Fall Foliage Peak is Here NOW in the Laurel Highlands PA

Repost from the Somerset Daily American.
Article written by Ralph Couey

7:10 p.m. EDT, October 14, 2011
After 11 long months of waiting, October, my favorite month, has finally arrived.

I’ve written a lot about my love of autumn, maybe too much. But I can’t help myself. I love forests, but when the chlorophyll is withdrawn from the leaves and their natural colors reveal themselves, a dormant part of myself comes alive.

It is the month I actually make time to spend in the woods, camera in hand, or winding along the roads through these mountains trying to capture forever these all-too-ephemeral days.

We are so very fortunate to be in an area that rarely disappoints us leaf hunters. Vermont and New Hampshire may boast and brag, but the Laurel Highlands is truly a fall foliage paradise.

We live in what is called “Fall Zone 2” a…well…tree-shaped area of Pennsylvania. The roots and trunk start in the east in Pike, Monroe, and Northampton counties and runs west as far as Centre County where it “branches” northwest to Erie and southwest to Fulton, engulfing the rest of the western half of Pennsylvania. As far as I can determine according to several authoritative websites, the peak of these counties should arrive this weekend.

The warm summer and abundant (in some cases over-abundant) rainfall, along with the prompt arrival of cool weather has provided the set-up for what I’m told should be one of the most spectacular years in recent memory.

The great thing about living in the Laurel Highlands is that you don’t have to go far at all for spectacular vistas. For some, all that will be required is a glance outside the kitchen window.

I’ve found a few favorite places to go to absorb Fall’s karma. One of my favorites is the drive (or ride for us motorcyclists) along Route 381 from US 30 running south past Ohiopyle to the National Pike, US 40. Another favorite is the heavily forested Route 31 between Bakersville and Laurelville. For a short jaunt, I take Trent Road south from Route 31, through Laurel Hill State Park, to the Copper Kettle Highway/County Line Road past Seven Springs to Champion.

Another great drive is Route 271 from Westmont over Laurel Mountain to Ligonier, then going west on 30 through the Loyalhanna Gorge. It’s so pretty, I have to do it twice. Mt. Davis Road around High Point Lake provides some beautiful vistas as does Route 56 through the Conemaugh River Gorge northwest of Johnstown. There’s also US 219 from Somerset through Berlin and Meyersdale, leading to the Maryland border.

Route 30, the Lincoln Highway, is highly recommended, essentially running from the Loyalhanna Gorge all the way to Gettysburg. An area I found last year is along Old Forbes Road, starting just east of Stoystown and going to Ridge Road, which takes you back to the Lincoln Highway.

These are few of my favorites, but I’m sure everyone reading this has found their very own autumn nirvana, which is one of the many benefits to living around here. The challenge, of course is to do this safely, ensuring I don’t drive off the road or into the oncoming lane while rubbernecking at the leaves.

You don’t even have to be in a car, for that matter. The Laurel Highlands has an abundance of forest trails, including the 70-mile-long Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail, for both casual strollers and hard-core hikers that will take you through the hills amongst the glowing trees. There, of course, you get to enjoy that unique fall aroma of the leaves, and that soul-satisfying experience of swishing through them while walking along.

I particularly enjoy the two-mile path that leads to the Allegheny Portage Tunnel near Mineral Point. You walk in the darkness of that 900-foot tunnel and suddenly a hillside lit up in reds and golds appears at your feet. It just doesn’t get any better than that.

Words are my tools, my toys, my playground. But even after years of effort, I have been unable to fully articulate the miraculous joy that I feel on an autumn day. The bright sunlight, cool air, and the glorious colors in the trees combine to create in me an inexpressible happiness.

This is a busy time of year, especially for families. But try to find the time in that short span of time when the leaves are peaking to take a drive, take a ride, or take a walk somewhere. It’ll be a memory you’ll treasure forever.

Oh, and don’t forget your camera!

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