A window looking out at cross country trails from The Wilderness Lodge

Ski Pristine Trails at The Wilderness Lodge

Photo:The Wilderness Lodge

Where to find cross-country ski and snowshoe options for everyone in northwestern Pennsylvania’s snow belt.

Situated 18 miles from the shores of Lake Erie and 1,000 feet higher than the lake, The Wilderness Lodge in Wattsburg, Pa., rests squarely in the Snow Belt. Translation: Lake-effect snow can dump up to 20 inches in a day and more than 200 inches in a year. So get your cross-country skis or snowshoes and head due north on Interstate 79 a couple of hours from the Public Lands store in Cranberry Township for a great winter outing. Located just southeast of Erie (ancestral home to the Erie people), the privately owned Wilderness Lodge provides some 20 miles of trails in an area where, otherwise, no extensive network of public trails exists.  

Family-owned since 1969, this Nordic center caters to skate and traditional cross-country skiing as well as snowshoeing. Groomed trails await during the season, which can begin as early as the week of Christmas, but will be in full swing by the second week of January. A thick base means the season regularly goes into March with an occasional April weekend. An average year will still see some 120 inches of snow. Check the webcam and Facebook page for current conditions.

The trails are open Wednesdays through Sundays 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. The lodge is generally open for dinner and drinks; on weekends it often stays open until 11 p.m. Day passes are $22 for adults and $6-$12 for children (6 and under free). Rentals run $18-$20 for adults and $7-$12 for children. Lessons are available as well as season passes, which do not black out, allowing passholders to ski any time, day or night, though trails are not lit except for the once-a-year Torch Night, when 1½ miles are lit by torches.

You can book the entire lodge (up to 40 guests) for $2,500 per weekend. Reservations can fill up a year in advance. Not that much of a planner? Call after December 1 when deposits are due to see if any individual rooms are available.

Cross country skiers ski on trails at The Wilderness Lodge Photo:The Wilderness Lodge

Recommended Easy Route: Roger’s Way 

Whether you’re a newbie or just out of shape, try the trails west of the lodge, where the terrain is more gently sloped. Most trails are groomed with 12 to 15 feet of skate lane plus cross-country tracks on either side; some are groomed up to 30 or 40 feet wide. From the lodge, head west and enter the hardwood forest. Do a clockwise loop, taking Schoolyard to Roger’s Way—a beautiful trail through old hemlock trees—before returning on Practice Field to Cow Lane. All told, this loop is about 1.25 miles in length. 

Recommended Advanced Route: Peak Trail 

A popular route for advanced skate skiers is the Peak Trail. From the lodge, head east on the Peak Trail all the way to New York—it’s just 4 miles—where it ends at a road near the top of Peek’n Peak Resort’s own peak (the other side has downhill slopes and 4 miles of resort-owned Nordic ski trails). The Peak Trail has more varied terrain and it’s 8 miles round-trip.  

Recommended Snowshoeing Route: Snowshoe Trail 

Snowshoeing is allowed on all trails, but you must stay outside of the groomed tracks. Your best bet is the ungroomed Snowshoe Trail, a lollipop-shaped route due west of the lodge. Come in early morning and don’t be surprised if you see white-tailed deer and hear the calls of pileated woodpeckers, among other winter wildlife. This trail is about 3.5 miles in length, so you’ll earn your hot chocolate at the lodge when you’re finished.  
Backcountry snowshoeing and skiing are allowed on the property. Dogs are not allowed on the trails, so leave your pooch at home. Don’t be surprised if you see snowmobiles pull up to the lodge—they’re road-legal in Pennsylvania—but the only snow machines you’ll see on the trails here are groomers. 

Getting There 

Take Interstate 79 north to I-90 east. Exit 32 puts you on state Route 430 east to PA-89 south to the resort.  

Refresh & Refuel

The Wilderness Lodge has a restaurant with a full menu where you can get hearty soups and beef entrees with meat raised on-site. Pair it with a beer from Erie Brewing Company.

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.