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Wild Van Camping In The PA Wilds – Hammersley Wild Area

Wooden Hammersley wild area sign in woods

If you like wild camping then the PA Wilds is one place that you have to visit. We really like van camping out in nature and we especially like it when we are the only ones there! I know some of you might be wondering a couple things and here’s the answer to your questions.

What is wild camping? Wild camping is when you camp somewhere outside of an established campground. It is camping in an undeveloped area where there are no amenities such as water, electric or sewer. Other names for wild camping include: boondocking, dispersed camping or dry camping.

Nothing beats camping by yourself. You can enjoy the peace and quiet that nature has to offer, relax and escape the fast paced life that you have at home. The PA Wilds offers that and more.

So where is the PA Wilds? The PA Wilds has over 2 million acres of land and is in north-central Pennsylvania. Cameron, Clarion, Clearfield, Clinton, Elk, Forest, Jefferson, Lycoming, McKean, Potter, Tioga, Warren, and the northern part of Centre counties make up the area known as the PA Wilds.

The PA Wilds is a little piece of paradise for those of you who love the outdoors.

The Allegheny National Forest, Pennsylvania’s only national forest is in the area. It offers over 500,000 acres for you to roam with hiking trails, biking, fishing, places to camp and more. To learn more about ANF read our post here.

Also the area contains fifty state game lands, 29 state parks and eight state forests but wait there is more.

The PA Wilds also has two Nationally Designated Wild & Scenic Rivers, the Allegheny and Clarion. The rivers offer the opportunity for an afternoon of tubing, canoeing, kayaking or fishing.

The region boasts the largest elk herd in the northeastern US. Designated viewing areas offer you the ability to see these magnificent creatures in their natural habitat.

If you are a budding or full-fledged astronomer you can find some of the darkest skies in the eastern US at Cherry Springs State Park. The astronomy field there offers a 360 degree view of the night skies.

The Pennsylvania Grand Canyon near Wellsboro is also located in the PA Wilds. It offers stunning views of the Pine Creek Gorge which is in some places over 1,000 feet below.

Now after all this talk about the Wilds where can you find the wildest of van camping locations in all the PA Wilds?

In my opinion the Hammersley Wild Area and the Forrest H. Dutlinger Natural Area is this place. When you discover a great place to wild van camp you want to share it with fellow campers and in this post I am going to do that.

The Hammersley Wild Area is in Potter and Clinton counties and is in the Susquehanna State Forest. The area is named after the Hammersley Fork of the Kettle Creek, which makes its way through the area.

The Hammersley Wild Area contains 29,830 acres of gorgeous, remote wilderness. Hammersley has the distinction of having the largest area without roads in the Keystone state. When trekking through the area make sure to pack a compass, because you can actually get to places that are five miles from a road.

The area offers many different opportunities for the outdoor enthusiast including camping, hiking, fishing, observing the wildlife and more.

Wild van camping in Hammersley Wild Area

This wild area is the perfect location for wild camping. You can sleep in the remote quiet with only the sounds of nature lulling you to sleep.

You can find van camping locations at a couple of the trailheads and at numerous wide spots along the roads.

The Hammersley Wild Area is in Pennsylvania Bureau of Forestry District #15. Motorized camping is allowed in the wild area you just have to obtain a free permit. You can get one by emailing or calling the district office at (814) 274-3600. The district office is at 3150 East Second Street, (on the top of Denton Hill) Coudersport, PA if you would like to stop in.

When camping in the Hammersley don’t forget that you are in bear country! Bears can easily get into your coolers if left outside, so be sure to store all your food and garbage in bear resistant containers. Keep your campsite clean. Don’t throw food scraps off the perimeter of your campsite that might help to attract bears in.

When van camping you must be at least one mile (not by how the crow flies, but by road) from state park campgrounds or commercial campgrounds.

Your van camping site must be within 300 feet of a public road and you’re not allowed to drive more than 50 feet from the road.

You must stay at least 100 feet away from any creek, stream, spring or water source when setting up your campsite.

Also your motorized camping site must be at least 300 feet from buildings or leased sites.

You can also tent in the Hammersley Wild Area. If you are planning on spending more than one night you must get a free permit. You can get one the same way as described above for motorized camping.

Dispose of human waste by digging cat holes 6 to 8 inches deep. The holes must be more than 200 feet from all water sources, trails and camping sites. After depositing waste return the soil and replace ground cover so it looks like before you started.

Van camping in the Hammersley Wild Area not only provides a tranquil setting for camping but provides lots of other opportunities for you to enjoy being in nature.

Other Posts of Interest

Take a hike in Hammersley Wild Area

There is no better way to get in touch with nature than to take a hike through this rugged, wild area.

In the spring you can catch glimpses of a doe with her fawn or enjoy the beauty of the blooming of Pennsylvania’s state flower, the Mountain Laurel. In the fall the area provides spectacular shades of red, orange and yellow as the trees don their fall colors.

The earthy scent of dirt and the smell of hemlock, hardwoods and ferns surround you as you hike your way through the cool forest canopy. The babble of the streams mingles with the sound of bird calls providing a natural music track to listen to as you go. What experience could you have that would be better than that?

Before setting out on your trek make sure you have the proper gear for the excursion. Include these items in your backpack even if you know the area and whether the hike is long or short. As you know from experience things always don’t go according to plan.

Pack the following items into a properly fitting backpack, not too big, not too small, one that is just right. Look for a pack made from water-resistant material to keep everything dry inside in case it starts to sprinkle.

1. Navigation – make sure you have a compass and carry a topo map. Don’t rely on your cell phone for direction because the reception is notoriously bad in the area.

2. First Aid Kit – When packing for your hiking excursion be sure to include a first aid kit with enough supplies for your hiking party.

3. Hydration – Hiking can quickly dehydrate the body and without enough water your body can’t perform as well. Over the course of an hour hiking in the summer you can lose between ½ to a quart of fluid through sweating.

Besides bringing water with you also pack a method for treating water to purify it in case you run out. Do not drink untreated water that you come across while hiking, it can cause a variety of illnesses.

4. Nutrition – Hiking is very strenuous and you need to keep your body fueled to be able to keep going for hours. Take adequate nutrition high in energy such as dried fruit, trail mix, beef jerky, nuts, nut butter, protein and energy bars.

Always pack a little extra in case it takes longer than what you think, you get hurt, lost or you encounter difficult terrain that slows you down.

5. A way to make fire – In case of emergency it is extremely important to have a way to make fire. Be sure to pack fire steel or matches stored in a waterproof container to keep them dry.

Also include some tinder in your pack such as cotton balls, toilet paper, dryer lint or similar items to aid in starting your fire. In an emergency a fire can prevent hypothermia and provide a way to signal for help.

6. Sun protection – Make sure to pack sunscreen to prevent sunburn, lip balm, sunglasses and a hat.

7. Illumination – Sometimes the day goes longer that you planned and you might be faced with getting back to the trailhead in the dark. Make sure to include a flashlight and/or headlamp and also some extra batteries. This will allow you to see the map to navigate and to be able to see where you are walking.

8. Extra clothing & waterproof gear – The time of year and the location you are hiking will help to determine the clothing and gear that you will need.

Dressing in layers is a good option that way you can adjust to the changing weather conditions and exertion levels. Take along rain gear in case the weather forecast wasn’t right, getting wet on the trail is not much fun.

9. Multi-purpose tool – A multi-purpose tool comes in handy in many situations from fixing broken gear, cutting cloth for bandages or removing splinters. Multi-purpose tools come with a lot of useful features including a knife, pliers, screwdrivers, emergency whistle and more.

10. Emergency shelter – It is wise to pack some kind of emergency shelter like an emergency bivy or emergency blanket. These items can provide a way to help protect you from the elements and survive in an emergency situation. Buy them in the bright orange it makes them easier to spot if you get lost.

Add some duct tape and safety pins for quick repairs.

Getting lost in the Hammersley Wild Area is not an experience that you want to have. It could have severe consequences if it should happen.

Timber rattlers are a hazard you might run across during the spring through late fall months. If you happen to run across a rattler stop and move away until the snake leaves your path and is a safe distance away. Don’t step or reach into areas that you can’t see into.

Make sure to wear sturdy hiking boots and take along trekking poles. In some places the terrain is difficult and involves stream crossings.

Another precaution you should take is to write down your itinerary. Leave it with friends, family or the state forest office in case something unforeseen should happen on your hiking trip.

Accessing the Hiking Trails

Wooden sign, Trout Run ridge trail

Eight hiking trails traverse the area. To gain access to the hiking trails you can park along the road make sure to park your vehicle off of the actual road. If you are parking where there is a gate don’t park right in front of the gate.

On the McConnell Road where there are oil and gas well sites you can park at. Make sure you are out of the way of equipment and be sure to park your vehicle off of the road.

Cross Fork Trailhead – 9.4 miles of the 85 mile long Susquehannock Trail System loop runs through the Hammersley Wild Area. It is marked with orange 2” x 6” rectangles. You can access the trail in Cross Fork, just take Main Street off of SR 144, then take Fire House Lane, stay right until you arrive at the trailhead parking lot. There is no camping but you will find restrooms and water.

At GPS coordinates 41.511852, – 77.866872 you will find a swimming hole called the Hammersley Pool along the Hammersley Fork. You can stop here to cool off on a hot summer day.

Dutlinger Trailhead – Later in this post I will be discussing the Forrest H. Dutlinger Natural Area, this trailhead offers the best way into that area. The trailhead is located off of SR 144 take Hammersley Fork Avenue, then Hammersley Road. Parking is allowed by the gate. You cannot camp at this trailhead location.

Trout Run Trailhead – This trailhead location is along Trout Run Road. This access location also has the benefit of free camping with a permit.

To provide easier access to the Dutlinger Natural Area a 2.5 mile section of the Trout Ridge Trail is open to hiking, bicycling, cross-country skiing and equestrian use. You must leave your bicycle or horse at the Dutlinger boundary and from there you must continue on foot. The trail is marked with red 2” x 6” rectangles.

Twin Sisters Trailhead – The trailhead is along Red Ridge Road. This access location also has the benefit of free camping with a permit.

There are 50.8 miles of interconnected trails in the Hammersley Wild and the Forest H. Dutlinger Natural Areas. That should be enough to keep you entertained for a while.

A wild fishing experience in the PA Wilds

Small stream running through the Hammersley wild area

If you are looking for a remote, quiet place to cast in your line you must make this area a priority on your fishing list. The shade of the forest helps maintain the moderate water temperatures making it the perfect place for native trout to thrive.

The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission have designated Elk Lick Run, Nelson Branch, Trout Run and Windfall Run as Class A Wild Trout Waters. Hammersley Fork and the John Summerson Branch both have been designated as Pennsylvania Wilderness Trout Streams.

If you are wondering what those designations mean here is the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission website definition of:

Class A Waters: Streams that support a population of naturally produced trout of sufficient size and abundance to support a long-term and rewarding sport fishery.

Wilderness – Wilderness Trout designation as a fishing experience in a remote, natural and unspoiled environment.

Observing nature in the Hammersley Wild Area

While visiting the area be sure to take time to enjoy all the flora & fauna while you are hiking or just taking a slow, enjoyable drive through the area. Don’t forget to take binoculars or spotting scope so you can get a closer look!

Enjoy all the beautiful plants and flowers that there area has to offer. In the spring you will see trilliums and mountain laurel blooming. Summer gives you the chance to see wildflowers sprinkled randomly throughout the landscape. The yellow-gold of the ferns in the fall adds highlights to the turning foliage. This is an experience that you can’t miss.

This pristine, scenic wild area provides plenty of opportunities for catching glimpses of wildlife.

Observe the playful antics of fawns in the spring as they cavort through the field. The ruffed grouse as they slowly make their way across the road. Wild turkey gobblers with their feathers puffed out and tails fanned or even a bear as its searches for a meal of berries.

Forrest H. Dutlinger Natural Area

While visiting Hammersley Wild Area you can also check out the Forrest H. Dutlinger Natural Area it is in Clinton County. It abuts Hammersley on the southwest side.

According to the DCNR website “Natural areas are “managed” by nature and direct human intervention is limited. They provide places for scenic observation, protect special plant and animal communities, and conserve outstanding examples of natural beauty.”

This protected natural area covers over 1,500 acres and has the distinction of having over 150 acres of old growth timber.

Some of the species of trees you will find in this area is the Eastern Hemlock, Black Cherry, American Beech, Sugar Maple, Eastern White Pine and Northern Red Oak which provide a diverse habitat.

Hiking trails will give you access to this beautiful, natural area.

So if you are looking for a wild and remote setting for your next van camping adventure the Hammersley Wild Area in Pennsylvania is the place to go.

Photo of author


Ever since I was little I have been a traveler at heart. It all started when I was six years old and my family took a road trip to Alaska. I enjoy visiting new places and revisiting some of the great locations that I have been to already.