By Danielle Taylor
The temperatures might be in the 80s now, but with September and October right around the corner, it’s time to start thinking about fall. The Pennsylvania Great Outdoors region has hundreds of miles of country roads and scenic drives where you can see the glory of autumn in its full splendor, but if you really want to immerse yourself in nature, there’s no better place to enjoy fall than a trail. Fortunately, the region has hundreds of miles of these to explore as well, many of which feature incredible views for leaf peepers. Check out these options to see magnificent fall foliage at its finest.
Several noteworthy trails crisscross Cook Forest State Park and its surrounding area, much of which offers just as spectacular of scenery as the park itself. The Tobecco Trail travels for 10 miles along the Clarion River and connects Cook Forest and Clear Creek State Parks. Near the riverbank, the trees are more evergreen, but they give way to gloriously colored oak, cherry, and maple as the trail ascends in elevation. At the end of Fire Tower Road, the 0.9-mile Seneca Trail leads to Seneca Point and the adjacent 87.5-foot-tall Fire Tower, which provide gorgeous views of the Clarion River and the valley from an elevation of 1,600 feet. It’s a little challenging, but absolutely worth the views at the end. This trail is also concurrent with the North Dakota-to-New York North Country National Scenic Trail, which passes through the Pennsylvania Great Outdoors region in Clarion and Forest Counties and provides dozens of miles of forest adventure.
In northern Clarion County, the Rail 66 Country Trail spans 15 miles between Marianne and Leeper along the historic Knox-Kane railroad bed. The trail passes several farms, small communities, and historic relics, but walkers, runners, and bicycle riders can also enjoy several shaded areas covered by maples, oaks, and other hardwoods that explode in color each fall. In the southwestern corner of the county, the Overlook at Brady’s Bend offers an eight-mile panoramic view of the Allegheny River, where you can witness eagles flying high above the ribbon of water in addition to sweeping views of autumn’s palette.
Pennsylvania’s very name comes from its abundance of trees, but it only contains one national forest — the Allegheny National Forest, which spans across much of Forest and Elk Counties. Here, the Minister Creek Trail showcases the best of the forest’s arboreal treasures along its full 6.6-mile loop, but hikers can also choose among some smaller loops close to the campground. Less than a mile from the campground, scramble up some house-sized boulders to reach the Minister Creek Overlook, which juts out over the valley below and provides excellent foliage views in an entrancing mix of orange, red, yellow, brown, and green.
The Redbank Valley Trail runs for 41.5 miles between Brookville and the Redbank Creek’s intersection with the Allegheny near East Brady and also includes a nine-mile spur from Lawsonham to Sligo. Along this well-maintained rail-trail paralleling Redbank Creek, enjoy a wide, flat, level trail surface perfect for bicyclists, runners, dog walkers, and more. Don’t miss the newly opened 608-foot Climax Tunnel southwest of New Bethlehem. When you get back to your car, take a side trip to Paul’s Pumpkin Patch in Fairmount City, where you’ll find a pumpkin catapult, pumpkin maze, hay rides, barnyard zoo, and more than 60 varieties of pumpkins, squash, gourds, and ornamental corn ripe for the picking.
Cameron County is one of the most rural and secluded parts of Pennsylvania, and the hills and valleys here are packed with both deciduous and evergreen trees, which create an eye-popping landscape of color each autumn. On the three-mile Sizerville Nature Trail immediately west of Sizerville State Park, white pines and hemlocks alternate with red maples, black cherries, yellow birch, and American beech trees, and visitors can find more than 100 tree-shaded picnic areas throughout the park that are especially scenic in the fall. Near Driftwood, the Fred Woods Trail leads up to a peak known as Top of the World, which provides 360-degree views of southern Cameron County.
Between Ridgway and Brockway, the Clarion-Little Toby Trail follows Little Toby Creek and the Clarion River for 18 miles along a former railroad bed. In addition to wide views of the river and its adjacent hills bursting with fall color, trail users can find a swinging bridge over the Little Toby, ghost towns and other historical remnants of the region’s industrial heritage, and several small waterfalls along the route.
If a drive instead of a hike is more your speed, check out Elk and Forest Counties’ River Road, which meanders for nearly 24 miles along the Clarion River and Cook Forest State Park between the Cooksburg bridge and the small village of Hallton. The Elk Scenic Drive, a 127-mile loop also offers beautiful leaf-peeping opportunities in addition to the strong possibility of seeing elk and other animal life in the wild. Otherwise, just go where the road takes you. In the Pennsylvania Great Outdoors region, you’ll find beauty around every bend.
Make a weekend of your trip! The region offers a wide range of lodging options for every taste, group size, and budget. To find more information on leaf peeping in the Pennsylvania Great Outdoors region and to help you plan your vacation in autumn and all year round, go to VisitPAGO.com or call (814) 849-5197.
This article originally appeared in the Fall/Winter 2018 issue of GO magazine, which contains feature articles, photos, travel tips, upcoming events, lodging listings, and more information on Jefferson, Elk, Clarion, Forest, and Cameron Counties in northwestern Pennsylvania. To get your FREE copy of this or any other publication by the Pennsylvania Great Outdoors Visitors Bureau, click here and enter your information or call (814) 849-5197.