Home to 124 state parks with over 300,000 magnificent acres to explore, it is unsurprising that Pennsylvania is such a popular hiking destination. In fact, translated from Latin, "Pennsylvania" means "Penn's Woods," a reference to the many forests that blanket the state. It is even less surprising, then, that so many hikers flock to Pennsylvania in the fall; with over 60% of the state covered in these magical woodlands (ranging from humble community forests to vast tree-covered canyons), the seasonal foliage truly takes on a life of its own. As summer slips away, Pennsylvania's towering trees–once lush and green–transform before your very eyes, replaced with autumn reds, yellows, and everything in between. Hike these colorful trails and explore the hidden treasures; from striking overlooks to delicate waterfalls, these are some of the best fall hikes Pennsylvania offers.
Golden Eagle Trail (Pennsylvania Grand Canyon)
As the air cools and the leaves begin to change, make your way to Pennsylvania's Grand Canyon (also known as Pine Creek Gorge) for some of the state's best seasonal views. At 47 miles long, the canyon offers endless pathways to adventure, like the Golden Eagle Trail, an ideal path for more experienced hikers looking to witness the Tioga State Forest's mosaic of fall colors. Expect some fairly strenuous terrains on this trip, and wear waterproof shoes if you can since the hike passes through two scenic streams. As you make your way deeper into the trail, also watch for the path's various lookouts–the views will be worth the stop. However, this hike's main reward is the highest site before you descend back down the loop; rest at this point for some breathtaking views of the colorful Pine Creek Valley. Keep in mind that this hike takes travelers around an average of five hours to complete, but if you are up for the challenge, the sights are beyond worthwhile.
Barbour Rock Trail (Pennsylvania Grand Canyon)
If Pennsylvania's Grand Canyon beckons you, but the Golden Eagle Trail sounds a bit too intimidating, the Barbour Rock Trail is a much easier (and shorter) alternative, located in the canyon's western rim. Around 1 mile in total, this easy out-and-back route can be completed in under 30 minutes, but the views might just keep you longer. Hike through the forest, leaves crunching beneath your feet, and find yourself at Barbour Rock, the trail's treasured lookout, offering vast and wondrous views of the gorge. While you only gain around 20 meters of elevation on this hike from Barbour Rock, you are around 850 feet above the base of the gorge, so the views are truly other-worldly. This hike is especially favored in the fall due to the tapestry of hues in the trees below, many arguing that this is the best time of year to hike Barbour Rock.
Pine Creek Rail Trail (Pennsylvania Grand Canyon)
At 62 miles long, it would take you around 19 hours to complete the ever-popular Pine Creek Rail Trail, which is why most hikers explore the trail in shorter sections. Once a railroad bed, today, the Pine Creek Rail Trail is one of Pennsylvania's most sought-after hikes; it runs through the very bottom of the gorge, making it a relatively flat (and easy) path, so feel free to make this a family hike, but also make sure to wear running shoes. Depending on where you enter from (you can choose between various trailheads or access points), your views will differ to some extent, some pathways leading past sparkling waterfalls, others past rugged cliff walls. But in general, you will find yourself surrounded by Pine Creek wilderness, pines mingling with the autumn hardwoods for an unbelievably pretty hike.
Flat Rock Trail (Linn Run State Park)
For another easy scenic hike, check out the Flat Rock Trail at Linn Run State Park, whose 612 acres include a blend of evergreen and hardwood forest, a charming waterfall, and a blissful trout stream. The Flat Rock Trail is open year-round and is beginner-friendly, so novice hikers will appreciate its simplistic beauty. To enter the trail, head into the depths of the woods from the lower parking area, its trees illuminated by the season's gold and amber tones. With the creek gurgling to your left, you will pass several charming (private) cabins, as well as the stony remains of an old hunting lodge; you will know when the trail ends when you spot the wide, flat rock in the stream. This hike, although short and sweet, is a great way to get out into nature for a quick adventure.
Adams Falls Loop Trail (Linn Run State Park)
Also located near Linn Run's lower parking area, try the Adams Falls Loop Trail, a 1-mile moderately challenging hike with the reward of a delicate cascade. In its entirety, you can probably finish the loop in under 40 minutes but be prepared for the chance of running into overturned/fallen trees (a frequent feature of the trail), which sometimes requires hikers to do a bit of light maneuvering. The waterfall itself, though, is reached pretty early on in the hike and is definitely worth the exertion you will face later on in the trail. The small yet serene 15-foot-tall waterfall is generally at its fullest flow in the spring, but its gentler autumn cascade is nonetheless beautiful, especially with the park's bright ruby leaves littered throughout the base.
Beaver Meadows Loop (Allegheny National Forest)
The Allegheny National Forest (famous for being Pennsylvania's only national forest) is one of the state's most popular fall hiking destinations, with 514,029 acres of unique landscapes to trek. The Beaver Meadows Trail System is an excellent example of what the forest has to offer. Its various loop trails and paths are surrounded by diverse terrains, including meadows, wetlands, blended forests, and the pleasant Beaver Meadows Lake at the center of it all. Hike the 3-mile Beaver Meadows Loop to pass through its grassy savannah on the southern side of the lake and find a red maple forest to the north. Afterward, hike the Lakeside Loop, another popular (and much shorter) choice; at just 0.5 miles long, the trail lets you witness striking up-close views of the water and wildlife.
Morrison And Rimrock Trail Loop (Allegheny National Forest)
Another hiking hotspot in the Allegheny National Forest would be the Mirrison and Rimrock Trail Loop, known for its access to the mighty Allegheny Reservoir along the Allegheny River. With 13 miles of the reservoir in New York and 14 miles in Pennsylvania, the popular 27-mile-long reservoir is beloved for its 91 miles of scenic shoreline, some of which you get to see on this excursion. Keep in mind that the trip takes hikers an average of around 4 hours to complete and is considered more on the challenging side. But once you reach the rugged Allegheny Reservoir beach, the sights of the surrounding tree-lined shore are well worth a pause. In autumn, the orange and yellow leaves reflect into the reservoir for a really stunning mirror effect, making this a popular trail in early-mid October.
Ferncliff Trail (Ohiopyle State Park)
For many hikers, the reward of waterfront views is what lures them to adventure. If this sounds like you, make sure to visit Ohiopyle State Park to hike the Ferncliff Trail for its breathtaking views of the Ferncliff Peninsula along the Youghiogheny River, as well as its equally breathtaking waterfall. Out of Ohiopyle State Park's 79 miles of trails, the Ferncliff Trail makes up just under 2 of these miles, so it is a relatively short hike that many can finish in under 40 minutes. Start by passing beneath the Ohiopyle Low Bridge to follow the river's edge, and keep to the trail for views of the park's namesake, Ohiopyle Falls. Along the way, feel free to pause at other natural attractions like Lover's Leap, a small cliff with out-of-this-world views overlooking the river and surrounding foliage.
Whether you are a more experienced hiker seeking the thrill of a challenging gorge adventure or a less experienced hiker looking to reconnect with nature on a serene, family-friendly hike, Pennsylvania's vast wilderness has a trail for you. As the weather cools and summer colors slowly disappear, embrace fall's splendor by exploring the winding loops on the Beavers Meadow Trail System or a waterfall hike in Linn Run State Park. No matter the journey, Pennsylvania in the fall is truly something every hiker should behold at least once in their lifetime, and these trails are some of the state's best.