On a Friday afternoon in late May we packed up the car for a quick camping overnight wilderness camping excursion in the Weiser State Forest, Greenland Tract south of Williamstown, PA.
Weiser State Forest includes a dozen or more ‘tracts’ of wilderness in east/central PA east of the Susquehanna River. The Greenland Tract contains nearly 3,000 acres of wilderness, open to the public to enjoy. The tract is easily accessible by a well maintained road south of Tower City on PA route 325 (Clark’s Valley Road). One of the best-kept secrets around is that DCNR maintains wilderness campsites in many tracts of state-forest. They are free to PA residents and can easily be obtained by contacting the regional DCNR office. Each of the campsites is secluded, easily accessed, and contains a flat, cleared site with a picnic table and fire ring. I acquired our free camping permit from the Weiser office that day, and the office emailed me the permit for our vehicle. So off to campsite G-4 we went. You’ll see it toward the bottom of the map on the link below.
If you prefer camping near people with facilities like restrooms, showers, public beaches, a snack bar, and the occasional drive-by of a park ranger then this is not the kind of camping for you. But, if you occasionally like a pristine, secluded get-away in the forest – and you are willing to do it for free then this is the way to go. Because my family is awesome we can go either way.
Our night at G4 was a success. The weather was warm and dry. The site at the top of the ridge was located at around 1500-1800’ of elevation, which gave us slight relief from the warm temperatures below. The campsite was easy to find using the map, and it was a beautiful place to spend the night. The camp pad was cleared with crushed stone making it easy for us to set up two tents (guys and girls) with plenty of room for all of our gear. The fire-ring was well maintained with a grated grille (which we used to cook all of our food), and we found plenty of downed hardwood nearby for fire. The only drawback at this location was the distance from the parking site to the camp-site; about 500 feet (uphill). This made it important to load up with all hands to avoid multiple unnecessary trips back and forth.
For dinner we grilled burgers over the fire; nothing’s better at a wilderness site then hot burgers over a fire. Having forgotten a frying pan I fashioned a griddle using several layers of aluminum foil folded up on the edges, and this worked great. It may not have been the healthiest choice, but after the burgers were done we fried the asparagus in the grease from the burgers. Healthy or not, let me just say – it worked! And of course, the whole time we had coffee perking away.
For breakfast we cooked in similar fashion – this time eggs and sausage over the fire again with coffee.
We were about as deep in the woods as you can get in this area, so the opportunity was ripe for natural encounters. While there was evidence nearby of deer and possibly other large wildlife nothing presented itself to us while we were there. Thanks to a nearby vernal pool the Peepers were abundant beginning at dusk. We also found a fairly large turtle working his way through the woods behind us. But maybe the most memorable encounter were the Whippoorwills which began calling out shortly after dark, which, once they started did not stop ALL NIGHT. At first their call (an onomatopoeia, named for the sound it makes) is interesting and fun. After several hours – not so much. But it was neat to hear creatures that we rarely get to hear surviving and thriving in the woods.
We slept in separate tents; me in my “one man”, and the girls with the dog in the “three-man”. The tents performed as they should, however, we did learn that the girls tent was set on too steep a slope. It probably would have worked out fine but for the restless dog, who kept shifting downhill until the tent was nearly turned on its side. This needed to be addressed at 4am, so we’ll probably try to avoid that next time. My Coghlans folding saw worked great (as it always does) for cutting fire wood. It is light and effective. The aluminum coffee percolator performed wonderfully and kept me happy. For sleeping bags we were able to take advantage of light-weight warm weather bags and we were comfortable for the most part.
We would recommend this free site for anyone looking for a nice wilderness get away. Be prepared to carry your gear in by hand and try to minimize trips back and forth to your car. The setting is beautiful and easy to access. Passersby reported to us that of the four maintained sites in the tract (which are miles apart) G4 was the least attractive. This gives us good reason to go back and try the other three.