Exploring the Allegheny National Forest with kids - a one-day adventure itinerary!
We get a lot of questions every summer from families that are visiting the our little neck of the Pennsylvania Wilds for an extended period, and then we have those that are only here for a day. If the latter is the case for your crew, this blog post is for you! These are our top destinations for families that only have a day to tackle the "must see" spots in the Allegheny National Forest!
We've laid out a full day of adventuring in the order we'd tackle it, starting and ending in Warren, PA. (An interactive google map of the complete adventure can be found at the bottom of this post.) You'll want to get an early start to your day and expect to finish late if you plan to explore the whole list. With that in mind, we've added in our favorite lunch and snack spots (I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream!), along with where you can find a little souvenir to remember your day of adventuring!
Please remember - although close to our small towns, the Allegheny National Forest, at 517,000 acres, is vast and wild. Should you find yourself in an emergency situation on the trail, cell phone reception is very limited at best, often times nonexistent. Plan ahead. Let someone know where you're going and when you plan to return. Know the ability and skill level of those you're going with and don't overdo it. Footing can be tricky in some of these spots, so be sure to grab sturdy shoes that have good tread. Carry a day pack, even if you're only planning a short hike. It should include water, snacks, an extra layer of clothing, first aid kit and headlamp at the bare minimum. And please, please respect the trail. We love our forest. Pack it in, pack it out.
#1 Rimrock Trail & Overlook
Having backpacked and hiked around the world, you often stand atop a mountain and get a birds-eye view of your surroundings. But here on the Allegheny Plateau that view is hard to find. Rimrock is by far the best spot to find it in the Allegheny National Forest.
This 1.3-mile trail starts at Kinzua Beach and climbs gradually to the giant sandstone boulders atop the ridge, to Rimrock Overlook. It boasts numerous small caves and a cool set of stone steps that allow you to climb up through the giant boulders and rock outcrops to the overlook. You'll find crevasses to explore in and out of, and on a hot summer day, also serve as "natures air conditioner" (as my kids call it), with temps often times 15-20 degrees cooler.
Use caution when hiking around the boulders, especially if you have small children. Footing can be tricky, as can vegetation. The area has footpaths going in many directions around the boulders. If you choose to explore these with kids - which can be a great adventure - it can be easy to mistake solid footing in areas that may have a significant drop, so be sure to have that conversation with your crew ahead of time.
If you're in a hurry to conquer as much of the forest as possible, Rimrock Overlook (and those cool stairs) can be accessed directly via Route 59. This option will cut the hike up, and take you right to the heart of the overlook.
#2 Bent Run Waterfall & Kinzua Dam
Bent Run waterfall and Kinzua Dam are basically across the road from each other, so there's no reason not to tackle them both in one shot.
Bent Run Waterfall is a short, fun, moderately trafficked out and back trail just before Kinzua Dam (coming from Rimrock) on Route 59. This little trail follows the stream up roughly 300' with waterfalls flowing over large rock formations in all directions. The trail itself branches off into multiple footpaths giving visitors a plethora of fantastic views.
Kinzua Dam is one of the largest dams in the United States east of the Mississippi River. In 1936, a major flood struck the Pittsburgh metropolitan area, which prompted Congress to pass the Flood Control Acts of 1936 and 1938, authorizing the construction of a dam on the Allegheny River. Construction on the dam was not begun by the US Army Corps of Engineers until 1960, and was completed in 1965.
Although Kinzua Dam was needed for flood control, its construction condemned 10,000 acres of the Allegheny Reservation, nearly one-third of its territory, which had been granted to the Seneca Nation of Indians in the Treaty of Canandaigua (signed by President Washington). The dam's construction also required the condemnation of several towns and communities in the reservoir's floodplain. Two townships, Kinzua in Pennsylvania and Elko (Quaker Bridge) in New York, were also dissolved and flooded in its construction. Although it's a tough part of our local history, we feel it's important to educate visitors of the impact it had so these places are not forgotten.
While exploring Kinzua Dam, don't forget to look over the railing on the lake side to catch a glimpse of the many carp that gather at the base! From atop the Dam you can pick up the Smorgasbord Forest Trail, a short, easy .66-mile stroll (round trip) down to the Visitor Center, with interpretive signage along the way.
Lunch, Ice Cream & Souvenir Break!
There are no sweeter words to most kids than, "who wants ice cream?" After tackling Bent Run and Kinzua is the perfect time to make the announcement to your crew, and if they're like my bunch (above), they'll be back at the car faster than you can finish the question!
Heading back through Warren to your next destination, you have a few different options for lunch, ice cream, and a quick shopping session to grab a sticker, trail poster or tee-shirt to remember your day of exploring. Hog Wild BBQ is right on Route 59 just before you get back to town, boasting the best BBQ we've ever had (strongly recommend the Cuban - nommmm), along with ice cream. Or hit Dairy Delite just down the road. If your crew is full of pizza lovers like mine is, NY Style Deli and Pizza downtown is not to be missed! While you're downtown, pop into AO's Outdoors Store and take a peek at local souvenirs - trail posters, postcards, tee shirts, stickers and photo books abound! Our staff is also happy to hear about your adventure and answer any questions you may have about further exploration! If you're in need of a mid-day cup o' joe, head to The Arbor Coffee House & Tea Room just down the road, they'll fix you right up!
#3 Heart's Content Recreation Area
While most of the region's forests were mostly clear-cut in the 1800's, 20 acres of what is now Hearts Content was owned and untouched by Wheeler and Dusenbury Lumber Company from 1897 to 1922. Wheeler and Dusenbury deeded the land to the U.S. Forest Service in 1923. In 1934, the Chief of the Forest Service recognized the old-growth stand and 102 acres of surrounding land as a National Scenic Area. Hearts Content became a National Natural Landmark in 1973.
Hearts Content Interpretive Trail is a short 1.1 mile loop trail through the Old-Growth Forest, boasting 300+ year old white pine, hemlock and beech forest. Along the way find out what effects time, weather, insects, diseases, and deer have had on the look and feel of this old growth stand. A picnic area with pavilion is also available near the trailhead.
If you happen to hang around closer toward sunset (don't forget that headlamp!), Tom's Run Loop, a 3.2-mile trail, has a red pine stand that puts on a great display of colors on the towering trees. (If you're not up for the whole 3.2-mile hike but want to check out the red pine stand, simply hike Tom's Run trail backwards.)
There it is - a full day of making memories with the kids in the Allegheny National Forest! Every point we've talked about above is laid out on the map available - just click on a point for more information and/or driving directions!
If you've already tackled a couple of these spots and are looking for others, don't be afraid to reach out for more recommendations or check out our other blog posts on a one-day waterfall tour or our favorite hikes!
If reading about the forest has you convinced you should stay for more than one day but you're not sure where to stay, check out the info on visiting our area. (And if you are staying for more than one day, you might as well spend one day on the river! Check out our canoe and kayak rentals!)