There are plenty of opportunities for kayaking and canoeing on French Creek. Photo courtesy of Visit Crawford.

Just over an hour’s drive up I-79 from Pittsburgh is Meadville, the county seat of Crawford County. Many people pass through this region of northwestern Pennsylvania on their way to Erie, overlooking an abundance of recreational activities and historical sites. 

Home to Pennsylvania’s 2022 River of the Year, French Creek, Crawford County features eight lakes and 93 different streams. There are 5,600 acres of state game lands for waterfowl, whitetail deer, turkeys, pheasants, ruffed grouse, squirrels and bears. Trappers enjoy searching for beavers, muskrats, otters, fishers and bobcats.

Visit Crawford, the destination marketing agency for the county, recently worked with Bull Moose Marketing to revamp Visit Crawford’s website, update its social media presence and create a new app. The agency also adopted the new slogan: “There’s a Story Here.”

“Crawford County has a very unique history by comparison to a lot of small towns,” says Ron Mattocks, Bull Moose Marketing’s co-owner and vice president of client strategy. 

The area has a rich history. In 1859, oil was first struck in Titusville, home of the trailblazing investigative journalist Ida Tarbell. Abolitionist John Brown also lived in the area. The talon zipper was commercialized in Meadville in 1893. Allegheny College was founded in 1815, and remains the oldest college under the same name west of the Allegheny Mountains. 

Part of Bull Moose’s strategy is to tell the story of that industrial heritage and intertwine it with the region’s natural amenities. 

Rental bikes are available along the Ernst Trail in Vernon Township. Photo courtesy of Visit Crawford.

“There’s a whole story behind all of this area, and that makes the experience that much richer,” Mattocks says. “After you have a good experience here, there should be something new for you, like a new brewery or restaurant. But you’re going to come back here for the natural amenities.”

“A lot of people that are here are grounded in the values of Crawford County, and they have some really cool stories on why they stay here or how they found us on the map,” says Victoria Dickson, executive director of Visit Crawford. “Family ties, those who went to Allegheny and fell in love with the town, or enjoyed that you could hunt, fish and work all in the same location.”

Meadville also is the headquarters of Voodoo Brewing Co., which now operates breweries in Pittsburgh, Erie, Grove City and throughout the country. Other staples nearby include Hank’s Frozen Custard, Davenport Fruit Farm Cidery and Winery, Riverside Brewing Company and TimberCreek Tap and Table

“Crawford County is safe, it’s family-friendly and it’s a nice place to be that destination vacation,” says Dickson.

Ride the Oil Creek & Titusville Railroad in Titusville, PA, where oil was first commercially drilled in 1859. Photo courtesy of Visit Crawford.

Titusville and Oil Creek

Oil Creek State Park offers four waterfalls best viewed in early to late spring. Ride the Oil Creek & Titusville Railroad and bring bicycles, kayaks or canoes to ride one way in the summer. Boarding is at Perry Street Station in Titusville and the train travels south through Oil Creek State Park to Rynd Farm Station.

Edwin Drake drilled the first commercially successful oil well in Titusville in 1859. The Drake Well Museum and Park features tours of a working replica of the original well and offers biking and hiking trails. The museum is located off Route 8 just south of Titusville in Venango County.

Pymatuning State Park is 25,000 acres and home to the largest manmade lake in the state. The park draws patrons to kayaking and canoeing on the Shenango River, and pontoon rentals at Jamestown, Espyville and Linesville marinas. Photo courtesy of Visit Crawford.

Pymatuning State Park

Pymatuning State Park is nearly 25,000 acres and home to the largest manmade lake in the state. The park draws patrons to kayaking and canoeing on the Shenango River, and for pontoon rentals at the Jamestown, Espyville and Linesville marinas.

At the Linesville Spillway, more than 300,000 people visit each year to purchase bread for $1 and feed the carp and watch the ducks who famously walk on the backs of the fish. Nearby, visitors can check out the spawning ponds at the Fish and Boat Commission’s Linesville Fish Hatchery.

There are plenty of opportunities for kayaking and canoeing on French Creek. Photo by Judy Acker.

French Creek

Named the 2022 River of the Year by the Pennsylvania Organization for Watersheds and Rivers, French Creek is well-known for its biodiversity. The French Creek Watershed is home to 27 of Pennsylvania’s 65 freshwater mussel species, including four federally endangered species. The eastern hellbender — North America’s largest salamander — is also found here.

French Creek is at the confluence of the Allegheny River near present-day Franklin, PA. In 1753, George Washington traversed French Creek on his way to Fort LeBoeuf near Lake Erie.

Visitors can paddle, fish, hunt and geocache in the French Creek Watershed. The area also has 46 miles of hiking trails, many of which are owned by the French Creek Valley Conservancy

Erie National Wildlife Refuge

Located on the outskirts of Guys Mills Village, the Erie National Wildlife Refuge is more than 40% wetland habitats. The marshes, meadows and creeks attract many migratory birds and waterfowl. The refuge is managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and offers trails and a visitors center.

Woodcock Creek Lake in Saegertown features trails and a mile-long paved access roadway on top of the dam that draw daytime walkers to enjoy lake views. Photo by Ethan Woodfill.

Woodcock Creek Lake

Woodcock Creek Lake in Saegertown is owned and operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and is one of 16 flood damage reduction projects in the Pittsburgh District. A mile-long paved access roadway on top of the dam draws daytime walkers to enjoy a lake view. Woodcock Creek, located above and below the dam, attracts fishing crowds as it is abundant with trout, muskie, bass, walleye and panfish.

Woodcock Lake Park has a 111-site campground, swimming beach, four reservable shelters and a six-lane boat launch on Woodcock’s south shore. It is open Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend. 

Download Visit Crawford’s mobile app or visit its website to discover trip itineraries, resources, events, and more. 

This story is part of the new Outdoor Guide series for NEXTpittsburgh focusing on outdoor recreation within a roughly three-hour drive from Pittsburgh.

The Outdoor Guide Series is underwritten by the Pennsylvania Environmental Council as part of its effort to promote the outdoor recreation economy in Pennsylvania and neighboring areas.

A Pittsburgh native, Ethan is a freelance journalist interested in telling the stories of people doing great things to build community and sustainability. Ethan served as Editor-in-Chief of Allegheny College's newspaper, The Campus.