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1.23.2016

Waterfalls & Overlooks Guide to Ohiopyle State Park

While Ohiopyle State Park has spectacular falls with Cucumber Falls and Ohiopyle Falls, today we take a look at all of the waterfalls within the state park, and how to get to them. I do not recommend attempting all of these hikes and adventures without the proper equipment and the awareness that serious injury can occur within this rugged terrain. We start off at one of the easiest falls to access, and the most beautiful of the bunch, Cucumber Falls at the break of dawn. I recommend stopping at these falls first, for the views of these falls seem to be the most spectacular at the break of dawn, and with the popularity of these falls, you will also avoid crowds of people. 

In this guide, we primarily feature photos from two different visits to the park, one on a frigid and snowy day, and another on a day following a big rain storm. There is never a bad time to visit Ohiopyle, but these two kinds of days are especially stunning to visit.

Cucumber Falls
Cucumber Falls is located at a posted roadside observation point off of Kentuck Road, coordinates 39.86278N 79.50333W
The mist always feels good, even when it was 20 degree weather like on this day
Sideview!
Now for after a heavy day of rain!

One of the best times to visit Ohiopyle is after a spring rain. Every little area where runoff flows ends up creating small waterfalls. Seemingly everywhere you look, you will certainly find some little waterfalls. 
Jonathan Run Trailhead: 
Access to Upper and Lower Jonathan Run Falls, Upper and Lower Sugar Run Falls, and Fechter Run Falls
Our next stop is at the Jonathan Run Trailhead. Park at the parking lot off of Holland Hill Road at Coordinates 39.891135, -79.507928
This is a relatively easy trail. Lots of elevation change, though it is gradual. The primary risks on the trail with light snowfall are in not being able to see many of the small, ankle-buster rocks. This is a primary reason why you should wear mid to high ankle hiking boots. My boots saved me about five or six times from bad ankle rolls. 
Follow the Jonathan Run Trail. You will pass three of these wooden bridges before you get to the first set of falls, Upper Jonathan Run Falls.
The shriveled up mountain laurel leaves say it all about how cold it was. I call it exhilarating! 
Second wooden bridge. Looking back at these pictures, I really get taken away at how beautiful that area is.
Third wooden bridge. At this point, cross the bridge and get onto the well worn pathway off trail immediately on the left of the end of the bridge.
This will take you to the first set of trails on our hike, Upper Jonathan Run Falls
At this point the snow started to really dump
Upper Jonathan Run begins with a beautiful set of meandering cascades
The top of the falls

Looking down into the gorge
Upper Jonathan Run Falls. This roughly 15 foot waterfall is pretty. I did not go any further considering the frigid temperatures of both the air and the water. Both sides of the gorge are mountain laurel filled and very steep, so I did not want to disturb the delicate banks of the creek. Such a beautiful setting.
Looking down at Jonathan Run Falls gorge. We checked out Upper Jonathan Run Falls. We are going to put off visiting Lower Jonathan Run Falls until the return trip for better access.
Now we have reached the Great Allegheny Passage Trail. Considering the popularity of the GAP trail, which goes from Pittsburgh to Washington, DC, I was surprised to not see any bicycle tracks or footprints. In fact, all day, I did not see any other people. Works for me! It was so quiet and peaceful.
At the intersection of the Jonathan Run Trail and the Great Allegheny Passage, turn left.
I love the GAP trail. It was a genius idea to convert the abandoned rail grade into trail.  Follow this for roughly half a mile until you see a small fence on your right and a bench on your left. At this point you will find Upper and Lower Sugar Run Falls. The lower falls starts just to the right of this point and heads down into the Youghiogheny River. The trailhead for the Mitchel Field Trail will be on your left. With the slickness of the fresh layer of snow, I opted to take in Lower Sugar Run Falls from the middle. The descent to the bottom of the falls needs to be taken with extreme care. 
Lower Sugar Run Falls
Upper Sugar Run Falls. This set of falls is one of the most visually impressive in the park. For this set of falls alone, the hike was definitely worth it. It is absolutely stunning with all of the different levels of shale and the way it is surrounded with our state flower, the Mountain Laurel.
Back to the Great Allegheny Passage. Now we go back to turning right and retracing our steps back to the Jonathan Run Trail. The best way to get to the bottom of the falls is through tracing the creek bed from the GAP trail, but due to the slick conditions, I opted to take the falls in from above. Approximately 300 feet up on the trail, you can see this view of Jonathan Run Falls.
Lower Jonathan Run Falls
Lower Jonathan Run Falls
Across the way, you can see Fechter Run Falls. This set of falls of is often little more than a trickle. On this day it had pretty decent flow. 
Fechter Run Falls from the top. To reach this, continue on the Jonathan Run Trail to the Y in the trail where the Sugar Run trail intersects the trail. Turn right onto the trail and continue a few hundred feet to the wooden bridge. From here, turn right off of the trail and trace the creek bed, where you will walk for roughly a hundred feet to the falls. Once again, be careful. 
The toppled tree looks nifty. It is amazing to think that such a huge tree could have stayed stable for as long as it did, with only a few inches of rooting atop a slab of shale, unless this tree was carried down stream from somewhere else, though that does not appear to be likely.
Now retrace your steps back to the Sugar Run Trail, and follow that back to the intersection with Jonathan Run Trail. Follow the trail back to the parking area.
I always love seeing this little chapel

Meadow Run Cascades and Waterslides

Now backtrack down Holland Hill Road and Kentuck Road beyond Cucumber Falls. When you reach 381, turn right and a quarter mile up the road, take a left onto Dinnerbell Road and ead to the Meadow Run Trailhead/Cascades at coordinates 39.853332, -79.497499
In my humble opinion, the premier hike in the park is the Meadow Run trail. This three mile out and back trail is simply spectacular. It starts off as a steep climb up the hill above Meadow Run. Through the trees, it affords a gorgeous view of the Youghiogheny River Gorge and the Meadow Run Gorge. The elevation change is rigorous but manageable.
Midway to to the Cascades, you find the Meadow Run Climbing Area for some awesome climbing opportunities.

The Cascades are located on Meadow Run, just upstream from the famed natural waterslides. 

The Cascades, in my opinion, are similar in awesome magnitude to Ohiopyle Falls. These falls are stunning.
Watching the water rush through the Cascades is especially impressive when you consider how this section of creek, that appears to be close in power to a small river, flows into a tiny chute down stream that you can sit in and slide down in. The power of Mother Nature never ceases to amaze me.
The Cascades on Meadow Run
The Natural Waterslides on Meadow Run, just downstream from the Cascades. It was just a hint too chilly to hop in and slide down them on this winter day.
Ohiopyle Falls and Interpretive Center
Now we head back to the parking area and take a ride to Ohiopyle Falls. Just head back to 381 and take a right. Go beyond Kentuck Road and you will see the park office on the left. Pull into that parking lot. If you are hungry, grab something to eat in the town of Ohiopyle. Some of our favorite places to eat are at the Falls Market Restaurant and General Store, and the Ohiopyle House Cafe.
Ohiopyle Falls on a winter day
Ohiopyle Falls on a roaring spring day
This spectacular set of river falls is a natural center of fascination and wonder. With our greater need for hydropower, mills sprung up around the falls and rapids. The apparatus from an old saw mill that was located at this location are on full display at the Pennsylvania State Museum. One of my favorite aspects about Ohiopyle State Park is the easy accessibility so everyone has the chance to observe this natural wonder.
Here is the brand new Ohiopyle State Park Office and Visitor/Interpretive Center. This center has an excellent area that give an excellent overview of the history, recreational opportunities, geology, and ecological wonders of Ohiopyle State Park. 
The new center also offers some spectacular views of Ohiopyle Falls. The Park Rangers running the center are also very kind and gracious hosts.
Spending some time in the center also gave me a little opportunity to warm up. The temperatures dropped as the day went on, down to instant frostbite temperatures. This center is phenomenal, having displays that are on par with the awesome Tom Ridge Environmental Center up at Presque Isle, and the Elk Country Visitor Center, and these displays are excellent for the education of all about the picturesque environs of Ohiopyle State Park. The interactive exhibits are also excellent for school age children, to help them learn about and gain an appreciation for the environment and region, one of the most important goals we can strive to achieve.
One of the interactive displays. A touchscreen monitor is made to look like a little pool of water, where you can learn information about the waters of the area.
The heritage of the region is covered in an interactive timeline.
Different species that call Ohiopyle State Park home are shown throughout the museum, including Otters.
Traditional equipment for the many different activities that are enjoyed throughout the park are shown, along with informative and interactive displays demonstrating how the equipment is used.

The displays show realistic looking habitats that are excellent for enriching the enjoyment and appreciation for this awesome place. 

Perhaps the most amazing aspect of the center is the observation center for Ohiopyle Falls, affording a view of th falls from a deck over the river.
Underneath these canoers, you get a view underneath the water at species that inhabit these waters, including trout.
The building is LEED Gold certified, certifying that this building is built in a sustainable fashion. This building is built in a manner that sustainably produces energy, manages storm water, and cleans wastewater naturally. 
I can never get enough of taking in Ohiopyle Falls.
Now we head across the Youghiogheny River to the Ferncliff Peninsula. This side gives an entirely different perspective of Ohiopyle Falls. There is a large parking area and then a quarter mile walk to the falls. The entire walk is filled views of river rapids and small waterfalls, leading up to the main falls. It is a spectacular thing to see.
Ferncliff Peninsula Parking Area Coordinates:
39.872225, -79.494313
 The rocks of Ferncliff Peninsula have lots of fossils, giving hints of Pennsylvania's tropical past. 
 Approaching the falls
The Ferncliff Peninsula side of the falls provides an awesome vantage point

Now we head to Bruner Run. 
Coordinates: 39.924095, -79.492972
Bruner Run is an area that is largely cut off to access during the summer months, since it is an access point for whitewater rafting. The road in this area is quite narrow, and the large old school buses of the rafting businesses eliminate the possibility of access to the area for anyone looking to check out the creek. During the offseason months, the road's gates are open to access and on the spring day that we recently visited, the falls were all roaring. These falls are spectacular, and all of the tiers in fast succession make this one of my favorite sets of falls on the small feeder streams in Ohiopyle.
Bruner Run's consists of a seemingly endless number of tiers/cascades.
This location shows four of the largest.

A view from up the embankment.
I noticed this set from a feeder stream into Bruner Run as we were heading out of the gorge. It consists of three large plunge waterfalls in succession, each measuring in at about 15-20 feet. 
Baughman Rocks Overlook:
From the Ohiopyle Falls Parking Area, turn right and then follow the signs to the Baughman Rocks Overlook.

Our next stop is at Baughman Rock Overlook, one of my favorite scenic overlooks in the state.
Here you can see the Youghiogheny River Valley. Snow flurries were flying around the valley. I am not sure if they were new flurries coming down, or flurries that were flying around in the swirling wind down in the valley. Whatever the case was, the beauty was spectacular.

As if there were not enough awesome things to check out at Ohiopyle, they even have a sledding hill with a warming hut in the Sugarloaf area! This area will also host the park's Winterfest on February 6th from 11-4. Activities will include sledding (BYOS: bring your own sled)
The address is: 950 Sugarloaf Road
Nearby is another one of the cute little chapels, Sugar Loaf Church.
Here is the lookout from the Firetower area of the park. 

Every time I go to explore Ohiopyle State Park, I find something new. We visit the park three to four times a year, and never cease to be surprised. This is undoubtedly the outdoor activity capitol of southwestern Pennsylvania, with a little bit of everything to satisfy everyone.

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