The Quehanna Wild Area in the Pennsylvania Wilds is one of the most remote corners of Pennsylvania. This 50,000-acre area spans parts of Elk, Cameron, and Clearfield Counties is little visited but features many fascinating spots worth seeing if you know where to look.
On a recent trip to the Quehanna Wild Area, I had a chance to check out one of the most unusual spots in Pennsylvania: the abandoned nuclear jet bunkers.
The land that would become the Quehanna Wild Area was bought by the state to protect it after the logging industry moved out of the area. The Civilian Conservation Corps made some improvements to the area in the 1930s, creating some of the infrastructure that you see in the area today.
In the 1950s, the Curtiss-Wright Corporation was looking for a large area of land to test nuclear-powered jet engines. This was part of an attempt by the U.S. government to discover other uses for the newly discovered nuclear power as part of President Eisenhower’s “Atoms for Peace” program.
Curtiss-Wright purchased 80-square miles of land in 1955 to build a nuclear testing facility. The land they purchased was set up as a 16-sided polygon, as that would prove easier to entirely fence in than a circular parcel of land. All told, they required a fence 24-miles in length to encircle the property.
The jet bunkers were placed in the center of this polygon. The reason was if the engines were ever to break free, they wouldn’t be able to travel outside the fenced area.
It was Curtiss-Wright that gave the area the name “Quehanna”, which they named after the West Branch of the Susquehanna River.
In addition to the jet bunkers, Curtiss-Wright also built a nuclear reactor in the area, as well as a foam factory.
The nuclear engine program was discontinued by the government in 1960, quickly ending much of the work that went on in the area, including the factory and ownership of the nuclear reactor. By 1967, the state had purchased the land back and created what was then known as the Quehanna Wilderness Area.
Today, the nuclear reactor has been dismantled and the old factory is used as both a minimum security prison and a heavy equipment training school.
The jet engine bunkers, however, are still out there and hidden away in the woods of the Quehanna Wild Area.
While the two bunkers are relatively close to each other, they require two separate hikes to reach.
For the first one, an old roadway leads off from a small parking lot at the intersection of Quehanna Highway and Wykoff Run Road. After hiking along this overgrown old roadway for about half a mile, it disappears into an overgrown field.
Remnants of the site’s industrial past can be found scattered through this field, and it’s interesting walking around to see what can be found.
At the center of the field is a small hill. This is the site of the buried bunker.
To be honest, there isn’t a whole lot to see here. There are a few small windows (or possibly vent holes) that can be peered into, but not much can be seen inside the bunkers themselves. Currently, it is considered a bat habitat, which is a great way to reuse an underground bunker.
The second bunker site can be accessed via a closed roadway off of the Quehanna Highway. A half-mile walk along this flat path brings you to this neat area.
There is a bit more to see here, primarily because there is a small, black building that is still standing in the middle of the site.
While the building is closed to the public, it’s still neat to walk around it and look around the site. Here, you’ll find discarded items, a retaining pool, and a large concrete pad.
While there isn’t a ton left to see at the abandoned nuclear jet bunkers sites, what makes these spots cool is the chance to legally visit an abandoned place in Pennsylvania that has connections to both the US military and our nuclear past. It’s also fascinating to see how nature has begun to reclaim sites that were so heavily damaged, first by logging and then by nuclear testing.
So, if you’re looking for something interesting to do in the Quehanna Wild Area, don’t miss the abandoned jet engine bunkers.
How to Get to the Abandoned Jet Bunkers in the Quehanna Wild Area
The nuclear jet engine bunkers sit in the middle of the Quehanna Wild Area in Cameron County, Pennsylvania.
While there are a few ways to reach the first site, the best is to park in a small dirt lot at the intersection of the Quehanna Highway and Wykoff Run Road. The parking area can be found at the following coordinates: 41.229955, -78.192041.
From here, a trail leads off into the woods. This trail is wide and easy to follow as it was once a road, though it’s quite overgrown and had a few blowdowns along it when I visited.
Follow this trail for about half a mile until you come to an obvious clearing at the following coordinates: 41.237006, -78.195818.
The remnants of the jet bunkers can be found in this clearing.
The second nuclear jet bunker site can be accessed via a gated road off of Quehanna Highway at the following coordinates: 41.237093, -78.203533.
From this parking area, walk down the gated road for half a mile until it ends at a large clearing.
Remember that this is an abandoned nuclear site, and while no warnings exist, you are visiting at your own risk. While all access areas to the bunkers are closed to the best of my knowledge, do not enter this underground lair should you find an opening.