Hiking the Ferncliff Trail at Ohiopyle State Park

An autumn view of Youghioghney River from the Ferncliff Trail at Ohiopyle State Park.

The Ferncliff Trail is one of the most scenic hiking trails at Ohiopyle State Park!

The Ferncliff Trail in the summer.
The Ferncliff Trail in the summer.

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.

Ferncliff Peninsula Natural Area plaque.
Ferncliff Peninsula Natural Area plaque.

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.

The Youghiogheny River alongside the Ferncliff Peninsula at Ohiopyle State Park.
The Youghiogheny River alongside the Ferncliff Peninsula at Ohiopyle State Park.

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.

Fossils along the Ferncliff Trail at Ohiopyle State Park.
Fossils along the Ferncliff Trail at Ohiopyle State Park.

In more modern times, the Ferncliff Peninsula was home to a hotel and resort, built in the 1880s.

Historical images of the Ferncliff Peninsula.
Historical images of the Ferncliff Peninsula.

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.

A history of the resort and hotel on the Ferncliff Peninsula in the 1880s.
A history of the resort and hotel on the Ferncliff Peninsula in the 1880s.

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.

Ferncliff Trail hiking information.
Ferncliff Trail hiking information.

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.

A map of the various trails on Ferncliff Peninsula at Ohiopyle State Park.
A map of the various trails on Ferncliff Peninsula at Ohiopyle State Park.

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.

A map showing the backpacking trailhead for the Ferncliff Trail.
A map showing the backpacking trailhead for the Ferncliff Trail.

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.

Ferncliff Natural Area trail sign.
Ferncliff Natural Area trail sign.

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.

The Ohiopyle Low Bridge as viewed from the Ferncliff Trail in the fall.
The Ohiopyle Low Bridge as viewed from the Ferncliff Trail in the fall.

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.

Cascades along the Ferncliff Trail.
Cascades along the Ferncliff Trail.

Winter is especially magnificent along the Ferncliff Trail.

The Ohiopyle Low Bridge as viewed from the Fencliff Trail in the winter.
The Ohiopyle Low Bridge as viewed from the Ferncliff Trail in the winter.

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!).

A view of the Youghiogheny River in the winter from along the Ferncliff Trail.
A view of the Youghiogheny River in the winter from along the Ferncliff Trail.

Just a few minutes further down the trail you’ll encounter the park’s namesake – Ohiopyle Falls.

Kayakers congregated near Ohiopyle Falls.
Kayakers congregated near 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.

Sunrise over Ohiopyle Falls as viewed from the Ferncliff Trail.
Sunrise over Ohiopyle Falls as viewed from the Ferncliff Trail.

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.

Ohiopyle Falls along the Ferncliff Trail at Ohiopyle State Park.
Fishing at Ohiopyle Falls along the Ferncliff Trail.

Lovers Leap

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.

Lovers Leap along the Ferncliff Trail at Ohiopyle State Park.
Lovers Leap along the Ferncliff Trail at Ohiopyle State Park.

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.

Boulders along the Ferncliff Trail at Ohiopyle State Park.
Boulders along the Ferncliff Trail at Ohiopyle State Park.

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.

Description of plant species on Ferncliff Peninsula.
Description of plant species on Ferncliff Peninsula.

No matter the season, there is always interesting plant life to observe along the Ferncliff Trail.

Hemlock and laurel along the Ferncliff Trail at Ohiopyle State Park.
Evergreens along the Ferncliff Trail at Ohiopyle State Park.

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 rafters on the Youghiogheny River next to the Ferncliff Trail.
Whitewater rafters on the Youghiogheny River next to the Ferncliff Trail.

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!

Whitewater rafters near Ferncliff Peninsula at Ohiopyle State Park.
Whitewater rafters near Ferncliff Peninsula at Ohiopyle State Park.

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.

The Takeout Trail on Ferncliff Peninsula.
The Takeout Trail on Ferncliff Peninsula.

Towering more than 115 feet above the Youghiogheny River, the High Bridge is impressive from below AND above.

The Ohiopyle High Bridge along the Ferncliff Peninsula.
The Ohiopyle High Bridge along the Ferncliff Peninsula.

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.

Fall foliage around the High Bridge at Ohiopyle State Park.
Fall foliage around the High Bridge at Ohiopyle State Park.

Final Thoughts

The Ferncliff Peninsula has been a beacon to tourists for nearly 150 years.

The Ohiopyle Low Bridge over the Youghioghney River as viewed from downstream along the Ferncliff Trail.
The Ohiopyle Low Bridge over the Youghioghney River as viewed from downstream along the Ferncliff Trail.

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!

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

Nearby Attractions

10 of the Best Hiking Trails at Ohiopyle State Park will introduce you to 9 more exceptional hiking trails in the park.

The author at Fechter Run Falls in the spring of 2019.
The author at Fechter Run Falls along the Sugar Run Trail at Ohiopyle State 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.

Cucumber Falls on a summer morning.
Cucumber Falls on a summer morning.

Fallingwater, quite possibly the most famous private residence in Pennsylvania, is just minutes from Ferncliff Peninsula.

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

Stewarton Falls is a lesser-known but magnificent waterfall nearby in Fayette County.

Stewarton Falls near Mill Run in Fayette County Pennsylvania.
Stewarton Falls near Mill Run in Fayette County Pennsylvania.

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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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