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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?

Crater Lake National Park

Overview

Formed by a cataclysmic volcanic eruption about 8,000 years ago, Crater Lake National Park protects a nearly round caldera about five miles in diameter.  It is the deepest lake in the country at 1,943 feet, which is a major reason why in 1902 it was named the sixth National Park in the U.S.  When we first visited back in July 2010 most of Rim Drive was still closed due to snow, but in July 2014 there was little snow to be found anywhere.

For Learn more in our guidebook to the National Parks, A Park to Yourself: Finding Adventure in America’s National Parks (available on Amazon).

Highlights

Rim Village, Cleetwood Trail, Cloudcap Overlook, Castle Crest Wildflower Trail, Mount Scott

Must-Do Activity

That very first view you get from the rim is so overwhelming that it is worth whatever effort you have to put in to arrive there.  Bring a coat, though, since at this high elevation we are pretty sure it can snow any month of the year.  Crater Lake has no inlets or outlets and its crystal-clear waters were fish free until some were introduced in the early 1900s.  The only way to get on the water is to hike down the steep one-mile Cleetwood Trail to a boat run by a park concessionaire.  Make sure you have purchased your ticket beforehand or you will be hiking back up to get one. 

Best Trail

We enjoyed the short but colorful Castle Crest Wildflower Trail, as well as the Pinnacles Overlook Trail where fossilized fumaroles mimic the conical shape of conifers.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Pictures truly do not do Crater Lake justice, but stop along Rim Drive to get a closer look at Wizard Island and the Phantom Ship, the only two islands that emerge from the lake.

Peak Season

Late summer

Hours

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

Fees

$30  per vehicle or America the Beautiful pass, but no entry fee in winter

Road Conditions

While some roads are closed most of the year, the National Park Service (NPS) plows the main entry road year round.  Bring your snowshoes!

Camping

The NPS manages two campgrounds in summer (although smaller Lost Creek only allows tent camping), or you can head to the neighboring National Forests for developed and dispersed campsites.

Related Sites

Oregon Caves National Monument and Preserve (Oregon)

John Day Fossil Beds National Monument (Oregon)

Mount Rainier National Park (Washington)

This design we created to celebrate Crater Lake National Park is available on a variety of products at Cafe Press and Amazon.

Explore More – What was the name of the vast volcano that existed here before it collapsed nearly 7,700 years ago?

We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.

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?

Lassen Volcanic National Park

Overview

Lassen Peak is the southernmost volcano in the Cascade Mountain Range that also includes Mount Rainier, Mount Saint Helens, and Mount Hood.  Lassen Peak last erupted from 1914 to 1917, prompting its creation as a National Park.  Access is limited during the long winters, but you can go cross-country skiing and snowmobiling in adjacent Lassen National Forest.

Learn more in our guidebook to the National Parks, A Park to Yourself: Finding Adventure in America’s National Parks (available on Amazon).

Highlights

Bumpass Hell, Lassen Peak Trail, Sulphur Works, Manzanita Lake

Must-Do Activity

Many hikers make it to the 10,457-foot summit of the dormant volcano for fantastic views of Lake Almanor and Mount Shasta.  If you are not up for a 2,000 foot elevation gain, then make sure to take the flatter trail to Bumpass Hell, a colorful collection of geysers, fumaroles, and hot springs that is like a miniature Yellowstone National Park.  June may be a little early to visit after heavy snow years, so aim for late-July or August instead.

Best Trail

In the park’s remote northeast corner, a hike to the well-named Painted Dunes is worth the effort.  From that point you can climb up the shifting trail to the top of the cinder cone for great views of the colorful lava bed, turquoise Butte Lake, and snow-covered Lassen Peak.  Expect to get a lot of jagged cinders in your shoes unless you come prepared.  If you continue your ramble you can hook up with the 2,663-mile long Pacific Crest Trail which cuts through the park.

Instagram-worthy Photo

There is a great view down into Bumpass Hell as you approach it from the trail.  Note the snowbanks lasting into late August.

Peak Season

Late summer

Hours

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

Fees

$30 per vehicle or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

Even if the paved road across the park’s high country is closed in early summer, try making it down the dirt road to Butte Lake (at a lower elevation) in the northeast corner of the park.

Camping

There are seasonal campgrounds within the park, or try finding a dispersed campsite on the dirt roads of surrounding Lassen National Forest.

Related Sites

Lava Beds National Monument (California)

Devils Postpile National Monument (California)

Whiskeytown-Shasta-Trinity National Recreation Area (California)

This design we created to celebrate Lassen Volcanic National Park is available on a variety of products at Cafe Press and Amazon.

Explore More – More than 400,000 year ago, much of the western half of the National Park was one large composite volcano estimated to have been 11 miles in diameter and how many feet in elevation?

We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.