Exploring Fallingwater in Fayette County

Early spring at Fallingwater in the Pennsylvania Laurel Highlands.
Early spring at Fallingwater in the Pennsylvania Laurel Highlands (public domain image).

Nearly 150,000 people visit Fallingwater every year, and with good reason. In 1991, an American Institute of Architects poll voted it “the best all-time work of American architecture”.

Interior architectural details at Fallingwater.
Interior architectural details at Fallingwater (public domain image).

In 2019, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Committee added Fallingwater to the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Overlooking the falls at Fallingwater.
Overlooking the falls at Fallingwater (public domain image).

So with a list of accolades a mile long, it’s no wonder Fallingwater is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the PA Laurel Highlands!

View from below the falls at Fallingwater.
View from below the falls at Fallingwater (public domain image).

A Brief History of Fallingwater

Fallingwater was the weekend home of Pittsburgh department store owner Edgar J. Kaufmann Sr. and his family. The house, guest wing, and service wing were designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright. The project was completed in 1939.

Fallingwater as viewed from the hillside above.
Fallingwater as viewed from the hillside above (public domain image).

The house was built from sandstone quarried locally on the Kaufmann’s property, and cost around $155,000 at the time (around $2.5 million today, adjusted for inflation).

Support columns beneath Fallingwater.
Support columns beneath Fallingwater (public domain image).

Wright believed it was important that a building blend with its natural surroundings.

“No house should ever be on a hill or on anything. It should be of the hill. Belonging to it. Hill and house should live together each the happier for the other”

And with his design for Fallingwater, Frank Lloyd Wright found that happy, harmonious balance.

Fallingwater as seen from the bridge over Bear Run.
Fallingwater as seen from the bridge over Bear Run.

The house remained in the Kaufmann family until 1963 when it was donated, along with the contents and 1750 acres of surrounding land, to the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy.

Dining area at Fallingwater.
Dining area at Fallingwater (public domain image).

The Conservancy now operates tours of the house, as well as other educational programs on the grounds.


Touring Fallingwater

The most up-to-date information on hours, tour packages, and potential closures (COVID-related or other) can be found at Fallingwater’s official website. Or you can call the Visitor Center there at 724-329-8501.

The author (Rusty Glessner) taking a photo at Fallingwater on a winter day.
The author at Fallingwater on a winter day.

How to Find Fallingwater

Fallingwater is located approximately 19 miles south of the PA Turnpike’s Donegal exit, along Route 381.

How to find Fallingwater in Fayette County Pennsylvania
A map to Fallingwater in Fayette County, PA.

Look for this entrance sign along Route 381 at GPS coordinates 39.900913, -79.465468.

The Fallingwater entrance sign along Route 381 in Fayette County, PA.
The Fallingwater entrance sign along Route 381 in Fayette County, PA.

Fallingwater is also just a few minutes north of Ohiopyle State Park, and certainly you’ll want to budget some time for sightseeing there as well.

An autumn view of Cucumber Falls at Ohiopyle State Park.
Cucumber Falls at Ohiopyle State Park.

Exploring the Interior of Fallingwater

Because the Kauffman family generously donated not only the house, but the contents as well to the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, Fallingwater looks remarkably similar to how it would have when being used as a private weekend retreat in the mid-twentieth century.

Fireplace inside Fallingwater.
Fireplace inside Fallingwater (public domain image).

In this series of public domain images created for the Historic American Buildings Survey, you can see the rich, earthy details which marry the house to the surrounding landscape.

Living room inside Fallingwater.
Living room inside Fallingwater (public domain image).

The many windows allowed the Kauffmans to take in the varied and wonderful views of Nature that surround Fallingwater.

Desk and bookshelves in side Fallingwater.
Desk and bookshelves in side Fallingwater (public domain image).

There are no shortage of fantastic “book nooks” inside Fallingwater!

Reading area inside Fallingwater.
Reading area inside Fallingwater (public domain image).

Touring the Grounds at Fallingwater

Even when tours of the inside of Fallingwater are not available, you can buy a “Grounds Pass” to tour the outside of the buildings, as well as the trails around the property.

Architectural details on the exterior of Fallingwater.
Architectural details on the exterior of Fallingwater (public domain image).

The symmetry and attention to every architectural detail is impressive.

Architectural details at Fallingwater in Fayette County, PA.
Architectural details at Fallingwater in Fayette County, PA (public domain image).

Even the Visitor Center at Fallingwater adheres to Wright’s principle of blending building with surroundings.

The pavilion at the Fallingwater Visitors Center.
The pavilion at the Fallingwater Visitor Center.

There are several well-marked trails to the various vantage points around the property.

Trail sign at Fallingwater showing the way to the handicap-accessible view.
Trail sign at Fallingwater showing the way to the wheelchair-accessible view.

The “Bird’s Eye View” of Fallingwater

This is what is referred to on the map provided at the Visitor Center as the “Bird’s Eye View”.

Fallingwater from the "Bird's Eye View", as it is called on the map you are given at the Gate House.
Fallingwater from the “Bird’s Eye View”, as it is called on the map you are given at the Visitor Center.

This is an excellent vantage point to get a top-down look at the cantilevered tiers of Fallingwater, suspended over the waterfalls below.


The “Classic View” of Fallingwater

This is the world-famous view you’ve no doubt seen countless times in books and articles about Fallingwater.

Fallingwater as seen from the "Classic View" on visitors map.
Fallingwater as seen from the “Classic View” on the Visitor Center map.

Guess what – it’s even better in person!

The "classic view" of Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater in the PA Laurel Highlands.
The “Classic View” of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater in the PA Laurel Highlands.

The “Bridge View” of Fallingwater

From the bridge over Bear Run, you have an outstanding view of the steps leading from the house to the stream, which I personally find one of the most interesting features of the house.

Another view of Fallingwater from the bridge over Bear Run.
Another view of Fallingwater from the bridge over Bear Run.

Final Thoughts on Exploring Fallingwater

Fallingwater and Frank Lloyd Wright have received just about every accolade and honor a building and it’s architect are capable of. More than 5 million people have visited Fallingwater since it opened to the public in 1964.

Fallingwater historical marker declaring it "A Commonwealth Treasure".
Fallingwater historical marker declaring it “A Commonwealth Treasure”.

It is indeed a treasure of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and a well-preserved treasure at that.

Living space inside Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater.
Living space inside Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater (public domain image).

If you had time to visit just one tourist attraction in the Laurel Highlands, Fallingwater would be near the top of my list of suggestions.

The spring thaw at the "classic view" of Fallingwater in Fayette County.
Spring thaw at Fallingwater in Fayette County.

The architectural importance and sheer beauty of it make Frank Lloyd Wright’s masterpiece a PA Bucket List item for sure!


Still not convinced you need to explore Fallingwater?

Then check out this video!


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A vacation rental cabin near Fallingwater in Fayette County Pennsylvania.
Photo courtesy of Vrbo.

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Nearby Attractions

Looking for more sightseeing destinations in the Laurel Highlands?

Then be sure to check out 23 Must-See Waterfalls in the Laurel Highlands for maps and directions to some of the finest waterfalls in the region.

Selfie at Lower Jonathan Run Falls, Ohiopyle State Park
The author at Lower Jonathan Run Falls in the Laurel Highlands.

If scenic vistas are your thing, be sure to check out The 10 Best Scenic Overlooks in the Laurel Highlands.

The author photographing an autumn sunrise at Baughman Rock Overlook.
The author photographing at Baughman Rock Overlook in the Laurel Highlands.

If “leaf peeping” is what brings you to western Pennsylvania, be sure to check out 20 Fabulous Fall Foliage Destinations in the Laurel Highlands of PA!

A lone fisherman on Brush Creek below the Pack Saddle Covered Bridge in Somerset County, PA.
Fall foliage around the Pack Saddle Covered Bridge in Somerset County, PA.

Fort Necessity National Battlefield in Fayette County is where the first shots of the French and Indian War were fired.

The modern-day replica of Fort Necessity at the National Battlefield in Fayette County PA
Fort Necessity in Fayette County, PA.

In addition to the replica of the fort itself, the Visitor Center contains an excellent museum that explains the causes and repercussions of this war that helped shape the face of North America.

Inside the entrance at the Fort Necessity museum.
Inside the entrance at the Fort Necessity museum.

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Rusty Glessner is an award-winning photographer, lifelong Pennsylvanian, and creator of the PA Bucket List travel blog.

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