Visiting the Waterfalls Along (and near) Jonathan Run Using a Less Beaten Path
The Jonathan Run Trail at Ohiopyle State Park is THE best waterfall hike in western Pennsylvania. Four uniquely beautiful waterfalls, all situated along or near this iconic trail.
But sometimes, particularly in the summer, the relatively small parking area fills up quickly. And the Jonathan Run Trail can easily become crowded, leading to a less-than-peaceful hike.
So What is the Best Alternate Route to Visit the Waterfalls along Jonathan Run?
Fortunately, four alternatives exist for those wanting to visit the waterfalls along the Jonathan Run Trail. I’ve personally hiked all of them at one time or another, and I’m going to give you directions to the one I believe to be the best of the four – the Mitchell Trail.
I’ll mention the other three at the end of this article, in case you’d like to try them as well.
Hiking to Jonathan Run from the Old Mitchell Place
So where is this “hidden gem” of a trail?
Follow along as I give you an illustrated, step-by-step guide to finding and hiking the Mitchell Trail.
Where to Park When Hiking the Mitchell Trail
The Mitchell Trail begins at the Old Mitchell Place parking area along Sugar Run Road.
GPS Coordinates for the Old Mitchell Place Parking Area:
When you see the sign for the Old Mitchell Place, stay to the far right and proceed up the hill. You’ll pass the Sugar Run Trail sign (see photo below). This IS NOT the trail you will be using for this hike, although I will mention it again later.
Just past the Sugar Run Trail will be the helicopter landing zone.
And just past the landing zone, on the same side of the road, will be a clump of trees and what looks like a wide, mowed ATV path (see photo below). THAT is the start of the Mitchell Trail.
Here’s a satellite view to sum things up.
Hiking the Mitchell Trail
From the parking area proceed to the unmarked trail head. Although there is nothing here to indicate this is the Mitchell Trail, trust me – it is. The trail is freshly blazed with yellow paint and easy enough to follow.
At .15 miles into the hike you’ll encounter and pass this “No Vehicles” sign.
Just past this sign, the trail passes though Mitchell Field, an old farm field slowly being reclaimed by the forest. At certain points you can make out old fence posts and barbed wire among the trees.
At .52 miles into the hike you’ll come to the “Y” intersection pictured below. STAY TO THE RIGHT to continue on the yellow-blazed Mitchell Trail Spur. If you follow the Mitchell Trail sign to the left, you’ll make a big loop and end up back at the parking lot.
At .66 miles into the hike, stay to the LEFT at this double yellow blaze.
At 1.1 miles into the hike, stay to the RIGHT at this double yellow blaze.
At 1.15 miles you’ll come to the top of a “staircase” built into the hillside you’ve been descending.
At the bottom of the staircase you’ll come face to face with the first waterfall on this hike – Sugar Run Falls.
Sugar Run Falls
Sugar Run Falls is an intricate staircase of rock and water, somewhere in the neighborhood of 25-30 feet tall. It doesn’t always have exceptional flow, being on a smaller stream, but when it does it is something to behold.
Sugar Run Falls makes for one of the more interesting winter waterfalls at Ohiopyle State Park.
Next Stop: Jonathan Run
Another 1/10th of a mile down the Mitchel Trail Spur you’ll step foot onto the Great Allegheny Passage. From here you’ll hang a right on the GAP and hike the smooth, flat bike trail for 2/10ths of a mile.
At 1.41 miles into the hike, you’ll arrive at the intersection of the Great Allegheny Passage and the Jonathan Run Trail. Proceed up the Jonathan Run Trail, and take note that it was recently re-blazed in RED (used to be blue).
At 1.5 miles into the hike, you’ll arrive at/above Lower Jonathan Run Falls.
Lower Jonathan Run Falls
Without a doubt, Lower Jonathan Run Falls is the most difficult waterfall in the park to access. An unofficial “user trail” leads you from the Jonathan Run Trail down to stream level.
If you have any doubts about your ability to ascend/descend this steep stream bank, DO NOT ATTEMPT THIS PORTION OF THE HIKE! You can still see and hear the waterfall from the top of the stream bank.
If you do make the descent, you’ll be treated to sights like this.
Lower Jonathan Run Falls is remarkable in the winter. But use extreme caution getting down to stream level. Personally, I always hike with microspikes on my boots this time of year.
Next Stop: Upper Jonathan Run Falls
Continuing up the Jonathan Run Trail, you’ll arrive at an intersection with Kentuck Trail at 1.77 miles. Kentuck Trail will be on your left, Jonathan Run Trail will continue straight, and an unmarked but obvious user trail will be to your right, directly opposite the Kentuck Trail. TAKE THE UNMARKED USER TRAIL TO YOUR RIGHT. This will lead you down the stream bank to Upper Jonathan Run Falls.
Upper Jonathan Run Falls
At best, Upper Jonathan Run Falls is a 10-footer, but the sheer intricacy of it makes it a superb subject for photography.
Be cautious when visiting Upper Jonathan Run Falls in the winter – a thin but invisible glaze of ice usually coats most of the rocks downstream.
Next Stop: Fechter Run Falls
Continuing up the Jonathan Run Trail, you’ll encounter a newly-rebuilt footbridge over Jonathan Run (this one completed fall of 2018) at 1.83 miles into the hike.
At 1.89 miles into the hike, you’ll come to the intersection of Jonathan Run Trail and Sugar Run Trail. TAKE SUGAR RUN TRAIL TO YOUR RIGHT.
At 2 miles into the hike, you’ll encounter this small footbridge over Fechter Run.
Just past the footbridge, Sugar Run Trail passes through a large blow down that has been chain-sawed to allow passage through it. A user trail JUST BEFORE the blow down leads you to the base of Fechter Run Falls.
Fechter Run Falls
Fechter Run Falls is probably the least-visited waterfall at Ohiopyle State Park, and it takes a lot of rain or snow melt to make it look like much of anything. But when it gets going, it’s an exquisite waterfall that you can get right up next to.
Some of my favorite fall foliage shots at Ohiopyle have been at Fechter Run Falls.
And it’s a fine spot for ice formations in the winter.
The Return Hike
At this point, you’ve covered a little over 2 miles, and seen the 4 waterfalls that make this such a gratifying hike. So what’s the best way to get back to your vehicle?
You could simply back-track and make this a 4 mile hike. The upside of that is that you’ve already traversed the trail and everything will be familiar to you.
Or you could continue along the Sugar Run Trail, and it will bring you out back at the Mitchell Place parking lot (remember the Sugar Run Trail sign you saw when you first pulled into the lot?). This option will shave a little less than a mile off the return hike, but the trade-off is it’s a steeper trail. So the choice is yours.
Personally, I usually retrace my steps so that I can get another look/listen at the waterfalls. There isn’t a whole lot to see along the Sugar Run Trail, other than hardwood trees.
Other Alternate Routes to the Jonathan Run Falls
As promised, I’ll mention a few other “alternate routes” to get to the waterfalls on/around Jonathan Run.
- The Great Allegheny Passage – simply hike/ride out the bike trail from Ohiopyle to the Jonathan Run Trail. Upside: it’s flat and impossible to get lost. Downside: it’s 3.5 miles one way, just to get to Jonathan Run (still gotta hike to the falls). If you’re hiking, that adds a lot of extra steps to your day. If you’re biking, you have to chain your bike up somewhere.
- The Kentuck Trail – from the Ohiopyle Campground you could hike down the Kentuck Trail and arrive at the intersection with Jonathan Run in approximately 0.7 miles. Upside – it’s a relatively short hike. And if you’re already staying at the campground, super-convenient. Downside – it’s a lung-busting hike back up the hill to the campground.
- The Sugar Run Trail – from the Old Mitchell Place parking lot you could hike roughly 1 mile and arrive at Fechter Run Falls, then basically do the hike I described in this write-up in reverse. Upside – it may be a little easier to navigate as there are no trail intersections. Downside – less interesting scenery compared to Mitchell Trail and more steep sections.
Final Thoughts the Mitchell Trail Hike
I’ve given you 4 viable alternatives to visiting the waterfalls along and near Jonathan Run, all without the crowds usually associated with the Jonathan Run Trail in the summer.
Personally, I like the Mitchell Trail alternative the best, but your experiences/opinions may vary.
One thing we will all agree on, no matter how you get to them, is that the waterfalls in this section of Ohiopyle State Park are worth the effort to see.
So get out and see them!
Still Not Convinced You Need To Hike the Mitchell Trail?
Then check out this 2-minute compilation of video clips from the four waterfalls mentioned in this write-up. It will show you what the waterfalls along and near Jonathan Run look like in the various seasons.
So no matter what time of year you visit the Jonathan Run Trail, you’ll have an idea for what sights await you.