Long Weekend: Laurel Highlands, Pennsylvania

Go to Laurel Highlands for stunning views, rafting, and even a little architecture.

Images courtesy laurelhighlands.org

Sprawling across more than 3,000 square miles and three counties, the expansive Laurel Highlands region of southwestern Pennsylvania is ripe for exploration. As you coast along the 68-mile Laurel Highlands Scenic Byway—passing cattle fields, faded crimson barns, and hand-painted signs for an annual buckwheat pancake festival—you’ll see why the region is famous for its vibrant autumn foliage and breathtaking vistas of the Allegheny Mountains. For the best views, set your heading to Ohiopyle State Park, situated on the highlands’ southern edge. The park has more than 70 miles of trails but is known for white water rafting. Calmer water, like Cucumber Falls, makes for a picnic spot right out of a Thomas Kincade painting. Get sandwiches at the Ohiopyle Bakery and Sandwich Shoppe and trek down Meadow Run until you reach the 30-foot bridal veil waterfall, then lay a blanket down and watch the sun shine through the canopy of the namesake Cucumber Magnolias.

Great Allegheny Passage
Great Allegheny Passage

Frank Lloyd Wright found the Laurel Highlands so inspiring that he designed three homes in the area, two of which are just a few miles from the falls. Yes, Fallingwater is spectacular, but Wright’s other abode is no slouch. Kentuck Knob, built 20 years after its famous cousin, might not compare architecturally, but it offers sweeping views of the Youghiogheny River Valley. Sure, you can pay $22 for an architectural tour, but your time is best spent exploring the grounds, grabbing a cone of (formerly local) Hagan ice cream, and taking in the honey amber and Cherokee red leaves that inspired Wright’s palette.

Baughman Rock Overlook, Ohiopyle State Park
Baughman Rock Overlook, Ohiopyle State Park

After roughing it for the day, kick off your muddy boots at the decidedly un-rustic Nemacolin Woodlands Resort—we’re talking crystal chandeliers and two-story windows. Prefer more humble digs? Country Seasons Bed & Breakfast Inn is located just north of Ohiopyle, but book early.

Hit ’Em High (and Low)
Spelunk your way down 43 stories at Laurel Caverns. Or wind your way up the serpentine face of Mount Davis. At 3,213 feet, it’s the highest point in Pennsylvania. Climb the 50-foot observation tower and you might just be able to see your house.

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