The Ultimate Guide to Fall Foliage in Pennsylvania + 6 Must-Visit Destinations|
Whether you are an aspiring arborist who’s hyped at the first mention of carotenoids and anthocyanins, or you are a newcomer on your first search for the best fall foliage in the United States, Pennsylvania should be near the top of your autumn bucket list.
Sure, when it comes to “leaf-peeping,” northeastern states, such as Maine and Vermont, typically dictate the conversation (and your Instagram feed). However, the Keystone State’s yearly transformation is nothing to shake your head at (unless you’re shaking in awe and following it up with an audible, “that’s beautiful,” that would make your dad proud).
Keep reading to discover the best destinations for fall foliage in Pennsylvania and learn more about the major tree species that make up the state’s many forests.
The Beauty of Pennsylvania’s Forests
Containing one national forest (Alleghany) and a plethora of state forests (Susquehannock, Bald Eagle and Sproul being among the largest), it’s not hard to imagine that over 60% of Pennsylvania is covered with trees. A diverse array of deciduous species (trees that shed their leaves annually) makes up this abundance.
In general, the forests of Pennsylvania are inhabited by two different colonies of trees. In the northern reaches of the state, one can expect to find dense, hardwood forests composed of maples, birches and a few cherry species. In the southern portions of Pennsylvania, oak-hickory forests are more common. This latitudinal variance makes the fall season in Pennsylvania stand out.
You see, unlike the forests of Maine and Vermont, which produce a short two- to three-week (admittedly beautiful) display, Pennsylvania’s autumnal transformation takes place over the span of a month or more. During a typical year, the northern, hardwood forests will start to show signs of color first. Then, after a three-week-long fireworks display in the north, the southern, oak-hickory forests begin the state’s grand finale. If everything goes according to schedule (mother nature’s, of course), the first fall foliage report will be published by the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) in late September, and the last a week or so after Halloween.
Foliage Reports & Common Trees in the Forests of Pennsylvania
The DCNR’s foliage reports are highly coveted literature during fall; some may even say these reports represent the year’s “fall foliage bible.” In general, these reports include updates, predictions and recent images from Pennsylvania’s different regions (here’s a sample of the reports, this one from 2021). As the various trees of Pennsylvania begin to progress in color, the “Fall Foliage” page on the Visit Pennsylvania website is normally updated with the DCNR’s latest report.
The northern hardwood forests of Pennsylvania support a number of interesting and beautiful tree species. The most common species rooted within these forests are the red maple, sweet birch and black cherry. These forests produce a vibrant assortment of leaves, which range in hue from orange to red to deep burgundy throughout fall.
The oak and hickory trees found throughout Pennsylvania’s southern forests are responsible for providing the yellow-orangish hues that come to life later in the season. The most common species in these southern forests are the bitternut hickory and black oak.
If you are interested in learning more about the various trees found in the forests of Pennsylvania, give this Common Trees of Pennsylvania Guide from the PA DCNR a quick skim.
The Best Fall Foliage Destinations in Pennsylvania
Our selection of the best fall foliage destinations in Pennsylvania includes several spots that offer incredible views of the state’s northern and southern forests. Together, these six destinations represent Pennsylvania’s finest fall foliage sites. We ranked these destinations based on their reputation, diversity of color and proximity to additional activities.
6. Gettysburg National Military Park
Best Time to View: 3rd week in October
Address: 1195 Baltimore Pike
While best known for its array of historic sites and battlefields, Gettysburg National Military Park transforms into a fall-foliage hotspot every autumn. The park invites visitors to take in the majestic sights of fall as they explore the parks near 11,000 acres of battlefield and farmland.
What to do:
Enter Gettysburg National Military Park, grab a map and embark upon a self-guided auto tour. Then, enlist the help of a knowledgeable park ranger, as they guide you to the best sites in the park. Next, take a short drive north to Pennsylvania’s Fruit Belt, where you can take in the yellowish-orange leaves of the many oaks and hickories that populate the area’s rolling hillsides. Travel on Route 234 instead of the busier Route 30. The 234 will take you through some of the richest fall foliage in the area. Finally, take Route 30 back towards Gettysburg (stop at Mister Ed’s Elephant Museum & Candy Emporium for the kids) and enjoy a relaxing night at Adams County Winery. Make sure you take a moment to relish the sights and sounds of an autumn evening in Gettysburg.
5. Laurel Hill State Park
Best Time to View: 2nd week of October
Address: 1454 Laurel Hill Park Road
In the summer, Laurel Hill State Park attracts crowds of visitors looking to recreate on Laurel Hill Lake and beach. However, during fall, the park is just as awe-inspiring. In total, the park covers 4,000 acres in Somerset County, and the premier fall destination in the park is Jones Mill Run Dam.
What to do:
Visit the Laurel Hill State Park visitor center and then head towards The Copper Kettle Trail. This 1.25-mile path will take you along the western shoreline of Laurel Hill Lake as you traverse through the park’s oak-hickory woods. Next, drive to the Pumphouse Trail parking lot, and then follow the wide and easy-going trail on foot to Jones Mill Run and Jones Mill Pond. Consider saving this stroll for the afternoon to give the sun enough time to light up the changing leaves and reflect the scene onto the serene waters of the pond. Finally, end your trip by exploring more of the Laurel Highlands and checking out popular sights such as The Big Savage Tunnel or the Barronvale Covered Bridge.
4. Kinzua Bridge State Park
City: Mt. Jewett
Best Time to View: 3rd & 4th week of September
Address: 296 Viaduct Road
Kinzua Bridge State Park covers 339 acres and is home to the reimagined Kinzua Viaduct. Prior to collapsing during a tornado in 2003, the Kinzua Viaduct was one of the tallest railway bridges in the United States. In 2011, the Kinzua Viaduct was rebuilt into a pedestrian walkway. The walkway allows visitors to walk out some 600 feet as they gaze into the expansive Kinzua Gorge, which is lined with trees displaying orange, yellow and purple leaves in fall.
What to do:
Take a hike on the General Kane Trail where you can walk under colorful black cherry and maple trees. Next, tour the Kinzua Bridge State Park visitor center to learn more about how engineers built the Kinzua Sky Walk. Then, once you explore the visitor center check out the Kinzua Sky Walk for yourself. As you walk on the platform, look out into the Kinzua Creek Valley to spot the colorful displays of the area’s hardwood forests. Before you leave the skywalk, make sure to walk out onto the skywalk’s glass-floor viewing area.
3. Washington Crossing Historic Park
City: Washington Crossing
Best Time to View: 3rd or 4th week of October
Address: 1112 River Rd
Washington Crossing Historic Park preserves the historic site where George Washington’s army crossed the Delaware River during the Revolutionary War. The park “offers more than 500 acres of American history, natural beauty and family fun.” Aside from its historical importance, the park also becomes an excellent place to view the autumnal foliage of Buck’s County.
What to do:
Enter Washington Crossing Historic Park and pick up a park map from the park’s visitor center. Gain a bird’s-eye view of the surrounding fall foliage by climbing to the top of Bowman’s Hill Tower. After taking in views of the countryside and Delaware River, attend a reenactment of the “crossing that saved the revolution”. Next, explore The Historic Village of Taylorsville, stopping at McConkey’s Ferry Inn, the Mahlon K. Taylor House and the Durham Boat Barn along the way. After a day of history, reenactments and fall foliage, stay at the Pineapple Hill Inn.
2. Leonard Harrison State Park
Best Time to View: 1st or 2nd week of October
Address: 4797 PA-660
Leonard Harrison State Park showcases the eastern rim of the Pine Creek Gorge, which in early October bursts with a breathtaking display of color. In total, the park covers 585 acres and manages several miles of hiking trails, access to the 62-mile Pine Creek Trail, and several overlooks that allow visitors to experience the sheer beauty of Pennsylvania’s Grand Canyon.
What to do:
Enter Leonard Harrison State Park, grab a park map and stop at the many scenic overlooks that offer views of the 800-foot-deep canyon. Next, head into the park’s visitor center to learn more about how the canyon formed due to glacial floodwaters. After exploring the remaining attractions of Leonard Harrison State Park, head back towards Ramsey, PA, following PA-287 and then PA-44 as it winds with Pine Creek. This drive will offer you continued opportunities to take in the fall foliage of northern Pennsylvania. Consider stopping at Little Pine State Park or Upper Pine Bottom State Park along the way.
1. Big Pocono State Park
Best Time to View: 2nd or 3rd week of October
Address: 980 Camelback Rd
Big Pocono State Park is the quintessential destination for fall foliage in Pennsylvania. The park is positioned amid the slopes and peak of Camelback Mountain. From the park’s summit, visitors will not only experience fall’s siege of eastern Pennsylvania but also fall’s advance into New Jersey and even New York.
What to do:
Start at the Camelback Ski Resort, which manages Big Pocono State Park in cooperation with the PA DCNR. From the ski resort, travel on Camelback Road as you enter a dense forest and keep driving until you reach the end of the road. Camelback Road will end in a large parking lot situated on Camelback Mountain. From here, follow the trail to the final summit of Camelback Mountain, from here you will be able to experience fall colors in three states. After exploring more of Big Pocono State Park, hiking on the North Trail or South Trail, grab a delicious meal at Summit House. The eatery is the highest restaurant in the Poconos, and it offers jaw-dropping views and tasty eats.
PA Leaf Peeping FAQs
Does Pennsylvania have good fall foliage?
Pennsylvania not only has great fall foliage, but it’s fall foliage season also lasts longer than any other state in the United States. In a typical year, the fall foliage season in Pennsylvania runs from the middle of September to the beginning of November. Pennsylvania’s mix of northern, hardwood forests and southern, oak-hickory woods are responsible for this vibrant diversity and lengthy foliage season.
Where is the best fall foliage in Pennsylvania?
The best destination for fall foliage in Pennsylvania varies year to year and with visitor preferences. In a normal year, Pine Creek Gorge, Big Pocono State Park and Washington Crossing Historic Park all produce beautiful displays. According to us, the best fall foliage destination is the one you are about to visit!
Where is the best fall foliage on the East Coast?
The East Coast is well known for its beautiful transformations during the fall. Maine, Vermont, and New Hampshire are often referenced as the Mecca of fall foliage. However, destinations such as the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia and North Carolina, Lake Placid in New York, and the Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania are all also well known for their fall foliage displays.
Get out and Explore Pennsylvania This Fall!
While the various destinations included in this blog represent our favorite sites for fall colors in Pennsylvania, the best fall foliage destination is whichever one is next on your list. Nothing beats the feeling of exploring a state park, recreation area or national forest for the first time.
Additional beautiful places to view fall foliage in Pennsylvania include Ricketts Glen State Park, Jim Thorpe, Raystown Lake, Hyner View State Park, Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, Loyalsock State Forest, Hickory Run State Park, Rothrock State Forest, Cook Forest State Park, Moraine State Park, and a lengthy list of other notable destinations.