Summer officially gave way to fall last Thursday with the passing of the autumnal equinox. It also marked perhaps an even more exciting moment: the release of the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ first foliage report of the year.
The short of it: A very dry, warm summer may mess with the leaves.
“This year, typically the leaves would be changing pretty quickly at this point, at least in the higher elevation areas,” Rachael Mahony, an environmental educational specialist for Forbes State Forest, told The Incline.
But dry conditions during the summer will most likely affect the timing of peak foliage.
“It’s gonna be a little hard to pinpoint when exactly peak foliage will be expected,” she said.
Currently, DCNR is predicting the best color in Southwestern Pennsylvania will occur as early as the second week of October. (You can check for a new report each Thursday.)
In addition to the timing, Mahony said dry conditions “can also affect the vibrancy of the colors as well.” But for Mahony, who grew up in Butler County, autumn is a “lovely time of year,” regardless.
“I always get asked by people, ‘What do you think about this fall? Do you think it’s gonna be a nice one?’ I always answer back, ‘Yes, I think every fall is nice.'”
If you want to stay close to home, Pennsylvania’s tourism board recommends traveling the Three Rivers Heritage Trail or viewing Mount Washington from the Duquesne or Monongahela Incline.
For day-trip options, The Incline asked Mahony to share here favorite fall foliage spots in Forbes State Forest, which covers 60,000 acres in Fayette, Somerset and Westmoreland counties.
Mahony said Laurel Mountain State Park, about an hour-and-20-minute drive from the city, is “a really popular destination for a lot of people who are looking to check out the autumn foliage.”
Route 30 connects to Laurel Summit Road, which “takes you through the majority of this section of the state forest,” Mahony said.
From a parking area off the road (see the above map), it’s about a half-mile hike to Beam Rocks.
“It can be well-known, but it is really a gem,” Mahony said. “A lot of people do that hike because it is so accessible, but it does provide a nice view looking toward Somerset, looking toward the east.”
For a “different perspective and more of a vigorous hike” in that area, Mahony points to Wolf Rocks. Sightseers can access it from the 4.5-mile Wolf Rocks Trail Loop.
“It still does get a decent bit of visitation, especially during the fall, but this overlook in particular has really interesting geology and is a much larger rocky outcropping,” she said. “So it provides people with an opportunity to walk out onto the rocks a little bit further, go along the crest of this overlook and to get a view of the Linn Run Valley.”
Mahony said the spot is her favorite, and she usually takes people there for foliage hikes in October. Wolf Rocks has an elevation similar to Beam Rocks, but the view is “rolling hills, where Beam Rocks you’re just looking into the distance.”
Lick Hollow Area
To the west is the Lick Hollow Area. Mahony recommended parking in the Lick Hollow Picnic Area and taking the Pine Knob Trail to the Pine Knob Overlook.
“This trail is definitely more strenuous even though it is a short distance, because you are climbing an elevation the majority of the hike,” Mahony said. “But at the end of the hike, you’re rewarded with a scenic vista which overlooks Uniontown.”
So if you’re spending the day at Fallingwater, for example, “this is a really great location for them to add to the trip,” she said.
“You’d be surprised how many people aren’t familiar with Mount Davis.”
I’m not — and Mahony said she wasn’t before she took the job at Forbes State Forest.
It’s the highest point in Pennsylvania, which draws visitors from around the country. “Of course, it offers really amazing views of the fall foliage,” she said.
You can drive directly to the highest point and park near the 40-foot observation tower.
“When you get to the top [of the tower], as you can imagine, it provides a really amazing panoramic view of the surrounding mountains,” she said. “You can see into parts of Maryland, because it’s in such a southern part of Somerset County.”
Warning: The parking area fills up quickly.
That congestion can be avoided if you park in the Mount Davis picnic area and hike the High Point Trail. It’s about a one-mile walk along relatively flat and level terrain.