Pennsylvania’s Allegheny National Forest is located in the northwestern corner of the state, across several counties, including McKean, Elk, Warren, and Forest. Famous for its beautiful scenery and expansive natural surroundings, this area is set against the backdrop of the majestic Appalachian Mountains and often referred to as "Trail Central," as there are more than 600 miles of pathways traversing over 500,000 acres. You’ll love the many diverse and fun outdoor activities offered here, including hiking, mountain biking, ATV trails, canoeing, guided tours, kayaking, bird watching—and many more.
History and Background
Pennsylvania’s Allegheny National Forest was originally home to Native Americans, who lived on the land for centuries. The area's beauty attracted early European settlers in the 1800s who eventually created a thriving community, and transformed the area into a hub for lumber and agriculture. Over the years, the region was further developed, as tanneries and sawmills became profitable businesses. Later, coal mining also emerged as a lucrative industry and mines were created across the region. At that point, the railroad made this part of the state more accessible, though it also resulted in this area of Pennsylvania losing almost all of its natural resources, as trees were cut down and large sections of lands were completely cleared.
In 1923, the United States government established the Allegheny National Forest, which fully protected the land and still promotes conservation. Today, it’s Pennsylvania’s only national forest, and one of the most visited destinations in the state, known for its jaw-dropping natural beauty and acres of pristine land.
Highlights and Things to Do
There are many wonderful attractions and activities at the Allegheny National Forest. If you adore nature, you can easily spend several days in this charming and vast region, exploring the wilderness, significant and soaking in the expansive mountainous landscape. There is an abundance of outdoor experiences here such as hiking, kayaking, canoeing, mountain biking, and bird watching. There's also plenty of wildlife spotting, as this area is home to bears, deer, turkeys, and other forest creatures. These are some of the highlights of this incredible national forest:
- Allegheny Reservoir: This popular outdoor recreational and memorable attraction is situated in the Allegheny National Forest spans 27 miles in Pennsylvania and New York state. This lovely destination also encompasses more than 90 miles of picturesque shoreline. Established in the 1960s, the reservoir is home to several picnic areas, beaches for swimming, and a number of sites for fishing. The campgrounds here are known to be comfortable and feature a number of amenities, such as hot water showers and flush toilets.
- Longhouse National Scenic Byway: This 36-mile loop within the Allegheny National Forest is a lovely scenic drive with a number of exceptional lookout points along the way. It’s lined with majestic oak and black cherry trees, which often form a canopy over the road. As you drive along this popular route, you will pass several recreational areas, including Jake’s Rock Overlook, where you can admire views of Jackson Bay, on the Allegheny Reservoir. You can also stop and see the Old Powerhouse, a restored (free) historical site dating back to 1939.
- Rimrock Overlook: This exceptional lookout point and the adjacent trail is a must-see—and provides expansive views of the Allegheny Reservoir, Kinzua Beach, and acres of natural beauty. This destination offers a variety of spots to enjoy the scenery, with stone steps offering access to a number of different views. You can scramble over boulders and explore crevasses as well. You can admire the panorama, or continue walking along the trail, although it becomes steeper and winds through a thick forest. (If you’re there in winter, be aware that the overlook’s access road is a cross-country ski trail).
- Mountain Biking: If you’re into mountain biking, the Allegheny National Forest is an idyllic destination to enjoy a leisurely or rugged ride. The winding trails are great for beginners or expert bikers and will take you on a scenic adventure through the wilderness.
- Paddling: There are plenty of water activities here where you can admire the wilderness from the flowing rivers. And it's easy to explore Allegheny National Forest by kayak or canoe. You can enjoy paddling on the Allegheny River, which runs along the northwestern boundary of the forest—or if you’re more experienced, you can test your skill on the Clarion River.
- Hiking: There are many hiking opportunities in the forest, suitable for every level. One of the more popular trails at Allegheny National Forest includes the Heart’s Content Interpretive trail (1.1 mile). This one is particularly easy, marked, and accessible. Others are moderate/difficult and vary in length. They include the Little Drummer Historical Pathway; Beaver Meadows and Twin Lakes.
- Wilderness Tours: Allegheny National Forest offers many great activities including hikes, group events, forest excursions, and plenty of children’s programs. Self-guided tours are also an option. Check out the website or visitor’s center for times and schedules.
- Camping: The Allegheny National Forest provides camping experiences of all kinds. There are on-site cabin rentals available with limited amenities, as well as specific areas designated as campgrounds, group camping sites, and RV camping sites. Please note that camping sites feature different facilities and must be reserved in advance, especially during the summer months. Visit the website’s camping page to get more details about these options, and if any permits are needed to reserve your site.
Visitor Tips and Best Time to Visit
At Allegheny National Forest you can explore the trails on your own, but it’s best to start your visit at the ANF Visitors Bureau, which promotes "Geo-Tourism" and sustainability and provides an abundance of information on all the activities and tours available. You will find details about local attractions, places to stay, restaurants, museums, and things to see and do while visiting.
You can visit Allegheny National Forest year-round, and since Pennsylvania experiences the four seasons, you will find that this worthwhile destination offers something different each time you visit. For example, in winter, you’ll find it’s great for snowmobile riding as well as cross-country skiing.
Be sure to visit check out the ANF website in advance for information about seasonal activities, trail closures, tours, camping, kids’ programs, and other special events. Admission is free, but at certain sites, there may be a “day use” fee of $5 dollars that may be paid on site. There are many camping sites here and prices change, depending on the accommodations and the season. Be sure to reserve your campsite and purchase permits in advance (when required).
Things to Do Nearby
You don’t want to miss the incredible Kinzua Bridge State Park and Kinzua Sky Walk, featuring jaw-dropping views overlooking the forest. Suspended more than 200 feet above the valley floor, the Kinzua Sky Walk extends 600 feet across the Kinzua Gorge, offering breathtaking scenery and sightlines for miles. Stop at the 11,000-square-foot Kinzua Bridge visitor’s center for information about the skywalk, as well as the Kinzua Dam. The Zippo/Case Museum and the Eldred WWII Museum, are both nearby as well.