Ohiopyle State Park is one of the largest state-run parks in Pennsylvania and is located in the south-western counties of Somerset and Fayette on 19,000 acres. The heart of the park is the Youghiogheny River1 that runs for more than 20 miles through a gorge it has cut through the surrounding mountains.
While whitewater boating on the section of the river known as the Lower Yough2 is the park's main attraction, there are plenty of other attractions worth a look. This is especially true from mid-June through the end of the month when the mountain laurels3 are in bloom.
There are four waterfalls and one other unique water feature in the park that are simply stunning. They range from powerful falls to gentle cascades over sheets of rock. They include:
- Ohiopyle Falls - Located in the heart of the park, this is the only waterfall on the Youghiogheny River. The falls give the nearby town and the park their names, from the American Indian word 'ohiopehhla' meaning 'place of white frothy water'. The falls drop 20 feet and are the highlight of the 'day use' area which features wide lawns, restrooms, a ranger station, a snack bar and gift shop, and a parking lot. Observation decks are built beside the falls to provide up-close views. Directly across from the falls is the Ferncliff Peninsula that has trails which also take hikers close to the falls.
- Cucumber Falls - Probably the second-most visited waterfall in the park, Cucumber Run drops 30 feet into the gorge below. Termed a bridal veil waterfall, it is arguably the park's most beautiful. There is a very popular spot to take photographs of the falls less than 100 feet from the parking lot. Trails in the gorge allow hikers to walk up to the very base of the falls, and in some places to pass behind the falls. In times of drought this waterfall can be reduced to a trickle, and in the winter it has frozen solid.
- Meadow Run Waterslides - Located just down the road from the falls at Ohiopyle, Meadow Run flows over several flat sheets of hard, erosion-resistant sandstone. Over the centuries the stream has worn a smooth chute through a crack in the rock, creating a natural waterslide. Access to the waterslides is provided by wooden steps down to the stream from a parking area located along state Route 381.
- Meadow Run Cascades - Located a few miles upstream from the waterslides, these falls can be reached only after a bit of a hike. From the closest trail access at the park office, it's about a mile walk in the woods. But it's well worth it. These falls are a hidden gem since most park visitors seem loathe to walk into the woods this far to see them. The stream flows over several large flat sheets of sandstone creating a cascade effect. It's both lovely and isolated.
- Jonathan Run Falls - Like the cascades on Meadow Run, this waterfall is off the beaten path and requires a short hike to be viewed. The walk is worth it, however, to see this 10-foot high waterfall spill over a sheet of sandstone into some smaller cascades. It too is lovely and isolated.
Roughly 27 miles of the 70-mile Youghiogheny River Trail passes through the park. The flat, crushed stone trail was once the rail bed for the Western Maryland Railroad and uses two old railroad bridges to cross the river. The trail through the park is broken into two sections:
Middle Yough - There is a parking area just downriver from the dam at the town of Confluence, where boaters enter the Middle Yough section of the river. From here, the trail parallels the river for 10 miles, descending at a 1 percent grade until reaching the town of Ohiopyle.
Lower Yough - This section of the trail begins at the town of Ohiopyle with parking at the old Western Maryland train station (which is now a visitor's centre) or across the river at the Ferncliff Peninsula parking area. This 17-mile section of the trail descends at a 3 percent grade and offers some wonderful views of the whitewater rapids on the Lower Yough section of the river.
There are also 13 miles of mountain bike trails in the park, including the nine-mile Sugarloaf Snowmobile and Mountain Bike area, and the four-mile Sugarloaf Trail that runs from the other mountain bike area down the mountain to the town of Ohiopyle.
The park contains nearly 80 miles of hiking trails that range in difficulty from flat, crushed stone trails along the river to steep trails that require scrambling over rocks.
The park does a good job of keeping the trails marked with paint blazes on trees and rocks so you don't lose the path, and trail maps are available at the park office and the Train Station/Visitor Centre in town. It's important to remember that these are wild trails and the potential to meet local wildlife does exist.
The following list of trails is by no means complete, but does include some of our favourite hikes:
- Baughman Trail - Marked by red blazes, this trail is rather difficult and climbs from 1220 to 2160 feet over its 3.4-mile length. It is twisty and steep in places, but the struggle is worth it for the views from Baughman Rock that overlooks the Youghiogheny River Gorge.
- Ferncliff Peninsula Trails - There are roughly four miles of trails that criss-cross the peninsula. All the trails are flat and an easy walk for small children. Ferncliff Trail is the main trail running 1.7 miles around the perimeter of the peninsula, and providing close-up views of the Ohiopyle Falls.
- Jonathan Run Trail - This trail is a simple walk in the woods, descending 280 feet in a little under two miles. The trail is marked with blue blazes, and crosses Jonathan Run several times providing great views of the Jonathan Run Falls. It ends at the river, connecting to the Youghiogheny River Trail.
- Kentuck Trail - Starting at the Tharp Knob Picnic Area, this trail system is marked by pink blazes and covers about two and a half miles. It is difficult in places and has about 550 feet in elevation changes, but the views from the Tharp Knob Overlook are worth the effort.
- Meadow Run Trail - This trail is marked with yellow blazes and there are three access points to reach this easy, 3-mile trail: at the park office, at the natural waterslides, and at the Cucumber Run gorge. From the waterslides parking lot take the left trail under the state Route 381 bridge for seven-tenths of a mile to reach the Cucumber Run gorge. Take the trail to the right and you'll eventually reach the Meadow Run Cascades and a loop trail back to the park office.
- McCune Trail - This trail is a little more than a mile long and is an easy walk that leads to an old spring house and farm pond that are all that remain of the McCune Farm that was bought by the state to create the park.
- Old Mitchell Trail Loop - This trail is marked with red blazes and covers roughly two miles beginning at the Old Mitchell Place Parking Area. It is also named for an old family farm that was bought by the state to create the park. Located in the western side of the park, it is a favourite of bird watchers.
- Sugarloaf Trail - Marked by orange blazes, this four-mile trail is a pretty difficult hike, climbing 800 feet in two steep sections. The trail runs from town to the main mountain bike area near Sugarloaf Knob.
- Youghiogheny River Trail - Flat and covered in crushed stone, this 27-mile hiking/biking trail parallels the river along the old Western Maryland Railroad's rail bed. It's an easy walk and crosses the river on two high bridges providing spectacular views of the river below.
Ferncliff Natural Area
The 100-acre Ferncliff Peninsula is made of hard sandstone that forces the Yough to bend in a horseshoe shape. This spit of land was the starting point for the whole park and was declared a National Natural Landmark in 1974 because of its unique flora.
The peninsula is criss-crossed with easy walking trails and offers several views of rapids on the river as well as close up views of the Ohiopyle Falls.
The park offers a wide variety of environmental education programmes each weekend, Spring through Fall. Check with the park office, the ranger station at the day use area near the Ohiopyle Falls, or at the old Western Maryland Train Station/Visitors Centre in town to find out what programmes are being offered during your visit.
Most programmes are interesting and feature hands-on activities, guided hikes, and night and evening programmes. Some recent programmes have included bird-watching hikes, walks through the woods when the mountain laurels and rhododendron are in bloom, a night hike to view bats and other nocturnal creatures, and bug hunts in which hikers try to find various interesting insects.
The park's literature claims that there are numerous winter activities in the park including cross-country skiing, snowmobile trails, and even tobogganing on a large hill. However, our Researcher has never been brave enough to venture onto the twisting mountain roads in winter to verify these claims.
The following are links to further Edited Entries on the south-western corner of Pennsylvania:
- The Great Cross of Christ
- Fabrizi's Restaurant
- Ferncliff Peninsula
- The National Road
- Nemacolin Castle