The Jonathan Run Trail – Western PA’s Best Waterfall Hike

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

Ohiopyle State Park is home to many incredible scenes.

Stunning vistas. Exceptional bike trails.

And what I consider to be THE best waterfall hike in western Pennsylvania.

The Jonathan Run Trail.

Follow along as I give you step-by-step directions on how to find 4 of the best waterfalls in western PA, all in 1 hike.

Where to Park

A map showing the Jonathan Run Trailhead and GPS coordinates.
A map showing the Jonathan Run Trailhead and GPS coordinates.

The Jonathan Run Trailhead parking lot is located along Holland Hill Road at the following GPS coordinates: 39.891847, -79.507867.

The Jonathan Run Trailhead sign along Holland Hill Road.
The Jonathan Run Trailhead sign along Holland Hill Road.

Look for this sign as you come down Holland Hill Road, pointing you to the parking lot.

The parking lot at the Jonathan Run Trailhead.
The parking lot at the Jonathan Run Trailhead.

The lot is large enough to hold maybe a dozen vehicles comfortably.

The Jonathan Run Trailhead at Ohiopyle State Park.
The Jonathan Run Trailhead at Ohiopyle State Park.

The hike begins at the back left corner of the parking lot.

Grab a hiking stick and let’s get going!

Hiking the Jonathan Run Trail

A map showing the Jonathan Run Trail at Ohiopyle State Park.
A map showing the Jonathan Run Trail at Ohiopyle State Park.

This hike takes place primarily on the recently-reopened Jonathan Run Trail (1.83 miles), with short side trips on the Sugar Run Trail (.2 miles) and the Great Allegheny Passage/Mitchell Field Trail (.3 miles).

That makes for a 2.33 mile one-way / 4.66 mile loop hike.

Change in elevation from the parking area to the Great Allegheny Passage is a relatively mild 278 feet (downhill on the way out, uphill on return hike).

The frequently-muddy Jonathan Run Trail at Ohiopyle State Park.
The frequently-muddy Jonathan Run Trail at Ohiopyle State Park.

A word on proper footwear here. The Jonathan Run Trail sits very close to Jonathan Run and often is muddy and slippery. At times there will be water flowing on the trail itself.

I urge you to wear hiking boots, NOT flip-flops or sneakers, on this trail. It would be very easy to twist/break an ankle in this slop without proper foot/ankle support.

Consider yourself warned!

The First Bridge on the Jonathan Run Trail at Ohipyle State Park.
The First Bridge on the Jonathan Run Trail at Ohipyle State Park.

At .19 miles into the hike you’ll come to the first of 3 bridges on the Jonathan Run Trail.

Continue down the trail.

The Second Bridge along the Jonathan Run Trail at Ohiopyle State Park.
The Second Bridge along the Jonathan Run Trail at Ohiopyle State Park.

At .97 miles into the hike you’ll come to the second (and most recently rebuilt) bridge on the trail. Keep going!

The intersection of the Sugar Run and Jonathan Run Trails.
The intersection of the Sugar Run and Jonathan Run Trails.

At 1.27 miles into the hike you’ll come to the intersection of Jonathan Run Trail and Sugar Run Trail.

For now, you’ll bear right and continue down the Jonathan Run Trail. But we’ll revisit Sugar Run Trail on the return hike.

The Third Bridge along the Jonathan Run Trail at Ohiopyle State Park.
The Third Bridge along the Jonathan Run Trail at Ohiopyle State Park.

At 1.32 miles you’ll come to the third bridge on the Jonathan Run Trail. Continue across the bridge.

Intersection of the Jonathan Run, Kentuck, and Upper Jonathan Run Falls Trails.
Intersection of the Jonathan Run, Kentuck, and Upper Jonathan Run Falls Trails.

At 1.39 miles into the hike you’ll come to the intersection of Jonathan Run Trail, Kentuck Trail (to the right) and the user-created Upper Jonathan Run Falls Trail to the left.

Take the trail to the left (see image above).

A close-up photo of Upper Jonathan Run Falls in the spring of 2019.
A close-up photo of Upper Jonathan Run Falls in the spring of 2019.

At 1.44 miles you’ll arrive at Upper Jonathan Run Falls.


GPS Coordinates for Upper Jonathan Run Falls

39.902398, -79.491795


Photographing Upper Jonathan Run Falls

A downstream view of Upper Jonathan Run Falls at Ohiopyle State Park.
A downstream view of Upper Jonathan Run Falls at Ohiopyle State Park.

One of the things you’ll find out if you photograph a lot of waterfalls (like I’m known to do!) is that they never look the same twice.

On a recent visit a large tree had fallen in the middle of Upper Jonathan Run Falls. A week from now a powerful storm could sweep it away. Or it could sit there and rot away for years.

Only time will tell.

A selfie at Upper Jonathan Run Falls, Ohiopyle State Park.
A selfie at Upper Jonathan Run Falls, Ohiopyle State Park.

A shot from a previous visit reveals the full face of the falls.

Winter arrives at Upper Jonathan Run Falls at Ohiopyle State Park.
Winter arrives at Upper Jonathan Run Falls at Ohiopyle State Park.

And in the winter Upper Jonathan Run Falls is a magical place.

Lower Jonathan Run Falls


GPS Coordinates for Lower Jonathan Run Falls

39.903107, -79.490325


The user trail leading from Jonathan Run Trail to Lower Jonathan Run Falls at Ohiopyle State Park.
The user trail leading from Jonathan Run Trail to Lower Jonathan Run Falls at Ohiopyle State Park.

Backtracking up the small hill to the main Jonathan Run Trail, continue down the trail.

At 1.72 miles into the hike you’ll come to the user-created Lower Jonathan Run Trail, obvious for its rope “handrail”.

This is the most difficult to reach of the 4 waterfalls on this hike.

If you have the least bit of doubt in your ability to descend safely, DON’T!

Lower Jonathan Run Falls at Ohiopyle State Park - Spring 2019.
Lower Jonathan Run Falls at Ohiopyle State Park – Spring 2019.

If you do make the descent, you’ll be greeted by the roar of water, assuming flow is up when you visit.

The best spot to shoot from and avoid spray from the falls is perched above it on this rock outcropping.

Angelic light at Lower Jonathan Run Falls, Ohiopyle State Park
Angelic light at Lower Jonathan Run Falls, Ohiopyle State Park

The sun typically doesn’t hit this waterfall until late afternoon, and can make for some dramatic lighting as pictured above.

Winter selfie at Lower Jonathan Run Falls, Ohiopyle State Park
Winter selfie at Lower Jonathan Run Falls, Ohiopyle State Park

If you brave the descent in the winter (note spikes on my boots in photo above), the ice formations at Lower Jonathan Run Falls are outstanding.

When you’re finished here, use the rope “handrail” on the user-created Lower Jonathan Run Trail to extract yourself from the Jonathan Run stream bed and back up onto the Jonathan Run Trail.

Sugar Run Falls

Intersection of the Jonathan Run Trail and the Great Allegheny Passage.
Intersection of the Jonathan Run Trail and the Great Allegheny Passage.

Continue hiking down the Jonathan Run Trail.

At 1.83 miles into the hike, you’ll come to the intersection of the Jonathan Run Trail and the Great Allegheny Passage (see image above).

The Great Allegheny Passage at Ohiopyle State Park.
The Great Allegheny Passage at Ohiopyle State Park.

The Great Allegheny Passage is a wide, flat, crushed stone path.

You’ll hang a left onto the GAP and follow it .17 miles.

Be alert for bikes, runners, and other hikers on this multi-use trail. The bikes especially can come up on you in a hurry.

At 2.0 miles into your hike, you’ll arrive at the intersection of the Great Allegheny Passage and the Mitchell Field Trail.

The intersection of the Great Allegheny Passage and Mitchell Field Trail.
The intersection of the Great Allegheny Passage and Mitchell Field Trail.

Standing where I was to take the photo above, you can see Sugar Run Falls in the winter, when the trees are bare.

But spring through fall, you’ll have to hike up the Mitchell Field Trail a brief .1 miles until the falls come into view.

A downstream view of Sugar Run Falls at Ohiopyle State Park.
A downstream view of Sugar Run Falls at Ohiopyle State Park.

GPS Coordinates for Sugar Run Falls

39.905967, -79.491400


Consistently one of the finest looking waterfalls in western PA, Sugar Run rarely disappoints, barring a prolonged dry spell.

Selfie at Sugar Run Falls, Ohiopyle State Park.
The author at Sugar Run Falls, Ohiopyle State Park.

The spring thaw always has Sugar Run Falls surging with ice-cold water.

High spring flow at Sugar Run Falls, Ohiopyle State Park
High spring flow at Sugar Run Falls, Ohiopyle State Park

While in winter the ice formations hang like jewelry off the various tiers of the falls.

A winter scene at Sugar Run Falls, Ohiopyle State Park.
A winter scene at Sugar Run Falls, Ohiopyle State Park.

When finished here, simply hike back down the Mitchell Field Trail to the Great Allegheny Passage to resume the hike.

Hiking to Fechter Run Falls

Fechter Run Falls at Ohiopyle State Park in the spring of 2019.
Fechter Run Falls at Ohiopyle State Park in the spring of 2019.

The next part of the hike is one of simple backtracking.

Hike back the GAP .2 miles to the intersection with the Jonathan Run Trail.

Hike back up the Jonathan Run Trail, past Lower and Upper Jonathan Run Falls.

Cross over the bridge above Upper Jonathan Run Falls.

Arrive at the intersection of of Sugar Run Trail and Upper Jonathan Run Trail.

Fechter Run Bridge at Ohiopyle State Park.
Fechter Run Bridge at Ohiopyle State Park.

Bear right onto the Sugar Run Trail.

Hike .11 miles until you come to the footbridge pictured above.

The stream flowing under the bridge is Fechter Run.

25 paces past the bridge, you will come to the user-created Fechter Run Falls Trail pictured below.

The Fechter Run Trail at Ohiopyle State Park.
The Fechter Run Trail at Ohiopyle State Park.

Bear right onto the Fechter Run Falls Trail and follow it down the hill to your first view of the falls.

The author at Fechter Run Falls in the spring of 2019.
The author at Fechter Run Falls in the spring of 2019.

GPS Coordinates for Fechter Run Falls

39.901200, -79.493667


Photographing Fechter Run Falls

Selfie at Fechter Run Falls, Ohiopyle State Park.
Selfie at Fechter Run Falls, Ohiopyle State Park.

Probably the most “fickle” of the four waterfalls mentioned on this hike, it takes a good hard rain or prolonged wet spell to have Fechter Run Falls looking its best.

Fall foliage at Fechter Run Falls, Ohiopyle State Park.
Fall foliage at Fechter Run Falls, Ohiopyle State Park.

But if you happen to catch it with great flow and peak fall foliage, you may not want to leave!

Ice formations at Fechter Run Falls, Ohiopyle State Park.
Ice formations at Fechter Run Falls, Ohiopyle State Park.

The sheer rock face over which the falls spill are bedecked with a myriad of ice formations in the winter months.

Making this a true 4-season waterfall destination worth visiting.

Completing the Hike

By simply backtracking the Sugar Run Trail to the Jonathan Run Trail (.11 miles) and then on up the Jonathan Run Trail another 1.27 miles, you’ll arrive back at your vehicle knowing you’ve just completed one of the most iconic waterfall hikes in all of Western Pennsylvania.

Congratulations!

Still not convinced you need to hike the Jonathan Run Trail?

Then check out some of these awe-inspiring video clips from the hike!

Discover Pennsylvania’s Ultimate Travel Destinations!

4 COMMENTS

  1. I want so badly to hike these trails & see these falls again.
    How about some easier trails for those of us who have grown old.
    Thanks … love your work as always.

    • Thanks Patricia. I’ve been to so many places and have so many hikes to write about – finding the time is the challenge. But my modest goal is to add 50-60 write-ups per year to this website/data base over the next several years.

  2. Job well done. I’ve been there many times as Ohiopyle is practically in my back yard. I’ve hiked the trail from the parking lot a few times but mostly ride my bike down the GAP. Keep up the good work.

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