The most vibrant, green, and photographable season of the year is autumn foliage season. Pennsylvania, home to more than 100 distinct species of deciduous trees, is the ideal location to check out for leaf peeping.
These deciduous trees are widely varied, spanning from northern hardwoods like oaks and hickories in the south to northern hardwoods like maples, birches, and cherries in the north, which are recognized for their vivid crimson and burgundy tones. The northern hardwoods often change color first in a season, preceded by the southern oak hickories.
Additionally, Ryan Reed, who writes the weekly fall foliage reports for the state’s Department of Conservation & Natural Resources, notes that because both types of trees are present in large portions of the state, “You get that beautiful early peak with the northern hardwoods, and then you get the second show with the oak-hickory forests.”
Although northern places like Vermont and Maine are more closely correlated with breathtaking foliage, Reed explains that this phenomenon only lasts for two to three weeks in these states because northern hardwoods predominate there.
It’s a different story for Pennsylvania! We see beautiful fall colors for at least a month here. After all, there are forests on 60% of Pennsylvania’s land. All in all, the fall foliage season is very long and really diverse. Let’s take a look at the best spots for leaf peeping in Pennsylvania.
Why Do Leaves Change Color?
The leaves stop producing food as a result of variations in temperature and the length of daylight. Chlorophyll decomposes, the green color vanishes and the yellow-to-orange hues emerge, contributing to the fall brilliance of the leaves.
Red anthocyanin pigments evolve as a result of other chemical changes that could take place at the same time. Dogwoods and sumacs, for example, have reddish and purplish fall foliage, while the sugar maple gets its bright orange color from different mixes.
Some trees’ autumn foliage is entirely yellow. Others, like oaks, primarily exhibit brown colors. All of these hues result from the blending of various proportions of the leftover chlorophyll and other pigments. Now that we understand how leaves change color, let’s take a look at where you should visit!
1. Longhouse National Scenic Byway
One of the most magnificent drives for leaf peeping throughout the fall is the Longhouse National Scenic Byway, which passes through some of the Allegany National Forest’s most stunning locations. Travelers can slow down and enjoy the scenery as they ride along the winding route while taking in the beautiful colors of the autumn scenery.
Before continuing to drive, there are certain places that one might want to stop and enjoy for a time. Take a moment to stop at the Jakes Rocks Overlook to take in the breathtaking vistas of the fall foliage. Hikers can stop along the way and take the Rimrock Overlook Trail or Morrison Run Trail to see more sights.
2. The Pennsylvania Grand Canyon
The Pennsylvania Grand Canyon may be the best place to see fall colors in Pennsylvania. Locals often refer to Pennsylvania Grand Canyon as Pine Creek Gorge, which is open to the public and features miles of forested paths, numerous stunning waterfalls, and excellent viewing areas.
Visit Colton Point State Park or Leonard Harrison State Park and check out their observation platforms and the paths that travel down to the bottom of the gorge from both to observe the fall foliage. The Pine Creek Rail Trail, which follows the brook at the bottom of the gorge, is a wonderful place to cycle or hike.
3. Starrucca Viaduct
The Starrucca Viaduct, one of the largest stone-arch bridges in the country, is close to the D&H Rail Trail. This neighborhood landmark, with its 17 arches and over 100-foot height, is the ideal spot for leaf peeping as the autumn leaves change.
Visit Luciana Park, a small spot near Depot St. and parallel to St. John’s Cemetery, to witness the magnificent perspective of the Viaduct amid a riot of fall colors. For any Harry Potter fans, seeing this bridge will remind you of the train to Hogwarts!
4. Gettysburg National Military Park
Although this famous Civil War battleground is stunning throughout the year, autumn, when the Gettysburg National Military Park fields are covered with fall foliage, is when it truly shines.
Take a sip of the local cider before beginning your investigations. Whether you join a ghost tour, sleep in a haunted inn, or simply explore some of the allegedly most haunted locations on the battlefield, you’ll find plenty of frightening places to experience your share of thrills and chills just in time for Halloween.
5. Scenic Route 6
The picturesque Route 6 offers an unparalleled travel experience spanning more than 400 miles! Visitors seeking unrivaled fall views should not skip PA Route 6, which National Geographic has ranked as one of the country’s most picturesque drives.
It seems as though this gorgeous highway was created specifically for autumn leaf-peeping with all the breathtaking views of the untouched mountains and forests. Tourists can explore the amazing history of the area as they travel through the PA Grand Canyon and the Allegany National Forest.
Honorable Mention: Bowman’s Hill Tower
Bowman’s Hill Tower is situated in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, close to New Hope along the Delaware River. Bowman’s Hill Tower provides a breathtaking perspective of the Delaware River Valley in Pennsylvania and New Jersey from its perch atop a hilltop used by George Washington’s forces preceding his historic crossing of the Delaware River.
The tower was constructed in 1929 and, on a calm day, offers a panoramic view that can extend up to 14 miles. This observation tower is a fantastic site to explore throughout Pennsylvania’s peak fall color season due to the wonderful backdrop provided by the surrounding forested hills.
When to See Peak Fall Foliage in Pennsylvania
Although the peak fall foliage season in Pennsylvania lasts longer than almost everywhere else in the world, the greatest locations to visit for leaf peeping in the state change from one week to another. Dazzling colors can frequently be seen beginning in the northern counties in late September and can still be seen in the state’s southeastern part by mid-November.
The greatest regions of the state to visit during that week are highlighted in the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ annual fall foliage report, which is published beginning in late September and extending through early November.
Although the periods of optimum foliage can fluctuate by a week or two even within a single county, the places listed above are some of the best spots to visit. This means that you’ll probably still see peak foliage in other locations nearby that region of the state if you visit prior to peak or the week after peak.
With the inaugural week being the first week of October and the fifth week being the final few days of October and the first week of November, there are maps that take a look at the autumn foliage findings for the three years prior and incorporate them data into a single map based on the average timeframes of peak foliage for each county.
Pennsylvania is truly wonderful in autumn. While fall brings about a spectacular shift in every area of the state, some seem to be more prone than others to stunning fall colors. Some more of our favorite choices worth mentioning are Frick Park, Salt Springs State Park, Worlds End State Park, Delaware Gap National Recreation Area, and Presque Isle State Park.
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- Fall Foliage Reports, Available here: https://www.dcnr.pa.gov/Conservation/ForestsAndTrees/FallFoliageReports/Pages/default.aspx