The Endless Mountains Gravel Bikepacking Loop
Rick Hiduk Summer 2023
Bikepacking is by no means a new sport and recreational activity, but it has enjoyed enormous growth over the past decade, and one of its newest reference points is in Bradford, Sullivan, Susquehanna and Wyoming counties in northeast Pennsylvania. The Endless Mountains Gravel Bikepacking Loop (EMGBL) was several years in the making and unveiled to appreciative recreationists last year. Since then, its immediate popularity has drawn attention to the project from as far away as Canada.
The EMGBL was the brainchild of then-Sullivan County Commissioner Donna Iannone, who is an avid cyclist and a board member of the Endless Mountains Heritage Region (EMHR), which promotes the preservation and enjoyment of heritage assets in the four-county region northwest of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton metro area and bordering New York state at its northern edge. Project coordinators felt strongly that the EMGBL would appeal to regular bikepackers who are looking for new places to combine their love of cycling and backpacking and introduce other outdoor enthusiasts to the growing phenomenon.
“There are many routes and events throughout the country that highlight cycling, some drawing thousands of riders and guests,” Iannone related. “I ride throughout our four-county region and felt that we have as much to offer as any of these other places.”
As the name implies, the terrain of the Endless Mountains Region is mostly mountainous, though the Appalachian topography differs from one county to another. Bradford and Wyoming counties share a similar terrain of high ridges and low, fertile valleys carved by the ancient Susquehanna River. Sullivan County has deep valleys flanked by steep slopes as fashioned over time by the Loyalsock Creek. Susquehanna County is marked by high plateaus that provide unmatched views of neighboring counties and sunsets that last for hours. What they have in common are miles of back roads lined with farms that intersect in quaint villages and vibrant small towns that offer unique amenities.
“Bikepacking trails are highly popular in the western portion of the United States, but you can now take solace in knowing there’s no need to make far-reaching and expensive travel arrangements for your next expedition,” said EMHR executive director Cain Chamberlin. The Endless Mountains are just a three-hour drive from Philadelphia and New York City and five hours from Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C.
“The EMGBL is a prime example of what the heritage region aims to accomplish: connecting residents and visitors with our heritage sites, pastoral landscapes, culture and historic downtowns through outdoor recreation,” Chamberlin added. Since a soft launch of the EMGBL in 2022, the EMHR was inundated with questions and praise from cyclists exploring the route. “We were also invited to give a presentation about the EMGBL at a cycling tourism conference in Toronto, Ontario,” Chamberlin noted, “so you could say that it’s already received international recognition.”
The EMGBL was the latest in a series of projects coordinated by the EMHR as the organization headed toward its 25th anniversary in 2023. As the official managers of the North Branch Susquehanna River Water Trail, EMHR staff and managers of local outfitters have planned a record number of paddling adventures and sojourns that combine days on the river with overnight camping and heritage-related presentations. The anniversary will culminate in the fall with the first-ever Endless Mountains Outdoor Heritage Expo at the Wyoming County Fairgrounds near Meshoppen.
The North Branch of the Susquehanna River was recently named 2023 Pennsylvania River of the Year by the Pennsylvania Organization for Watersheds and Rivers (POWR), after having been nominated by the EMHR for an annual online voting contest. The timing couldn’t be better for the EMHR, and prize money from POWR will help to fund some of the river adventures planned. The combined status of the River of the Year title, the EMHR’s anniversary and the growing attention garnered by the EMGBL provides the EMHR a springboard from which the organization can launch a potential bid to become a national heritage region.
The bikepacking loop was designed to accommodate both experts and novices in the sport. The planning departments from each of the four counties offered their GPS-friendly mapping tools to help create a 410-mile trail that is actually two loops that intersect near Towanda in Bradford County. For naturalists, there are four state parks on the route and numerous state game lands. The EMGBL is also graced with stunning scenic overlooks, museums and historical societies, breweries and wineries, mom-and-pop shops and eateries running the gamut from diners to high-end restaurants.
Maps accessible at emheritage.org show various lodging opportunities, ranging from hotels and bed-and-breakfasts to family campgrounds and public parks that offer camping sites. The heritage region continues to build on its Bicycle Friendly Business Program to provide repair and charging stations and other services. Cyclists can use the maps and the links attached to them to plan excursions that meet both their abilities and time constraints. There are segments of the loop that can be enjoyed over the course of a few hours, a few days and even a week. With the safety of its users in mind, the mapping expertise provided by the county planners also ensures adequate cellphone coverage in the rural terrain.
To learn more about the Endless Mountains Gravel Bikepacking Loop and additional events associated with the 25th anniversary of the Endless Mountains Heritage Region, log on to emheritage.org. The EMGBL will also be highlighted during the Endless Mountains Outdoor Heritage Expo, which will be held on Friday and Saturday, Sept. 29 and 30.