I love going somewhere and being genuinely impressed, which was my experience this weekend when my brother, sister and I took a sibling hiking trip to Ohiopyle State Park, in southwestern PA. Ohiopyle is both the name of a town and a 19,000 acre Pennsylvania State Park known for its waterfalls, biking trails and what’s arguable Pennsylvania’s most white watery-white water rafting.
Unfortunately, we did not do a rafting excursion, which is what it seems most people come to Ohiopyle for. The park is bisecting by fourteen miles of the Youghiogheny River (not the Ohio), which originates down in West Virginia and is actually a tributary to Monongahela River. Ohiopyle is about an hour and half drive from Pittsburgh, and contrary to what my sister’s GPS initially did to us, an easy drive (it’s pretty much a straight shot from the PA Turnpike). Helpful hint: don’t put “Ohiopyle State Park” into your GPS. Find an address in the town of Ohiopyle. The park is big and it will take you on an unintended scenic route.
After making several loops on the same dirt road, we finally happened upon a sign that read “Ohiopyle 2 Miles” (which we definitely passed earlier) and followed it down to the Visitor Center, which is located in the heart of downtown Ohiopyle. It’s easy to find since the town itself is only a few blocks big and as of the 2010 Census boasted only 54 year permanent, year round residents. Though it was small, I was impressed with how busy it was. The town is bordered by the Youghiogheny on two sides. You take a bridge in and you take a bridge out. In between are several white water outfitters, a number of bike/outdoor shops, a few tiny hotels, several restaurants, one mini golf course (that I was able to spot), the aforementioned visitor’s center, and a really well taken care of river front park. I was also surprised at not only how many people were rafting and biking, but laying out on rocks and the riverbanks, or wading across the river. After our hike concluded, we sat on the banks for a while reading magazines and I waded out a bit (I would’ve tried to go across had I had water shoes), and honestly with the gorgeous day and how pretty it is, I could’ve spent several hours there.
But, our trip was not relaxing; I was sore and sweaty on our ride home. For some unknown reason we didn’t think to whitewater raft (probably because I didn’t realize the rafting outfitters and hiking trailheads were all in the same place…and this was a bit of an impromptu trip), but rather are main goal was to hike. Ohiopyle’s a great hiking destination as there are over 75 miles of trails. We wanted a hike that kept us close to the river, so looked at the maps (which were readily available and easy to follow) at the Visitor’s Center and decided we’d cross the river via the Great Allegheny Passage and then go to the Great Gorge trail for the duration of our hike. We’d then hop on the Meadow Run trail, which would bring us right to the Meadow Run Water Slides and then loop us right back into town.
The Great Allegheny Passage, also known as the Pittsburgh-Cumberland Trail is part of a 318 mile rail-trail system connecting Pittsburgh with Washington DC. The Great Allegheny Passage makes up about 150 of those miles and stretches between Point State Park in Pittsburgh, and Cumberland Maryland. The portion of the passage that passes through Ohiopyle is covered in crushed rock and a very easy bike or hike. It would have been fun to walk the whole thing, as it follows the Youghiogheny, but we wanted something a little more challenging and a little less crowded. While the Passage would’ve been scenic, it did feel more like a rail-trail (which, I mean, it is) than a hike. I am adding biking the Great Allegheny Passage to my bucketlist. There’s plenty of outfitters that will help you do so, and it looks like an awesome ride, especially on the PA/Maryland border where you pass through an abandoned railway tunnel.
The Great Gorge hiking trail was perfect. It follows a section of the Youghiogheny (question: why is Youghiogheny in my spellcheck but Baltimore isn’t?) that the passage detours around, and is fun because you’re never far from the river. This particular trail is blazed by green markers, although it seemed popular enough that we never had to rely on these (it’s the very first right after the second bridge if you’re also starting on the Great Allegheny Passage in downtown Ohiopyle). The trail ends at the base of a small stream fed by Cucumber Falls, a 30 foot waterfall that hikers are able to walk behind, or shower in if you’re so inclined.
Where the creek flowing over Cucumber Falls meets the Youghiogheny, we took the Meadow Run trail, which was marked in yellow, and whose markings we did need to follow, as the trail sometimes disappeared amidst the rocks on the rivers edge. This was a great walk and we got to watch a few rafting expeditions go by. Right where the trail circles back into the town of Ohiopyle, we ran into a bunch of people hanging out on the river rocks enjoying the sun. A few of said parties had coolers full of adult beverages. They had the right idea.
Instead of going right back into town, we walked up another creek to see the Meadow Run waterslides, a portion of the creek where natural waterslides were carved out. This would’ve been fun to try, however it being a Saturday, it was absolutely overrun with children, so we took a quick look around and finished our hike.
We weren’t done walking, though. The riverfront park downtown has a nice walkway and a bunch of plaques telling about the history of river navigation which was interesting. There were also some observation platforms from which to view Ohiopyle Falls, the town’s namesake.
After lounging riverside for a while we decided to grab dinner. We decided on the Ohiopyle House Café, a little farm to table restaurant and pub. Its deck was a nice place to unwind and the waiter told us they had live music in the downstairs tavern if we were staying local. I got the vibe that it was probably some jam band (which is not my favorite type of music) but it seemed like a lively enough place that I’d probably check out had we been staying.
There’s another pub, Falls Tavern in Ohiopyle, and I’m guessing with the sheer amount of people, that there’s probably enough who stay over and the town probably doesn’t completely die at night. In fact, at the turn of the century Ohiopyle was a major tourist destination with a boardwalk, large resorts and plenty of nightlife. Like many Pennsylvania locations, the advent of the car (people traveled via train from Pittsburgh for $1.00) meant people weren’t dependent on PA resorts and it dried up for a while.
I’d love to come back to Ohiopyle and stay for the weekend. The park’s’ Kentuck Campground has traditional campsites, cottages and yurts, is located within the park and within walking distance of downtown. There’s a number of raft companies, but Wilderness Voyageurs seems to be the most popular. They not only offer Ohiopyle rafting, but excursions on further away parts of the river, as well as Maryland and West Virginia destinations. I think it’d be fun to maybe try Ohiopyle and one of the other trips all in the same weekend. Ohiopyle is also close to Laurel Caverns, which we almost visited to rappel, but my sister nixed that idea. It’d also be a good location to visit in combination with Pittsburgh, Morgantown WV or this West Virginia itinerary I created last fall.