Sidebar: Trip Tips Length: About 300 miles, plus side trips.
When to go: Popular year-round, but especially scenic in autumn.
Not to be missed: Pennsylvania State Laurel Festival, a week-long series of activities held in mid-June, Wellsboro.
Nearby attractions: Peter J. McGovern Little League Baseball Museum, Williamsport; Buzzard Swamp Wildlife Area, Allegheny National Forest; Drake Well Museum, birthplace of the oil industry, Titusville; Seneca-Iroquois National Museum, Salamanca, NY.
Further information: Allegheny National Forest, 222 Liberty St., Warren, PA 16365; tel. 814-723-5150, www.fs.fed.us/r9/allegheny.
Longhouse Scenic Byway
When autumn comes to the Alleghenies, this 29-mile side trip is not to be missed, for the hardwoods here explode with color from mid-September through late October. Heading east from Warren, the tour (named for the large communal shelters once used by the Seneca Indians) begins at the Kinzua Point Information Center. From there it follows Rtes. 262, 321, and 59 around the Kinzua arm of the Allegheny Reservoir. Along the way, you’ll find several overlooks with magnificent views of the reservoir, including one atop the Kinzua Dam, which formed it, and another at Rimrock Overlook, just off Rte. 59.
The longest continuous highway in the country until it was eclipsed by Rte. 20 in 1965, Rte. 6 extends from Bishop, California, to Provincetown, Massachusetts, on Cape Cod. Along the way, it tours some of the most diverse scenery of any road in America. This scenic stretch of Rte. 6, which spans the northern tier of Pennsylvania along old Indian trails, is among its loveliest. Called the Grand Army of the Republic Highway in honor of Union veterans of the Civil War, it offers cool forests, friendly towns, and vistas that run from ridge to ridge.
Trim and tidy beneath the four clocks of its 1877 courthouse, the town of Warren (named for General Joseph Warren, a hero of the Battle of Bunker Hill) stands at an important junction in the history of American transportation. Early in the 19th century, when timber barons felled the forests of northwestern Pennsylvania and western New York, they assembled their log drives here, at the confluence of the Conewango and Allegheny rivers. The logs splashed and thundered downstream and south to meet the Ohio River at Pittsburgh, and fortunes flowed into Warren’s serene, mansion-lined streets.
2. Tidioute Overlook
Heading west on Rte. 6 out of Warren, take Rte. 62 south along the Allegheny River until you pass a narrow iron bridge that crosses into the hamlet of Tidioute. A spur road just beyond the bridge leads to the Tidioute Overlook, which affords sweeping views of the broad, smooth waterway.
The Allegheny has come a long way to reach this point. Rising near Denton Hill State Park, the river veers north into New York State, then winds back into Pennsylvania at the Allegheny Reservoir, northeast of Warren. Also visible from the overlook are the red-and-white houses of Tidioute, a patchwork of small farms, and Courson Island (part of the only federally designated wilderness to be found in Pennsylvania).
3. Hearts Content National Scenic Area
After leaving Tidioute Overlook, the drive begins its journey east through Allegheny National Forest. Situated atop a rugged plateau, this 512,000-acre national forest boasts 170 miles of hiking trails and 91 miles of shoreline, but it is most renowned for its timber. Yellow poplar, white oak, and red maple are just a few of the hardwoods that contribute to the more than 65 million board feet of timber harvested here each year. The region’s black cherry is prized by furniture craftsmen, but locals, perhaps, place an even higher premium on white ash, which is used to make a masterpiece of an entirely different sort—Louisville Slugger baseball bats.
One place in the forest, however, has been touched by neither saw nor axe. At the aptly named Hearts Content National Scenic Area, hemlocks, beeches, and white pines still stand straight and tall, as they have for more than 300 years. Absent are American elms that fell prey to Dutch elm disease late in the 1800s all across the continent. To reach Hearts Content, follow signs from the Tidioute Overlook. Once there, you’ll find a mile-long trail that winds through the old-growth timber stand and loops back to the picnic area.
The national scenic area lies at the threshold of another pocket of serenity, the 8,570-acre Hickory Creek Wilderness. Since no motorized vehicles are allowed there, you may prefer the conveniences of Chapman State Park, where campsites cluster around a trout-filled lake. The best way to get to Chapman is to take Rte. 3005 north to Warren, follow Rte. 6 south, and then head west at Clarendon.
Traveling southeast on Rte. 6, the drive reaches the town of Kane. General Ulysses S. Grant was once arrested here for fishing without a license, but the only Civil War hero you’re likely to hear folks talk about is General Thomas L. Kane, who settled the community that now bears his name. A champion of persecuted Mormon pioneers and a mediator in the so-called Mormon War of 1857, Kane was one of the first Pennsylvanians to volunteer for service in the Union Army. He is buried in front of the chapel he built, which has been restored by grateful Mormons and is now maintained as a historic site.
5. Kinzua Bridge State Park
Spanning the Kinzua Creek valley north of Rte. 6, the Kinzua Bridge, at 301 feet in height, was the tallest railroad bridge in the world when it was erected in 1882. Rebuilt with steel in 1900 and abandoned by regular railway traffic in 1959, this towering monument to the golden age of railroads now serves the excursion trains of the Knox, Kane, and Kinzua Railroad, which can be seen chugging along the 2,053-foot-long viaduct from several vantage points in Kinzua Bridge State Park. From June to October you can get on board at Kane or, for an all-day trip, farther south at Marienville and let a vintage steam locomotive carry you through the park’s forests, across the historic bridge, and all the way back.
6. Ole Bull State Park
One of the great violin virtuosos of the 19th century, Ole Bull was renowned on both sides of the Atlantic. His greatest love after music was his native Norway, and since the rugged, deeply wooded hill country of northwestern Pennsylvania reminded Bull of his homeland, it was here that in 1852 he attempted to found a colony called New Norway. Problems with property titles and the hardships of wresting farmland from forest defeated Bull and his followers, but the landscape of his dream is preserved for posterity at 125-acre Ole Bull State Park, located along the banks of Kettle Creek. As you head south to the park on Rte. 44 at Sweden Valley, you’ll be following the path of an old stagecoach route that was called the Jersey Shore– Coudersport Turnpike. Named for the towns at either end of the line, this roller coaster of a road must have challenged weary stagecoach drivers as much as its vistas now delight travelers.