Just 35 miles south of Erie is the Erie National Wildlife Refuge in Crawford County. With over 8,700 acres, there is so much for everyone to explore. It’s even dog-friendly (as long as you abide by leash rules), but if you are there for birds and wildlife it’s probably best to leave your pup at home.
The refuge is split into two areas – Sugar Lake Division and Seneca Division. While both are worth a visit, my two favorite trails are in the larger Sugar Lake area. There are many areas throughout the refuge to stop and grab a map, which I definitely recommend because service can be spotty. The county is currently working to improve broadband internet reception across its more rural areas, but for now it’s a good idea to download the area on Google Maps ahead of time.
Along with being great places to hike and have fun, wildlife refuges are also doing important work for our environment. For example, have you ever heard of a northern riffleshell or clubshell mussel? I learned these are endangered/critically impaired species and Erie Wildlife Refuge is the only refuge in the country actively protecting them. French Creek flows right through the refuge and it is the most biologically diverse stream in Pennsylvania.
While there are plenty of opportunities to see a wide range of wildlife, this refuge is known for birds. The most active Ebird hotspot in the area is at Tsuga Trail which begins right at the refuge headquarters.
Wandering Tsuga Trail was delightful. It’s about a mile and a half loop with the option of taking a slightly longer trail at the end. Heading right from the trailhead I found myself in a shady forest with robins and catbirds.
The best part about this trail is how many different areas you get to see. There are trees, wetlands, ponds, wooden bridges, pine groves and each turn looks different from the last. The terrain was easy to navigate and not too long, so I would absolutely recommend it for beginners or families.
After spending about an hour along Tsuga Trail I headed to the Deer Run area. Past the trailhead down the dirt road is an observation deck over a lake. It’s an ideal spot to pack a picnic and your binoculars to spot waterfowl and raptors. This is also the perfect place for anyone that can’t walk long distances or simply prefers to let wildlife come to them. Keep an eye out for wood ducks, hooded mergansers and more.
Overall the Erie National Wildlife Refuge definitely exceeded my expectations and I’ll definitely be back.
Blog post by Hannah Brenner
Hannah is a travel, wildlife and environmental sustainability influencer who spends weekends camping in her renovated van across the country. She loves to share her passion for the environment, birds and travel experiences in a variety of multimedia formats on social media and blogs.