Visiting Fallingwater in the Winter
Nearly 150,000 people visit Fallingwater every year, and with good reason. In 1991, an American Institute of Architects poll voted it “the best all-time work of American architecture”.
So seeing Fallingwater any day of the year is a privilege. Seeing it blanketed in snow, with hardly another soul around, is divine.
And yet that is exactly the kind of “bucket list” experience you can have if you visit Fallingwater in the winter.
A Brief History of Fallingwater
Fallingwater was the weekend home of Pittsburgh department store owner Edgar J. Kaufmann Sr. and his family. The house, guest wing, and service wing were designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright. The project was completed in 1939.
The house was built from sandstone quarried locally on the Kaufmann’s property, and cost around $155,000 at the time (around $2.5 million today, adjusted for inflation).
Wright believed it was important that a building blend with its natural surroundings. One of the most memorable quotes attributed to him on the subject is as follows:
“No house should ever be on a hill or on anything. It should be of the hill. Belonging to it. Hill and house should live together each the happier for the other”
And with his design for Fallingwater, Frank Lloyd Wright found that happy, harmonious balance.
The house remained in the Kaufmann family until 1963 when it was donated, along with the contents and 1750 acres of surrounding land, to the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy.
The Conservancy now operates tours of the house, as well as other educational programs on the grounds.
Winter Hours at Fallingwater
When visiting Fallingwater in the winter, it’s important to check the winter hours and possible weather-related closings, being that it sits high up in the Laurel Highlands.
The most up-to-date information can be found at Fallingwater’s official website. Or you can call the Visitor Center there at 724-329-8501.
How to Find Fallingwater
Fallingwater is located approximately 19 miles south of the PA Turnpike’s Donegal exit, along Route 381. It is also just a few minutes north of Ohiopyle State Park, and certainly you’ll want to check out my “10 Amazing Winter Scenes at Ohiopyle State Park” article for some other terrific sight-seeing ideas while in the area.
As you come upon Fallingwater along Route 381, you’ll see the large roadside sign in the photo above.
Touring the Grounds at Fallingwater
Typically tours of the inside of the house are not available when visiting Fallingwater in the winter, but you can buy a $10 “Grounds Pass” to tour the outside of the buildings, as well as the trails around the property.
Even the Visitor Center at Fallingwater adheres to Wright’s principle of blending building with surroundings.
The Visitor Center is a large circular structure with different “spokes” housing restrooms, a cafe/vending machines, a small gallery, and of course a gift shop!
Exiting the Visitor Center, you follow a well marked trail on this self-guided tour to whichever vantage points you choose.
On this day I started at what the trail markers call the wheelchair-accessible view, but what is referred to on the map provided at the Visitor Center as the “Bird’s Eye View”.
The “Bird’s Eye View” of Fallingwater
This is an excellent vantage point to get your first look at the cantilevered tiers of Fallingwater suspended over the waterfalls below.
Back-track from the Bird’s Eye View and follow signs and the trail to the “Classic View”. Please note that there are steps (and snow) to navigate on this trail, so use caution.
The “Classic View” of Fallingwater
This is the world-famous view you’ve no doubt seen countless times in books and articles about Fallingwater. But in person it’s still spellbinding every time.
Once you’ve lingered a while at the Classic View, you’ll want to make your way towards the house itself.
The approach takes you down a trail and then the road/driveway towards a bridge over Bear Run.
The Bridge View of Fallingwater
From the bridge you have an outstanding view of the steps leading down to Bear Run, which I personally find one of the best features of the house. I can picture myself having coffee there on a summer morning, feet dangling in the stream.
Spin around and face upstream and you have a view of Bear Run as it descends down out of the mountains, on it’s way to the Youghiogheny River a few miles below Fallingwater.
On this particular day the hill behind Fallingwater and the guest quarters was off-limits due to icy conditions. So having satisfied my appetite for viewing the house from several angles, I made my way back to the Visitor Center and then my vehicle.
My Final Thoughts on Visiting Fallingwater in the Winter
Fallingwater and Frank Lloyd Wright have received just about every accolade and honor a building and it’s architect are capable of. More than 5 million people have visited Fallingwater since it opened to the public in 1964.
And yet far fewer have, or will ever, see it blanketed in the snows of a Laurel Highlands winter.
That in and of itself is reason enough to put “visiting Fallingwater in the winter” on your PA Bucket List!
P.S. If you have time for at least one more quick stop while in the area, I can’t recommend visiting Cucumber Falls at nearby Ohiopyle State Park strongly enough!