Autumn is the perfect time to enjoy the spectacular colors of fall as the leaves change to ruby red, blazing orange, and brilliant gold.
Pack your bags, hiking boots, binoculars and camera–this is going to be a colorful journey.
Allegheny National Forest – Fall Really is Bigger Here
The Allegheny National Forest (ANF), located in northwestern Pennsylvania, offers tree lined, two-lane highways, where one car in front of you is considered heavy traffic. Covering over 513,000 acres, the Allegheny National Forest is a prime destination for those seeking fall color. The Kinzua Sky Walk at the Kinzua Bridge State Park, the Longhouse Scenic Drive, and the section of Pennsylvania Route 6 from Kane to Port Allegany offers amazing fall colors and scenic vistas. Prime color is usually the last two weeks of September and the first two weeks of October.
“Timing and quality of fall color varies by species. Maples reach peak color earlier in the season and are more vibrant than oaks. Folks can expect to see more color, and earlier color as they travel away from the Allegheny Reservoir and the major river corridors,” explains Joshua Hanson, District Silviculturist, Allegheny National Forest-Bradford Ranger Station.
“There are over 80 species of trees on the ANF.” Joshua expounds, “The upland hardwood type includes red maple, black cherry, black birch, yellow poplar, white ash, basswood, and/or cucumber tree. The Allegheny hardwood type includes a similar mix of species, but black cherry, white ash and yellow poplar are more abundant. The oak types include several oak species, e.g., Northern red oak, white oak, chestnut oak, black oak. The northern hardwoods including sugar maple, American beech, yellow birch, and hemlock.”
Longhouse National Scenic Byway
The Longhouse National Scenic Byway is considered Pennsylvania’s most scenic drive by US Today. The byway circles the Kinzua Creek Arm of the Allegheny Reservoir through some of the most beautiful scenery on the ANF. It is a 36-mile loop from Kane. Kane is easily accessible from Pittsburgh. Drive I-80 east, exit onto Rt. 66 north, the trees along this roadway form a colorful canopy.
Approaching Marienville on Rt. 66, you can see the true plateau nature of the Allegheny Highlands. Here miles, from the major creeks and rivers, the terrain is gently rolling. The Allegheny National Forest Marienville Ranger Station is on the left, 1.5 miles past the center of Marienville. Here is where you can find plenty of useful information such as leaf identification books and topo maps. Follow Rt. 66 north to the village of Kane.
Travel Rt. 6 east of Kane to the entrance of Rt. 321 north. The actual start of the scenic byway is about eight miles from Kane to the intersection with Longhouse Drive. Continuing on Rt. 321 north you will pass Red Bridge. This is the head of the Kinzua Creek Arm. Park the car and take a stroll to the edge of the Reservoir for great views of the fall color reflected on the water.
Cabin rentals, in tiny house style, campsites for RV and tenting are available. Reservations can be made at the federal reservation site: www.recreation.gov, or by calling 1-877-444-6777. If you are seeking local information, go to www.alleghenysite.com. Red Bridge is also one of the trailheads for the linear 7-mile Kinzua Valley Trail, great for hiking or biking. The trail follows the banks of Kinzua Creek, has a crushed limestone surface and terminates at Westline. Here the Westline Inn offers beverages, food and lodging in a rustically elegant atmosphere.
Back to Red Bridge, time to return to your scenic byway, continue heading north. The roadway will begin to rise into the highlands through a beautiful forest of hardwoods and hemlock, a trailhead for the North Country trail, the longest foot trail in America will be on your left. Nearing the top of the plateau, you will pass the Old Powerhouse Museum an original timepiece from the glory days of oil in this region. The Bradford Ranger Station is located at the intersection of Rt. 321 and Rt. 59. You can find public restrooms, a wildlife display, small gift shop, and virtually any information about the ANF here.
Turn left on Rt. 59 toward the Allegheny Reservoir. Along this stretch of the loop, you pass the trailhead for Morrison Trail. This trail has two loops, the 5.3 mile loop Morrison Trail loop, which passes boulder fields, and the 8.3-mile Rimrock Trail Loop, which drops to the shore of the Allegheny Reservoir.
About a mile past the Morrison Trailhead is the entrance to Rimrock, a magnificent rock outcrop and overlook above the Allegheny Reservoir. This area offers picnic areas and hiking trails. Be sure to stop and walk the short trail to the developed overlook–the views will be stunning.
Return to Rt. 59, you will pass the Kinzua Wolf Run Marina on your right, just before crossing the Allegheny Reservoir on the Morrison Bridge. At the intersection with Longhouse Drive, is Kinzua Point, a great photo opportunity of the fall foliage and water vistas. Leave Kinzua Point and turn onto Longhouse Drive. The access road to Jakes Rocks is about a mile up Longhouse Drive. This impressive rock outcrop offers a spectacular vista over the Allegheny Reservoir.
Longhouse Drive continues a winding course high above Kinzua Creek Arm, passing the Dewdrop and Kiasutha Recreation areas before ending back at Rt. 321. Turn right to return to Kane.
Kinzua Sky Walk – Kinzua Bridge State Park
Absolutely Stunning! Wow! The Kinzua Sky Walk – “One of the top 10 most scenic skywalks in the world,” extends 624 feet into the Kinzua Gorge, at a height of 225 feet. The forested hillsides of the Kinzua Gorge are a patchwork quilt of many colors-courtesy of Mother Nature. Located at a higher altitude, away from the Reservoir, the fall color arrives earlier at the park.
There are two hiking trails at the park-Kinzua Creek Trail winds down the steep side of the gorge. The General Kane Trail is a shorter, more family friendly trail. The park offers picnic areas, hiking and biking trails, and a pavilion which may be rented for special occasions. More than one marriage proposal has happened on the Kinzua Sky Walk.
The Kinzua Bridge Visitors Center, at the park, is a 11,000 sq. foot building with two floors of interactive exhibits. Interpretive displays showcase the “can do spirit” of the men who built the first Kinzua Viaduct in 1882. Handicapped parking is in front of the building, and public restrooms are easily available. The exhibit halls and the skywalk are both handicapped accessible.
A newly expanded gift shop- the PA Wilds Conservation Shop, features artisan works and handcrafted items from along the PA Wilds and the PA Route 6 Artisan Trails. Here you will find photography books on the Pennsylvania Wilds, the “Great Kinzua Bridge” book, handcrafted jewelry, pottery, and a variety of locally sourced food items. The Kinzua Center and gift shop are open daily from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
The Kinzua Bridge State Park, Kinzua Sky Walk and Kinzua Bridge Visitors Center are located at 296 Viaduct Road in Mt. Jewett, Pennsylvania. The park is open daily from 8 a.m. to dusk. Admission is free.
Pennsylvania Scenic Route 6
Driving Route 6 offers a glimpse into authentic America. Small towns, family-owned shops and restaurants, and natural scenic beauty add to the lore of an area described by National Geographic as “one of the most scenic drives in America.”
Traveling from Kane, you can turn north onto the Longhouse National Scenic Byway, or turn east to explore the sites including the Kinzua Sky Walk. From Mt. Jewett, Rt. 6 continues toward Smethport, and then into Port Allegany, located at the edge of McKean County.
Each small town has an individual flavor.
Mt. Jewett was settled by Swedish immigrants who worked in the forests harvesting timber for the expansion of America’s westward movement. Nebo Chapel is patterned after a church in Sweden, and a Swedish Festival is held annually in August. To catch a taste of this Swedish past step into Kafe Sol for a tasting of their many Swedish breads and home-baked items. Their cinnamon buns are just like the ones my Grandmother used to make. Open for lunch and breakfast, the restaurant is a local favorite. Hikers will enjoy exploring the newly opened Knox & Kane Rail Trail. This trail is a 3.8-mile, non-motorized trail, connecting Mt. Jewett to the Kinzua Bridge State Park.
Smethport is a charming Victorian village. Most of the homes where built by the Lumber Barons during the late 1800s and early 1900s in a predominately Victorian style of architecture. The Smethport Mansion District Walking Tour is a self-guided walking tour among these historic homes. A brochure is available at the kiosk in front of the McKean County Courthouse at 500 West Main Street. Five of the mansions, are known as the “Wedding Mansions,” homes gifted by family to the newlyweds when they became husband and wife. Two of the mansions are B&Bs- the Mansion District Inn and the Blackberry Inn. Hamlin Lake offers a relaxing site for viewing the colorful hillsides surrounding Smethport.
The highway bends and twists as it winds its way to Port Allegany. Along the way is Lynn Hall, an architectural gem. It is a sprawling Modernist Movement style structure.
Construction began in 1935 and inspired the design for Fallingwater by Frank Lloyd Wright. If you wish to tour this building, call ahead, it is in the midst of renovation, but the owners are happy to offer tours with advance notice. Phone 954-554-8492.
Port Allegany has a rich history of glass manufacturing including glass blocks. Serenity Park, is a sparkling public park of artistic glass blocks showcases the rich local history of this worldwide product once proudly manufactured here. Local attractions and manufacturers are showcased in the artwork etched into the towering glass block towers. Creative artwork include the glass walkways, a glass castle, and sparkling glass and metal trees. Located at the intersection of Rt. 6 and Mill Street, the park is open daily with free admission.
Kane, “A Star in the Forest” is the doorway to the Allegheny National Forest and the Longhouse National Scenic Byway. Rich in local history, this is the town designed by General Thomas Kane, the builder of the Kinzua Bridge, and a very famous American Civil War General.
The McCleery Discovery Center at the Historic Kane Depot digs into the history of the Lobo Wolves. Dr. McCleery, the father of the endangered species movement, started one of the first sites in America dedicated to preserving an endangered species-the Great Plains Buffalo Wolves. Here you will find the largest collection of Buffalo Wolves artifacts in the world. Many artifacts of the cultural history of Kane are displayed; photographs and documents relating to the founding family, Thomas and Elizabeth Kane, local industry, businesses, and the railroad. Station Shop, located in this restored 1871 Kane RR station, offers PA Wilds art & crafts, PA made wooden toys, local maple syrup, Kinzua Bridge hand-rail clocks, jewelry, and many other treasures.
Feeling parched and hungry? Flickerwood Wine Cellars-the Wine that Rocks, Twisted Vine Beverage, and CJ Spirts- a craft distillery, offer tasting and touring. A few dining options include Texas Hot Lunch/4 Sons, a local family business since 1914. Serving the always popular Souvlaki Dinner with Greek salad, Pita Pleasers and Gyros or the famous Texas Hot – with a recipe that dates to 1914 – a plump, juicy hot dog with a squirt of mustard, sprinkled with onions, and smothered with their famous sauce. Newly opened is Table 105, a steak and seafood restaurant offering fresh and delicious options created by Chef Coby Butler.
Plan Your Trip
For additional information on sites to see and things to do, or to order a Scenic Driving Tour with a map showing seven color-coded road trips phone 800-473-9370 or go to www.visitANF.com.