A Beloved Laurel Highlands Attraction
When exploring the rolling green hills of the Laurel Highlands region of Southwestern Pennsylvania, just an hour and a half south of Pittsburgh, one word often pops to mind for outdoor adventure enthusiasts: Ohiopyle. Let’s see what makes this state park such a favorite!
Outdoor Adventure at Ohiopyle
While our main activity on Day 1 in the Laurel Highlands was Fallingwater, we devoted Day 2 to Ohiopyle State Park: a 19,000+ acre natural preserve that boasts whitewater rafting, hiking, biking, natural waterslides (!), waterfalls, and glorious views.
The town of Ohiopyle itself is tiny (a wee year-round population of 59 inhabitants), but has enough restaurants, equipment rental stores, and charming re-creations of mining chutes to satisfy the 1.5 million visitors that cavort through the surrounding park each year.
Whitewater Rafting Connects to Ohiopyle’s Name
Let us pause and discuss the name “Ohiopyle” for a bit. Does this title come, we wondered, from the fear that the state of Ohio (precariously perched above Pennsylvania on a map) would tumble down into a pile of Ohios upon the park?
Did it come from a potential insult: “You’re such a pile of Ohios, man!”
In fact, no. None of these extremely educated and logical guesses are true. Rather, the name “Ohiopyle” is from the local Native American term for, “it turns very white”, which references the churning waters that run through that Laurel Highlands park. Oh.
Small Shops in the Tiny Town of Ohiopyle
I confess that we were extremely lazy the day we visited Ohiopyle, and thus the first part of our “nature hike” in the Laurel Highlands, was actually wandering inside the delightful general store in town, ogling the rainbow bounty of the souvenir rocks pictured below.
Ahh, that took me back to my youth, visiting similar such stores in small towns when I was a little girl, begging my father, “PLEEEEASE can I have the shiny teal stone? Pllleeeeeeease? I want it so much!”
“But what would you DO with that rock?” I remember my father asking all those years ago.
“Umm…” I replied — and that was the end of that negotiation, because I sure hadn’t thought beyond the wanting. Wise father!
Youghiogheny River Recreation in Ohiopyle
Ahem — back to the actual reason people visit Ohiopyle: The water play! WET outdoor adventure.
Below, you can see the frothy river “steps” of the Youghiogheny River, upon which white-water rafters race through the park. Colin’s expression sums up our take on tackling those rapids by boat: “Fun… to watch from behind this sturdy railing!”
Get a Great View Overlooking the Laurel Highlands:
Now, I promise I am really an athletic gal with a brilliant weekly exercise routine, but the next piece of information is not compelling evidence to support that assertion.
You see, one of the best views overlooking the Laurel Highlands can be achieved with a car drive about about 20 steps — no hiking required. Baughman Rock in Ohiopyle State Park (pictured below) is an “easy win” tourist destination, and sure produces beautiful photos!
Just remember the rule of travel fashion: When photographing in front of a mostly green background, pick clothes in the red, pink, or purple family so your pictures POP! (Here are more juxtaposition examples of this fashion photo trick.)
Cucumber Falls: Laurel Highlands Waterfall Delight
We only scratched the surface of Ohiopyle State Park (I’d love to hear in the comments section what YOU enjoy doing there!), but we did make it to Cucumber Falls, which I highly recommend. (You may already know from my Bash Bish Falls article that I love me some waterfalls.)
My photo of Cucumber Falls is earlier in the article because it’s so pretty: 30 feet of lace-like, graceful water flow, pouring into a clear pool. If you’re brave, you can swim around in the lower area, but I’ve heard from locals that one needs to be extremely cautious with the slippery rocks, so tread carefully.
If you enjoy hiking, also consider looking beyond Ohiopyle to Linn Run State Park and Forbes State Forest near Ligonier, PA. They have excellent, easy Laurel Highlands hiking options with fun sights — including some “ruins” that provide magical photo backdrops. Nearby Laurel Caverns also provides a jaw-dropping underground walk through lighted caves.
Thank You, Ohiopyle!
We appreciate your waterfalls, wonderful views, and wild outdoor adventure options, Ohiopyle State Park! If you’ve visited, what do you love most about Ohiopyle? If you haven’t yet, does it seem like a place you might enjoy? Do share!
The author, Lillie Marshall, is 6-foot-tall National Board Certified Teacher of English, fitness fan, and mother of two who has been a public school educator since 2003. She launched Around the World “L” Travel and Life Blog in 2009, and over 3.7 million readers have now visited this site. Lillie also runs TeachingTraveling.com and DrawingsOf.com. Subscribe to her monthly newsletter, and follow @WorldLillie on social media!