This is one of the most photographed waterfalls in Pennsylvania.
But its shot from the ‘wrong’ side. You can see the observation platforms in the photo. Obviously I should have been on the other side of the cataracts with the thousands of other visitors. That’s the side of the river with the boat launches, and the visitor center, and the pizza place, and market….. In other words, the Ohiopyle State Park everyone visits. But just across the bridge, accessed from a parking lot or the Great Allegheny Passage trail, is a wild side to Ohiopyle. The Fern Cliff Peninsula is the Ohiopyle no one visits, and in many ways its the best part of the park. A stick of land jutting out into and partly surrounded by the Youghiogheny River, the peninsula has one of the best short hikes in the state. When I hiked it on a late afternoon in August 2010, I saw only one other person during the slightly more than two miles that passed under my boots.
The trail I hiked was less rocky than most of the trails in Penn’s Woodlands. The rockiest portion was near the falls. To get the photos above and below I had to walk out onto the rocks at the edge of the cascade. The river flow was lower than normal due to the drought conditions; I’d hate to imagine what the river and falls would look like in spring after the snow melt.
Just downriver of the falls, I saw the only other man on the peninsula. Well, he wasn’t quite ON the peninsula. But I’m guessing he had to swim or wade over to his fishing perch from the peninsula side, if only because the distance was shorter. Not that I’d swim within 200 feet of the falls, or swim with a fishing pole. Or for that matter swim in my underwear. Then again, its Westsylvania. Things are different here.
As you get further away from the falls, the trail takes you through a forest of pine and hardwood. But you are never very far from the water. The sound of the river crashes around you as you walk, following it as it drops 90 feet rounding the peninsula. It drowns out the tread of your boots on pine needles and dead leaves. As I walked through the woods, I thanked the men and women who saved the peninsula, and the whole of Ohiopyle State Park, from becoming a vacation resort decades ago. As I finished my hike, I kicked myself for having visited Ohiopyle three times before and never once taking a walk on the wild side. I know it won’t me my last time at Fern Cliff Peninsula.