Fall in Pennsylvania is magical with the changing leaves, scenic vistas, and the abundant beauty of nature around every corner. It feels like each day the trees are painted a bit brighter and bolder, swaying in the soft golden light of sunset. As a photographer, I pay attention to the way light dances across the leaves, always looking for a new angle or composition to try and capture the magic of this season. As a traveler, I love exploring, hunting for the perfect spot to soak in the magic of fall. This quest for adventure and the challenge of capturing a fleeting moment has me wondering how to find the best fall foliage in PA?
When the leaves first start to change and mornings are cool and crisp, I know fall is right around the corner and it’s time to start researching where to find the best fall foliage. We’ve compiled some of our favorite places and ways to experience the beauty of the season and organized our list into three categories: 1. Sweeping vistas with views of the endless mountains filled with trees painted with fall colors; 2. Forest trails that allow you to crunch through the leaves and soak in the color all around you; and 3. Road trip adventures that wind along scenic highways with a picturesque view around each bend. Let’s explore together and find the best fall foliage in PA!
Pennsylvania’s Unbe-leaf-able Beauty
No matter what part of the state I visit, the beauty and wonder of Pennsylvania is easy to see. From the architecture and history to be found in our cities, to the majesty of the forest in the endless mountains. As I was researching where the best locations in Pennsylvania might be, I was surprised to learn a few details about how the geography of Pennsylvania sets our state apart if you are looking for the best fall foliage.
Types of Forest in PA
Pennsylvania is BIG. There is a lot to explore! We are also uniquely located as a bridge between the more northern states and the rest of the lower 48. This doesn’t just mean we have more roads and bridges (because we do) but it also means that our forests are more diverse. Hardwood deciduous trees, with leaves that change color, make up about 90% of the forest composition in the state (learn more). However, there are several different hardwood forest types, based on growing conditions and geography, and Pennsylvania has a mix of forests that make it a perfect place to search for fall foliage.
Pennsylvania is a unique location where the northern hardwood forest and the southern hardwood forest meet. This creates a vibrant mix of fall color and also a longer window to view the changing leaves as different deciduous trees will change colors at different times (learn more). If you are looking for the most updated information on peak color and fall foliage reports the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) has you covered! PA DCNR Fall Foliage Report
PENNSYLVANIA IS WILD
More than 60% of Pennsylvania is covered in forests, which makes sense when you realize that “Pennsylvania” is Latin for “Penn’s Woods” named for William Penn, founder of PA. More than 5 million acres is publicly owned land that belongs to you and me, a gift from generations before us. In the early 20th century, nearly all of the forest in PA was cut down to provide timber for our growing country. However, after 100 years of intentional conservation, much of that forest has returned. With careful management, PA has returned to its WILD roots, not only by protecting our landscape, but also its wildlife, including the largest free roaming elk herd in the northeast United States. Much of this wilderness is found in the north central part of the state in an area larger than the state of Massachusetts known as the PA Wilds (Learn More).
Your BEST location might be closer than you think…
We think the destinations on this list are worth the trip and will leave you wonderstruck any time of year. However, the changing of seasons with its vibrant fall colors is a slow dance with nature that is best viewed over time. As a result your BEST location to view the fall foliage might not be on this list.
It might be on your daily commute to work, where you have that chance to watch your favorite collection of trees turn from green to bright yellow and orange. For me, as a teacher I greet students everyday at the door and I have a favorite tree that waves back. I’ve enjoyed watching the color develop as the weather turns colder and I’m grateful for the chance to daily pay attention to the changing of the seasons. Our suggestion is to plan a trip to visit some of these spectacular locations to soak in the fall color, but also pay attention to the color around you and see if you can find pockets of that same beauty close to home.
Pay attention, be astonished, and tell about it!
(Seriously, tell us in the comments about your favorite location! We are looking to add to this list!)
How We Created This List
Growing up in Northern PA, I took for granted the beautiful Susquehanna River and mountains that crowned my small town. It wasn’t until much later that I discovered that I learned to drive on the road National Geographic called “One of America’s most scenic drives” otherwise known as Route 6. Since moving away from Towanda, Pennsylvania, I realized that when I’m exploring someplace new, I’m looking for that combination of water and views of mountains beyond mountains. In researching this list, I was glad for a chance to return home and visit some of my favorite places to explore nature as a young adult and I was excited to road trip across the state to find new locations that excite and inspire! Each of these locations I have visited personally, and I believe they are all worth the trip!
Each of these vistas offers sweeping views and a chance for some spectacular leaf peeping! We love to visit overlooks that feature water as a contrast to the rolling hills and mountains behind. One of the features that sets PA overlooks apart is the way the mountain ranges stack behind each other. However beautiful those mountains are, they can make it difficult to maintain cell phone coverage. We recommend keeping a road atlas or GPS (with downloaded maps) as a backup. The drive (or hike) to some of these views can be quite long, so we tried to include details about restrooms and parking to help you better plan your adventure.
The view from Hyner vista in Hyner View State Park is incredible! Driving to the overlook is nearly as breathtaking in the fall as the overlook itself. This small state park is known for its hang gliding and when I visited, the wind was brisk and made me wish I had wings! This location has plenty of parking, pit toilets, and views of the river below and mountains beyond.
The Pinnacle Overlook
This overlook and nature preserve has beautiful views of the Susquehanna River and the rolling hills of southern PA. It is also the intersection for several beautiful trails, my favorite being the hike down into Tucquan Glen! A short hike from the fenced overlook is a large rock outcropping that provides a more rustic visual experience. This location has plenty of parking, porta-johns, and river views.
(1 mile hike out and back)
This overlook is on the western side of the Susquehanna, across from The Pinnacle Overlook. There is a small parking area and a short one out and back hike that is mostly level and well marked. The overlook itself has several tables and benches to allow you to soak in the view and is less popular than The Pinnacle over on the eastern shore. Urey Overlook is also particularly beautiful if you are able to catch the dawn break over the mountain and river below.
(.3 mile hike out and back)
This overlook in the Susquehannock State Park has sweeping views of the Susquehanna River and Conowingo Reservoir. This is also a great location to do a little bird watching as you enjoy the beautiful fall foliage. The state park has modern facilities.
Pine Creek Gorge
The Pine Creek Gorge is referred to as the PA Grand Canyon. It’s more than just a single vista, but rather a destination all its own!
I would recommend setting aside some time to explore this area by car to visit several vistas (I’ll list our favorites below), but then leave the car behind to take a ride or walk on the rail trail to enjoy a different perspective of the mountains. If the weather is warm enough maybe even set out on the river and let the Pine Creek carry you down stream!
Located on the east rim of the PA Grand Canyon, the Leonard Harrison State Park has the most accessible viewing platforms and the most popular views of the Grand Canyon. During the busy season, there are concessions, shopping, modern amenities and some trails to explore. This location can at times feel busy if you are looking to avoid crowds (or fly a drone) so explore some of the other options below.
Barbour Rock Overlook
(1.3 miles out and back)
The Barbour Rock Overlook offers a beautiful view of the Pine Creek Gorge from the West Rim of the PA Grand Canyon. The parking area from the trail is large with a pavilion, but I didn’t see any restrooms.
Located on the west rim of the PA Grand Canyon, the Colton Point State Park has a more rustic charm with pavilion areas built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. These pavilions can be reserved and many have a built-in fireplace which would make them ideal for a large gathering with a beautiful view. If you have young children, be cautioned that the drop off into the canyon is unfenced and quite steep depending on which pavilion you reserve.
Bradley Wales Overlook
This overlook is a bit off the beaten path, but well worth the trip if you are looking for a view of the PA Grand Canyon that is all your own! It’s best to bring your camp chair and table. If you are looking to fly a drone, this is a great spot to launch for a flight over the canyon. This is also a great spot to start the West Rim Trail to hike more of the canyon. The cell phone reception can be a bit spotty, so it’s best to bring a GPS or map for directions to and from. There was no bathroom when we visited.
Now Leaving Pine Creek Gorge...
Chickies Rock Overlook
(1 mile out and back)
This is a beautiful and popular overlook with a large parking area. There is a one mile out and back trail to reach the vista at Chickies Rock Overlook. There is a trail that shoots off to the right going up the hill; we recommend you avoid this trail as it ends in a bit of a washed out gully that can be difficult to traverse. The view from the top is spectacular, particularly at sunset! During the busy season you can find porta-johns in the parking area.
Governor Dick Look Out Tower
(2+ mile out and back)
This is a fun little trail in Mt. Gretna with a beautiful view from the top of the lookout tower. The hike from the parking area is a little over two miles out and back. To access the top of the Governor Dick look out tower, you will need to climb several flights of ladders enclosed in the tower. The top of the tower is completely enclosed in a cage-like structure (to keep you safe) but that might also impair your ability to soak in the view. You can find porta-johns at the parking area; there is also a small shop with restrooms.
Hawk Rock Overlook
(2 mile out and back)
This overlook features an expansive view of the Susquehanna and looks towards Harrisburg, PA. The hike is rocky and a bit technical, and while it might feel like four miles up and two miles down, we promise it’s just a little under two miles on the Appalachian Trail to the Hawk Rock overlook.
Shikellamy State Park Overlooks
This overlook is easily accessible and offers stunning views of the East and West Branch of the Susquehanna coming together. The view features a river, small town, bridges, and the endless mountains beyond. This area has several nice pavilions, restrooms, and even a playground for children.
Loyalsock Canyon Vista
This vista has beautiful views of the Loyalsock Creek below and the endless mountains beyond. This is one of the most popular vistas in Worlds End State park. After you soak in the view from the Loyalsock Canyon Vista, be sure to explore the rock garden up the trail opposite the view. If you are looking for a longer hike, you can also check out the 3.9 mile Canyon Vista Trail. You can find pit toilets and plenty of parking at this overlook.
High Knob Overlook
This overlook is well worth a detour if you are in Sullivan County. With expansive views of the endless mountains High Knob Overlook is a great spot to soak in the fall color! Its also a popular spot for astrophotography and star gazing! There is lots of parking and a pit toilet at the top. If you are looking for a side adventure, you can explore Dry Run Falls just down the road a bit from the overlook.
Marie Antoinette Overlook
In the late 1700s, French elites created a refugee settlement in Bradford County to escape the French Revolution. Marie Antoinette never made it to Pennsylvania, which is really her loss as this location is beautiful. The Marie Antoinette Overlook, just off Route 6, looks down upon the river and the Frenches Azilum site. One feature that sets this overlook apart is the stone turret and wall that gives it a more medieval feel. The overlook shares the parking lot with the Marie Antointte Inn. We’ve not had the chance to eat here, but it seems popular with bikers and locals.
Wyalusing Rocks Overlook
A little farther along scenic Route 6 is the Wyalusing Rocks Overlook. This outcropping was originally used by the Iroquois Indians as a signaling point. Now local teenagers use spray paint to add their signal to the rock outcropping. The overlook has a parking area with fantastic views of the river below and the farmland and mountains that make this part of Pennsylvania so beautiful.To the left of the fences you can find a small path that will take you to the rock outcropping. There are no fences and the loose gravel can be tricky, so please be careful. There were no restrooms when we visited.
TRAILS TO EXPLORE
We love hiking year round, but there is something special about hiking in the fall! The crunch of leaves underfoot, a slight chill in the air making it perfect sweater weather, and of course the colorful rain of falling leaves in the cool breeze adds to the magic!
Mason-Dixon Trail & Mill Creek Falls
9.4 Miles Out & Back
We love exploring the Mason-Dixon trail in southern PA, especially the section near the Holtwood Dam. You can explore the remains of historic river locks used to move boats up and down the Susquehanna, scramble over beautiful rocks shaped by the mighty river, and explore the natural beauty all around. There is plenty of parking at the Lock 12 Recreational Area including bathrooms, picnic tables and even a simple playground. If you are not looking to hike, there is a small parking area further up River Road that will take you closer to the Mill Creek WaterFall.
Loyalsock Trailhead, Dutchman Falls & Haystacks
7.8 Miles Out & Back
This is one of my favorite waterfalls to explore and I like to visit when I’m heading back to Lancaster from visiting my family in northern PA. The parking area is very close to Route 220 and the hike to the waterfall is short but beautiful. If you are looking for a longer stretch of the legs during your road trip, the trail to the haystacks is a beautiful logging road that is flat and easy to follow along the Loyalsock Creek. The parking area has pit toilets.
Pequea Creek, Conestoga Trail Segment
2.5 Miles Out & Back
I love hiking along water. The sound of the creek adds to the magic of the outdoors and provides a little more horizontal space to really soak in the setting. The Pequea Creek trail follows an old trolley line so the trail is fairly level and easy. If you are looking to add some adventure to your leaf peeping, we recommend checking out this adventure from Uncharted Lancaster: Pequea Trolley Adventure
Enola Low Grade Trail
29.4 Mile Rail Trail
This rail-trail follows the Susquehanna River with a beautiful rock face and small waterfalls on the side. This is a great place for a bike ride or a relaxing stroll. The view of the river and the leaves provides space to soak in the color of the season. The trail is reported to be close to 30 miles, but the bridge was destroyed and has since been rebuilt better than ever about five miles from the parking area. It offers sweeping views and windows in the deck to gaze straight down. The trail has porta-johns at the parking area and at stops along the trail.
Northwest Lancaster Co River Trail
22.4 Mile Rail Trail
This is one of my favorite trails in the area. It starts in Columbia at the Columbia Crossing River Trail Center (which offers lots of parking, features an excellent porch for soaking up views of the river, interesting exhibits on the history of the area, a wide collection of travel guides and brochures, and bathrooms with running water). From here Northwest Lancaster Co River Trail runs north towards Harrisburg with wooded sections and winding through downtown Marietta (which has several excellent places to grab a bite or enjoy a pint – check out our travel guide for more!) Further down the trail, I love exploring the River Trail Pavilion in Marietta. This is a magical place to explore when the water is a bit lower and the woods and trails are beautiful!
9.4 Miles Out & Back
This might be one of the most beautiful trails in southern PA. The parking area in Tucquan Glen has been closed since the start of the pandemic. However, you can still hike into the glen if you are willing to park at Pinnacle Overlook and follow the trail north. The trail to reach Tucquan Glen can be a bit steep and rocky at times, but once you reach the glen, its like a portal to another time and place. The water flowing over the rocks of the glen is magical with each new feature feeling more wonderful than the previous. The larger cliff face and the towering trees create a feeling of awe and provide a beautiful escape. If the trail to the glen feels too challenging, you can walk along the train tracks and still reach the trail up Tucquan Glen. The Pinnacle Overlook has lots of parking and porta-johns.
Ricketts Glen Falls Loop
8 Mile Loop
If you are interested in waterfalls, then this is the Ricketts Glen Falls Loop trail for you! Rated as one of the best hikes in all of Pennsylvania and possibly the best waterfall hike in the eastern US, this loop is spellbindingly beautiful in the fall. Ricketts Glen Park has so much to offer, there are two large parking areas for this trail (because it is so popular). The parking area has pit toilets (but you can find running water facilities at the park office) and the waterfall loop is connected to the parking areas by a trail in a scenic glen. We recommend taking the “harder” lower trail option for this juncture trail as it will bring you closer to the water. The waterfall loop is beautiful and features 21 named waterfalls with the highest being the 94’ Ganoga Falls. The trail can be a bit technical (read tricky) with rocks that are slippery and wet and a distinct lack of handrails. You will want to take your time and really soak in the magic of this stretch of nature!
Double Run Nature Trail
2 Mile Loop
This is my favorite trail in Worlds End and while the waterfalls are not as dramatic as the Ricketts Glen Falls Loop, this trail feels less trafficked and more secluded by comparison. The Double Run Nature Trail has a medium size parking area along Route 154 and then follows the Double Run Creek. There are several beautiful falls and magical pools of water to enjoy while soaking in the magic of the beautiful forest setting.
Great Allegheny Passage
150.2 Mile Rail Trail
I have yet to complete the entire trail (it’s over 150 miles long) but the Great Allegheny Passage has magical features like Ohiopyle State Park and its waterfalls, many towering viaducts (like the Keystone or our favorite Salisbury), long tunnels (our favorite was the Big Savage tunnel and its vista) and beautiful views around each bend. You can find many lovely small towns to visit along your adventure. One of our favorite small towns was Rockwood and we still talk about the food from the Rockwood Mill Shoppes and Opera House, We highly recommend the Mill Shoppes Pizza!
D&L Trail: Jim Thorpe to White Haven
24.4 Mile Rail Trail
This is another wonderful rail trail that is great for a long hike or bike along the Lehigh River. The trail features beautiful scenery and follows alongside an active railroad, so you can wave at passengers as they pass you by! In fact, if you are interested, there is a bike train option that will pick you up in Jim Thorpe and transport you up the trail, so that you can have the downhill grade bring you back to Jim Thorpe. If you have never explored the town of Jim Thorpe, we have you covered, it’s a magical place that you won’t want to miss! Check out our Jim Thorpe travel guide here!
Full disclaimer, we have not explored every mile of each of these road trip guides. In places where we have driven some of the roads mentioned below we will share our thoughts and experience. Maybe we will meet you on the roads less traveled!
PA Wilds Road Trip
127 Mile Loop
I explored the PA Wilds region in the fall of 2021 looking for fall color and hoping to spot some of the area’s famous Wild Elk. The drive was incredible, the views of the mountains in their fall colors and the winding roads following along the Bennett Branch of the Sinnemahoning Creek are stunning! I would recommend stopping in Driftwood, PA at the Driftwood Saloon and Grill with its outdoor dining and views of the mountains (they also make a good cheesesteak). If you are looking to soak in the Top of the World Overlook avoid the Mason Hill Castle Garden Rd T302. There is a gate that blocks access. You can still reach the overlook if you come from the north west, the direction of the Fred Woods Trail. These roads can be a bit rough, so be careful when driving!
Stopping in Benezette is a must! In addition to exploring the elk viewing areas (best viewed around dawn and dusk) be sure to visit the Elk Country Visitor Center. If you are looking for a good cup of coffee and GREAT donuts you need to visit Elk Life Store. By the time I finished the cinnamon sugar donuts… I was really considering turning around to order even more!
The views from Sinnemahoning south in the Quehanna Wild Area were stunning!
Scenic Route 6 Road Trip
400+ Miles Across Northern PA
Growing up in Towanda, PA I learned to drive on Route 6. I had no idea National Geographic had called it,“One of America’s most scenic drives.” Now that I’ve driven in far less beautiful places, I can appreciate the beauty and wonder that Route 6 has to offer!
Route 30 Lincoln Highway
200+ Miles in South Central PA
This Route 30 Lincoln Highway Road Trip starts near the Philadelphia Zoo and stretches across southern PA to Pittsburgh. Along the way you will discover breathtaking views and the beauty of PA’s sprawling farm land! If you are up for a little detour near Downingtown, PA we recommend a visit to Longwood Gardens any time of year to soak in the beauty of their manicured gardens and absorb the history of this beautiful estate. Further along Route 30 you will find paradise… no, really Paradise, PA is a gateway to much of the best parts of Amish country in Lancaster County, PA. From here you can explore Strasburg and its railroad, or Cherry Crest Adventure Farm and even stay for a one of a kind experience that is a show at Sight & Sound Theatres! Of course just a little further down Route 30 you will find Lancaster, PA. We have several travel guides for this area including a Brew Tour, our favorites at Market, and a guide for History Lovers and Time Travelers! You might never want to leave Lancaster (I mean… that’s why we stayed!) but if you do continue on your trip on Route 30 you will come to Columbia, PA and the Turkey Hill Experience is a great stop on your travels. Be sure to enjoy the view as you cross the Susquehanna. The Veterans Memorial Bridge to the south is one of our favorite places to view the mighty river below! An iconic roadside attraction is the Haines Shoe House as you continue west. Your trip continues past York, PA and then into Gettysburg, PA with its history and countless memorials to explore. If you are up for another detour in the fall we recommend a trip to the National Apple Harvest Festival just outside of Arendsville, PA. If you are looking for a place to rest after long hours in the car we love to visit the Bedford Omni Springs Resort and enjoy its delicious food, natural springs, and beautiful trails. Further down the road is the Flight 93 Memorial and eventually Pittsburgh, PA.
More to explore!
With more than 251 thousand miles of roads there is a lot to explore in PA. I’m excited to see where our next road trip might take us!
Where is your favorite Fall Foliage Location?
What scenic spots did we miss? Let us know in the comments below so that we can plan our trip to visit your favorite corner of PA!
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