Exploring Ohiopyle Falls at Ohiopyle State Park

0
2019
A young couple enjoying the magnificent view at the Ohiopyle Falls overlook along the Ferncliff Trail.

The Niagara Falls of Western PA

Sometimes referred to as the “Niagara Falls of Western Pennsylvania”, Ohiopyle Falls is located near the center of 19,052 acre Ohiopyle State Park, just off Route 381 in Fayette County.

A late autumn view of Ohiopyle Falls from the overlook along Ferncliff Trail.
A late autumn view of Ohiopyle Falls from the overlook along Ferncliff Trail.

The name Ohiopyle comes from the Native American term “ohiopehhla”, which loosely translates into modern English as “white, frothy water”, a reference to the whitewater the falls and the Youghiogheny River are famous for.

With a drop of 20 feet and a width spanning the entire Youghiogheny River, Ohiopyle Falls is one of the most visited and most photographed tourist attractions in the Laurel Highlands.

Its close proximity to nearby Cucumber Falls, arguably THE most photogenic waterfall in western Pennsylvania, makes Ohiopyle Falls a bucket list destination on any travel itinerary through the region.

An autumn view of Cucumber Falls at Ohiopyle State Park.
An autumn view of Cucumber Falls at Ohiopyle State Park, right around the corner from Ohiopyle Falls.

Finding the Falls

Finding Ohiopyle Falls is easy.

Deciding where to view it from is the hard part, because there are so many good spots to choose from.

A map of the best spots to view Ohiopyle Falls at Ohiopyle State Park.
A map of the best spots to view Ohiopyle Falls at Ohiopyle State Park.

The falls are located in the town of Ohiopyle, just off of Main Street / Route 381.

If you are using navigation, use the GPS coordinates 39.868156, -79.494286 to guide you to the large parking lot closest to what I’m calling View #1 on the map above.

The street address of the parking lot / Visitors Center is 124 Main Street, Ohiopyle, PA 15470.

Or if you’re old school, just follow road signs to the town of Ohiopyle and look for the Ohiopyle Falls signs along Main Street.


Which View to Choose

I’m going to give you a breakdown of what I consider to be the 5 best vantage points to take in Ohiopyle Falls.

The first 3 are the easiest to get to, the last 2 are the most photogenic.


View #1 – The Observation Deck

A winter view of Ohiopyle Falls from the Observation Deck.
A winter view of Ohiopyle Falls from the Observation Deck.

The first view I’ll mention is the Ohiopyle Falls Observation Deck, located next to the parking lot on Main Street / Route 381.

This vantage point is dead easy to get to – hop out of your car, travel a few yards, and you’re there.

The observation deck is actually a series of 3 tiered decks, each one offering a slightly different view.

The uppermost deck is wheelchair accessible, the other decks require you to navigate some steps.

If you want to get a quick glimpse of the falls without any effort, then this is your spot.


View #2 – Outside the Visitors Center

Ohiopyle Falls as viewed from in front of the Laurel Highlands Visitors Center.
Ohiopyle Falls as viewed from in front of the Laurel Highlands Visitors Center.

The next-easiest vantage point to view Ohiopyle Falls from would be in front of the Laurel Highlands Visitors Center, which shares the parking lot with the Ohiopyle Falls Observation Deck.

This view gives you a better sense of scale, in my opinion, than does the Observation Deck view.

It’s also very easy to get to and wheelchair accessible.


View #3 – Inside the Visitors Center

Ohiopyle Falls as viewed from inside the Laurel Highlands Visitors Center.
Ohiopyle Falls as viewed from inside the Laurel Highlands Visitors Center.

Of course if you want to see Ohiopyle Falls from a climate-controlled environment, you can’t beat the view from inside the Laurel Highlands Visitors Center.

Located on the lower level of the Visitors Center (and wheelchair accessible via elevator), this wall of glass and steel gives you a chance to see the falls without being exposed to the elements.

The Visitors Center is also a fantastic source of information about Ohiopyle State Park and the Laurel Highlands in general.

And yes there are public restrooms!


View #4 – The Ferncliff Trail

A summer side view of Ohiopyle Falls.
A summer side view of Ohiopyle Falls.

Whereas the first 3 views I mentioned were easy to get to, the last 2 are slightly more challenging.

But the payoff is, in my opinion, well worth the effort.

So how do you get to the other side of the falls?

A map of Ferncliff Trail and the best spots to view Ohiopyle Falls from.
A map of Ferncliff Trail and the best spots to view Ohiopyle Falls from.

Simple.

Park in the large dirt Ferncliff Trail lot indicated on the map above.

Hike down the Ferncliff Trail 1/3 of a mile, along the banks of the Youghiogheny River, until you reach the side of Ohiopyle Falls.

That’s it!

When the river is swollen, parts of the Ferncliff Trail may be partially submerged.

High flow over Ohiopyle Falls as viewed from the Ferncliff Trail.
High flow over Ohiopyle Falls as viewed from the Ferncliff Trail.

Whereas other times, when the water is low, you might encounter folks fishing on the rocks immediately beneath the falls.

A fisherman casts a line on an autumn morning at Ohiopyle Falls.
A fisherman casts a line on an autumn morning at Ohiopyle Falls.

This side view of the falls is also one of my favorite spots to take in the sunrise at Ohiopyle State Park.

The sun crests the mountains to the east approximately 1 hour after the “official” sunrise time for any given day.

A magnificent autumn sunrise over Ohiopyle Falls.
A magnificent autumn sunrise over Ohiopyle Falls.

On this particular morning I captured the sunrise AND a fisherman in one frame!

A fisherman at Ohiopyle Falls on a summer morning.
A fisherman at Ohiopyle Falls on a summer morning.

The side view is especially stunning in the winter.

A snow-covered winter scene at Ohiopyle Falls.
A snow-covered winter scene at Ohiopyle Falls.

And winter sunrises are often a misty affair.

Winter sunrise at Ohiopyle Falls.
Winter sunrise at Ohiopyle Falls.

View #5 – The Ferncliff Overlook

Another 1/10th of a mile down the Ferncliff Trail from the Side View is the Ferncliff Overlook.

A black and white view of Ohiopyle Falls in the winter.
A black and white view of Ohiopyle Falls in the winter.

This is a great spot to watch the kayakers who occasionally “shoot the falls”.

Kayakers congregated near Ohiopyle Falls.
Kayakers congregated near Ohiopyle Falls.

This is also one of the best “selfie” spots at Ohiopyle State Park.

The author and daughter at the Ohiopyle Falls Overlook along Ferncliff Trail.
The author and daughter at the Ohiopyle Falls Overlook along Ferncliff Trail.

And even though the sun is typically just out of frame from this angle, it still makes for a nice sunrise spot.

First rays of light striking Ohiopyle Falls on an autumn morning.
First rays of light striking Ohiopyle Falls on an autumn morning.

Other Photo Ops along Ferncliff Trail

Another reason I like the Ferncliff side of Ohiopyle Falls so much is the other photo opportunities you have hiking to / from the falls.

The Youghiogheny River above Ohiopyle Falls at Ohiopyle State Park.
The Youghiogheny River above Ohiopyle Falls at Ohiopyle State Park.

Numerous small cascades dot the river between the Low Bridge on the Great Allegheny Passage and Ohiopyle Falls.

The Youghiogheny River as it passes under the Low Bridge along the Great Allegheny Passage at Ohiopyle State Park.
The Youghiogheny River as it passes under the Low Bridge along the Great Allegheny Passage at Ohiopyle State Park.

In the winter the cascades can become obscured by snow and ice.

The partially-frozen Youghiogheny River as viewed from Ferncliff Trail at Ohiopyle State Park.
The partially-frozen Youghiogheny River as viewed from Ferncliff Trail at Ohiopyle State Park.

But the Low Bridge is always there as an outstanding focal point.

The Low Bridge over the Youghiogheny River blanketed in snow.
The Low Bridge over the Youghiogheny River blanketed in snow.

Final Thoughts

A winter sunrise over Ohiopyle Falls and the Laurel Highlands Visitors Center.
A winter sunrise over Ohiopyle Falls and the Laurel Highlands Visitors Center.

The Laurel Highlands region of Pennsylvania has been recognized as one of the 30 top travel destinations in the world, and certainly Ohiopyle Falls is part of the reason why.

When you consider that Ohiopyle Falls is just down the road from Fallingwater, perhaps the most famous residence in Pennsylvania, and right around the corner from Cucumber Falls, western PA’s most photogenic waterfall, there’s ample reason to add this to your PA Bucket List.


Nearby Attractions

Looking for even MORE waterfall action at Ohiopyle State Park?

Then check out my Ohiopyle State Park Waterfall Guide!

The author at Lower Jonathan Run Falls in the spring of 2019.
The author at Lower Jonathan Run Falls in the spring of 2019.

In this guide you’ll find maps and detailed directions to the 10 best waterfall spots at Ohiopyle State Park!


Still not convinced you need to visit Ohiopyle Falls?

Then check out this video!


PA Bucket List - Discover Pennsylvania's Ultimate Travel Destinations

Pennsylvania’s Best AD-FREE Adventure Guide!

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here