Nature offers colorful views for fall-foliage voyagers
By Natalie Beneviat
Published: Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2012, 9:01 p.m.
Capturing autumn's beauty is just a short trip away this month, as fall-foliage voyagers start to hit the road and trail seeking the best sites to view vibrant leaf colors in western Pennsylvania.
As reds, oranges, browns and yellows paint the fall skies, autumn gazers can see lots of leafy grandeur pretty close to home, and Allegheny County is a good place to begin.
“All nine county parks are a great place to visit for the fall,” said Andrew Baechle, director of the Allegheny County Parks Department.
“There's a county park within 15 or 20 minutes anywhere you live,” said Baechle, 51, who lives in Pittsburgh.
They are Boyce, South, North, Deer Lakes, Hartwood Acres, Settlers Cabin, White Oak, Round Hill and Harrison Hills.
Autumn leaf lovers can enjoy the sights within any of these parks and take advantage of fall events to get even more out of their visit. Baechle said Allegheny County features 181 miles of trails, and hikers can access trail maps off the county website.
On the southern end of the county, John Doyle, naturalist for South Park, recommends Sleepy Hollow, located in the southwestern end of the park, “for a nice view.”
And he also suggests the Model Airplane Field, which visitors can find by visiting the park office on Brownsfield Road. South Park is located in Bethel Park and the community of South Park.
South Park will hold a Hay Day family fall festival on Saturday, from noon to 4 p.m., said Baechle, with crafts, entertainment and a petting zoo.
Visitors to South Park can expect a “Change in the Weather” on Oct. 20, a hike beginning at 10 a.m. at the South Park Nature Center on Buffalo Drive, said Doyle, 57, of Oakdale.
“We'll talk about hibernation, migration, leaves changing, and things like that,” Doyle said.
Also, the Oliver Miller Homestead in the park, located at 2301 Corrigan Drive, will hold a Children's Harvest Festival from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. Oct. 21, with admission of $2, according to Cheryl Williams, who works at the historic site.
Williams, of Bethel Park, said “children love the festival,” and she'll be the one churning butter.
Those heading north in Allegheny County can stop at North Park, located in Hampton, Pine and McCandless townships. More than 3,000 acres boast spots for leafy fall views, and visitors can take advantage of the many trails at the park.
Meg Scanlon, interpretive naturalist at North Park Latodami Nature Center, said there will be a nature walk for adults from 1 to 2 p.m. Oct. 18. Those attending should meet at the Ranch House on Kummer Road and also should preregister by calling 724-935-2170.
Scanlon, 54, of Pine Township, said adults can come any fall Thursday, from 10 a.m. to noon, for a weekly nature walk. Participants can park and meet at the ice-skating rink parking lot off of Kummer Road.
State parks are an obvious place for leaf peepers, and they have a lot from which to choose, including Raccoon Creek State Park in southern Beaver County.
Patrick Adams has been an environmental educator with Raccoon Creek State Park for 20 years and said the leaves there usually change from mid-October to mid-November.
“It varies every year,” Adams said.
He suggests a drive on Park Road, between U.S. Route 30 and state Route 18.
“Beach Road, off Park Road, is a nice drive for fall foliage because it parallels the lake shore,” said Adams, of Hookstown.
The park can be accessed via U.S. Route 30 and state Route 18, which run through it. Adams said maps for trails can be downloaded from www.friendsofraccoon.org.
Fall-foliage expeditionists can journey north of Pittsburgh to Moraine State Park in Butler County, which now is bathed in fall colors, said Dan Bickel, park manager for Moraine State Park and nearby McConnells Mill State Park.
“We're starting to see the colors in the maples, so I think it's going to be earlier this year because of dry weather,” said Bickel, 39, who lives in Moraine State Park.
He said the park has a large amount of red maples this year, and oaks have been adding the golden touch. Visitors can take all this in while on an eight-mile car trip on North Shore Drive, Bickel said.
The park can be accessed from state Route 422.
Moraine State Park is known for Lake Arthur, which at 3,225 acres is the largest man-made lake in the state, said Carol Bickel, officer manager for the Moraine Preservation Fund.
The group offers a guided fall-foliage cruise every Saturday and Sunday at 1 and 3 p.m. throughout October on a 45-foot, fully enclosed pontoon boat with an outdoor deck, said Carol Bickel, of Slippery Rock. Reservations can be made at www.morainepreservationfund.org.
Venture out in another direction to the Laurel Highlands region, about an hour from Pittsburgh, where there is a lot to see whether walking, hiking or biking, said Mike Mumau, park operations manager for the Laurel Hill State Complex of the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.
“The Laurel Highlands region has some of the most breathtaking fall foliage in the country,” Mumau said.
The Laurel Highlands area, which can be accessed off of the Pennsylvania Turnpike, has eight state parks that all offer something different, Mumau said.
For example, people can visit Laurel Hill State Park in Somerset County and hike Pumphouse Trail until reaching Jones Mill Dam for a good view. The short and easy hike is OK for people of all ages and abilities, he said.
Laurel Ridge State Park in Rockwood, Pa., features part of the 70-mile Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail and offers “sweeping vistas of 1,000 acres,” said Mumau, who lives at the park.
And drivers can “discover fall” through two driving loops, Mumau said.
The approximately four-hour northern loop can be accessed from the Donegal Exit on the turnpike and then travel state Route 711 North, which also is known as the Laurel Highlands Scenic Byway, according to the state park and forests website. This drive includes the third-deepest gorge in the state, as well as world's steepest vehicular incline, according to the website.
Drivers also can enjoy the southern loop, which takes at least two and a half hours and can be accessed by driving routes 381/711 South, Mumau said.
Walkers can take a Hike to Happy Hour from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Oct. 20 that covers approximately 10 miles on the Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail and ends at the Seven Springs Mountain Resort for its annual Autumnfest celebration, Mumau said. The hike will start at the Route 653 Trailhead for the Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail. Registration is required and can be done by calling 814-352-8649.
Also, a visit to Forbes State Forest will offer plenty of leafy scenes in approximately 60,000 acres spread out over Westmoreland, Somerset and Fayette counties, according to Dave Planinsek, forester for Forbes.
Most of the forest is within a two-hour drive from downtown Pittsburgh, with Route 30 as the major roadway to access the northernmost portion of the state forest, said Planinsek, of Latrobe.
He recommends sites from Beam Rock, which is just about a 10-minute hike from Laurel Summit Road. Also, he suggests trying Spruce Flats Bog, another great leaf-viewing spot, which can be accessed from Laurel Summit and Linn Run roads
Leaf gazers also can take a trip to nearby Ohiopyle State Park, popular for the Youghiogheny River Gorge and the gateway to the southern part of the Laurel Highlands.
“There are several vistas that can be viewed and lots of trees up here,” said Rose Fuge, environmental specialist for the park.
Specifically, said Fuge, of Farmington, hike to Baughman's Rock Overlook which leads up to Laurel Ridge from Sugarloaf Road.
Also, take a short hike on Ohiopyle's Tharp Knob Overlook.
“It's a really nice view of the town of Ohiopyle nestled in among the mountains,” said Fuge, who predicted the peak for this fall's colors will be this week.
Natalie Beneviat is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.
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