If you were to stick a pin on a map anywhere in Pennsylvania’s north central region, you would likely land on a location that offers colorful foliage viewing or leaf peeping during the fall.
Leaf peeping is defined as the activity of traveling in the fall to areas wooded with deciduous forests to view the changing colors of leaves.
In Pennsylvania, prime leaf peeping season begins in the northern part of the state in late September and ends in early November in the southern regions, according to Ryan Reed, natural resources program specialist with the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ Bureau of Forestry.
“That period of time, that six weeks, as a window of fall foliage in Pennsylvania, is really awesome. We have a really long fall foliage season. Not a lot of other places can say that because they don’t have the forest community like we do,” he said.
Reed said the longer leaf peeping season can be attributed to the mix of trees in the forests around the state.
“We have a really awesome mix of two major forest communities. We have northern hardwoods and we also have extensive oak/hickory forests. Those two types of forest communities have different peak times. So, what you’ll see is that with the northern hardwoods they are typically a little earlier and then the oak/hickory forests are a little later,” Reed explained.
He added that if there is a mix of the two species, it is possible to have a double peak to the season. He noted that many of the areas in the central part of the state through the central Appalachians have a mix of the two.
“You get an early peak of the maples and birches and a few other species and then you’ll get another burst of awesome colors with the oaks after that,” said the forestry expert.
“It kind of provides a really wide window of opportunity for fall foliage viewing,” he said. “That’s what makes Pennsylvania such a renowned state for fall foliage tourism because we have this perfect mix of species that allows a very long window of fall foliage viewing.”
This point was echoed by Carrie Fischer Lepore, deputy secretary for marketing, tourism and film at the state Department of Community and Economic Development. She said that the state has a longer and more varied fall foliage season than any other state in the country.
“Leaf peepers who desire breathtaking views and colorful landscapes should add PA to their fall foliage bucket list,” she said.
Lepore added that the state has 121 free state parks, 86,000-plus miles of rivers and streams and more miles of rail trails than any state in the nation.
“Plus, our expansive greater than great outdoors provides plenty of room to spread out with family and friends. Travelers can comfortably be at a socially distant 6-foot minimum while the colors are at a maximum this fall,” she said, referring to the mitigation efforts in place in the state.
Taking a drive along country roads, or just walking through Brandon Park, offers visual proof of the changing seasons. But for those who crave a more immersive experience, there are locations not too far from here that deliver on that.
Pine Creek Gorge
The Pine Creek Gorge in Tioga County is part of the Pennsylvania Wilds. It offers a plethora of spots for leaf peeping, hiking, biking or viewing the colorful scenery. From the comfort of your automobile, you can travel throughout the Wellsboro area to visit state parks overlooking the gorge.
Fifty miles long and 1,000 feet deep, the gorge features Leonard Harrison and Colton Point state parks, located on opposite sides of the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon. There are trails that lead to the bottom of the gorge from both parks and observation decks for viewing the panoramic vista of the gorge.
The Pine Creek Rail Trail offers hikers and bikers a closer look at the colorful scenery as they move along the 60 miles of trail through the gorge. The trail runs north from Jersey Shore to Ansonia.
Hyner View State Park
Located in Clinton County, Hyner View State Park stands 1300 feet above the West Branch of the Susquehanna River near Renovo, which is surrounded by the Sproul State Forest. Covering six acres, the park offers a spectacular view of the tree-covered river valley below.
For a more adventurous view of the colorful foliage, bring your hang glider. This site is a favorite launching spot.
Ricketts Glen State Park
Located in three area counties, Ricketts Glen State Park comprises 13,193 acres. Situated within that area is the Glens Natural Area, a national, natural landmark and home to 22 picturesque waterfalls.
Hiking the Falls Trail system brings leaf peepers up close and personal to the colorful foliage along 7.2 miles of the trail. At the end of a hike through the crisp air, many take in a fall picnic at the edge of Lake Jean.
Worlds End State Park
Surrounded by the Loyalsock State Forest in Sullivan County, the park offers opportunities for the serious leaf peeper.
The Loyalsock Trail is a 59.2-mile hiking trail through the park and surrounding forest, featuring several waterfalls along the path. The Loyalsock Canyon Vista offers views of the Loyalsock Valley, which is located along the trail. The vista can be reached either by vehicle or by hiking the trail.
High Knob Overlook, also located in the Loyalsock State Forest, overlooks the mountains and valley below. This, too, can be approached on foot. However, there is a parking lot at the site for those who choose to drive.
Band Rock Vista
Located in the McIntyre Wild Area of northern Lycoming County, Band Rock Vista looks out on the Lycoming Creek Valley. The area is home to Rock Run, a favorite spot for fishermen.
Travel to the end of McIntyre Road and you’ll arrive at Band Rock Vista. The name supposedly comes from a time in the early 20th century, when bands would play from the rock every Sunday for the valley residents below.
For those who have the time, a drive across the northern part of the state along Route 6 offers multiple opportunities for leaf peeping. The storied Route 6 begins at the Delaware River and ends at Lake Erie. In addition to leaf peeping, there are several historical sites, as well as, natural attractions along this road which was named by National Geographic as “one of America’s most scenic drives.” It encompasses 400 miles passing through small towns and state forest lands.
During the six weeks of peak fall foliage, Reed said that DCNR posts reports on their website. Click on conservation at the top of the page, then forest and trees and then fall foliage reports to stay up to date with the best places to view Pennsylvania’s fantastic array of flaming foliage.