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Allegheny National Recreation Area

Allegheny National Recreation Area

Pennsylvania

Managed by U.S. Forest Service, Allegheny National Forest

24,145 acres

Website: https://www.fs.usda.gov/attmain/allegheny/specialplaces/

Overview

Allegheny National Recreation Area was created by Congress in 1984 under the Pennsylvania Wilderness Act.  It is managed as three separate parcels of land within Allegheny National Forest.  The first is named Cornplanter after an Iroquois warrior and leader during the American Revolution and it has two boat launches and no developed trails on the federal lands west of the Allegheny Reservoir.  The second is Tracy Ridge to the east of the reservoir, which we will discuss below.  Farther south, the third parcel is the Allegheny Front on the east side of the Allegheny River from Charlie Run to South Slater Run, bordered on the west by Highway 62.

Highlights

Willow Bay Recreation Area, Tracy Ridge Hiking Trail System, North Country National Scenic Trail

Must-Do Activity

Tracy Ridge is easily accessible from scenic State Highway 321 and it has an extensive system of hiking trails, including a 10-mile section of the North Country National Scenic Trail.  Further north, Willow Bay Recreation Area (day-use fee) is the most developed portion of Allegheny National Recreation Area.  The waters of the Allegheny Reservoir between Cornplanter and Tracy Ridge are also considered to be part of the National Recreation Area with three developed boat-in campgrounds (fee). 

Best Trail

In addition to the Tracy Ridge Hiking Trail System, the undeveloped Allegheny Front parcel contains a three-mile segment of the Tanbark Trail.  These areas are popular with hunters, so remember to wear fluorescent clothing during hunting seasons.

Instagram-worthy Photo

While having lunch near the dock in Willow Bay Recreation Area, we saw a bald eagle, a red-tailed hawk, ravens, and a flock of Canada geese.

Peak Season

Summer

Fees

There is an entrance fee at Willow Bay Recreation Area, but it is half price with an America the Beautiful pass.  Even if you hike in to Hopewell and Handsome Lake Campgrounds on the shores of the Allegheny Reservoir, you need to pay the overnight camping fee.  Based on the signs, we think that backpacking in Tracy Ridge is free.

Road Conditions

We did not come across any unpaved roads while driving through Allegheny National Recreation Area, but they probably exist.

Camping

Willow Bay Recreation Area and Tracy Ridge have drive-in campgrounds, plus Hooks Brook, Hopewell, and Handsome Lake are accessible by boat.  Dispersed camping is allowed for no more than 14 consecutive days at one site and not within 1500 feet of the Allegheny Reservoir.  The same goes for backpacking sites on the Tracy Ridge Hiking Trail System where hanging bear bags or using bear-proof containers is recommended.

Related Sites

Allegheny National Forest (Pennsylvania)

Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site (Pennsylvania)

Flight 93 National Memorial (Pennsylvania)

Nearest National Park

Cuyahoga Valley (Ohio)

Explore More – When it is completed, how long will the North Country National Scenic Trail be in its entirety?

Allegheny National Forest

Allegheny National Forest

Pennsylvania

Managed by U.S. Forest Service, Eastern Region

742,693 acres (513,175 federal/ 229,518 other)

Website: https://www.fs.usda.gov/allegheny

Overview

The only National Forest in Pennsylvania was created in 1923 utilizing the federal government’s ability to purchase land under the Weeks Act of 1911.  However, they could not afford the subsurface or mineral rights, which has created issues in this oil-producing area.  Before it became Allegheny National Forest, most of the hillsides were clearcut to feed the area’s wood chemical plants, allowing black cherry and early successional species to dominate the second growth forests.  The National Forest contains two Wild and Scenic Rivers: the Clarion River (51.7 miles) and Allegheny River (87 miles in three separate sections).

Highlights

Allegheny National Recreation Area, Hearts Content Scenic Area, Willow Bay Recreation Area, Old Powerhouse, Timberdoodle Flats Interpretive Trail, Minister Creek, Buzzard Swamp Hiking Area, Clarion Wild and Scenic River, Allegheny Wild and Scenic River, Buckaloons Recreation Area, Hall Barn Wildlife Viewing Area, North Country National Scenic Trail

Must-Do Activity

A good place to start exploring Allegheny National Forest is by driving the Longhouse Scenic Byway, a 36-mile loop, which includes views of the Allegheny Reservoir and Kinzua Dam, plus a side trip up to Jakes Rocks Overlook.  We drove in from the east and found the easy walks on the Timberdoodle Flats Wildlife Interpretive Trail to be a good introduction to this region.  This is one of the few places in Pennsylvania with old-growth forests, so be sure to stop at Hearts Content Scenic Area or Tionesta Scenic and Research Natural Areas. 

Best Trail

Huge eastern hemlock and eastern white pine trees up to 400 years old can be found in the 20-acre Hearts Content Scenic Area.  This National Natural Landmark has a picnic area constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and is located across from a nice campground.  There are two short, flat loop trails located here, but you can also connect into 7.8 miles of cross-country skiing and snowshoeing routes.  Other popular hiking destinations include Rimrock Trail and a 10-mile section of the North Country National Scenic Trail within the Tracy Ridge Hiking Trail System (see our post on Allegheny National Recreation Area for more information).

Watchable Wildlife

As hard as it is to believe given their prevalence now, low populations of white-tailed deer in the 1920s allowed this new National Forest to grow back quickly.  Campers should exercise caution with their food and trash since black bears are in the area.  Turkeys, bald eagles, barred owls, Canada geese, black-capped chickadees, and pileated woodpeckers are common bird species.  Hall Barn Wildlife Viewing Area is known for its summer population of 1,000 roosting bats.  There is also evidence of beavers on the Timberdoodle Flats Wildlife Interpretive Trail.  Allegheny Reservoir has walleye, trout, bass, catfish, northern pike, and muskellunge, and small native brook trout can be found in the Farnsworth Stream and other creeks. 

Instagram-worthy Photo

Kinzua Dam was completed in 1965 and stands 179 feet tall and 1,897 feet in length.  Kinzua is a Seneca Indian word that translates as “place of many big fishes.”  Watch for fish that gather in eddies at the edges of the Allegheny Reservoir near the dam, but remember that fishing and feeding the fish is prohibited at this spot.

Peak Season

Summer

Fees

There is an entrance fee at both Willow Bay and Buckaloons Recreation Areas, but it is half price with an America the Beautiful pass.

Road Conditions

All roads are paved to Willow Bay Recreation Area and Hearts Content Scenic Area, which are popular with RV campers. 

Camping

Allegheny National Forest contains 15 campgrounds with more than 1,000 sites, and Willow Bay Recreation Area also has cabins for rent.  We enjoyed our stay at Heart’s Content Campground, but found Buckaloons Campground to be too crowded.  Allegheny Islands Wilderness has seven islands that can be used for boat-in dispersed camping.

Wilderness Areas

Allegheny Islands Wilderness

Hickory Creek Wilderness

Related Sites

Allegheny National Recreation Area (Pennsylvania)

Grey Towers National Historic Site (Pennsylvania)

Fort Necessity National Battlefield (Pennsylvania)

Nearest National Park

Cuyahoga Valley (Ohio)

Conifer Tree Species

eastern hemlock, eastern white pine

Flowering Tree Species

sugar maple, black maple, red maple, striped maple, silver maple, mountain maple, yellow birch, sweet birch, black walnut, bitternut hickory, shagbark hickory, sycamore, American beech, white ash, tulip-poplar, green ash, cucumber magnolia, quaking aspen, bigtooth aspen, black cherry, pin cherry, choke cherry, northern red oak, basswood, American elm, slippery elm

Explore More – Timberdoodle is a local nickname for which native bird species that nests in this forest?

Ross Lake National Recreation Area

Overview

Bisecting the two sections of North Cascades National Park in northern Washington is Ross Lake National Recreation Area.  The incredibly scenic Highway 20 (closed seasonally) cuts through the mountains here, less than two hours from Seattle.  The rainshadow effect is readily apparent to anyone who crosses these mountains from the lush west to the arid eastern portion of the state.  Access to the only boat ramp on Ross Lake actually requires a drive through Canada, but you can also pick up a water taxi near Diablo Dam.

Highlights

Diablo Lake Overlook, Gorge Creek Falls, Ross Lake Resort, Sourdough Mountain Trail

Must-Do Activity

If coming from Seattle, start your visit at the North Cascades National Park Visitor Center on the scenic North Cascades Highway (20).  Ross Lake National Recreation Area contains three hydroelectric reservoirs, which have an interesting turquoise color due to glacial silt, especially evident at Diablo Lake Overlook.  Nearby, Colonial Creek Campground offers a peaceful forest in which to spend the night and a good jumping off place for a day hike on Thunder Creek or Fourth of July Trails through old-growth forests with colossal mushroom conchs and giant banana slugs.

Best Trail

Summiting Desolation Peak is often found on the bucket lists of the writer Jack Kerouac’s biggest fans, as he did some of his best writing while stationed as a fire lookout here in 1956.  The observation tower is not far from the Canadian border and the trek is a daunting task, typically utilizing a water taxi to cross Ross Lake.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Do not drive past Diablo Lake Overlook, an awe inspiring and usually gusty stop along Highway 20.  The craggy heights of the geologically young mountains surrounding this spectacular reservoir are magnificent to behold, yet forbidding to enter.

Peak Season

Late summer

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

The North Cascades Highway (20) is typically closed east of Ross Dam from mid-November through mid-April (or later).  The unpaved road to Thornton Lakes Trailhead is not suitable for trailers.

Camping

Colonial Creek Campground (164 sites) is only one option, additionally there are Newhalem Creek (119 sites), Goodell Creek (22 sites), and Hozomeen (122 sites accessed via a 40-mile gravel road from Hope, British Columbia).  For the full backcountry experience, pick up a free backpacking permit at the Wilderness Information Center in Marblemount, Washington.

Related Sites

Lake Chelan National Recreation Area (Washington)

Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area (Washington)

Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park (Alaska-Washington)

Explore More – Only two miles across at its widest point, how long is Ross Lake?

St. Croix National Scenic Riverway

Overview

Since 1972, about 255 miles of the St. Croix and Namekagon Rivers have been protected along the Minnesota-Wisconsin border.  It is a popular route for paddlers and tube floaters, in addition to providing invaluable habitat for a variety of wildlife, including beavers, great blue herons, and 40 species of native mussels.  There are a few dams along the rivers and regulations vary by who manages different sections, so it is important to know the rules before you launch your boat.

Highlights

Trego Nature Trail, Sandrock Cliffs, Interstate State Parks

Must-Do Activity

There is a long scenic byway that follows the St. Croix River north from its confluence with the Mississippi River (south of Minneapolis) near the Great River Road Visitor Center in Prescott, Wisconsin.  The National Park Service (NPS) manages the seasonal Namekegon River Visitor Center on a stretch of water that is good for floating.  If you do not have a boat, just down the road try the 2.8-mile roundtrip Trego Nature Trail that follows the Namekegon River through a forest of white pine, bigtooth aspen, and paper birch trees.

Best Trail

Wisconsin Interstate State Park is located on the St. Croix River and is the western terminus for the partially completed 1,200-mile long Ice Age National Scenic Trail.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Both Minnesota and Wisconsin Interstate State Parks are great places to learn about potholes (up to 15-foot deep bowls carved into solid rock) formed by boulders caught in whirlpools during glacial melting.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

All main roads are paved, but some (like the side road to Trego Nature Trail) are good gravel.

Camping

Developed campgrounds can be found in the numerous state parks and state forests along the rivers.  Only designated riverside campsites can be used by those paddling (except in the Stillwater Islands area), but no reservations are accepted.

Related Sites

Mississippi National River and Recreation Area (Minnesota)

Apostle Islands National Lakeshore (Wisconsin)

Voyageurs National Park (Minnesota)

Explore More – A major proponent of creating this park, Senator Gaylord Nelson was born in Clear Lake, Wisconsin and helped pass the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, as well as founding what annual holiday in 1970?

Mississippi National River and Recreation Area

Overview

The 2,320-mile long Mississippi River is legendary in our nation and well-known worldwide.  Mississippi National River and Recreation Area (NRRA) covers 72 miles of the famous river’s course through Minnesota, from busy metropolitan sections in the Twin Cities to secluded stretches of water.  Along this section it changes from its shallow headwaters to a powerful force at its confluence with the St. Croix River.  Established in 1988, the National Park Service (NPS) owns only 35 acres of the 54,000 acres protected within the NRRA.

Highlights

St. Anthony Falls, Minnehaha Falls, Coldwater Spring, Indian Mounds Park, Mississippi Gorge Regional Park

Must-Do Activity

Near downtown Minneapolis is St. Anthony Falls, the only true waterfall on the Mississippi River’s entire length.  The falls powered gristmills and sawmills on both banks that drove the settlement of Minneapolis-St. Paul.  Opportunities for walking, biking, boating, fishing, cross-country skiing, and wildlife watching (especially at Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge) abound along the river depending upon the season.

Best Trail

In winter, urban trails along the Mississippi River are very pretty under a layer of white snow, and it can be very quiet and peaceful.

Instagram-worthy Photo

We enjoyed Minnehaha Regional Park where we found the 53-foot tall waterfall celebrated in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s Song of Hiawatha.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

All roads paved, but there is no free parking available at the NPS visitor center located inside the lobby for the Science Museum of Minnesota.

Camping

There are no campgrounds managed by the National Park Service within the NRRA, however, there are many places to camp in the area.

Related Sites

Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway (Minnesota-Wisconsin)

Missouri National Recreational River (Nebraska-South Dakota)

Pipestone National Monument (Minnesota)

Explore More – What did the city of Minneapolis do to make sure Minnehaha Falls was flowing for President Lyndon B. Johnson’s visit during the 1964 drought?