skies: Northern PA’s Route 6-hugging Bliss

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Tunkhannock Creek Viaduct— America’s Roman Ruin. Bruce Northam photo.
Tunkhannock Creek Viaduct— America’s Roman Ruin. Bruce Northam photo.

Pennsylvania’s Great American Road Trip on Route 6

By Bruce Northam
Senior Travel Writer

Montana may be known for its big skies and wide-open spaces, but rest assured, Pennsylvania also has plenty of both.

Shore Sisters farm market
Shore Sisters farm market

Many tourist destinations have become originality shipwrecks, but in this part of America, you don’t have to roam afar to find unfussy bliss.

Discovering the charms of North-central Pennsylvania was a highlight of my decades-long exploration of the USA. Within easy reach of Boston, New York, and Washington, DC, it remains a world away as an epic rural and small-town escape.

My first encounter with this part of the Keystone State was the mindboggling Tunkhannock Creek Viaduct, which was the world’s largest concrete structure when completed in 1915, and remains so.

Half of the bulk of this Roman-ruin-like gargantuan is underground. Looming over tiny Nicholson, PA, today freight trains still roar overhead.

This remarkable structure draws train buffs and engineers from across the country—I’m neither, and was still blown away by this Angkor-Wat-wallop of a fabrication.

Tunkhannock’s Dietrich Theater
Tunkhannock’s Dietrich Theater

The Entertainment Variety Hub

In the nearby town of Tunkhannock, the historic Dietrich Theater takes center stage. It fell onto hard times and even became roofless in 1998, but today it boasts four intimate theaters, two restored and two ultra-modernized with surround sound.

The entertainment variety hub also hosts film festivals, concerts, big-screen video game groups, classes, and free events. The nostalgic lobby doubles as an art gallery. Oh yeah, a jumbo popcorn costs $5.50.

Tunkhannock’s Main Street is the epic Route 6, which spans 427-miles across Northern Pennsylvania. This is also a Susquehanna River town; the 444-mile river snakes through PA from North to South.

Grovedale Winery's firepit.
Grovedale Winery’s firepit.

Continuing north on Route 6, you encounter Grovedale Winery & Vineyards, which is run by a family that’s been on this gorgeous plot of land for eight generations. One of their all-star wines is called Shitshow!, as they don’t lack a sense of humor.

Their campus includes a roomy indoor-outdoor wine tasting house and the “Red House” which was built in 1820 and has a wing with six servant rooms. Consider checking out one of their wine events or music festivals.

Historic Pennsylvania

A glorious detour from Route 6 (yes, you can trust GPS this time) was the dirt-roads drive to the French Azilum, a historic site located on a horseshoe bend along the river in the Endless Mountains region.

Pennsylvania Big Skies: Northern PA's Route 6-hugging Bliss 1
French Azilum—a restored 1793 asylum village

The restored Azilium (asylum village) was built here, in what is now Bradford County, Pennsylvania, in 1793 for French citizens who were forced to flee or face the guillotine, a horrifying choice for those loyal to French King Louis XVI.

These refugees, mostly nobility and gentry, lived here for 10 years until Napoleon Bonaparte granted repatriation rights to those who had fled to escape persecution (though a minority of the residents remained).

A tour led by the period-dressed historian/comedian Deb inside the French Colonial LaPorte House (1836) is highly recommended, as you’ll laugh and behold the Palladian triple motif in the third-story gable.

Dining in the Log Cabin on Route 6 in the Endless Mountains of PA
Dining in the Log Cabin Restaurant on Route 6 in the Endless Mountains of PA. Bruce Northam photo.

The hand-blown glass window panes were brought from Philadelphia and glazed into frames with white lead. Talk about a walk on the old wild side.

Back on Route 6 in Towanda, another Susquehanna River town, you might miss Shores Sisters Farm Market and Café, but don’t. This family-run roadside fresh vegetable business was started by two sisters using their dad’s farm truck and a yellow tent.

Today, it has the rustic glamour of a high-end urban market but with very reasonable prices. You’ll enjoy their soups and sandwiches in the greenhouse attached to the market.

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Bradford County Museum

Across town, the Bradford County Historical Museum is located in the former county jail, a massive stone building built in 1873 that house both female and male prisoners until 1991.

The cells serve as varying museum exhibits and you can visit the more spacious exercise and hanging room.

The amazing military room war exhibit showcase a local, and bloodied Civil War stretcher, sabers dating back to 1796, Revolutionary War cannonballs, and the 1716 Bible belonging to a family kidnapped by Native Americans in 1778.

This is an extremely cool museum—that’s free!

Quick detour: in the town of Sayre, minutes from the border with south-central New York State, The Grille at the Train Station, a superbly renovated depot, serves up blackened alligator, shrimp corn chowder and parmesan-encrusted sea scallops.

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Pennsylvania’s Grand Canyon! (photo: Heather Mikesell)

Pennsylvania’s Grand Canyon

Pennsylvania has a Grand Canyon, too. The 585-acre Leonard Harrison State Park sits on the canyon’s east rim and has a handsome visitor center providing breathtaking vistas. Atop the canyon, you’ll notice a path on the canyon floor that parallels Pine Creek, which eked out this marvel through the Millenia.

That 62-mile hike/bike trail, the Pine Creek Rail Trail, is a former railbed graded at 2% over its entire length, so pedaling the entire trail is doable in a day.

On our way to nearby Wellsboro, we popped into the Visit Potter-Tioga (those are both counties) Visitors Center, which led us back onto Route 6 and into the non-profit Highland Chocolates factory, which has actively been training and employing disabled people for 25 years.

Hand-crafted and wrapped treats include hundreds of different molded chocolates, sweet snack mixes, fresh fudge, and one of their revered specialties, pretzel bark.

Main Street

Retro Wellsboro (pop 3,200) is a wave-and-smile kind of hill-circled village. Charming Main Street’s median is gas-lamp lit and features the historic Town Green where a Wynken, Blinken & Nod statue takes center stage (there’s also a nod to Thoreau-like Adirondack hermit/guide Nessmuk).

If Dunham’s Department Store doesn’t transport you to the 1950s, nothing else will. Timeless Destination Restaurant and Lounge is just that (unless you talk politics). There are healthy options, but creamy crab soup and meatloaf are, well, timeless. Pop’s Culture Shoppe is a retail game store with a twist.

The retail shop, which challenges gamers of all skill levels, is connected to a free game room space with 500 non-electronic hands-on games that make this an unofficial community center that truly brings people together. The owners deserve some kind of peace prize.

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La Belle Auberge Inn and Destination Spa (photo: Labelle Robinson)

Also on Main Street, the creaky-but-classy La Belle Auberge Inn and Destination Spa proves that imitation cannot go beyond its model.

That’s why this beacon of healing arts, a true original, will always be one of a kind. It starts with in-room roses and chocolate-covered strawberries and ends with feeling lucky.

Our bathroom was bigger than our room and we had a second-floor porch. The inn doubles as an art gallery and a top-rated spa.

Our couples massage sent us to the moon in back, as the couple that runs this place have done their homework on every aspect of accommodation and wellness. When was the last time you actually had breakfast in bed?

 Retro Wellsboro (pop 3,200) is a wave-and-smile kind of hill-circled village. Charming Main Street’s median is gas-lamp lit and features the historic Town Green where a Wynken, Blinken & Nod statue takes center stage (there’s also a nod to Thoreau-like Adirondack hermit/guide Nessmuk).

Retro Wellsboro (pop 3,200) is a wave-and-smile kind of hill-circled village. Charming Main Street’s median is gas-lamp lit and features the historic Town Green where a Wynken, Blinken & Nod statue takes center stage (there’s also a nod to Thoreau-like Adirondack hermit/guide Nessmuk).

It seemed apropos to end this journey on our western-most reach on Route 6, America’s kaleidoscopic highway, at the Log Cabin restaurant, where you enter seafood or steak heaven and there’s no GPS signal. You’re way out there, but totally in there with stuffed bears and other stuffed people.

Explore Pennsylvania’s version of the Great American Road Trip—Route 6 spans 427 miles across Northern PA and a special slice of it is waiting for you.

*Unless noted as photo by Bruce Northam or Heather Mikesell, photos via Endless Mountains Visitors Bureau; Grovedale Winery photo via them.

**Oh yeah, there’s always a Comfort Inn nearby.