Hit the road in search of spectacular Pennsylvania fall foliage
While Mother Nature is not always predictable, fall foliage usually peaks with the brightest bursts of color in mid-October.
And this fall, forest ecologists in Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences are predicting an awesome autumn foliage display, largely because of the rainy summer we’ve had.
“The cool, moist summer should usher in great fall colors,” say Marc Abrams, professor of forest ecology and physiology, in a news release. “The robust physiology of the trees this year should predispose them to producing good color.”
Kim Steiner, professor of forest biology and director of the Arboretum at Penn State, says, “One very positive sign this year is that I have noticed almost none of the early fall color that we often have after a dry August, especially on walnut and some red maples.”
Cooler temperatures signal deciduous trees to stop producing chlorophyll, the green pigment responsible for photosynthesis, Abrams says. The chlorophyll breaks down and disappears, unmasking other leaf pigments, which create the yellows and oranges seen in the leaves of yellow poplar, hickory, sycamore, honey locust, birch, beech and certain maples.
After chlorophyll production stops, trees also produce another pigment in their leaves called anthocyanin, according to Abrams. The anthocyanins create the brilliant reds and purples seen in maple, sassafras, sumac, blackgum and scarlet oak.
“One thing that I have been impressed with in my 30 years of gauging foliage is the resiliency of the display,” he says. “Year after year, despite the conditions, there are places where the trees show good color, but perhaps not great color every year. However, this year, the trees should be in great shape to show off their best colors.”
Almost all the parks in the area — from Twin Lakes in Greensburg to Harrison Hills in Natrona Heights and Raccoon Creek State Park in Hookstown — will be putting on a show. Here are some specific sites you might want to search out this fall.
For those exploring the scenic Laurel Highlands region in search of autumn colors, there’s perhaps nowhere better to do so than on a biking excursion along the Great Allegheny Passage. Known as the longest rail-trail in the east, the Laurel Highlands section of the Great Allegheny Passage is filled with scenic overlooks, viaducts and plenty of spectacular foliage. Not far away is Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater for stunning fall vistas.
The Laurel Highland Visitors Bureau has some suggestions for spots not to miss.
Ohiopyle State Park
Baughman Trail and Baughman Rocks Overlook, Ohiopyle State Park: This steep, rocky 3.4 mile trail is a challenging hike, but well worth the effort to see the dramatic panoramic vista of the Youghiogheny River Gorge.
Mt. Davis, Forbes State Forbes: Standing 3,213 feet about sea level, Mt. Davis is Pennsylvania’s highest point and offers incredible view of the foliage. Forbes State Forest Road takes you nearly to the top, so you don’t have to scale the summit to enjoy the views.
Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater: The natural setting of the Laurel Highlands was the inspiration for the house which is cantilevered over a waterfall. So the house and the foliage blend together beautifully. But if you’re going, you’ll probably need reservations. Another Wright masterpiece, Kentuck Knob just six miles from Fallingwater, offers a view overlooking the Youghiogheny River Gorge.
The 36-mile-long Armstrong Trail is located on the former Allegheny Valley Railroad corridor along the eastern bank of the Allegheny River in Armstrong and Clarion counties. The picturesque trail links towns such as Ford City, Kittanning and East Brady, and is a great place to bicycle, walk, jog, cross-country ski, watch birds, geocache, exercise or take in the splendor of autumn.
Each of the county’s four major parks — Twin Lakes, Cedar Creek, Mammoth and Northmoreland — offer great vistas for beautiful fall photos. The tree-lined banks of Twin Lakes, in particular, are very photogenic. But if you want to get out on the trails, the Westmoreland Heritage Trail will grow from 9 miles to 15 miles next weekend when the section from Murrysville to Trafford opens on Sept. 30. co.westmoreland.pa.us/729/Parks-Trails
West Park, on Pittsburgh’s North Side
Allegheny County Parks
Several of the county’s parks are planning hikes in October dedicated to fall foliage. Each of the hikes is from 2 to 4 p.m.:
Oct. 14: Harrison Hills in Natrona Heights and Round Hill in Elizabeth
Oct. 15: White Oak
Oct. 21: Settlers Cabin in Robinson
Oct. 22: North Park and South Park
Oct. 28: Deer Lakes in Tarentum and Boyce in Plum
McConnell’s Mills State Park
All of the parks have miles of trails and plenty of scenic views. Here are some specific events to check out:
Moraine, Portersville: Get out on the water for a perfect view at the Fall Foliage Kayak Float at 1 p.m. Oct. 9. Meet at Upper 528 Boat Launch at the Portersville park. Or head up to nearby McConnell’s Mill
Linn Run, Ligonier Township: Learn about changes in the season at the Autumn Adaptations & Spruce Flats Bog Tour at 11 a.m. Sept. 23. Registration not required.
Presque Isle, Erie: Pennsylvania’s Great Lakes Region displays many beautiful autumn colors along the shore of Lake Erie at Presque Isle State Park. Discover the magnificence of this 3,200-acre peninsula as it curls into the lake, offering a wide variety of fall experiences. Home to more than 4 million visitors each year, try the “Lady Kate,” a 65-foot vessel that ventures out onto the waters of Lake Erie for a 90-minute tour and an incredible view of the shoreline.
Raccoon Creek, Hookstown: The park will host a 1-mile Fall Foliage Hike at 2 p.m. Oct. 15
Big Pocono, Pocono Mountains: Located at the top of Camelback Mountain, the park is home to breathtaking views in the fall season by foot or by car. The best place for viewing foliage is at the park’s summit, where a scenic overlook offers views for miles from the popular Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area and beyond. Try an offshore foliage paddling experience with guided foliage river tours. Experienced guides take visitors along the Delaware River in kayaks for a leisurely paddle to experience the fall colors mirrored on the river’s surface.
The beautiful skyline and the picturesque countryside display incredible colors during the season. While in Pittsburgh, don’t miss a ride on the Duquesne or Monongahela inclines to see the views from atop Mt. Washington. Filled with observation decks that overlook the city and its countryside, this 450-foot hill is an excellent vantage point for foliage.
Pine Creek Gorge
Pine Creek Gorge (Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania)
Almost 50 miles long and 1,000 feet deep, Pine Creek Gorge features a brilliant fall display of deep reds, yellows and purples in early October. Some of the best full views of the canyon can be found at Leonard Harrison or Colton Point State Park. The historic Pine Creek Rail Trail, voted by USA Today as one of the “10 great places to take a bike tour,” offers a tremendous way to view fall foliage.
Allegheny National Forest
Scenic drives through the hardwood forests of McKean County in northern Pennsylvania provide spectacular fall foliage touring. In the Allegheny National Forest, visitors can hike hundreds of acres of trailways, ranging from short birding trails to the challenging North Country Trail, or float along the Allegheny River by boat, kayak or canoe and sight-see along 27 miles of water trails. The region offers a variety of scenic vistas, mountains, brilliant colors and wildlife viewing opportunities.
Oil Heritage Region
Known as the birthplace of the first commercially successful oil well, this 50-mile area in the heart of the Great Lakes Region also is a prime spot to experience the bright shades of yellow, red and orange lining the hillsides. With Victorian towns, outstanding historical artifacts, scenic views and cultural traditions, the Oil Heritage Region displays its original oil country charm each autumn. The region offers three recreational trails and the scenic Oil Creek State Park’s numerous day-hike trails. Ride an open-air car aboard the Oil Creek & Titusville Railroad to view the season’s exquisite colors.
In the heart of the Alleghenies region, the parks and vistas that encompass Rothrock State Forest provide dramatic foliage areas that can be accessed in a variety of ways. Mountain bike along the trails surrounding the majestic Seven Mountains area, hike numerous trails throughout the forest or explore from the lowest points from a boat on Raystown Lake. All offer grand foliage viewing experiences. For a truly spectacular (and easily accessible) scenic viewpoint in Rothrock, visit the overlook atop Tussey Mountain along Route 26. The view overlooks the State College area.
Upgruv.com, a website run by 535mediallc.com, contributed to this report.