Ohiopyle State Park
July 19, 2019
Ohiopyle State Park – a fantastic playground for hikers, cyclists, and whitewater fans.
The 20,000+ acre park – located in the southwestern corner of Pennsylvania – includes:
- The Youghiogheny River
- 13 miles of the 132 mile river run through the park
- The water is cool, turbulent, and the color of coffee laced with two creamers.
- Activities: fishing, floating and whitewater adventures
- Part of the Appalachian Mountains and the Laurel Highlands
- Laurel Ridge – at 2,934′, it is the highest point in the park
- Ferncliff Peninsula – 100 acres known for its biodiversity
- Activities: hiking, mountain biking, wildlife viewing
- Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) Trail
- 27 miles of the 150 mile trail weave through the park
- Surface in the park is mostly flat, chipped gravel making it family-friendly
- Activities: hiking and cycling
- small borough (town) along the river
- provides support services for the over one-million tourists that visit the region each year
- Amenities: lodging, restaurants, and outdoor guides and outfitters
- How to plan your trip
- Things to do
- Waterfall Hunting
- Scenic spots
- Geological stops
- Whitewater Rafting and Kayaking
- Fast Facts
Located in the southwestern corner of Pennsylvania, Ohiopyle State Park sits seventy miles southeast of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and two-hundred miles northwest of Washington DC.
Once you exit the major highways, you will traverse a few smaller roads to enter the park.
Watch for pedestrians in the traffic lanes once you enter the town of Ohiopyle.
How to plan your trip
You can spend a week at Ohiopyle State Park and still have adventures left on your fun-things-to-do list.
Here are a few tips to help plan your trip:
- Check out websites for the region
- Ohiopyle State Park website – download a recreational map
- Laurel Highlands website – download a variety of itineraries
- Be sure to visit the Park Office and Visitor Center in town to talk to the knowledgeable staff. Ask about the ‘scenic tour’ brochures for walking, cycling or driving.
- Reserve camping for the Kentuck Campground in advance
- Book your whitewater or rock-climbing adventures with a local outfitter
- Bring or rent a bike to use on the GAP trail
- Pack your hiking boots and a daypack to explore the hiking trails
- Charge your camera – you’ll want it!
Things to do
Activities include: waterfalls, hiking, cycling, horseback riding, whitewater rafting and kayaking.
Check out this sampling of options:
The park contains numerous waterfalls. Some are a short walk from designated parking lots while others require a hike to view them.
If you want to put some miles on your feet, park in town (or at the campground if you are staying there) and hike to the waterfalls. It is easier than hunting for a spot in the crowded parking lots.
Ohiopyle Falls are the center-piece of the town. The 20-foot falls are easy to view from any of the three overlooks near the Visitor Center. The volume of water is incredible and likely varies based on dam release days.
You might find parking available at the large paved parking lot in town. Since these falls are accessible by the flip-flop crowd, expect to negotiate for a parking space and a spot on the viewing platforms.
Cucumber Falls should be on your to-see list. Cucumber Run drops thirty-feet to create the falls.
It is a popular waterfall so expect crowds and to see folks playing in the pool at the bottom of the waterfalls.
There is a small parking lot near the top of the falls. Your best bet may be to park in town and walk the twenty-five minutes to the trailhead. If you are staying in the Kentuck Campground, use the Great Gorge Trail to hike to the waterfall.
Be sure to follow yellow-blazed Meadow Run Trail away from the falls and down to the river to view the Entrance Rapids. You are likely to see boaters braving the first rapid before they pull up to where you stand to regroup before their next downstream rapid. The kayaking group I saw was surprisingly young – early teenagers at best.
Meadow Run Waterslides
The water slides cascade through a sandstone area.
Allegedly you can slide down these natural slides, but I didn’t see anyone in the water during my visit. The water volume and velocity created a stunning view but looked like a recipe for scrapes and bruises for any brave soul attempting to slide down them.
There is a small parking lot off of state route 381 directly by the slides. Better yet, park in town and follow the yellow and white painted footprints for a ten-minute walk from the Visitor Center. Following the path will take you to your choice of either the upper or lower sections of the slides.
Look for more waterfalls located off of:
- Meadow Run trail (Cascades)
- Jonathan Run Trail (Jonathan Run Falls)
- Great Allegheny Passage (unnamed waterfall)
Ohiopyle Visitor Center
Directly on the GAP trail, a converted train station serves as the unstaffed Ohiopyle Visitor Center. It offers restrooms and a rack of brochures of things to do in the area.
Do not confuse this small building with the official Ohiopyle State Park Office.
Ohiopyle State Park Office — Laurel Highlands Falls Area Visitor Center
This is the official visitor center. I recommend popping in here early on during your trip. Staffed during business hours, this center is worth stopping at even if you don’t need help.
A gold-certified LEED ( Leaders in Energy and Environmental Design) building, the visitor center demonstrates sustainable design and reuse. Exhibits in the center educate both children and adults on sustainability and things to do in the area. There is a small deck off the back of the building for viewing the Ohiopyle falls.
The staff can provide maps and explanations on which painted footsteps to follow for various attractions. Be sure to ask for the brochures that explain the ‘geology stop’ markers.
A short walk from the visitor center, there are three viewing platforms for the Ohiopyle Falls. Continue walking along the river for other scenic vistas with park benches.
For a bird’s eye view of the Youghiogheny River, walk or bike across either of the two bridges located on the Great Allegheny Passage Trail. You are apt to see large groups of cyclists traveling on the GAP trail.
The “low bridge”, located closest to the town near the converted train station, gives you access to the Ferncliff Natural Area.
The “high bridge”, located closer to the Kentuck Campground, gives you a view of the Railroad Rapids.
The park has several self-guided tours:
- 2 walking tours
- 2 biking tours
- 1 driving tour
At various spots on each tour, there are ‘geology stop’ markers. The guide brochures that explain the rock formations and geology at each stop are available at the park office.
There are seventy-nine miles of unpaved hiking trails in the park with ratings from easy to difficult.
Many of the trails wind through the woods so don’t expect wide-open views for your entire hike. There are upsides to the heavy canopy. A shaded summer hike is cooler than an open ridge hike. And the afternoon rainstorm takes a while to work its way through the trees to soak you.
During the summer expect humidity and mosquitoes.
Take plenty of water and snacks with you as most trailheads do not have facilities.
For details of all hiking trails in the park, see the Ohiopyle State Park map available at the visitor center and park office.
Here are the trails we hiked:
Great Gorge Trail
- 2.7 miles one-way
- Well-signed and blazed
- Terrain – sometimes steep. Generally rocky and muddy.
- Some of it follows the river so you can listen to the thunderous water and occasionally catch a glimpse of the rapids.
- A spur trail will take you up the to Kentuck Campground
- Near the southern end of the trail, view Cucumber Falls or access the Cucumber Run picnic area.
Meadows Run Trail
- 3 miles
- Easy hike.
- Viewpoints: Meadow Run Waterslides, rapids
Great Allegheny Passage
- Also known as the GAP trail
- 27 miles of the 150-mile path pass through Ohiopyle State Park
- Multi-use path – Hikers, walkers, and cyclists share it
- Crosses over the Youghiogheny River twice on its way into the borough of Ohiopyle -stay alert for cyclists making sudden stops to take in the view
- The section in Ohiopyle is chipped gravel and relatively flat
- The Ferncliff Peninsula has three miles of hiking trails
- Designated a National Natural Landmark, it is recognized for its biodiversity
- Ground-level river views of the river are available on the peninsula
- The river scent is stronger on these trails than in town
Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail
- 70 mile trail
- Part of the national Potomac Heritage trail system
- Yellow-blazed with mileage posts every mile
- Mile 0 starts in Ohiopyle State Park
- Terrain: rocky, rooted, muddy
The first few miles of the trail are steep through a heavily wooded area with the distant sounds of the rapids and an occasional train whistle. Views of the river and the valley are sporadic on the initial section of the trail. However, around mile 3, there is an overlook which is a great spot to take a break. I did not hike far enough to find out but allegedly the view is more expansive and the trail flatter from mile 6 onwards.
There are wooden bridges across some streams. Use caution on the wooden planks – the mold makes them quite slick.
Note that the trailhead is not located in the backpacker parking lot. To access the trailhead, cross state route 381 and the railroad track. Walk down the gravel road past the Wilderness Voyageurs building. The trailhead will be on your left.
Twenty-seven miles of the 150-mile long Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) trail runs through the Ohiopyle State Park. Bring your bike or rent a bike in town. The trail in this area is fairly flat and consists of chipped-gravel. Watch out for some congestion on the bridges or near the parking lots.
Additionally, the park also has twenty-five miles of mountain biking trails. Some of these trails are shared with hikers or equestrians.
Whitewater Rafting and Kayaking
The Youghiogheny River provides 13 miles of whitewater fun in the park with rapids ranging from Class I to Class IV.
According to an interpretive sign along the river, George Washington attempted to navigate the Ohiopyle rapids in 1754 on a wooden raft and was quoted as saying “…the river can never be made navigable”.
Lucky for us, local tour outfitters have proved him wrong and you can now reserve a guided kayak or rafting trip down segments of the river. Consult with local tour operators for recommendations.
Kentuck Campground resides in the state park. Staying here gives you easy access to many of the trails in the park. The town of Ohiopyle is a one-mile walk from the campground via the trail system.
It is a huge campground with over 200 sites – including electric and non-electric sites, cottages, and yurts.
There are few walk-in sites available to hikers and cyclists. Expect to push your bike up a steep .5 mile gravel trail to get from the GAP trail to the campground.
Pets are welcome at some of the sites but there is an extra fee for all the pet-sites (whether you bring a pet or not).
- Hot showers
- Flush toilets
- Potable water
- Ice and firewood concession building
Note there is no wi-fi available at the campground and cell service can be spotty.
It is a well-designed campground so you are not staring at your neighbor.
The staff provides top-notch service. They are some of the friendliest and most enthusiastic park staff we have encountered.
Be sure to check out:
- Falls Market – they have some delicious ice cream
- Ohiopyle Bakery & Sandwich Shoppe – top-notch sandwiches and irresistible brownies (big enough to share!)
- Backyard Gardens Market – try their sweet pepper mustard
- Trip date: July 2019
- Name: Ohiopyle State Park
- Location: Ohiopyle, Pennsylvania
- Cost: $-$$$ depending on activities
- Family-friendly: Absolutely!