Category Archives: Pennsylvania

Johnstown Flood National Memorial

Overview

May 31, 1889 was the infamous day when a dam broke sending a 40-foot wall of water downstream, leveling multiple towns and killing more than 2,200 people.  The earthen South Fork Dam was designed for a lower lake level, was poorly maintained since 1853, and was completely ignored by the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club (with wealthy members such as Andrew Carnegie and Andrew Mellon).  Clara Barton’s newly formed American Red Cross sent a staff of 50 doctors and nurses to assist with recovery efforts, which took years.

Highlights

Museum, film, South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club Historic District, Grandview Cemetery

Must-Do Activity

Start your visit at the National Park Service (NPS) museum at the dam site in South Fork, Pennsylvania.  The 35-minute film shown there is not appropriate for young children.  A driving tour leads around the dry lakebed to the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club Historic District.  Much of the Little Conemaugh River downstream is not accessible by roads, but be sure to drive downstream to Johnstown to visit the Grandview Cemetery and, if you have time, the Johnstown Flood Museum (admission fee).

Best Trail

There is a trail that follows a portion of the Little Conemaugh River and leads to Staple Bend Tunnel, part of Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site.

Instagram-worthy Photo

A memorial to the unidentified victims of the May 31, 1889 flood stands in Grandview Cemetery in Johnstown, Pennsylvania.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/jofl/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None, except at the unaffiliated Johnstown Flood Museum in Johnstown, Pennsylvania

Road Conditions

The main access roads are paved, but some of the smaller roads to the Little Conemaugh River may not be.

Camping

Prince Gallitzin State Park offers a campground with showers 20 miles northwest of Altoona, Pennsylvania.

Related Sites

Flight 93 National Memorial (Pennsylvania)

Fort Necessity National Battlefield (Pennsylvania)

Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site (Pennsylvania)

Explore More – Where did the miles of barbwire that wrapped around the flood debris originate?

Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area

Overview

On the Pennsylvania-New Jersey border, the Delaware River flows through a gap in the long ridge of the Appalachian Mountains.  This marks the southern end of Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area and the site of the Kittatinny Point Visitor Center (right off Interstate 80) managed by the National Park Service (NPS).  When preservationists fought to protect this area from being dammed in the 1960s it led to the creation of the National Recreation Area surrounding a 40-mile stretch of river designated as the Middle Delaware National Scenic River.

Highlights

Raymondskill Falls, Millbrook Village, Dingmans Falls, floating Middle Delaware National Scenic River

Must-Do Activity

Most of the NPS visitor centers are open seasonally in this resort area on the Pocono Plateau.  We visited in the offseason in late September and enjoyed hiking to Raymondskill, Silver Thread, and Dingmans Falls on the Pennsylvania side.  On the New Jersey side the main attraction is Millbrook Village, a recreated 1800s town that is open year round.  Fishing, swimming, and floating the Middle Delaware National Scenic River are popular in the summer.

Best Trail

There are more than 100 miles of trails within the park, including 27 miles of the famous Appalachian National Scenic Trail that leads to the top of Mt. Minsi for great views of the actual Delaware Water Gap.

Instagram-worthy Photo

A boardwalk trail passes 80-foot tall Silver Thread Falls on the way to 130-foot tall Dingmans Falls.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/dewa/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None for entry, but some sites have a user fee (Smithfield Beach, Milford Beach, etc.) and there are toll bridges across the river in places.

Road Conditions

There are several unpaved roads and toll bridges within the boundaries of Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area.

Camping

Promised Land State Park in Pennsylvania

Campground options available in New Jersey include Worthington State Forest, High Point State Park, and Stokes State Forest.  Dingmans Campground on the Pennsylvania side offers discounts for the NPS Senior Pass. Primitive camping is allowed for thru-hikers on the Appalachian National Scenic Trail and along the riverside for boaters.  Keep a clean campsite, as black bears are common.

Related Sites

Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River (New York-Pennsylvania)

Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site (Pennsylvania)

Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site (Pennsylvania)

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Gettysburg National Military Park

Overview

The turning point of the Civil War undoubtedly occurred on July 3, 1863 in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, especially when considered in combination with the capture of Vicksburg, Mississippi.  After the Confederate invasion of the North was repulsed at Antietam, the next year General Robert E. Lee led 75,000 troops into Pennsylvania to face 88,289 Union soldiers.  After three days of fighting, there were 51,000 men killed, wounded, or missing; the most of any battle on American soil.  It can take more than one full day to visit Gettysburg National Military Park, especially if you add on a bus tour to neighboring Eisenhower National Historic Site.

Highlights

Museum, film, Cyclorama painting, driving tour, David Wills House, cannons

Must-Do Activity

It is free to take the 24-mile long driving tour, but an admission fee is charged for the museum (opened in 2008) that covers the entire Civil War, including Lincoln’s famous Gettysburg Address.  You should also consider watching the excellent 45-minute film A New Birth of Freedom (narrated by Morgan Freeman) and viewing the audio-visual program for the Cyclorama (a 377×42-foot original oil painting on a round canvas that depicts Pickett’s Charge of July 3, 1863).  Commercial bus tours are available and you can also hire a licensed guide to ride in your car and provide a personal two-hour tour past the 1,300 monuments and memorials where so many men gave “the last full measure.”

Best Trail

If you have read The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara, you will want to get out of your car and walk around Little Round Top, which overlooks the infamous Devil’s Den, Peach Orchard, and Wheatfield.  The High Water Mark Trail and Soldiers’ National Cemetery Trail are each about one mile in length.

Instagram-worthy Photo

This site is perhaps best known for President Lincoln’s 272-word Gettysburg Address, which he gave in two minutes following a two-hour speech by Edward Everett.  Newspaper reviews from the next day were not favorable for the President.

Peak Season

Summer, though it was very busy even on a weekday in October 2016.

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/gett/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

Free driving tour, $15 per adult for films and museum (no discount for America the Beautiful pass)

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

There a numerous private campgrounds around Gettysburg, and the National Park Service’s Catoctin Mountain Park is only 20 miles away, as are Caledonia and Corodus State Parks.

Related Sites

Antietam National Battlefield (Maryland)

Eisenhower National Historic Site (Pennsylvania)

Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site (Pennsylvania)

Explore More – When was the Cyclorama painting by French artist Paul Philippoteaux completed?

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Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site

Overview

In Hopewell, Pennsylvania, the proximity of iron ore, limestone, and charcoal led to this iron furnace’s success from 1771 to 1883.  It also needed water from French Creek to run the air blast machinery allowing the furnace to reach smelting temperature.  During the American Revolution, it produced cannon, shot, and shells for the Continental Navy.  The 848-acre National Historic Site was authorized in 1938, making it one of the oldest in the nation.

Highlights

Anthracite furnace, film, cast house, tenant houses, ironmaster’s mansion, Bethesda Church

Must-Do Activity

Start with the short film at the visitor center, then take the self-guided walk through the “iron plantation.”  Though the cold-blast charcoal process became outdated by 1883, the original furnace is still used each summer to produce aluminum products.  Other costumed interpreters depict village life from late June to Labor Day.  In September and October, visitors can pick 30 varieties of apples in the orchards for a small fee, similar to Capitol Reef National Park in Utah.

Best Trail

The site’s 12 miles of forested trails also connect into the neighboring French Creek State Park.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Inside the cast house, moulders cast molten iron into stove plates, cannonballs, and other products.

Peak Season

Summer and apple picking season

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/hofu/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None, but “you pick” apples cost $1 per pound

Road Conditions

Access roads are paved

Camping

French Creek State Park has more than 200 campsites with access to running water and showers.

Related Sites

Saugus Iron Works National Historic Site (Massachusetts)

Valley Forge National Historical Park (Pennsylvania)

Independence National Historical Park (Pennsylvania)

Explore More – How high of a temperature could the Hopewell Furnace reach when smelting?

Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River

Overview

Authorized in 1978, this 73-mile stretch of the Upper Delaware River is the longest free-flowing river in the northeast United States.  Forming the Pennsylvania-New York borderline, only 30 of its 55,575 acres are federally owned.  Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River is one of 43 designated National Wild and Scenic Rivers, 10 of which are managed by the National Park Service (NPS).

Highlights

Zane Grey Museum, Roebling Aqueduct, fishing

Must-Do Activity

The Upper Delaware River is famous for year-round bald eagle viewing, Class I and II whitewater rafting, and fishing for smallmouth bass and walleye.  The NPS runs the Zane Grey Museum, which celebrates the “Father of the Western Novel” who lived in Lackawaxen, Pennsylvania from 1905 to 1918 and loved fishing here (and throughout his worldwide travels).  It was in this house that the former dentist (Zane Grey) wrote many articles about his outdoor adventures, as well as his novels, including Riders of the Purple Sage (published in 1912).

Best Trail

There are six trails you are required to complete in order to earn your Upper Delaware Hikes patch from the NPS, ranging in length from the quarter-mile Minisink Battleground (Revolutionary War) to the three-mile Tusten Mountain Trail, which provides an excellent view of the river valley.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Within eyeshot of the Zane Grey Museum, the Roebling Aqueduct operated between 1848 and 1898 to allowed coal-laden canal boats to cross over the Upper Delaware River.  Its architect is better known for the Brooklyn Bridge, but this aqueduct was converted to a one-lane car bridge before being purchased by the NPS in 1980.

Peak Season

Spring through fall

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/upde/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None

Road Conditions

All major roads paved, with Highway 97 in New York following the river for most of its length.

Camping

There are no NPS campgrounds, but many private ones along the Upper Delaware River.

Related Sites

Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area (Pennsylvania-New Jersey)

Buffalo National River (Arkansas)

Minute Man National Historical Park (Massachusetts)

Explore More – Although they live in the Delaware River for most of their lives, what is the name of the sea in the Atlantic Ocean where eels migrate to spawn and die?