It is that time of year when the forests of Pennsylvania begin exploding with color. Autumn is a wonderful to get out and enjoy nature. You can enjoy the wonderful fall colors by getting in the family car and driving around. However there are other ways to enjoy it to add to the experience for the family.
The first thing is to know where to go. Because of the varied climates and topography, Pennsylvania’s fall display of color lasts a lot longer than most states. The forecast is for fall colors in the extreme northern areas of the state to begin peaking this week. While the forecast for the southeastern corner of the state is for peak to hit around the end of the month. You can find a wonderful map of the forecast for peak viewing by the Bureau of Pennsylvania State Forests. Also on the site, you can find a weekly report on the fall foliage across the state. According to the prediction, the fall colors in the Johnstown area should be reaching their peak between October 10th and 15th this year. If you plan a trip, keep in mind that locations in the higher elevations will peak sooner than the lower areas. Another factor will be wind and rain. The less wind and rain that we have at this time of year, the more likely the trees will be to keep their leaves after changing colors.
So how can you use the fall colors to connect your family to the outdoors? Here are five ideas that will get you outside and immersed in the fall color.
Take the family out to enjoy one of the many outdoor fall festivals around the state. Many of these festivals have good food and fun activities for the entire family. Look for festivals that are held in natural areas. Festivals that are in towns can be fun, but sometimes the foliage viewing opportunities are limited. One festival locally this weekend will be the Apple Cider Festival and Craft Show at Prince Gallitzin State Park. The festival happens Sunday, October 6 from 10:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. In addition to the craft show and many displays, there is plenty of good food and fun activities for everyone. You can also try a free sample of fresh apple cider.
Another idea would be to take the family on a bike ride along one of the local trails. Look for trails traveling along wooded areas that are fairly flat. Rail trails are great for this experience. If this is the activity that you choose, make sure that your bikes are in good condition and be prepared to take your time. Here are four local trails to try.
- Jim Mayer Riverwalk Trail, Johnstown: The 1.7 mile trail travels along the Stoneycreek River in Johnstown.
- The Ghost Town Trail, Cambria and Indiana Counties: The 36 mile trail travels between Ebensburg and Black Lick in Indiana County.
- The Lower Trail, Blair and Huntingdon Counties: The 17 mile trail travels between Holidaysburg in Blair County and Alexandria in Huntingdon County along the Frankstown Branch of the Juniata River.
- The Great Allegheny Passage, Somerset County: The 150 mile trail runs between Cumberland, MD and Pittsburgh with several trailheads in Somerset County.
Take the family out for a scavenger hunt. You could make a list up to fit your local parks. One idea would be natural colors like orange, red, yellow, etc. Have the kids on their own or in teams find the different colors in nature. If you choose this activity, remember to practice Leave No Trace Principles and have them gather the items by taking pictures or drawing and have them leave what they find. One local spot to try this activity would be Stackhouse Park in Westmont. This activity could even be combined with a family hike. Cowans Gap will be offering a scavenger hunt on Saturday, October 5 beginning at 2:00 p.m.
Take a fall family camping trip. Fall is a great time for camping. During the day, the temperatures will generally warm up enough to make outdoor activities enjoyable without getting too overheated. However, the nights can get downright chilly, so make sure that you have plenty of blankets and a change of clothes. It is a great time to sit around a warm campfire after enjoying the fall colors all day. Don’t forget the hot chocolate and ingredients for s’mores. Most of our local state parks will remain open at least through the end of October. In addition, many of the privately owned campgrounds in the area will remain open during the fall also. One great source for finding a privately owned campground is the Pennsylvania Campground Owners Association website.
View the fall foliage from the water. It is also a great time to hit the lake, either on a boat or by paddling. It allows the family to catch the colors from a different point of view. On Saturday, there will be guided kayak tours at two local state parks. Shawnee State Park in Schellsburg is offering a Fall Foliage Paddle from 1:00 p.m. until 3:00 p.m. This program has a fee of $5 for adults and $2 for youth between 8 and 12 years of age. Cowans Gap State Park is offering a Fall Float on Saturday from 11:00 a.m. until 12:30 p.m. Both of these programs require pre-registration. The paddle at Shawnee will be repeated on Sunday, October 20. In addition, Yellow Creek State Park will be offering Fall Foliage Pontoon Boat tours beginning on Sunday, October 13.
So get out and enjoy the colors this fall. Take the family and make it an exciting and memorable learning activity. Have fun but dress appropriately.