The Ferncliff Trail is one of the most scenic hiking trails at Ohiopyle State Park!
This 1.8 mile loop takes hikers on a journey around the perimeter of the Ferncliff Peninsula, an ecological wonder and a Registered Natural Landmark.
The hike is suitable for all skill levels and follows the path of the Youghiogheny River as it flows in a horseshoe pattern around the peninsula and north towards Pittsburgh.
History of Ferncliff Peninsula
Millions of years ago the area that is now the Ferncliff Peninsula was a tropical swamp, and evidence of that is visible in the form of the plentiful variety of fossils you encounter all along the Ferncliff Trail.
In more modern times, the Ferncliff Peninsula was home to a hotel and resort, built in the 1880s.
This became a popular summer destination for tourists from Pittsburgh to the north and Cumberland, Maryland to the south, as they could catch a ride on the B&O Railroad (now the Great Allegheny Passage rail trail) and be dropped off near the front steps of the hotel in Ohiopyle.
As automobile travel became more common in the early 20th century, the Ferncliff Hotel fell out of favor as a tourist destination.
It was torn down in the 1940’s, with the forest reclaiming all but the traces of the foundation.
In the mid-1960s the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy purchased the Ferncliff Peninsula property and sold it to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, where it became part of the newly-created Ohiopyle State Park.
Exploring the Ferncliff Peninsula Today
Exploring the Ferncliff Peninsula now is a accomplished via an array of trails that crisscross it.
Oakwoods Trail, Fernwood Trail, Buffalo Nut Trail, and Takeout Trail all create “shortcuts” across Ferncliff Peninsula should you not want to hike the entire 1.8 mile Ferncliff Trail loop.
Where to Park
Parking is available near the trailhead (marked “Backpacking Trailhead” on the map below) in a parking lot sandwiched between the Great Allegheny Passage and the modern-day railroad tracks that pass through Ohiopyle.
Hiking the Ferncliff Trail
Since this is a loop hike, it really makes no difference which direction you take.
I prefer to hike it clockwise, following the direction the Youghiogheny River flows around Ferncliff Peninsula, so that’s how I’ll describe it here, but certainly you can hike it in the opposite direction and enjoy the experience just as much.
Starting down the trail, you’ll first pass under the Ohiopyle Low Bridge, a former railroad bridge that now carries the Great Allegheny Passage over the Youghiogheny River and the Ferncliff Trail.
Past the Low Bridge the trail runs very close to the edge of the river, and in times of high water this section might be completely submerged.
In that event, simply take the Oakwoods Trail which runs parallel to the Ferncliff Trail (albeit at a higher elevation) and reconnect to the Ferncliff Trail below Ohiopyle Falls.
Assuming this section of the Ferncliff Trail ISN’T under water when you visit, the views from the bank of the Youghiogheny River are spectacular.
Winter is especially magnificent along the Ferncliff Trail.
If temperatures get cold enough, you may even see the Youghiogheny River frozen over (although it is still flowing underneath, so don’t tempt fate by walking out on it!).
Just a few minutes further down the trail you’ll encounter the park’s namesake – Ohiopyle Falls.
Exploring Ohiopyle Falls along the Ferncliff Trail
While there are many excellent vantage points from which to view Ohiopyle Falls (which I discuss more thoroughly HERE), the views from Ferncliff Trail are my personal favorites.
Don’t be surprised if you encounter folks fishing along Ferncliff Trail in the area of the falls, as it is a popular destination for that pastime.
A few minutes downstream from Ohiopyle Falls you’ll encounter Lovers Leap, another great vantage point along the Ferncliff Trail.
Across the river you may see boaters putting in before starting their journey around Ferncliff Peninsula.
Rounding the Bend
After passing Lovers Leap, the trail bends to the right as you reach the far point of Ferncliff Peninsula and begin to loop back towards the trailhead.
This portion of the Ferncliff Trail is punctuated by large boulders and towering hemlocks.
The unique climate and topography of the peninsula, combined with the fact that the Youghiogheny River flows north from West Virginia (bringing southern seeds with it) are reasons why such a diverse array of trees and shrubs grow in this relatively small area.
No matter the season, there is always interesting plant life to observe along the Ferncliff Trail.
Nearing the Finish
As you make your way along the second half of the Ferncliff Trail, you’ll pass close enough to the river’s edge to see whitewater rafters in action.
Whitewater rafting is one of the most popular draws for visitors to Ohiopyle, but if being a spectator is as close to the action as you care to be, then the Ferncliff Trail is like having 50 yard-line seats!
The Ohiopyle High Bridge
The final highlight before returning to the trailhead is the Ohiopyle High Bridge, which like the Low Bridge is a former railroad bridge that now carries the Great Allegheny Passage over the Youghiogheny River.
Towering more than 115 feet above the Youghiogheny River, the High Bridge is impressive from below AND above.
And while it’s not part of the Ferncliff Trail, I’d strongly encourage you to walk out and across the Ohiopyle High Bridge upon completion of the Ferncliff Trail loop.
The Ferncliff Peninsula has been a beacon to tourists for nearly 150 years.
This perfect marriage of rare plants and a powerful, north-flowing river is a combination as worth seeing today as it was in the 1880s.
No matter the season, it’s always a perfect time to hike the Ferncliff Trail at Ohiopyle State Park!
10 of the Best Hiking Trails at Ohiopyle State Park will introduce you to 9 more exceptional hiking trails in the park.
10 Must-See Waterfalls at Ohiopyle State Park will introduce you to even more of the incredible sights and sounds on nearby creeks and streams.
Fallingwater, quite possibly the most famous private residence in Pennsylvania, is just minutes from Ferncliff Peninsula.
Stewarton Falls is a lesser-known but magnificent waterfall nearby in Fayette County.
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