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Hiking the Tsuga Trail in the Erie National Wildlife Refuge

The northwestern corner of Pennsylvania is widely known as a mecca for bird watchers. Presque Isle State Park in Erie is the main draw, but just a few miles south of this great birding destination lies another: the Erie National Wildlife Refuge.

Located in Crawford County and named after the Erie tribe that once lived in the area, the two parcels of land that make up the refuge were set up to provide migratory birds and waterfowl with habitat in which to rest, live, and breed. Over 230 species of birds are known to use the refuge at various points throughout the year.

The Erie National Wildlife Refuge in Crawford County, Pennsylvania.
The Erie National Wildlife Refuge is a hidden gem in Crawford County.

The Erie National Wildlife Refuge is broken up into two parts that add up to roughly 9,000 acres of land. The smaller of the two is known as the 3,500-acre Seneca Division and is highlighted by French Creek. Interestingly, a young George Washington likely passed through this land in 1753 on his way to the French Fort LeBouf in present-day Erie County.

The larger parcel, located 10 miles to the south in Guys Mills, is known as the Sugar Lake Division and is over 5,000 acres in size. It is on this piece of land where the refuge’s headquarters are located. This building serves as the starting point for the fantastic Tsuga Trail.

Hiking the Tsuga Trail on The Erie National Wildlife Refuge.
The trailhead for the Tsuga Trail.

The Tsuga Trail is a 1.2-1.6 mile loop that offers a fantastic opportunity to explore the preserved lands of the the Erie National Wildlife Refuge. This trail is relatively flat, and passes through a surprising variety of habitats in its short length, making this one of the most interesting and easy-to-complete hikes I’ve done in Pennsylvania’s Great Lakes Region.

The Tsuga Trail starts from the parking lot next to the headquarters of the wildlife refuge. The trail starts off in the forest, but quickly enters scrubland. Located next to a small lake, this portion of the trail offers a great opportunity to observe waterfowl.

Hiking the Tsuga Trail in the Erie National Wildlife Refuge
Hiking through the scrubland near a lake in the refuge.

After walking next to the lake and several small ponds for a short distance, the trail returns to the woods. However, the stay in the woods is short lived, as the trail soon crosses a small lake and then a wetland via wooden boardwalks.

It was along these boardwalks that we saw the most wildlife during our hike. Frogs, turtles, and small fish swam below us on the boardwalks, and it was nice to stop for a few minutes to enjoy this beautiful natural area.

Hiking the Tsuga Trail at The Erie National Wildlife Refuge near Meadville, PA.
The Tsuga Trail features several beautiful boardwalks.

The trail then heads back into the forest for the remainder of the hike.

Along the way, there are numbered signs that accompany a guide you can pick up from the trailhead and the refuge’s headquarters. These markers guide you along the trail and offer information about the natural scenery around you.

After about a mile, the trail splits, giving hikers two options.

Hiking The Erie National Wildlife Refuge in Crawford County, PA
Hiking through the woods of the Erie National Wildlife Refuge

The first is to take the shorter route back to the parking area. If you opt for this route, the trail is 1.2 miles in length. However, I recommend taking the longer route, which makes the hike a total of 1.6 miles. Taking this route gives you the chance to pass through a beautiful forest. There are a few hills in this area, but none are very large, meaning that most should be able to complete this portion without issue.

Whether you take the longer route or the shorter route, you will end up back at the Headquarters of Erie National Wildlife Refuge and the parking lot where you started your hike.

Hiking the Tsuga Trail at the Erie National Wildlife Refuge
Signage along the Tsuga Trail.

All told, hiking the Tsuga Trail at Erie National Wildlife Refuge is a great hike that easy enough for just about anyone to complete. It offers a great chance to see four distinct natural habitats in a short distance and the possibility of seeing a lot of wildlife. 

During my hike along this trail in June 2016, there were portions of the trail that were a bit overgrown and some of the turns could have been marked better. It’s entirely possible that those issues may have been corrected since then. However, even if they haven’t been, the trail was not badly overgrown and we had little trouble navigating the trail (just make sure to keep your eye out for turns, even if they are unmarked).

Hiking in The Erie National Wildlife Refuge near Meadville, Pennsylvania.
Hiking the Tsuga Trail.

If you are traveling in Crawford County or elsewhere in Pennsylvania’s Great Lakes Region, take a bit of time out of your trip to take a fantastic hike on the Tsuga Trail in the Erie National Wildlife Refuge in Guys Mills, PA.

For more information, check out the refuge’s website and see a map of the Tsuga Trail here.

Looking for more adventures? Check out the nearby Erie Bluffs State Park or travel across the state to the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge in Philly.

See map for other area attractions.

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