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Pennsylvania Panoramas

With 17 million acres of forest, hundreds of lakes and 86,000 miles of rivers and streams, Pennsylvania is an outdoor dream. The state does a tremendous job of providing groups with outdoor adventures in all four seasons.

Pennsylvania’s varied regions and distinct landscapes mean groups can bike sandy coastlines in summer, canoe and kayak waterways surrounded by gorgeous foliage in fall, cross-country and snow ski in winter, and watch for baby elk in spring.

Every region entices visitors into nature — industrial Pittsburgh even earned a “best city to see by kayak” title. A few areas, however, are packed with possibilities for groups looking to get active outdoors. The Laurel Highlands, Northwest Pennsylvania Great Outdoors, Pocono Mountains and Erie leave no stone unturned.

Laurel Highlands

Double black-diamond slopes and Class V whitewater rapids make the Laurel Highlands stand out as a top choice for groups in search of extreme Pennsylvania adventure. Yet, the area is also friendly to groups in search of calmer waters.

“If you’re looking for diversity of experience, we’ve got it,” said Anna Weltz, director of public relations for Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau.

Within the ruggedly beautiful Ohiopyle State Park runs the Youghiogheny River, which offers paddlers Class I to Class V whitewater rapids. The tamest stretch of river contains several Class I and Class II rapids for beginning kayakers and experienced canoeists. A second stretch, popular for group whitewater rafting tours, has Class III rapids with bigger waves that require more maneuvering. The final section earns Youghiogheny its national reputation and contains Class IV and Class V rapids with the Miracle Mile dropping off over 115 feet per mile.

The Laurel Highlands has the highest peaks and largest amount of snowfall in the state, so naturally, it’s home to Pennsylvania’s largest resort, Seven Springs Mountain Resort, which has 33 slopes and trails, 285 skiable acres, seven terrain parks and an Olympic-size half pipe. Seven Springs gives snowboarders, tubers and skiers a mix of trails ranging from bunny to double black-diamond slopes.

Staying true to the region’s reputation for the extreme, Laurel Caverns in Hopwood is Pennsylvania’s largest cave. The sprawling, three-mile-long maze is open from mid-April to late fall and closes only to accommodate bat hibernation. In addition to tours, Laurel Caverns hosts rappelling and spelunking.

Northwest Pennsylvania Great Outdoors

For groups wanting a glimpse of the largest free-roaming elk herd in the Northeast, the experience starts at the Elk Country Visitor Center in the town of Benezette. From there, groups spread out to hike the best trails and hills to view the 900-strong herd.

“Nothing compares to the first time you hear a 1,000-pound bull elk bugle,” said John Straitiff, director of the Northwest Pennsylvania Great Outdoors Visitors Bureau.

“They are five times larger than a white-tailed deer; they have massive backward-sweeping antlers. The first time you see it, you never forget it,” he said.

Breeding season, from September to October, is popular because groups like to watch the bull elk go head-to-head, and winter is the best time to find them in large groups of up to 50. The most popular months are May and June, calving season, when the herds get their newest additions.

The Great Outdoors Region is also home to Cook Forest State Park, famous for its “Forest Cathedral” of white pines and eastern hemlocks. The old-growth forest supports giant trees that have grown undisturbed for 300 to 400 years. A few are as old as 450 years.

“We have the largest tree in the northeastern U.S. and 12 record-setting trees,” Straitiff said. “These are trees that several adults can’t reach around.”

Several trails for hiking, horseback riding, cross-country skiing and snowmobiling hide under the great canopies of trees. By hiking to an old fire tower at Seneca Point, groups can view the whole of Cook Forest as well as the gentle Clarion River that runs through it.