Weekend Getaways: Allegheny National Forest and beyond

Just over two hours from State College and Penn State University is the Allegheny National Forest, an outdoor lover's paradise. 

Covering approximately 517,000 square acres, the forest lies in the heart of Pennsylvania’s oil and gas region and is the only National Forest located within the state.

Early settlers cleared the land for agriculture, but the lumber industry soon followed. Deforestation caused wildfires and floods, and by 1900 most wildlife was eliminated due to overhunting.

The Forest Service began managing the land that is now the Allegheny National Forest in 1923, and things began to change for the better.

Today, forests have regrown and animal populations have rebounded. The forest — which includes the Allegheny Reservoir — is a popular outdoor retreat, offering a variety of hiking, cross-country skiing, horse riding and snowmobile trails; camping sites; fishing and hunting options; and much more.

HIKING - Not surprisingly, hiking is a huge draw for the Allegheny National Forest. There’s a variety of trails throughout the park, ranging from the 1.3-mile Rimrock Hiking Trail to the 96.3-mile North Country National Scenic Trail. At 6.6 miles, the Minister Creek Trail is arguably the most scenic, and easily hikable in one session. This loop trail offers massive boulders, cliffs and other unique rock formations; a scenic vista; and a number of picturesque streams. We’d also recommend the much shorter and easily accessible Rimrock Hiking Trail, which has breathtaking views of the national forest and Allegheny Reservoir from cliffs above. 

NATURE THERAPY - Taking time to enjoy the outdoors is an important part of many cultures around the world. If you’re looking for a peaceful place to reflect, the Allegheny National Forest has you covered! Two highly recommended spots are Hector Falls and Hearts Content Scenic Area. The first spot is a 22-foot waterfall that — while not impressive in its height — is a sight to behold with water pouring over the 90-degree sides of a square boulder. The Hearts Content Scenic Area is a tract of old-growth forest that contains one of the few remaining old-growth tracts of white pine in the country. 

SWIMMING & BOATING - The 7,657-acre Allegheny Reservoir offers endless opportunities for water sports. The 27-mile long manmade reservoir has 91 miles of shoreline, which means plenty of fishing spots! Powerboat use is permitted, and many launch areas are available. While swimming is possible in many parts of the reservoir, we recommend Kinzua Beach. Located next to the marina, it offers lakefront swimming, a sandbox and an extensive grassy area available for sunbathing and picnics. If you’re looking to get away from the crowds of the reservoir, take a look at the Allegheny Wild and Scenic River, particularly the Allegheny Islands Wilderness Area. This region contains seven islands that are popular for camping, exploration and wildlife viewing. 

MUSEUMS - There are a variety of museums in this part of the state, but two of the most popular include the Penn Brad Oil Museum and the Zippo Museum. The former explores the area’s history as the site of the first billion-dollar oilfield in the world. Oil was a huge industry here, producing an incredible 83 percent of the United States’ total oil output in 1881. Not far away, the Zippo Museum celebrates two iconic American brands — Zippo lighters and Case knives. This 15,000-square-foot attraction includes the Zippo repair clinic and the Zippo/Case flagship store! Another spot of interest nearby is the Kinzua Bridge State Park, which celebrates what was once the longest and tallest railroad structure in the world. While partially destroyed by a tornado in 2003, you can still walk out on the bridge-turned-skywalk, and visit the informative visitors center/museum.

LIBATIONS - Award-winning wines, spirits and brews all call this region home. The most well-known is perhaps Straub Brewery in St. Marys, which has been brewing since 1872! Take the tour and visit the “world famous” Eternal Tap™.
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