Exploring the Trails, Vistas, and Waterfalls of the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon
Located in northern Pennsylvania, the Pine Creek Gorge, also known as the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon, is one of the most impressive destinations in the state. Sweeping views and tumbling waterfalls combine with great kayaking, fishing, and trails to make for a dream destination for outdoor lovers.
In many respects, if I’m being perfectly honest, I think that the name “Pennsylvania Grand Canyon” is almost a bit unfair to the gorge. It sets up comparisons to one of the most impressive natural sites in the world, expectations that can’t be met, no matter how amazing Pine Creek Gorge actually is. However, whether you call it the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon or Pine Creek Gorge, there is no denying that this is one of the most impressive outdoor destinations in Pennsylvania.
The Pennsylvania Grand Canyon runs 47 miles through Tioga County and Lycoming Counties. The canyon starts at Ansonia, a small community along Route 6 near Wellsboro, which is a perfect jumping off point for those wanting to visit the northern reaches of the gorge.
While little of the area has been tamed or settled, the northern part of the canyon from Ansonia to Blackwell, a distance of roughly 17 miles, is especially remote, with state owned lands surrounding both sides of the canyon. For visitors looking to enjoy the unspoiled beauty of this region, this is the area to visit.
Much of the land surrounding the northern portions of the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon are public lands, with Leonard Harrison State Park on the eastern rim and Tioga State Forest and Colton Point State Park on the western rim.
The eastern rim in Leonard Harrison State Park is the most accessible side of Pine Creek Gorge and closest to downtown Wellsboro. Because of this, you’ll likely find more visitors here than you will on the far side of the PA Grand Canyon. The stars of Leonard Harrison State Park are the views and the waterfalls.
The park has an accessible viewing platform less than a hundred yards from the parking area. From here, it’s possible to see 800 feet down to Pine Creek as it passes through the base of the gorge. Great views can also be had to the north as the canyon meanders its way through the forested hillsides.
Those looking for even more impressive views should take the short, but somewhat challenging Overlook Trail to Otter Point, which offers views south that are even more impressive than those at the main viewing area. This trail also takes visitors past the remains of an incinerator that was part of the CCC’s work at the park in the 1930s.
Those looking for a challenging hike will be well rewarded with the Turkey Path, a four-mile roundtrip trail that passes cascading waterfalls on its way to the bottom of the gorge. Despite both stairs and switchbacks, I have to say that this might be the most difficult trail I’ve done in Pennsylvania. So, while it is beautiful, make sure you are in decent shape before tackling this trail.
Roughly halfway down the Turkey Path, the trail meets up with Little Four Mile Creek. The creek cascades down through a series of waterfalls before emptying into Pine Creek at the base of the gorge and the end of the Turkey Path.
This is also where the Turkey Path meets the Pine Creek Rail Trail, a 65-mile trail that runs from north of Wellsboro and through the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon to the Susquehanna River in Jersey Shore, PA. This is a popular walking and biking trail, and if you visit on a beautiful day, you’ll likely see people utilizing this trail. If you happen to be one of them, a short, but steep mile-long hike up the trail will give you access to the waterfalls of Leonard Harrison State Park.
Back up at the top, make sure to check out the small gift shop and museum in the park’s visitor center. This is a great area to pick up a souvenir and learn a bit more about the area. During the warmer months, there might also be food vendors here for those looking for a snack or meal.
On the western rim of the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon, 4,000 feet away from the overlooks at Leonard Harrison State Park, is Colton Point State Park. This side of the park is much less developed than the eastern rim, with a well-maintained dirt road traveling the four miles back to the park’s entrance. However, those that make the journey to this side of the canyon are rewarded with some of the most breathtaking views, as well as hidden waterfalls that make the trip well-worth taking.
The western side of the Grand Canyon is home to the West Rim Trail, a 30-mile trail that runs along the gorge’s edge. Even if you don’t hike the entire trail, the portion of it that runs Colton Point State Park offers fantastic views of the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon. There are several vantage points marked on the park map that offer amazing views of the canyon, and if you look closely, you can see the viewing area of Leonard Harrison State Park on the opposite rim.
Another popular trail in Colton Point State Park is the Turkey Path (which is not to be confused with the Turkey Path on the other side of Pine Creek Gorge). This 3-mile trail is extremely difficult, though not quite as difficult as the one in Leonard Harrison. There are waterfalls near the trail here on Four Mile Run, but they can’t easily be seen from the trail, making a bit of off-trail hiking necessary.
Getting to these waterfalls can be quite difficult and should only be attempted by experienced hikers. That shouldn’t discourage you from hiking the Turkey Path, however, as it is a nice, but challenging hike to the base of the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon.
Just outside of Colton Point State Park in Tioga State Forest are several other highlights of the area. These both are actually before the park, if you are coming from Route 6.
The first is Barbour Rock, probably the best vantage point from which to view the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon. This handicapped-accessible trail is roughly 1.5 miles roundtrip along a wide, level path. The viewing platform above Barbour Rock offers sweeping views south along the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon and shouldn’t be missed.
The creeks just outside Colton Point State Park feature several great waterfalls. Keep in mind, however, that these creeks have no trails and require significant precautions if you’re going to attempt to see these waterfalls. Should you be an experienced hiker and want to see them, my friend Rusty Glessner has put together a great guide to the waterfalls of Bear Run and Chimney Hollow Falls.
Without a doubt, Pine Creek Gorge should be on the Pennsylvania bucket list of any travelers in the state. The amazing vistas, towering waterfalls, and endless opportunities for outdoor adventure shouldn’t be missed.