June 2015: Ohiopyle State Park

Ohiopyle, Pennsylvania

By the 1870s the railroads had penetrated the rugged Youghiogheny River Gorge and reached Ohiopyle, chasing the timber trade. Quickly enough the breathtaking scenery held sway and soon the Baltimore & Ohio railroad was hauling tourists as well as lumber. It cost $1 to ride from Pittsburgh to Ohiopyle and back. Hotels popped up along the gorge, including the four-story Ferncliff Hotel built on a 100-acre peninsula where the Youghiogheny River doubles back on itself. But roads were slower to arrive than rails and with the rise of the automobile vacationers were diverted elsewhere. Hotels fell into disrepair and were torn down. In 1973 the Ferncliff Peninsula was declared a National Natural Landmark in recognition of its many rare and interesting plants, many being Southern species at the northern reach of their range.  

Just about anything on your dog’s canine hiking wish list is on the menu in the nearly 20,000 acres of Ohiopyle State Park. Waterfalls. Swimming holes. Overlooks. Easy hikes. Vigorous workouts. The mandatory canine hike is luckily the easiest and most centrally located - the three miles of trails that sweep around and across the Ferncliff Peninsula. Hugging the water for most of its 1.7 miles, the hemlock-draped Fernwood Trail leads to detours through mature hardwoods and carpets of ferns and past hotel ruins. Waterfalls can be tracked down with little puchase on Jonathan’s Run Trail, the Great Gorge Trail and Meadow Run Trails. Along Meadow Run the water sluices through waterslides that you don’t need a kayak to enjoy. Strap on your dog’s climbing gear and check out valley views along the Kentuck Trail and atop Baughman Rock.The Youghiogheny River Trail is a hike/bike trail so fine that it was tabbed by Travel & Leisure magazine as one of the “The World’s Best Walks.” Your dog won’t have to do all 27 miles through the park to agree. Ohiopyle is also the southern terminus for the 70-mile Laurel Highlands Trail, one of Pennsylvania’s permier footpaths. That would be a highlight of most parks; here it is scarcely a footnote.  

The famous Lower Yough begins after the Ohiopyle Falls and flows seven miles downstream to the Bruner Run Take-out. This is the busiest section of whitewater east of the Mississippi River, studded with Class III and Class IV rapids. A half-dozen alone can be viewed from the Ferncliff Trail.  

from the Pennsylvania Turnpike (I-76), take Exit 91, Donegal. Turn left onto PA 31 east. Travel about two miles, turn right onto PA 711 and PA 381 south. Travel ten miles to Normalville, turn left onto PA 381 south for 11 miles to park.