Details: Pennsylvania Wilds
GETTING THERE: Benezette and the nearby towns of Ridgway, St. Marys and Weedville, in north-central Pennsylvania, are about 240 miles from Washington. State College (home of Penn State University), the closest town of any size, is 60 miles southeast of Benezette.
GETTING AROUND: No public transportation is available; a car is essential. A guide is not necessary, but you'll gather local lore and elk expertise by hiring one, for about $20 an hour for hiking or driving tours. The tourism bureau maintains a list of available guides.
To see hundreds of elk mating, fighting and making a lot of noise, head to Elk County in north-central Pennsylvania.
(Commonwealth Media Services)
WHERE TO STAY: Wapiti Woods (5186 River Rd., Weedville, 814-787-7525, www.wapitiwoods.com) offers spiffy new cabins with polished wood interiors in a private forested area along a creek. Elk and deer often wander by, as does the occasional coyote. Cabins sleep two to eight people. All have wood- burning stoves, modern kitchens and private baths, some with Jacuzzis. Cost: $150 per night. Towers Victorian Inn (330 South St., Ridgway, 814-772-7657, www.ncentral.com/~towers/index.html), a renovated mansion with beautiful woodwork, is a steal at $75 to $100 a night, breakfast included. The Inn at Narrows Creek (44 Narrows Creek Lane, Dubois, 814-371-9394, www.narrowscreek.com) is about 30 miles from Benezette. The building is new but built in the style of an 18th- century country inn and tavern. Doubles begin at $70.
WHERE TO EAT: The Towne House Inn Restaurant (138 Center St., St. Marys) is upscale by rural standards, offering pasta, beef, pork and chicken in a charming setting in a former mansion. Dinner entrees begin at about $12. The Royal Inn (17089 Bootjack Rd., Ridgway) has down-home cooking, from spaghetti and stuffed pork chops to surf and turf. Dinner entrees start at $8.
CHAINSAW RENDEZVOUS: Carvers from around the world will gather Feb. 24-26 in Ridgway for what is billed as the largest annual event of its kind in the world. On Friday, carvers make ice sculptures using chainsaws, and on Saturday, wood carvers demonstrate their art and auction some of the results for charity. Details: 814-776-1424, www.chainsawrendezvous.org.
OUTDOOR ACTIVITIES: A map of the elk scenic drive and elk-viewing stands is available free from the Pennsylvania tourism office (see below). Although activities and outfitters are scattered throughout the area, Cook Forest State Park (814-744-8407, www.cookforest.com) offers the largest concentration of organized activities, including stables, a dude ranch, canoe and tubing trips, a marina and an ATV outfitter. You can rent cross-country ski equipment, bikes and boats at Love's (3 Main St., Ridgway, 814- 776-6285).
INFORMATION: Pennsylvania Tourism Office, 800-VISIT-PA, www.visitpa.com, or Northwest Pennsylvania Great Outdoors Visitors Bureau, 800-348-9393, www.pagreatoutdoors.com.
-- Cindy Loose