Pine Creek Gorge, The Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania
Great Place to View Fall Foliage
In north central Pennsylvania, Pine Creek Gorge cuts through 47 miles of second growth forest from U.S. Route 6, just south of Ansonia, to Waterville, PA. Over 800 feet deep at its northern end and 1,450 feet deep in the south near Waterville, it is the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania.
With steep canyon walls and waterfalls, scenic vistas and breathtaking views, abundant wildlife and numerous outdoor recreation opportunities, Pine Creek Gorge is one of the natural treasures of the Keystone State. Hawks, Canadian geese, ducks and the occasional bald eagle can be seen in the gorge. Bear, whitetail deer and wild turkey are also found in the forests.
The gorge is noted for the variety of outdoor activities that can be enjoyed in any season. The brilliant colors of fall foliage are particularly stunning when viewed from the numerous overlooks in Colton Point and Leonard Harrison State Parks.
Pine Creek Gorge, a National Natural Landmark and an Important Bird Area (#38), is part of the Tioga State Forest, one of eight state forests in the Pennsylvania Wilds region. Pine Creek is a Pennsylvania Scenic and Wild River.
Pine Creek Rail Trail, an old railroad right of way, follows the shores of Pine Creek for over 60 miles from Ansonia to Jersey Shore, PA.
Geology and Ecology
Over 20,000 years ago the Laurentide Continental Glacier reversed the flow of Pine Creek from a northeasterly direction to its now southern direction. The melting glacier and subsequent river flow have cut through 5 major rock formations of the Allegheny Plateau to create the canyon we see and enjoy today. Technically, the “mountains” on either side of the river are not true mountains. They were created by erosion of the plateau.
With virgin old growth forests, Pine Creek Gorge was a plentiful source of timber in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. By the early 20th century the area had been clear cut and the victim of forest fires further diminishing the foliage. Efforts by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the 1930s lead to a regrowth of the forest and the development of the state parks. Many of the facilities built by the CCC remain in use today. Wildlife that were driven away with the clear-cutting have since been successfully reintroduced.
The northern end of the gorge, over 800 feet deep and 4,000 feet wide, is flanked to the west by Colton Point and to the east by Leonard Harrison State Parks. Officially separate state parks, a 2002 article in the New York Times referred to them as “Two State Parks, Divided by a Canyon”. A highlight of both parks are their numerous overlooks with stunning views of the gorge. Trails in the parks provide access to the bottom of the gorge and Pine Creek.
The easiest access to the floor of the canyon is via the Pine Creek Rail Trail at its northern terminus 3 miles north of Wellsboro at Wellsboro Junction. Additional access points are along U.S. Route 6 near Ansonia, as well as Big Meadows, Darling Run, and Blackwell Access Areas.
This 16 mile stretch from Ansonia to Blackwell is less populated, more isolated, and is a canyon covered in forest green. With protected land in the state parks on both sides of the river, there is little development. A few scattered camps can be found along the river's shoreline.
"Two State Parks Divided by a Canyon"
Colton Point State Park:
This 368 acre park was named for Henry Colton, a Williamsport lumberman. The park is located 5 miles south of U.S. Route 6 (Ansonia) on Colton Road.
Trails within the park include:
- Rim Trail, a flat 1 mile trail along the perimeter of Colton Point connects the viewing areas.
- Turkey Path, a strenuous trail (3 mile round trip) that follows Fourmile Run down to Pine Creek. A 70 foot waterfall can be seen about 1/3 of the way down the trail.
- West Rim Trail, over 30 miles long, runs from near Ansonia in the north to to Rattlesnake Rock near Blackwell in the south.
Leonard Harrison State Park:
The creation of this 585 acre state park was started in 1906 with 121 acres owned by Wellsboro lumberman, Leonard Harrison. The park is located 10 miles west of Wellsboro at the end of PA Route 660.
Trails and viewing areas within the park include:
- Turkey Path, a difficult 1 mile (2 mile round trip) trail that descends from the rim down to the bottom of the gorge. With overlooks, scenic vistas and waterfalls on Little Fourmile Run, there are plenty of georgous views to enjoy along the way.
- Overlook Trail is a moderate difficult 0.6 mile loop to Otter View, a lookout with a southern view. The trail passes an old CCC incinerator and a plantation of Red Pines.
- Lookout Terrace is a developed area along the rim of the gorge. While there are several good locations to view the gorge, I believe the best is at the far southern end of the terrace. It does require walking down 53 steps to get there, but the views make the walk back up worth it.
Turkey Path trails in both state parks provide foot access to the bottom of the gorge and Pine Creek. Both trails are 'down and out'. There is no bridge across the river between them. But, when the water level is low, the river could be forded.
Both state parks have picnic tables and shelters. While Colton Point offers rustic camping (latrines, no flush toilets or showers), Leonard Harrison offers modern camping facilities that include hot showers and flush toilets.
Leonard Harrison State Park has an Environmental Interpretive Center, gift shop, and vending machines that are open from late April to late October each year.
Reforestation and construction of the structures, trails and roads in and to the parks were a result of the efforts of the Civilian Conservation Corps in the mid-1930s. Structures built by the CCC at Colton State Park are now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Colton Point and Leonard Harrison State Parks, together, are one of “Twenty Must-See Pennsylvania State Parks”.
Northern Portion in PhotosClick thumbnail to view full-size
The southern portion of Pine Creek Gorge, although deeper, is broader and looks more like a river valley than a canyon. In addition to the rail trail, roads also parallel Pine Creek in this area. Unlike the northern portion of the gorge where visitors are common at the rim, in the south, most residents and visitors near the river. The small towns of Blackwell, Cedar Run, Slate Run, and Waterville offer restaurants and retail shops. Lodging is available in Blackwell and Cedar Run as well as from several rental cabins throughout the area.
Whether hiking, biking, or even kayaking or canoeing in this area, you can easily stop mid-trip for a snack or even a meal.
Southern Portion in PhotosClick thumbnail to view full-size
Pine Creek, the state parks, state forests, and the rail trail provide numerous outdoor activities in all seasons. While camping, picnicking, hiking, fishing, biking, swimming and boating are popular summer and early fall activities, Class 1 to Class 2 whitewater boating can be enjoyed in the spring and cross-country skiing and snowshoeing are options in the winter. The first 3 weeks of October are particularly good times enjoy the changing colors and fall foliage. Hunting is also permitted in the area.
Pine Creek Rail Trail
This 63.4 mile crushed limestone trail on an abandoned rail bed follows Pine Creek from Wellsboro Junction in the north to Jersey Shore in the south. A gentle 2% downhill grade, north to south, makes the trail enjoyable for almost any level of hiker or biker. With several access points, hikes and rides can be tailored to any length or duration. Water and comfort stations (compost toilets) are located along the trail.
From Ansonia to Blackwell, this 17 mile stretch of trail through the state parks is remote with little access by road. South of Blackwell the trail parallels Pine Creek and PA Route 414 for 25 miles to Waterville. South of Waterville, the final 17 mile section of the trail follows PA Route 44 and the river to Jersey Shore.
The southern section of trail is almost always close to the highway and river and crosses both several times. Enjoy the thrill of riding across an old railroad trestle and stop in the middle to enjoy the view.
No need to pack a lunch for a trip on the southern portion of Pine Gorge Rail Trail. You can stop for a meal or a snack at one of the restaurants or stores along the way.
Horseback riding is permitted on the northern section of the trail between Ansonia and Tiadaghton. In the winter, the trail makes for great cross-country skiing.
Motorcycles, snowmobiles and ATVs are not allowed on any section of Pine Creek Rail Trail.
Pine Creek Gorge, The Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania
While not the Grand Canyon in Arizona, Pine Creek Gorge is certainly a "Grand Canyon". With steep cliffs, numerous cascading waterfalls, scenic vistas, and second growth forests it has beauty and majesty all its own.
For More Information:
- PA Grand Canyon - Lodging, Attractions, Restaurants, Maps
PA Grand Canyon Attractions, Lodging, Directions, Restaurants, Shopping, Articles, Maps. The Pennsylvania Grand Canyon known as the Pine Creek Gorge.
- Pine Creek Gorge: The other Grand Canyon
- Leonard Harrison State Park
- Colton Point State Park
© 2012 Mark Shulkosky