Exploring Ohiopyle State Park in Pennsylvania’s Laurel Highlands
By Anna Weltz
The first time I heard the word “Ohiopyle,” I immediately wanted to learn more. What is it? Where is it? Upon some research, I learned the name Ohiopyle or “Ohiopehelle” comes from a combination of Native American words which mean “white, frothy water.” Say the word “Ohiopyle” to any outdoor enthusiast on the East Coast and they will immediately tell you about the tiny town and the big adventures found there.
Upon arrival in Ohiopyle in the heart of Pennsylvania’s Laurel Highlands, you can immediately see and hear the town’s namesake. The rippling waters of the Youghiogheny River flow through the center of the park before gathering together, building up power, and then rushing over ancient rock formations, creating powerful frothy white water.
The charismatic town of Ohiopyle and the stunning Ohiopyle State Park have anything and everything adventure seekers could ask for – waterfalls, white water rafting, ice cream, mountain biking, scenic views, kayaking, burgers, camping, hiking, rock climbing, and more.
White Water Rafting
The white frothy waters of the Yough, pronounced “Yawk” by the locals, not only gave this town a name, but an identity. It was here on the Yough in Ohiopyle that East Coast white water rafting was born in the 1960s.
Decades later, the tradition continues with a bevy of options including shorter, lower impact guided rafting tours, as well as the iconic adrenaline rush of the Class IV and V rapids. In town, you will find outfitters who can guide you through the options to select the right adventure for your available time and interest, even if you only have a couple hours and have never paddled a day in your life.
Great Allegheny Passage
You can’t help but notice an abundance of bicycles in Ohiopyle; mounted on the backs of vehicles, in the parking lots, and available for rent. Before becoming a burgeoning adventure town, Ohiopyle was a sleepy lumber town located at the juncture of the Youghiogheny River and several train tracks.
While you can still hear the train whistle and feel it rumble through town, one of those tracks has been repurposed into the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) rail trail. The GAP as its best known is a spectacular, nearly level trail that meanders through the beautiful Laurel Highlands, connecting Pittsburgh to Cumberland, Maryland. While distance cyclists love to challenge themselves to tackle the entire 150-mile trail, it’s a favorite for families and casual cyclists as well. Many will bring their bikes or rent one in town and peddle to the neighboring trail towns while enjoying the towering trees, fresh air, wildflowers, and even the occasional whitetail deer, red hawk, gray squirrels, and maybe even a river otter.
Some of the bikes you’ll encounter in town may even be mud and dirt covered. Chances are their riders have just taken on some of the park’s sought-after trails. The natural landscape of the Laurel Highlands region, in particular Ohiopyle, make it an enticing destination for mountain bikers. Some of the most popular, and challenging trails include Sugarloaf, Baughman, and McCune Trails.
Another gem in Ohiopyle’s crown is certainly its collection of waterfalls, five in all. The first and most prominent is Ohiopyle Falls, which not only provided the town’s namesake, but also challenged a young George Washington in 1754 as he charted a path to present-day Pittsburgh.
The 30-foot bridal veil of Cucumber Falls offers an up-close and even a behind-the-scenes waterfall view, as visitors with steady feet can traverse behind the falls for a unique view.
Grab a trail map and head for Meadow Run Trail, where you can set your sights on two waterfalls. The first you will encounter is Meadow Run Natural Waterslides, a unique geologic formation and a favorite spot to cool off on the summer. Further upstream along the trail you will encounter the cool, crisp waters of the Cascades, and perhaps a fisherman or two.
A bit off the GAP trail, you will find a small collection of waterfalls called Jonathan Run Falls. In the late spring and early summer when the rhododendron is in full-bloom, it is a stunning site to behold.
Architecture fanatics will want to plan a visit to Frank Lloyd Wright’s masterpiece Fallingwater and Kentuck Knob. Both are just a few minutes’ drive away. History buffs, step into the past with a visit to Fort Necessity National Battlefield, the site of Washington’s first and only military defeat.
Ohiopyle and the Laurel Highlands are synonymous with adventure and excitement, making this a must-see and must-do for summer fun. If you would like to learn more about this region, please visit www.GOLaurelHighlands.com or call 724.238.5661.
Ohiopyle State Park in Pennsylvania’s Laurel Highlands