Pine Creek Gorge, often called Pennsylvania’s Grand Canyon, is located in the Tioga State Forest in central Pennsylvania. You have probably heard of it, but is Pine Creek Gorge worth taking the time to visit?
Pine Creek Gorge is definitely worth visiting. The 47-mile-long canyon is rugged and beautiful and offers visitors some of the most breathtaking views in Pennsylvania. Whether you’re an experienced hiker or a newbie to the great outdoors, you’ll find Pine Creek Gorge to be a rewarding stop.
So, where are the best views at Pine Creek Gorge? Is Pine Creek Gorge hard to get to? Which side of Pine Creek Gorge is better? Continue on to learn more about this famous Pennsylvania destination.
Pine Creek Gorge
Nestled within the 165,000 acres of the Tioga State Forest in north-central Pennsylvania, Pine Creek Gorge is a 47-mile-long canyon renowned for its spectacular natural beauty. The canyon begins near the town of Wellsboro and runs south for about 47 miles to its southern terminus. Often called the “Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania,” the gorge is located between two state parks that are located on opposite sides of the canyon’s rim.
The geological origins of the canyon date back thousands of years. Pine Creek had existed for quite some time before a glacier retreated through the area, leaving a gigantic trail of debris in its wake. The debris dammed the creek and caused a glacial lake to form.
This glacial lake was fine for some time, but as the ice age ended and glaciers began to melt, the lake overflowed the debris dam. Once the dam had burst, the glacial meltwater roared forth and carved out the massive, deep channel we know today as Pine Creek Gorge.
Pine Creek Gorge is truly one of Pennsylvania’s most scenic natural wonders. One of the best ways to see the gorge is to visit one of the two state parks that are located along its rim; entrance to both parks is free. You can visit Leonard Harrison State Park on the canyon’s east rim or Colton Point State Park on the west rim.
Leonard Harrison State Park
Leonard Harrison State Park is a 585-acre state park located near the town of Wellsboro, Pennsylvania. The park is situated on the east rim of Pine Creek Gorge and offers some of the most breathtaking views.
The park is a popular place to go hiking and camping. The campground offers picnic tables, showers, flushing toilets, and a dump station and is open from the second Friday in April to the last weekend in October.
If you like beautiful fall colors (and who doesn’t?), you should go to the park during the autumn months. From late September through mid-October, the park blooms into a brightly colored sea of leaves, with colors ranging from rich reds to fiery oranges, yellows, and even purples. It is a sight to see!
Apart from the camping, and the scenery, Leonard Harrison State Park has 4.6 miles of hiking trails. The Pine Creek Rail Trail is the easiest and most accessible hiking trail, which has a one-mile section in Leonard Harrison. The rail trail is an excellent activity for families and offers relatively easy access to some of Pennsylvania’s best views.
If you are in for a more challenging experience, try the Overlook Trail. Overlook is about 0.6 miles long, but it is more rugged. The payoff is a nice view of the gorge and a chance to see interesting historical sites built by the Civilian Conservation Corps.
The most challenging trail is the Turkey Path Trail, the Turkey Path Trail descends to the bottom of the gorge in both parks, but there is no bridge to cross Pine Creek. This trail requires hikers to descend 800 feet to the canyon floor and then hike back up. The trail on the Leonard Harrison side is two miles down and up, so be aware that the only way back out from the bottom of the trail is to hike out. If you choose to take the Turkey Path Trail, be sure to wear sturdy boots and bring basic hiking supplies.
Leonard Harrison State Park is open 365 days a year from sunrise to sunset. Vending machines and restrooms are available at the visitor center. There is a food truck on weekends between Memorial Day and late September, with some weekday availability as the leaf season progresses.
Keystone Answers Fun Fact: The deepest part of Pine Creek Gorge is located near Waterville, where the canyon is 1,450 feet deep. That’s deep enough to contain the entire Willis Tower!
Colton Point State Park
On the western rim of the canyon sits Colton Point State Park. This 368-acre park has a fascinating history involving the Civilian Conservation Corps. Colton Point State Park is popular for its rugged trails that lead to beautiful waterfalls.
While Leonard Harrison is considered to have the best views, the views from Colton Point State Park are worth seeing. The park offers fun hikes leading to splendid scenic vistas featuring the canyon. The trails are especially popular in autumn, when the trees in the valley change into their vibrant fall colors.
The beautiful fall colors come from trees that Civilian Conservation Corps workers planted in the 1930s. At the time, extensive logging had left much of the valley barren, which was visually disappointing and not the best for the environment. So workers from the CCC took to the wasteland and planted hundreds of thousands of seeds that have now matured into full-fledged forests.
The hiking at Colton Point is slightly more rugged than Leonard Harrison, but well worth the effort. The one-mile Rim Trail is the park’s easiest trail, a pleasant loop that meanders along the rim and offers spectacular views with minimal effort.
The more advanced trail at Colton Point is the Turkey Path. The Turkey Path is a 3-mile trail consisting of 1.5 miles that brings hikers to the canyon floor, followed by a grueling 1.5-mile hike out that brings them back to the rim. The Turkey Path is rewarding, but it should only be attempted by people in good condition who have good boots.
If you’re an experienced hiker, the Turkey Path offers you access to the Fourmile Run, which runs up the riverbed and lets you see some of the falls up close!
Which is Better, Colton Point or Leonard Harrison?
While you’ll find a beautiful view from both state parks, most people find the view from Leonard Harrison State Park to be more grand and expansive than the view from Colton Point State Park. To get to the vistas at Leonard Harrison, all you need to do is enter the park and pass through the visitor center. From there, trails spread out and provide easy access to a series of man-made viewpoints that look out over the canyon.
The viewpoints at Leonard Harrison not only have better optics, but they are also easier to access. In addition, the trails at Leonard Harrison are more suitable for the average person, whereas Colton Point is slightly more rugged.
Some of the viewpoints at both parks have binoculars installed, but we’d recommend bringing your own. In addition, photography enthusiasts should bring a tripod and their best lenses.
How Long is the Pine Creek Rail Trail?
The Pine Creek Rail Trail is a 62.7-mile-long mixed-use trail that follows the Pine Creek Gorge. Despite being close to a massive gorge, the trail is relatively flat, with an average 2% grade over its entire length.
People who visit the Pine Creek Rail Trail love to walk, jog, bike, or even ride horses along the trailways. There are multiple access points along the length of the trail, but by far, the most popular route is to start at the Darling Run parking area and head south. Starting at Darling Run will bring you past many of the most scenic aspects of the trail, including the section that sits between Leonard Harrison and Colton Point state parks.
If you decide to start at Darling Run, unless you’re planning a very long hike, you’ll need to be mindful of how far you go so you know when to turn around and start heading back to the parking area.
If you are interested in a long hike, about 8 miles in from Darling Run, there is a location known as Tiadaghton, easily one of the most beautiful locations along the trail. Once there, you may see exciting wildlife such as bears and eagles! In addition, there is a little picnic area where you can stop and rest or even camp while you take in the fantastic natural beauty of the Keystone State.
The trail is open from dawn to dusk. Motor vehicles, including ATVs and dirt bikes, are prohibited on the trail. You can take your dog, but you must keep them on a 6-foot leash.
Pine Creek Gorge is Well Worth the Visit
Pennsylvania is a rugged and beautiful state, and for those who love the outdoors, there are few places better than the Pennsylvania Wilds. One of the best things to see in the Wilds is Pine Creek Gorge, the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania.
The unparalleled views from Leonard Harrison State Park and Colton Point State Park provide excellent opportunities to enjoy the views or snap a perfect picture, and the Pine Creek Rail Trail is an accessible and fun way to explore the canyon. So whether you’re an experienced outdoorsman or more of the indoorsy type, Pine Creek Gorge is worth visiting.