5 Amazing Things To Do in Ohiopyle & the Laurel Highlands, PA (Plus Unique Lodging!)
September 9, 2023
The Laurel Highlands region of Pennsylvania is a destination for adventure lovers, history buffs and anyone looking for a relaxing escape surrounded by nature. From epic whitewater rafting to famous architecture sites, this area has something for everyone.
There is a magical energy in the small town of Ohiopyle and the natural areas that surround it. I was blown away by the variety of adventures and could not believe that I haven’t heard more about this special place.
It’s easy to have a balanced day that includes hiking to stunning waterfalls, enjoying lunch in town and then touring one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s famous homes. Or if you’re looking for an adrenaline rush, you can float down the Yough River while navigating whitewater rapids and sudden drops. And if you’re a biker, the famous Great Allegheny Passage trail passes right through town. Finally, you can end your day by relaxing at a magical getaway, such as the Ohiopyle Hobbit House or Ohiopyle Treehouse.
While all of these activities are worth visiting, the people also make this town really special. Ohiopyle is a tiny town, but it’s full of passionate and welcoming locals. You’ll find that all different types of people come to visit this area. Be sure to leave some time to enjoy a coffee or a meal in the town of Ohiopyle during your stay. Keep reading to discover all of the best things to do in Ohiopyle for an epic trip.
This blog is based on my experience visiting the Laurel Highlands in summer 2023.
Full disclaimer – This is a sponsored blog post by the Go Laurel Highlands Tourism Bureau. As always, my opinions are unbiased and my own. I want to thank the Laurel Highlands tourism board for their generosity!
When to Visit Ohiopyle and the Laurel Highlands
The Laurel Highlands region has something different to offer year round. In the winter months, you can enjoy skiing at nearby resorts such as Seven Springs Mountain Resort. You can also take in the beauty of the area’s trails covered in ice and snow. Plus, you can visit Frank Lloyd Wright’s famous Fallingwater around the holiday season (and it looks magical dusted in a bit of snow!).
However, if you want to go whitewater rafting (which I highly recommend), you should visit from April - October. The Lower Yough River actually has one of the longest rafting seasons in the country, making it a fantastic place to go during the shoulder seasons.
If you’re interested in sliding down the natural water slides and swimming, the summer is a great time to visit. Everything is lush and green, and it doesn’t get extremely hot. July and August bring high temperatures in the low 80’s° F and low temperatures in the low 60’s° F.
Fall is a beautiful time to see colorful foliage all over the area as you hike and explore. The mountains become blanketed in a sea of oranges and reds.
You really can’t go wrong with a visit anytime, but summer and fall tend to be the most popular times.
How to Get To Ohiopyle, PA
The closest major airport to Ohiopyle and the Laurel Highlands region is Pittsburgh. If you fly into Pittsburgh, you can rent a car and reach Ohiopyle in about an hour and a half.
Ohiopyle is also 2.5 hours from State College, PA and 3.5 hours from Columbus, Ohio.
There is little to no public transportation in the area, so you’ll need a car to get around.
5 Fun Things To Do in Ohiopyle, Pennsylvania
From whitewater rafting to famous architecture sites, there is no shortage of great things to do in the Laurel Highlands!
1. Get Your Adrenaline Pumping with a Whitewater Rafting Trip
If you want to get your adrenaline pumping, you must go whitewater rafting on the Yough River! The Laurel Highlands offer some of the best whitewater boating in the eastern US. You can take part in thrilling rapids for experienced kayakers, or stick to a beginner trip if it’s your first time!
There are several rafting outfitters in the small town of Ohiopyle. I had a fantastic trip with Wilderness Voyageurs, who offer many trip options across all levels. A section of the Lower Yough River with Class 2 and 3+ rapids is the most popular, and the trip that I went on.
The trip lasted a couple of hours and had a nice mix of leisurely sections of the river along with a few intense sections of rapids. The river is considered to be “drop & pool,” meaning that the rapids are separated by deep, calm stretches of water. It offers a great variety and a chance to really savor your time out there.
We also had the opportunity to jump off of a rock (about 15 feet tall) into the water! It was a fun addition to the rafting trip.
One unique option for your trip is taking a ‘guide-escorted’ trip instead of a fully guided trip. This means that you’ll be in your own raft and a guide will be in their own raft or kayak nearby. They’ll explain what to do, and you’ll have to listen carefully and perform the maneuvers with your group. This is a popular way to enjoy a rafting trip on the Lower Youghiogheny River and Wilderness Voyageurs has been doing this format for over 50 years.
Other options include navigating a ducky (an inflatable kayak). There are also several more river trip options that are both easier or harder than the Lower Yough section. No matter which you pick, whitewater rafting should be on your Laurel Highlands itinerary!
2. Hike in Ohiopyle State Park
Ohiopyle State Park encompasses a 20,500 acres full of forests, rivers, waterfalls and ridges. The park was established in 1965, but the land has been loved and used for 100’s of years.
When it comes to the best hikes in Ohiopyle State Park, there is no shortage of options. Make sure to stop to see the Natural Water Slides, which doesn’t require a hike at all. This natural attraction is located right off of the road and is exactly what it sounds like. You can actually slide down a cascade of water and make your way down an area of rocky slides and pools. The slide-portion is about 200 feet.
The water slides looked quite intense and bumpy. It’s not uncommon to come away with some scratches and bruises, and it seems most popular for older kids and teenagers. Also keep in mind that the water levels can affect your experience. It may be too dangerous if the water levels are too high, or hard to go down if the water levels are too low. Whether you’re brave enough to test them out for yourself, or just want to see them, this is worth a stop in Ohiopyle!
Another natural attraction that is worth seeing is Cucumber Falls. This beautiful waterfall can be accessed with a quick 0.3 mile trail. You’ll start by climbing down a series of steps, and then you’ll need to scramble over some rocks and roots to get close to the waterfall. When you reach it, you have the chance to walk behind it. The waterfall is about 30-feet tall and is part of the Cucumber Run, a tributary of the Youghiogheny River.
A slightly longer trail that you shouldn’t miss is the Ferncliff Trail. This 1.8-mile loop navigates you around the Ferncliff Peninsula. It includes a forest area full of mountain laurel bushes and mossy boulders, plus a section with views of Youghiogheny River. As you explore the river area, you can enjoy a view of Ohiopyle Falls. Plus, keep your eyes open for fossils in the rocks!
If you have more time for hiking in Ohiopyle, consider the Meadow Run Trail, the Great Gorge Trail, the Jonathan Run Trail and the Baughman Trail. There are so many beautiful waterfalls and views in the area!
3. Explore Downtown Ohiopyle
The town of Ohiopyle may be small, but it’s the perfect meeting point for food, souvenirs and shopping during your visit to the area.
For breakfast and coffee, check out Ohiopyle Coffee Company or the Ohiopyle Bakery and Sandwich Shoppe. Ohiopyle Coffee Company serves high quality coffee and even makes their own popcorn in house. The Ohiopyle Bakery has a quaint window for you to order from and serves a variety of breakfast sandwiches and pastries.
For lunch, make sure to stop by the Falls Market Restaurant and Inn. They serve everything from pizza to sandwiches to burritos, and more. Plus, they have several great vegetarian options. I really enjoyed the Thai Tofu Peanut Wrap.
I had a chance to meet the owner of Falls Market (along with several other places in town), Pam, and it was so clear that she is passionate about what she does. She and others have done a beautiful job of making the town of Ohiopyle a tourist destination. She is extremely welcoming and talking to her really made me appreciate the vibrancy and welcoming atmosphere of this small town.
Along with eating, be sure to check out the shops in town. Oddly Enough and the Beef Jerky Experience are great places to check out and are right next to each other. I especially loved all of the artisan jewelry at Oddly Enough.
4. Tour a Home Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright
The famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright has a few different homes in the area, including one recently named America’s favorite building: Fallingwater.
The home was designed and built in the 1930’s. It’s famous because the home was essentially built to be intertwined with a waterfall. As you tour the home, you’ll notice that many elements of the home were inspired by nature. Steps lead from a terrace down to the river, large boulders were left to be a part of the flooring in the main living room, trellis beams were designed to go around the trees and many more aspects of the home provide wonderful examples of the organic architecture Wright was known for.
Arriving at Fallingwater is a whole experience in itself. You’ll start by taking a forested drive to reach the parking lot. Then, before you even go down to the house, there is a neat space that feels like a treehouse. Here you’ll find a cafe, an information desk, an art gallery and a gift shop.
There are a few different ticket levels you can purchase when visiting. At the lowest end, you can purchase a grounds pass and explore the exterior of the home on your own. However, I highly recommend purchasing a guided tour that allows you to see inside the home. It’s worth it to learn about all of the various architectural elements and see a large portion of the home. Either way, make sure you reserve your tickets in advance, as they do sell out.
In addition to Fallingwater, it’s worth a visit to Kentuck Knob. This is another home designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. It’s located just about 10 minutes away, but is much less known.
The home was completed in 1956 and is built up on a knob, or hill. Wright wanted the house to feel “of the hill” (similar to how Fallingwater feels “of the waterfall”). The home was built using tidewater red cypress and sandstone, and features a copper roof. A series of hexagonal shapes are featured throughout the design of the home.
Fun Fact: Frank Lloyd Wright designed Kentuck Knob without ever visiting the property, except for a short visit during the construction phase. It was one of the last homes he designed and he was 86 at the time.
I especially loved the outdoor porch area of the home. Hexagonal shapes bring in light and you can gaze out at a healthy forest that was mostly planted by the original owners of the home.
After a tour of the home, you can take a very short walk out to a bench and enjoy a fantastic view of the Youghiogheny River valley and the surrounding mountains. You can also take a scenic nature walk back down to the visitor center. The path is lined with interesting modern art.
If you have enough time, Polymath Park in the Laurel Highlands has even more Frank Lloyd Wright designed works. Here you can actually stay overnight in a Frank Lloyd Wright home and dine in a treehouse. It’s located about 40 minutes from Ohiopyle.
5. Bike a Portion of the Great Allegheny Passage
The Great Allegheny Passage, known as the GAP, refers to a 150-mile bike trail between Pittsburgh and Cumberland, Maryland. The trail also eventually connects to the C&O Canal Path to complete a 335-mile route between Pittsburgh and Washington D.C. It’s a popular trail for thru bikers and hikers.
The trail goes right through downtown Ohiopyle. If you’re biking the entire path, the Falls Market Inn is a fantastic bike-friendly stay for a night. If you’re a casual visitor but want a taste of the trail, you can rent a bike in Ohiopyle and check it out.
Wilderness Voyageurs is a great option for bike rental. They offer bikes of all sizes for either hourly rental or for a whole day. Their shop in downtown Ohiopyle is really close to the GAP, so you can easily start the trail from there. They even have mountain biking rentals if that is more your speed.
Biking in the Laurel Highlands is one of the things highest on my list for my next visit to the area!
Where to Stay in Ohiopyle, PA
Ohiopyle Hobbit House
For a unique and magical stay in Ohiopyle, look no further than the Ohiopyle Hobbit House! This unique home sleeps 10 people and is full of magical touches based off of The Lord of the Rings.
From the moment you approach the house, it’s as if you’ve been transported into a fairytale. The house is built into the hill and you’ll need to open up a round, green, wooden door to enter. You’ll also notice stained glass windows and a large wizard next to the entrance.
Inside, you’ll find a fully stocked kitchen with thematic mugs, barrel drinking glasses and even a s’mores kit to enjoy outside. Plus, the fridge was stocked with a few local beers!
The living space is complete with The Lord of the Rings DVDs and fun games to play. On your way upstairs, you’ll notice books inside the staircase. The second floor has two bedrooms that each sleep 4 people, while the third floor has a larger room that sleeps 2. Each floor has access to a balcony where you can take in the views of the forest and a stream with your very own waterfall.
Another touch I loved was that there were photos throughout the house of a wizard character posing at all of the popular sites in the Ohiopyle area.
As if the inside wasn’t special enough, the outside is truly epic. There is a hot tub, fire pit (with plenty of logs to use) and a hiking trail around the property.
It’s not just any hiking trail though; they have created a scavenger hunt through the woods where you can go on a quest to find all of the rings. Clues will lead you through mountain laurels, past streams, up a hill and into the magical area full of mossy-boulders. There are clues hidden along the way and a mysterious red door on a tree at the end.
If you’re looking for a unique stay during your time in Ohiopyle, I can’t recommend the Hobbit House enough! And if it’s booked, the same owners also have a treehouse next door that looks just magical.
For a more affordable stay, Vacation Ohiopyle has you covered with several cabin stays around the area! The company is owned by the same owner of Falls Market Restaurant and Inn, Pam. Pam is truly a fixture of the community.
I stayed in the Ohiopyle Hideaway and it is the perfect cozy stay just a few minutes from town. The home has two bedrooms and a kitchen and living room with everything you need. However, the outdoor space was the best part.
There is an outdoor patio area with hanging string lights, a picnic table and a fire pit. It’s a wonderful place to relax after a long day of hiking, whitewater rafting or other adventures.
Ohiopyle is a Southwest Pennsylvania gem that needs to be on your USA bucket list! Whether you visit for the high adventure or the architectural sites, it’s truly a destination with so much to offer. I hope this Ohiopyle guide helps you plan an epic Pennsylvania trip of your own.
For more Eastern US Travel Guides, check out these blogs:
- The Best Things To Do in New River Gorge National Park, WV
- How to Spend 3 Days in Asheville, NC
- A Guide to Buffalo, NY in the Winter
- The Best Hiking near Ithaca, NY
- The Best Things To Do in Hocking Hills, OH
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