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North Hills Monthly

Elk, Dinosaurs and Bigfoot Just a Few of the Attractions to be Found in PA’s Clearfield County

Nov 30, 2018 12:49PM ● By Vanessa Orr

You can see elk up close at the Elk Country Visitor Center in Benezette, PA. Photo courtesy of Clearfield County

I’m not quite sure how to describe the sound. Extremely high-pitched, it resembles the squeal of car brakes being hit too hard, or a squeak of a door opening on old, rusty hinges. Loud and echoing, an elk’s bugling shatters the peace of the forest, marking the start of elk mating season in Clearfield County.

This event attracts thousands of people from around Pennsylvania and surrounding states to Benezette, PA to witness a wonder of nature—massive bull elks, weighing upwards of 700 pounds, rounding up the females in the field, and battling with other males to show dominance. The season, which lasts from late September to October, is just one of the many reasons to visit this area, less than three hours’ drive from Pittsburgh.

But it’s certainly not the only reason to visit central Pennsylvania. The area offers delicious foods—especially for those with huge appetites—fine wine and craft beers, a thriving arts scene, and a wealth of outdoor activities for those who like to hike, climb, boat or even enjoy a movie under the stars at a nostalgic drive-in theater. And who knows? You might even see Bigfoot!

Speaking of that furred beast, the best place to start your tour of Clearfield County is at Doolittle’s Depot, where you’ll be greeted by a statue of Yeti—eating ice cream—as well as a number of dinosaurs on the miniature golf course. Listed as one of the Top 10 places you need to visit in Pennsylvania, Doolittle’s is the brainchild of Dr. Jeffrey Rice, a local oral surgeon who wanted to create a place where families could come to play—and where he could indulge his passion for train cars, ice cream and dinosaurs.

If that sounds like an eclectic mix, it is—but somehow, it all works. Visitors can tour a 1921, all-original Presidential train car once used by Teddy Roosevelt, or see the miniature railroad display located in a caboose. Families can dine at Railcar Pizza or enjoy ice cream while wandering among the cars, or eat in a 1950s-style diner beside a statue of Elvis. Those who prefer fine dining can delight in farm-to-table offerings by executive Chef Tara Taylor in a 1913 Alaska Parlor Car, and another train car features Boxcar Brew Works, a nano-brewery which offers craft beers made on-site. You can even stay in one of two artfully renovated train cars which opened this past September.

One of the biggest attractions yet to come is the Dinosaur Park, which Rice expects will be the biggest animatronic dinosaur display in Pennsylvania. Having gotten a sneak peek, I have to agree—there’s nothing quite like a T. Rex turning its head toward you and letting out a blood-curdling scream; I imagine that kids will want to go back again and again, and at a cost of $3, it’s easy to figure out where families will be spending their days.

Those who prefer their sculptures a little more sedate (and less carnivorous) will enjoy Clearfield County’s art scene, which includes the Winkler Gallery and Arts Education Center on Brady Street, an artists’ co-op that includes work by freelance artists in the tri-county area as well as a complete, 1896 carousel, and the Liddle Art Gallery in Clearfield, a co-op gallery and studio featuring impressive work in a variety of mediums by more than 35 local artists. 

You can also enjoy another art form—making wine—by visiting two local vintners. Starr Hill Winery was started as a hobby by Ken Starr’s father back in the 1950s, and has since grown to become the 23rd largest producer of wine in Pennsylvania. While their products can be found in grocery stores and Wal-Marts, it’s well worth a visit to their tasting room in Curwensville to partake of some of their 40 varieties while appreciating the stunning view. Bee Kind Winery in Clearfield offers sweet, semi-sweet, dry and honey wines, as well as a wide selection of delectable fruit wines. And if you prefer beer, you’ll love Race Street Brew Works. But don’t be put off by the entrance, which winds you though corridors filled with school gym lockers—you’ll end up in an ultra-cool setting where you can enjoy delicious brews such as Sasquash (a pumpkin ale) and a cranberry gose, along with an Asian-inspired menu.

Clearfield County also offers impressive dining options, from top-of-the-line Italian at Luigi’s Ristorante, to the massive two-pound burger at Denny’s Beer Barrel Pub. And if you’re looking for something really unique, make sure to stop in to the DuBois Diner for a variety of menu choices including bison, venison, wild boar or elk burgers. 

Working off all of this food is easy because there’s so much to do outdoors. The 320-million-year-old sandstone formations at Bilger’s Rocks offer fantastic hiking opportunities, but—come to think of it—you might want to visit before indulging since you have to squeeze through some pretty tight passages. The area has attracted people for years; I especially liked that you could still read the messages carved into the rocks back in 1921, but note that today’s hikers should leave no trace behind.

If you prefer to spend time on the water or the links, Treasure Lake Resort offers the best of both worlds with two 18-hole golf courses, as well as a 277-acre lake on-site. Just be careful driving through the 9,000 acres of wooded wonderland--the deer like it as much as the residents, so they are everywhere! One of the best views is from the Lakeview Lodge, which also features some truly glorious food: We got to sample some of the specialties of Chef Scott Patrick including drunken mussels, Happy Valley wings with a blueberry habanero sauce, sliced New York strip in a port wine reduction and Oreo crème brûlée, and I highly recommend having a meal at the restaurant, which is open to the public. If you’d like to stick around longer, you can also rent cabins in the area, or attend one of the many festivals that are held throughout the year.

If you’re visiting from May-September, you should also plan to visit the Super 322 Drive-In, which is just as cool today as it was when it opened in 1950. Owned by Bill and Barb Frankhouser, the theater, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, provides a perfect end to a fun-filled visit.

To learn more about Clearfield County, visit www.VisitClearfieldCounty.org.